Our second reading came from PlaySmelter-veteran Cora Eckert, whose play Conception is one of our private readings this year.
Eckert’s piece follows three separate storylines, each dealing with a different aspect of third-party reproduction. A heterosexual couple is sterile and dealing with alternate conception methods, a lesbian couple use a sperm donor to become pregnant but encounter complications when he decides to claim his parental rights, and a young woman (pregnant via surrogacy) has to return home to her over-bearing mother when the biological parents of her baby suddenly die.
To start off, we approached each storyline separately; it was important to discuss the different relationships one at a time so Eckert had a sense of what worked and what was unclear for each couple before we linked them together thematically. The characters from the individual storylines only cross paths once over the course of the play so the notion of structure became important, precisely because the play is so contained in each of its plot lines. Time runs differently for each story–some timelines are signified by physical markers such as conception and pregnancy, some simply by subtle emotional hints like the breakdown of relationships. We had to ask some of the ‘big’ questions. What do all the stories represent? What is the conduit that links them? What is the story between the stories that the playwright wants to tell? In essence, how does each scene ‘give birth’ to the next one.
It was important for us to start the discussion with the characters because conversations about birth and reproductive rights (which we did eventually discuss) can become highly politicized and lead into a different type of conversation. We needed to see these issues and arguments come out of the characters through their own personal situations.
We focused on the ‘courtroom’ scene that is juxtaposed with a lullaby. While one parent of a same-sex couple argues against the sperm donor’s parental rights, her partner is at home trying to lull their crying daughter to sleep. Once Eckert was able to articulate what she wanted in that scene, it was the start of our playwright examining the intersection between linear thought and logic vs. the emotional.
Eckert deals with a lot of issues in her play: reproductive rights, infertility, infidelity, surrogacy, raising a child as a same-sex couple, single parenthood, post-partum depression and ultimately how children (or the idea of children) affect relationships. To avoid the trap of writing an “Issue” play, we encouraged Eckert to let herself get messy with the next draft and allow her characters to make discoveries about being emotional people in very complex situations.
-Jessica Anderson, Artistic Associate