Normally, when we get a press release from a local theater company about its latest work, the press release includes, you know, the name of the play. But Philly theater company Lightning Rod Special bucked that trend this week went they sent us a notice announcing its musical comedy about abortion, which debuts in August at the Painted Bride.
“We were going with ‘Fetus Chorus,’” explains co-creator Alice Yorke, pictured below. “But there were a lot of mixed feelings about it. The best comment we got was, ‘I understand you want to provoke your audience, but do you want to do that in the theater or before they even get there?’”
The abortion musical has its roots at the Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training, where Yorke and the co-creators studied. Yorke says it was there that she developed a character of an “irate gun-toting fetus running around and shouting about how it would kill anyone who tried to hurt it.”
In those early days, there was also a Busby Berkeley-inspired song-and-dance kick-line of fetuses, though Yorke isn’t sure that it will be included in the final version.
Yorke, a 31-year-old South Philadelphia resident, tells Philly Mag that the company is currently debating other titles. Her favorite is “The A Word.” Others in the mix: “Baby Girl,” “Mine,” “Monster,” and “Wanted.”
Now, if you’re thinking that this is just some pro-choice propaganda, Yorke downplays that idea.
“We’re definitely, as makers, on one side,” Yorke admits. “But we’re trying to ride a funny line. This isn’t self-congratulatory. I want us to examine why we feel this way. I want people to reckon with themselves. This is a show about personhood, the right to bodily autonomy, and the violence of the partisan politics that surrounds this issue.”
Co-creator Scott Sheppard points out that the company has actually pulled back a bit on the politics in the abortion musical.
“We don’t wanna serve up this didactic play that pats liberals on the back,” insists Sheppard, 33, also of South Philadelphia. “Abortion is hard. One one side, you have people who think that murder is happening. On the other side, it’s people thinking about women’s health. This is already a terribly divided debate. We didn’t want to just add heat to that fire.”
Lightning Rod Special’s most recent play was the runaway FringeArts Festival hit Underground Railroad Game, which went on to win the prestigious Obie award for best new American theater work in May. But the success of that show hasn’t made it any easier for them to raise money for this new work. It turns out that funding a musical comedy about abortion is even harder than naming it.
“We were basically rejected for every grant that we applied for,” says Yorke, adding later that the company did score a small amount of funding from the Wyncote Foundation and two other groups. “Even good, liberal granting foundations. Everybody is just so, so afraid to talk about abortion.”
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