by Kristen van Ginhoven
Over the next few months WAM will share a few blogs around our production and the story of WAM’s production of ROE. This one shares the first part of our Journey to ROE. To find out more about our production, visit https://www.wamtheatre.com/roe/
Three years ago, I read ROE by Lisa Loomer. When I read plays as WAM’s Producing Artistic Director, I know it goes into the yes pile if I get goosebumps while reading it. That happened with ROE. Not only was I drawn into the play and how it focuses on the humans behind the case in an imaginative, ensemble focused manner, but it was about a topic that I was very passionate about – reproductive justice. Once in the yes pile, I think about what’s going on in the world and my community and think about when the right time would be for WAM to tell that particular story.
It was an ambitious financial undertaking to take on a production with 12 cast members, but WAM is nothing if not ambitious, so we went for it in 2017 and asked for the rights.
We didn’t get them. After its successful rolling world premiere in 2016/2017 at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Arena Stage and Berkeley Repertory Theatre, who all commissioned the play, someone had optioned the Broadway rights. So, no one was getting the rights.
Talya Kingston, WAM’s Associate Artistic Director, would regularly call Beth Blickers, the playwright’s agent, to check in about the status of the rights. Beth joked that Artistic Directors from all over the country were sending her flowers every week to be able to do the play, but that, alas, no one was getting the rights due to that Broadway option.
So, in 2019, WAM asked for the rights again- never thinking we would get them. But because it was a play we believed in we wanted to keep trying. And, lo and behold, we got them! So began a real period of questioning for Talya, myself and the WAM Board and Team.
Normally, I don’t ask the Board to chime in on the plays we are considering for our season, but when we got the rights to ROE, I knew that if we produced it, the whole Board and Team had to be fully committed. We needed to know why we were doing it and what our position was about it.
That led to lots of dynamic and meaningful conversations about many different things- our personal views, our professional obligations as a company at the intersection of arts and activism that creates theatre that benefits women and girls, as well as WAM’s financial ability to produce this play.
Everyone was behind the choice to produce it. Everyone was also nervous about going for it. It would be a huge leap for WAM on many levels to produce ROE.
And so I came to be in the office of Molly Smith, Artistic Director of Arena Stage in DC, where I was directing a production of ANN, in July 2019, asking her whether she thought WAM should do ROE or not. Because that day, I had to make the decision to pay the deposit on the rights or lose the rights to produce the play. Now was the time to decide.
Could WAM actually commit to producing ROE in our 2020 Season?
There were three main things on my mind as I weighed this decision in Molly’s office:
- I’m SO passionately pro-choice- how can I do a play that shares all perspectives?
- The play is SO expensive to produce as it has a cast of 12! How on earth could WAM raise the $100,000+ needed to produce it?
- Was WAM ready to step into the arena in this way in our community? Is it the right play for our community right now? We knew if we didn’t do it, it was highly unlikely any other company in our area would- mostly because of the cast size, but also because of the topic- one of the most polarizing social issues of the modern era, the Roe v. Wade, U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established a woman’s right to an abortion.
Molly, who had been part of the trio of theatres that commissioned ROE and where it played successfully at Arena Stage in fall 2016, looked at me and said- those three reasons are exactly why you have to produce this play. As we talked, I realized the following:
- Directing ROE would provide us the opportunity to fully dive into all aspects of this case and this topic. It would move me from being reactive when talking about abortion to talking with knowledge about all the perspectives involved.
- The WAMily would get behind us. If WAM doesn’t do it, who will? WAM is the perfect company to produce this play- with our mission of art and activism, it makes sense. And now that we have celebrated our tenth anniversary- our audience and donors will stretch and support us in producing this play.
- Unfortunately, the play is even more relevant now. To produce it right before a national election will remind voters to think about which candidates are talking about reproductive justice and to consider that when casting their vote.
So, I took a deep breath, called the rights company and paid the deposit. It felt right, to both Talya and I. While nervous, we knew that WAM was the right company and 2020 was the right year for us to produce this play that reminds of the human stories behind the debates and how hard we have to work to compassionately communicate with people with whom we may disagree.
by Lisa Loomer
Directed by Kristen van Ginhoven
September 24-October 11, 2020
at Shakespeare & Company’s Tina Packer Playhouse in Lenox, MA
For more information visit: https://www.wamtheatre.com/roe/