For Youth Inquiry’s (FYI) world premiere multidisciplinary performance This Boat Called My Body was created by a team of devisors and youth who have shared their abortion stories with the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health (ICAH). The play invites audience members to sail with Jane, played by Elena Victoria Feliz, as she navigates the troubled waters of seeking an abortion at 16. This play loudly and publicly confronts the stigma around abortions as well as the clinical, legislative and personal challenges and hurdles that young people face along the way.
Against the truly majestic backdrop of the Stearns Quarry Fishing Pond in Palmisano Park, this play transports audiences into the heart of Jane’s journey. Using a combination of dance, opera, participatory theater, and the spectacular setting, directors Quenna Lené Barrett and Nik Zaleski craft a deeply felt experience and a potent call to action. FYI’s participatory theater invites the audience to invest themselves into the world of the play, and become actors in the life of the characters on stage. Participating in FYI’s work inspires audience members to activate their emotions, and to extend active care not only to the character and the actor portraying her, but also to the story she embodies.
Aided by three Wisdom Keepers played with profound tenderness by Chinyere Achebe, Vic Wynter and Emma Sheikh, Jane faces down the Chorus of White Males led by Graham Carlson as they shout from the literal hilltop. They shout that Jane is powerless, that her body does not belong to her, and that her agency is not her own because she is a woman, because she is not straight, because she is not an adult under the law. As Jane finds out, the obstacles to accessing abortion services for young people are many: stigma, price, distance, misogyny, as well as Illinois’s Parental Notification of Abortion Law(PNA). PNA mandates that at least 48 hours prior to administering abortion services doctors and healthcare providers must notify the patient’s parent or guardian if they are under the age of 17. ICAH has been campaigning for the repeal of this law for some time. While the law does not place legal consent in the hands of adults, it seriously complicates any young person’s access to abortion services and has a very real potential to endanger them.
In addition to legal challenges, Jane also faces interpersonal ones. The play deftly imagines several scenarios of what Jane’s mother might say, each one painful in its own way. Jane must also confront the desires and reality of the young person who she had sex with, Malcolm, who is played by Gregory Taylor Hill. Jane must navigate a difficult balance as Malcolm begins to monopolize her time and energy, and prioritize his own dreams over Jane’s autonomy. The play critiques the way that misogyny and toxic masculinity play out in situations where a pregnancy is unplanned or unwanted, and models self-care for youth in that moment, with Jane stating calmly and firmly that she can’t take care of Malcolm too. This Boat Called My Body also explores the way that the stigma around abortion and sexuality in young people can prohibit their understanding of birth control, pregnancy tests, their medical rights and privileges, and their own agency.
What the cast and crew of This Boat Called My Body do with tremendous grace and care is embody the question “What do you know is true for you?,” which the Wisdom Keepers ask Jane as she faces her limited options. For Youth Inquiry’s work centers the voices of young people, and both affirms and empowers their agency. In telling Jane’s story, and calling upon a long line of ancestors who have faced the same struggles, this production offers the audience an opportunity to conspire with Jane and to walk beside her. So often audiences leave a theatre with new knowledge of injustice, new emotional experiences of pain and heartache, but without a path to action. When audiences walk up the hill from the fishing pond after This Boat Called My Body, having been given the chance to aid Jane on her journey, they leave with a mission and a toolkit. They leave with lessons in caring for youth seeking abortion, with physical materials on the current efforts of the Illinois Caucus of Adolescent Health in securing sexual and reproductive justice for youth, and with a reminder that youth voices deserve to be a the center of any discussion of youth rights. Whether you are Jane, you love Jane, or you are meeting Jane for the first time, FYI’s “This Boat Called My Body” offers audiences a unique and powerful experience, one that should not be missed.
Photo Credit: Alyssa Vera Ramos
Devisors: Quenna Lené Barrett, Christabel Donkor, Danielle Littman, Jessamyn Fitzpatrick, Clair Fuller, and Nik Zaleski
Directors: Quenna Lené Barrett and Nik Zaleski
Assistant Director: Airos Sung-En Medill
Original Music by: Maggie Mascal
Sound Design: Cooper Forsman
Installation Design: Haydeé Souffrant
Costume Design: Nik Zaleski
Props Design: Anna Freed and Alyssa Vera Ramos
Stage Manager: Darien R Wendell
Assistant Stage Manager: Nic Park
Board Op: Cassandra Kendall
Produced by Catherine Miller
Elena Victoria Feliz as Jane
Graham Carlson as Rex/ White Male Chorus Leader
Chinyere Achebe as Esther / Wisdom Keeper Mel
Vic Wynter as Daniella/Wisdom Keeper Pat
Gregory Taylor Hill as Malcom
Emma Sheikh as Nurse/ Wisdom Keeper Cass
Performed in conjunction with Chicago Park District at Palmisano Park, 2700 S. Halsted
Thursday-Saturday at 5:30pm
Sunday at 2:00pm
Closes June 17 at 5:30pm