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Case Study: The Bumps | Pregnancy Support in Rehearsal and Performance

"I feel like one trap we worked hard to avoid is like this is a play just for and about pregnancy. What if we talked about pregnancy the way that we talk about death as relevant to everyone."

- Deena Selenow and Rachel Kauder Nalebuff

“It’s a beautiful ego check. Because you really have to be like, ‘How could I ever think that this play is more important than people’s health?’ It’s not worth it. It’s never worth it. But with pregnancy it makes it so evident and undeniable, the way that the rest of theater culture can kind of seemingly afford to ignore, but then it actually is why people burn out and why it’s is so exclusive. I feel like everything we learned through The Bumps is how theater should always be and how all labor practices should always be, but we could just play around with it because we had this mini model.”

- Deena Selenow and Rachel Kauder Nalebuff

Project leads: Deena Selenow (director) and Rachel Kauder Nalebuff (writer)

Project: Full Production of an original play, "The Bumps"

About the project: Nominated to the Kilroys 2016 Honorable Mention List, The Bumps is an ongoing project in the form of a play written for a cast of three pregnant (yes, actually pregnant) performers. Part movement, part dialogue, part labor politics, The Bumpscharts how our cultural understanding of pregnancy has evolved over the years and examines what we inherit from our parents. This story about pregnancy offers a new angle on the great theatrical question: How do we make meaning as we wait? Our process of rehearsing and performing the piece asks the great human question: How do we center our arts practices around our actual lives and bodies?

Objective: To take people’s lives into consideration while having the understanding that rehearsal needs to be something that’s repeatable.

Obstacles: Creating individual but repeatable flexible rehearsal structures while also accommodating for childcare/caregiving needs in the rehearsal space and on location in multiple venues.

Solution Pieces of The Bumps:

  • On-Site Childcare

  • Scheduling rehearsals at times where peoples schedules were most supported

  • Shorter rehearsals but more rehearsals

  • Multiple long breaks

Brief Project Summary Presentation:

Rehearsal Process:

  • Pinpoint single focus to see or explore in rehearsal the next day

  • Acknowledge that in each rehearsal we’re not going to flesh out the entire piece, but rather this was an ongoing cycle of exploring different parts

  • Acknowledge that emotionally there’s a lot going on and that needs to be addressed and seen and honored without assuming that it will happen or assuming emotionality on any individual

  • Support health vulnerability: If one person gets a cold, we have to cancel rehearsal.

“Budgets are part of the imagining process for artists, so why not write a budget that imagines inclusively?”

- Deena Selenow and Rachel Kauder Nalebuff

Project Leaders Share Their Story

The first group was the most intensive one because the script was really written around them. We were learning what the play could be. At first we thought, it’s enough to shift some things about rehearsal. It became clear early on we should think about childcare. We didn’t have the budget for that the first time, and then we budgeted for it the second time. Because one performer had a kid. We didn’t realize until we started rehearsing that that was a thing we needed to worry about.

It’s so common - so many pregnant artists are often already parents.

That was a clarifying moment because we were like, this isn’t just about visibility or ability, this is about families and this is about larger gaps in the support structure in the arts, and that’s what the Bumps can really address or think about.

We realized the script has to be something that can be performed seated or standing, where there’s a lot of flexibility where people are. A mix between that, and moments of ability to recoup and rest during a piece. And also creating physical and emotional challenges, not wanting to coddle. Because the actress is like, "No I want to be doing calisthenics in a bathing suit" And so finding that balance was a biggie of wanting to care for, but also wanting to provide real, legit challenges.

In The Macro sense for society it is more cost effective to do it collectively than if 10 families each pay for childcare.

We found the residency model is super unhealthy. It doesn’t have to be that way. To schedule these concentrated blocks makes it exclusive for people that don’t have rehearsals schedules that are flexible. So what about having residencies that were over a much longer period of time but spread out. Theaters when they give you a workshop or an opportunity, they don’t schedule time that way.

Actors felt trapped by stress of oncoming performance. Even though they were exhausted “Why would we say anything?” “I really pride myself on not being a diva.” What the fuck theater? Women have this crazy thing where if you have physical needs you suddenly are failing at working hard. It was a wakeup call for all of us that we have to uproot that.

Then the director became pregnant and had a hard time applying the process she had created for actors to herself. “As a director, I still need to do XYZ”

“We might want to advocate for others but what happens when it comes to ourselves?”

“I’m asking others to practice self care and tell me their needs in a way that I’m unable to do. There really really needs to be infrastructure so that people feel that they can speak up.”

Early on when we were doing The Bumps, people were like “Why are you two doing this?!” because we’re not pregnant. In a way that was a little messed up because it assumed that you need to be pregnant to care, which is so fucked up.

But the people who are going through this are exactly the ones that don’t have the resources to advocate for change.

Theater doesn’t feel circular in terms of who’s looking out for who. It doesn’t feel like everyone's back is covered. Institutions need to come in and provide care. Institutions can help care for audiences and they can do so much more to care for artists.

What if a theater decided that doing a play on book was valid. What if a theater decided that something could be a work in progress, was exciting. Or even for leadership to very strongly communicate expectations for everyone on their staff.

Even at companies where the leadership was very supportive of our methods, it wasn’t communicated to other members of the staff who then put pressure on us to perform in the usual way, although that was explicitly against our mandate.

But audiences loved The Bumps at every stage. “The idea of a perfect polished piece of theater is always patriarchal.”

Working with motherhood and pregnancy, you’ll learn that if you try to work towards that something really beautiful will come through. Which is equally rigorous. There is real rigor that can happen when you are open to.

Another big piece: auditions. It was super important to us for the audition process to reach people beyond the hyper radical LA feminist art works that we’re in.

We wanted the casting call to feel like “Wow, being pregnant isn’t something I have to cover up, what if someone wanted this?”

We had this radical experience where everyone who came to audition was so powerful because being pregnant in person is such an intense experience.

So even though we had to cast three people, they all could have been in the show. So Deena had the idea of what if we created this open mic night where everyone who auditioned could share their experience.

So instead of a talkback, we divided our extra funding and paid everyone to come to share five minutes of work at this open mic night.

So instead of the two of us on top of doing a play creating a new community engagement model, we just did this, and it was really fun and it was packed. And it took organizing but it wasn’t crazy.

What if theater instead of rejecting auditioners inviting them to be part of the process? Because anyone that’s auditioning already is on board for the work and gets it in some way. It’s efficient, it's effective, it’s speaking to the audience. It seems like extra work but then those people all came to the play, they brought their friends, it was a wonderful way to already have an audience and a community of people rooting for the work.

So many people had to come on board to make the Bumps possible.

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