Thursday, June 15, 2017

Sands UK Tour, Day Eight: Lincoln to Birmingham

Ten years ago this month, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (SANDS UK) sent my solo performance I Hate This (a play without the baby) on a seven date tour of Great Britain.

Friday, 15 June 2007


While we were riding the London Eye, my sister-in-law and I had an uncomfortable conversation about the movie Children of Men. I think that, among other things, it is about how humans go insane when they can't have children. She says it's a dumb chase movie with a pregnant woman in it, and the guy dies at the end.


I was flabbergasted. I know Children of Men is not everyone's favorite movie,* For those who are unaware, the premise is that people have stopped being able to have children. The last person to survive childbirth was born eighteen years previous. The very first action of the movie is the announcement that this person has been killed.

When Clive Owen's character, Theo, walks into his office, everyone in their little cubicle is watching the news on their computers and quietly (or not quietly) weeping. All of them. And every cubicle, especially the ones of the women, but not exclusively, are festooned with baby figures, ribbons, little mementoes of lost children. They are everywhere.

If director Alfonso Cuarón doesn't have some personal experience with child loss, all I can say is he did his homework. And once that world was set, I could clearly see what a world where no one could have children might look like. I see it in some small, manageable version every time I do this show. It's our experience, without end, times everyone else in the world.

So you will excuse me if I have little patience with someone who doesn't "get" that movie. In fact, I surprise myself at my reaction to people who don't "get" that movie, it makes me feel like they can't "get" us.

But then again, you know, it is just a flick with a lot of stuff blowing up.

Terry O'Toole Theatre
The show went extremely well, from a technical standpoint. It's a great, new black box theater. It's small, maybe two hundred seats, and it's kind of octagonal. The seats angle to the sides. I was thrust out into the audience, looking to my left and right during a lot of it, which was new and different and took some time to get used to.

Tech took a very short period of time, and we even had lights fade in at the beginning and out at the end. It was like a real play!

The performance was just a little difficult. There was virtually no sound from the audience. None. They laughed when I said shit, that was about all. And yet, I knew they didn't hate the show, just that they must be taking it all very personally. This silence no longer affects me in a negative way, only I adjust most "punchlines" to be less of a grasp for laughs, I just say them and move on.

However, this lack of vocal response normally translates into a brief, awkward Q&A. This was not the case in Lincoln. Our post-show discussion lasted maybe a half-hour to forty-five minutes. The questions kept coming, and they were very good questions. A lot of times the questions are about the show, and the show's history, but last night there were so many about the details of child loss - about our own experiences, to be sure, but then also about the experiences of the people in the audience.

A number of new, fascinating questions arose when they learned we have had two subsequent pregnancies. What was it like when you were in labor and giving birth to your first living child? Where do you tell them Calvin is? Have you thought of incorporating the fact that you have subsequent, living children into the play? **

This last was from a very meaningful woman. I had to handle this question with care, because I remember all too well the strong reaction I got from other parents of lost children when it was suggested in a preview article that I had changed the play when my first living child was born. If I understood her correctly, the ending was so painful for her she wanted some kind of release during the play to let her know everything was all right for us. I explained, as well as I could, that I just don't feel like giving anyone that release during the drama, and she accepted that.

Awesome new raincoat.
I have been accused of being dispassionate (or near-dispassionate) in my performance, but when one mother shared that her living children believe their dead sibling is with the Man in the Moon, I almost teared up. It was something their grandmother had told them, and she didn't disabuse them of it. I wouldn't have, either.

We found out more details meeting people face-to-face afterwards. Our contact's mom had made scones, and there were strawberries and coffee and tea, and we stayed in the lobby a long time, talking to so many people.

We took a particular delight in meeting our contact's daughter, who is fifteen, and desperate to be a star. She hung out with us backstage before the performance and we made jokes about American and British accents and asked her about her plans. She's done a lot of theater in the Lincoln area, and will be a featured extra in The Golden Compass with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. She does a very amusing American accent ... and so do I!

Original blog post: June 15, 2007

* Ten years on, "Children of Men" has received a great deal of critical vindication.
** I did incorporate our living children into a performance of "I Hate This" in 2016,

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