by Talya Kingston
When Kristen and I decided to program ROE in our 2020 season, we knew we wanted to use the production as a springboard for dialogue about reproductive politics and we also knew that holding these conversations in a way that was respectful and helpful would require support. Our Dialogue Consultant Essential Partners has provided that support by training us in their approach and helping us formulate a meaningful framework for the small group post-show conversations about abortion.
For over three decades Essential Partners’ trademark methodology has helped communities and institutions have healthier, more complex, more inclusive conversations about polarizing differences of values, beliefs, and identities—whether the issue is building a new public school in Ohio or addressing the global refugee crisis in Jordan.
They are no stranger to conversations about abortion: in 1994, after murders in women’s heath clinics in Brookline, MA, Essential Partners launched and co-facilitated a multi-year, confidential dialogue between pro-choice and pro-life leaders in the Greater Boston area. These conversations were described in a joint statement by the participants: “In this world of polarizing conflicts, we have glimpsed a new possibility: a way in which people can disagree frankly and passionately, become clearer in heart and mind about their activism, and, at the same time, contribute to a more civil and compassionate society.”
I asked Meg Griffiths (EP’s Assistant Director of Programs) about ROE as a springboard for dialogue. She responded that: “Theatre is always a good vehicle for dialogue, because of the way that it invites the audience into stories that are both particular to the characters and universal to the human experience.” Adding that, “ROE does this in exceptional ways, serving as both a window into the lives of Norma, Connie, Sarah, and others – and a mirror for our own stories, values, and beliefs about the issues of abortion and reproductive justice.”
In our training, WAM staff members have been learning from Meg about how “in dialogue around polarizing issues, we lean toward storytelling, because stories foster deeper understanding and connection, dissolving assumptions and rehumanizing the “other”. The story of ROE reveals a deeper and more complex understanding of the intersecting realities of abortion, race, class, sexual orientation, and religion – and in doing so, invites us to dive deeper into our own understanding of these realities through the lens of our own story.”
So how will the post-show dialogues differ from more traditional post-show theatre conversations that you might be familiar with? The answer to this is connected to purpose. Meg explains that: “A central purpose of Essential Partners’ approach to dialogue is to foster mutual understanding and connection between participants – not between participants and the actors or director, for example. This purpose then shifts the dynamics of who is doing the most speaking and who are seen as “experts”. In dialogue, the audience is engaged as experts of their own experience and invited to speak about how the play impacted them and how it connects to the stories of their lives.”
In order for this to be effective, we are keeping the dialogue groups small and limited to people who are interested in deeply engaging with the themes of the play and listening to others do the same. The dialogue for ROE will take place on Saturday, October 24th at 2pm. More information about how to sign up here.