Blog: The Squirrel Plays, by Jessica Bickel-Barlow (’16)

The summer began with good news from this side of the Atlantic. On May 26th, Ireland voted to repeal their eighth amendment, which prohibited abortions, making way for the legalization of a procedure Irish women used to have to fly to the UK to have performed, if they were able to have it performed at all.

The week before this news was announced, a play I directed about reproductive choice, The Squirrel Plays by Mia McCullough, ran for two days as part of the Wandsworth Arts Fringe. The play explores the pressures placed on women when they are faced with unplanned pregnancies—financial, social, religious, and familial. However, in a comedic twist the story is told using the metaphor of a squirrel. A young couple get a squirrel infestation in their attic and they have to decide what to do: keep it, rehome the critter with a humane trap, or exterminate. As they get to know the other women in their new neighborhood, they learn that everyone has a different opinion about what to do and who should pay for it.

Although the play is a careful unpicking of the American reproductive rights debate, in the week after we performed, the play felt relevant on this side of the ocean in a wonderful way. Just as the options for women were opening up, our play was bringing attention to the many factors, beyond the legal, that truly ensure a woman’s right to choose. As talks with the British Pregnancy Advisory (the British equivalent to Planned Parenthood) informed us and our audiences, repealing the 8th in Ireland would be a first step. BPAS had been operating a clinic in Manchester because it was the cheapest flight available for many Irish women seeking legal abortions. The financial, geographical, and potentially cultural barriers will still exist before abortion providers become more commonplace. In the play, we were able to show women confronting these difficulties in a personal way.

But this August, as we perform the play at the Edinburgh Fringe, the play feels relevant in a way I wish it did not. With the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, the fate of abortion rights in America seems uncertain. The necessity of a legal right to choose, and of impressing this necessity upon the world seems more urgent than ever.

Throughout the next month I will be fundraising to support our run at the Fringe (Indiegogo), spreading the word about our production to festival audiences and artists, and continuing to improve the production through the feedback we get at the festival.

I’ve always loved how theatre gives us a window into the thoughts and feelings we don’t get normally get to see. As a medium it seems uniquely poised to show the challenges surrounding abortion often kept private, that nevertheless necessitate a public show of political support to address. As the summer draws to a close (and my time as a Marshall), I feel lucky to get to work on a play that does just that.

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