Photo by Giulianna Vicente (She/Her)
**Content Warning: abortion, sexual assault, homophobia, transphobia**
Written by Judah C (They/Them)
I recently saw a play called “Abortion Weekend,” directed, produced, and written by two Black queer creatives, Mareshah Dupree and Jairis Carter. “Abortion Weekend” is exactly what the play is titled: a young pregnant woman and her friend trying to figure out how to induce a miscarriage during the last weekend of the summer. However, the play challenges assumptions of the characters, especially the assumptions made about one of the main characters, Ayanna (played by Mareshah Dupree (xe/they)), and her friend Dazia (Jairis Carter (they/them)), both of which are college-aged women. Dazia gets unexpectedly pregnant during her arrival in Los Angeles, something she dreads because of her fear of her pastor father finding out and either disowning her for getting an abortion or making her keep the baby and stalling her ambitious dreams. Ayanna puts together an “abortion weekend,” a set of activities meant to induce an early miscarriage. These activities included three levels, the first being drinking a drink made up of natural abortifacients; the second a trip to “Sixteen Flags,” a fictional theme park; and the last, getting as drunk and high as possible.
There were only a few of us in “The Broadwater,” a small theater in Santa Monica, but the show felt intimate, the audience drinking in the Los Angeles setting and the characters who commanded the stage. I was surprised that the play had only two actors, which made for some creative costume changes as well as creative setting changes because the actors had to be their own stage hands as well. It was honestly really refreshing to watch a play that had something to say, a play that centered not just abortion but the multiplicities of queerness and womanhood, as well as the shame, fear, and freedom abortions give us.
The conversation around abortion is a tough one. It is an uncomfortable topic for most people. Media makes abortion seem like a heinous act on both sides of the debate instead of something that’s neutral, neither morally correct or incorrect; it’s just a thing that is. Very few pieces of media have accurately shown that; one example is in Netflix’s “Bojack Horseman” in which one of the characters, Diane Nguyen, has an abortion without everyone around her making a big deal about it. People who seek abortions are often vilified, told that they are giving up a “blessing” and a “miracle,” or on the softer side, making a “difficult choice.” “Abortion Weekend” is a little bit guilty of this, too, but the play still takes a comedic approach to the conversation of abortion and really shows the complex web of thoughts pertaining to the invasive process of both pregnancy and abortion.
What makes “Abortion Weekend” really stand out is its intersectional approach to the conversation, discussing gender roles and queerness throughout the play, specifically the queer relationship between Ayanna and Dazia that blurs the lines between friendship and romance. Similar to abortions, there’s a guilt that comes with being queer, a guilt that many people who grew up in religious households know all too well; this includes Ayanna, who is a pastor’s daughter. The matriarchs in the story, Dazia’s aunt and Ayanna’s grandmother, both have their own stories with familial trauma and guilt associated with who they are. For Ayanna’s grandmother, she had multiple abortions in her lifetime. She isn’t ashamed about it because she knew that she couldn’t provide for more children than she already had. Similarly, Dazia’s aunt moved to California because she wanted freedom from her overbearing family, and it was heavily implied that she was gay. The characters have multiple facets to their identity, some that seemingly contradict each other. This play does a great job at respecting multiple personhoods, that people aren’t just one identity.
The play does a great job at talking about abortion and gives a lot of facts about natural abortifacients, pregnancy, and Black maternal death rates. It actually didn’t give any facts about the process itself, but considering that this was a two-person play and the run time was short, I can be forgiving on that end. These facts are great facts to know, especially since the forced-birth movement wants people to believe that abortion is a new process.
**The following section contains spoilers for “Abortion Weekend” and the above content warnings.**
There were some other things that I wish the show had done better. For example, it seems to rush through some very important character moments, such as a scene where Dazia talks about her once-blossoming queer identity in which she once believed that she was a boy, but that idea was beaten out of her by her father. This moment happens so quickly; if you blink, you miss it. Similarly, Dazia has a monologue towards the end of the play about how Ayanna’s brother had raped her, a moment that seems rushed, especially after Ayanna finds out that the potential baby is her brother’s during an argument at the show’s climax. I wish that Dazia and Ayanna had a conversation about it before the end of the play, but the play ends without any real resolution to their argument nor to Dazia’s trauma.
