Lawrence playwright invites hometown to join conversation on maternal health outcomes – The Lawrence Times

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Timmia Hearn DeRoy undertook to write a play about maternal morbidity that spoke to its author. Now it’s Lawrence’s turn to help develop a play that speaks to the community.

During a series of rehearsals, staged readings and conversations in the coming weeks, DeRoy invites everyone to participate in a public conversation about maternal health outcomes, using DeRoy’s 10-act play, On-Born Children and Ghosts, as a springboard.

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Years of historical research combined with dissertation work on the ways stories contribute to social transformation showed DeRoy that the mediums of storytelling—music, theater, and film, for example—were among the best ways to “get the pulse and the thinking of men.” And telling one’s own story is most effective, said DeRoy, whose work focuses on social justice theater.

“I set out to write a play about maternal mortality and morbidity among women in the African diaspora, specifically in Guyana, where I was doing my research,” said DeRoy, who uses all pronouns.

But something else came up.

“I think this play speaks to the experiences of black women, indigenous women and white women, and Asian women, just women on different spectrums in ways that the original play that I was trying to write was really telling a specific story,” they said. .

DeRoy said On-Born Children and Ghosts is “a mixed-race Queer couple’s journey through pregnancy and the ghosts that haunt them. Traversing four hundred years of colonial history, in doctors’ offices, places of worship, in water, political offices and in the homes of people who are pregnant and those who care for them, this play makes us look at our own experiences of pregnancy and desire to become or not to become parents. How can we be the wildest dreams of our ancestors if they only had nightmares?’

Contributed Couple Timmia Hearn DeRoy, left, and Pere DeRoy, of Three-Faced Productions

The play was produced by DeRoy and Pere DeRoy’s production company, Three-Faced Productions. The couple also produced a documentary series in partnership with cinematographer and editor Max Jiang that asks, “Who Makes It to Parent?” The series, part of which is still in production, highlights the DeRoys’ journey to expand their family through the experiences of an odd couple running a health care a system plagued by discrimination.

Using her own IVF, pregnancy and parenting journey as inspiration for “On-Born Children and Ghosts,” DeRoy said the play is not autobiographically written, but there is some crossover between the documentary and the play. After all, the play is based on multiple layers, generations and realities of people from the African diaspora and beyond.

The cast for On-Born Children and Ghosts is Ang Bennett as Char and Sarah McGuire as Emily, a married couple. Carmel Garcia, Gabrielle Smith, Rhonda Simmons and Chris Pendry appear as ghosts.

Crew members include Lauren K. Smith, stage manager; Pere DeRoy, playwright; Michelle Hefner Hayes, Music Director; and Alison Lewis, Music Director/Consultant.

Open rehearsals

Each weekday from Monday, October 23rd through Tuesday, November 14th, rehearsals will be held virtually or in person at various locations around the city during the day to accommodate the DeRoy family’s schedule. Look for times and locations to be announced on the Three-Faced Productions website, Facebook and Instagram.

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Everyone is welcome to attend — whether they choose to participate or just observe — and even just for a short time, said DeRoy, who is also the director. The point is not to present a “shiny, perfect production” of her artistic vision. Instead, she plans to record the sessions for her own use and make edits to the play based on the process and feedback.

DeRoy said they expect participants to show up and listen with an open mind while practicing civility and respect — regardless of their positions on issues like queer parenting or abortion. Everyone has one thing in common: they are all born.

“This story is about people through time who experienced these things,” DeRoy said. “I think they’re all true in their own way. And they’re all honest and then they’re reflections, you know. And I’m going to have a website that we’re going to put out that’s going to have all of our sources, websites, news articles that have been pulled for this play – books that you can read because it all happened. All this happened.”

In today’s post-Dobbs world, Kansas remains a place with high rates of reproductive injustice and incarceration, especially among black and indigenous people, DeRoy said.

Death rates rose for black and Kansas natives who were pregnant between 2009 and 2019. Studies show that black women are more likely to die from pregnancy than any other group in the United States.

And since 1990, the arrest rate for blacks in Kansas has increased 51 percent, according to a report by the Vera Institute. “In 2015, black people were incarcerated at 3.9 times the rate of white people, and Native Americans were 1.5 times more likely to be incarcerated than white people,” the report said.

Stage readings

DeRoy has lived most of her life in Lawrence and grew up on the city’s dance and theater scenes, including the original home of the Lawrence Center for the Arts, the Carnegie Building.

During the final phase of On-Born Children and Ghosts, staged readings will be held from 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, November 15, 16 and 17, in the Carnegie Building Event Space, 200 W. Ninth St . talkbacks — each night featuring a different panel — are also scheduled at the end of each of the roughly 90-minute shows. Again, DeRoy envisions these conversations as an opportunity for the community to engage in dialogue.

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General admission tickets can be reserved on the play’s website at timmiahearn.com. Attendees are asked to “pay what they can,” DeRoy said, whether they keep their tickets or pay at the door. DeRoy has just asked audience members not to reserve tickets until they confirm their own availability to prevent unused reservations.

“But anyone can come,” DeRoy said. “We would absolutely encourage you to come if you have $0 to spend on it. This is completely welcome.”

“On-Born Children and Ghosts” is the recipient of a 2023 Rocket Grant through the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas and Charlotte Street in Kansas City. Rocket Grant’s website tells visitors it provides “grants for non-traditional, community-oriented artworks in surprising places.”

The Carnegie Building is part of the Frontier of Freedom National Heritage Area, which documents the struggles for freedom in 41 counties in eastern Kansas and western Missouri. From the Cider Gallery, where auditions were held, to the culmination of the public project at Carnegie and everywhere in between, buildings hold history, DeRoy said, and spaces are part of the process.

“There are so many stories running through the foundation of Lawrence,” DeRoy said. “I want to shine a light with this production on our freedom-fighting roots in the ways we engage in the politics of exclusion, and I’m just saying, ‘These are our stories. These are our ghosts.

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Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more about her work for the Times here. See her staff bio here.

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