Still, “Abortion Weekend” was worth the watch, and I’m excited to see where Jairis Carter and Maresha Dupree take their art next. We need more writers, producers, and actors of color and ones that are queer, ones that know how to tell an important story in a worthwhile format. “Abortion Weekend” not only shows the importance of representation but also the importance of the Black experience around abortion and pregnancy. It was such a privilege to come see this play, and I’m excited to see where the feature film takes it!
Post-Show Interview with Jairis Carter and Mareshah Dupree
Written by Giulianna Vicente (She/Her)
After the final performance of “Abortion Weekend,” I talked with the producers, actors, writers, and directors of the show, Jairis Carter and Mareshah Dupree, about the play, its inspiration, and the overall process of making a show like this.
Giulianna Vicente: When did you guys come up with the idea?
Jairis Carter: In October 2019 we came up with the idea together during a phone call with a friend, and we just like turned around and we said simultaneously “Abortion Weekend.”
GV: That’s awesome. I read before that this was part of a scholarship?
JC: We won the diversity scholarship for the Fringe, which gave us a stipend to go towards all of our Fringe fees. It’s pretty expensive.
Mareshah Dupree: You know, it’s all about resources. It’s really important to have something that levels the playing field because we would never have been able to do it without getting the scholarship.
GV: Y’all include many storylines that involve Black voices and queer people of color and abortion…Why is it important to have this type of media and this type of space that centers Black voices, and Black people who are queer?
JC: Representation is very important. It’s key; if you don’t see yourself, then you don’t know where you can be and you don’t know how far you can go because you can’t see yourself. And I feel like that there’s not enough content that represents Black, queer, specifically Black queerness in terms of spirituality, which is what our show definitely represents…God loves you, no matter if you’re gay, no matter if you get an abortion…My God is not mean to me, my God is kind, forgiving, patient, understanding, and that’s the hopeful message that we’re trying to portray. So I think that having content like this is really imperative to just being alive, because life would suck if you thought that you weren’t worthy of anything.
MD: Oh, yeah. I definitely, definitely agree with all of that. I feel as if representation, also, especially in art can help people to see another perspective that they might not averagely see. They might not know anyone who looks like us or comes from our experiences. So I think it can help people from different walks of life gain a sense of empathy.
GV: I saw that both of y’all are nonbinary, or at least use neopronouns and they/them pronouns. I see in nonbinary artistry that there is like a typicalness of playing women-based roles…How do you see yourself playing a role like two roles of two women, while being nonbinary?
JC: I think we’re definitely very fem-presenting, and though we are nonbinary, this particular story is a feminist story, and it’s for women…It is very important to tell that story from that perspective, this particular story, other stories that we have, we can and will incorporate more of who we are now, but this particular message is concerning women’s rights and concerning the bodies of women. Nonbinary or not, even femme nonbinary people still have vaginas, and at the end of the day, the government is trying to control the people with vaginas. We all have to unify and come together and recognize that at the end of the day, we are all one and we really have to stay together and stick together and be each other’s allies with every single thing that comes up against us to knock us down.
MD: I feel as if the beautiful thing about this work is that we are not just simply playing ourselves, we’re playing ourselves and other characters rooted in our family members. From those experiences, I think that it can be very beautiful to be able to kind of shine a light on how, if we walk in someone else’s shoes, they can greater understand something that they might not fully care about…Just by being a person who is genderqueer, being able to really embody and understand and resonate with a variety…of experiences [conveys them] in a way that probably would not be seen…I understand what you’re saying about the main characters, but even Dazia’s character is very genderqueer, just very suppressed. The entire production comes from such a place of repression, and not just like “Oh, we’re doing this abortion weekend to end the pregnancy, but we’re literally doing this abortion weekend because we’re in love with each other and we can’t admit that.” You do lots of self sabotaging activities from a place of suppression. So I think it was very healing to make this work.
GV: Why do you think it’s important to have these performances during this time, where at the end of the day, people who are at the top of privilege will always have access to abortions, but people of color [don’t and won’t have the same freedom].
JC: Art can definitely sway the masses. Art has a way of changing people’s hearts, and like Mareshah said, allowing people to see different perspectives. I feel like that, not just with the play, but whenever we make the film as well, it can allow people to see a point of view that they don’t even consider whenever they have their opinions in regards to abortion…A couple of people watched it and said to us…that they didn’t know where they stood about the abortion ban until after seeing our show…But now they understand more, they understand the other side, they understand someone else’s point of view. That’s the point of art to me, is to change people…We’re not attacking any one specific point of view and we’re not trying to preach our specific point of view, we’re just trying to demonstrate a point of view that some people can relate to, and maybe others might not have even known existed. Hopefully everyone can leave changed and seen after witnessing the art.
MD: I am just a firm believer in divine timing. I believe that God is the great creator and God gifts us with the ability to be vessels for their message and ultimately their love, and to spread that through art because art is truly a vehicle for healing. Not just a vehicle for change in minds, but a vehicle for healing for the people who have had that experience. It was crazy because it was our last show and our very final show that we had…, the next day, Roe v.Wade was overturned. That just really struck a chord deeply within me because obviously, while we’re writing it, and while we’re performing and what we’re doing, we’re just like “Yes, this has been on our hearts to do.” But I think once that moment happened, there was like a genuine shift, that felt like “Okay, this is coming from a place of duty.” … It’s our duty to create this and to share this work and to change hearts with it…I think that art is a lot more important than society tries to make it seem, it’s not just like entertainment or things like that. I think art is genuinely God’s communication with us, and you always are supposed to grow after you see something. After you ingest it you’re supposed to genuinely grow and feel change in some way and I don’t think that anything can do that other than art.
GV: Y’all said that there’s going to be a film?
JC: Yeah. First of all, we did the play to crowdfund for the film. It was a film script first; Maresheh wrote the script for the film and then I adapted it into the play, and now we’re re-adapting it for the film, again, based off of all of the things that were added…
MD: … Like a play: draft two.
JC: It’ll be our thesis project at CalArts. We’re going to be there for MFA Film Directing and we’re doing a Joint Thesis Feature Film, so that’s a three year project. In like 2025, it will be in festivals and all of that, so that’s what we’re working on.
First, a disclaimer: the interview above was impromptu and left the artists little-to-no-time to prepare answers. However, I would still like to critique some of the gender-exclusive language used during my interview with Jairis and Mareshah. For one, femme nonbinary individuals are in no way inherently AFAB (Assigned Female At Birth), therefore, not all femme nonbinary folk have vaginas. I stand on the fact that Roe v. Wade is not just a women’s issue, especially as a Latine person in a queer space who wants to pursue a career in Obsterics and Gynecology; abortion access is just as crucial for many transgender men and nonbinary people, and their intentional inclusion is essential. Plus, with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, we see the potential overturning of other essential rulings for the queer community, as well as BIPOC comunities.
As for my personal opinion of the play and the interview, I was astounded by the play’s story and concept and was very delighted to see the different characters Carter and Dupree play and embody. As Dupree mentions, this story is a (gender)queer story and experience that is tied together with historical, racial, and gendered context. As Judah mentioned above, I also wish that certain scenes were given more time to marinate and conclude, but obviously the playtime was short. For instance, I wish we were given a stronger sense of conclusion at the end, and an understanding of how the two friends return to each other’s sides. Beyond criticism, this piece was beautiful to experience and I can’t wait to watch the film version in the coming years.
Authors: Judah C (They/Them), Giulianna Vicente (She/Her)
Artist: Giulianna Vicente (She/Her)
Copy Editors: Brooke Borders (She/Her), Bella (She/They)