When Rebecca Berger ’19 chose to direct Ruby Rae Spiegel’s Dry Land this semester, she was told she would need to include trigger warnings and a sensitive director’s note in both the program and posters for the show. She was even told she might receive hate mail. “Honestly, that made me want to do the show even more.”
This week, I interviewed Berger, a theater major with a focus in directing, about her experiences choosing and directing Dry Land. Berger is directing the show as an independent study this semester. It opens in the Black Box Theater on March 16 and plays until March 18. The play is about “abortion, female friendship, and resiliency.” When choosing the show, Berger focused on plays by female playwrights about strong female characters. “I think it’s really important to have a show written by a woman because she… lends her own personal views, ideas, and life experience to the show and to the characters.”
On the subject matter itself, Berger chose to put Dry Land onstage at Bates because she felt it was “really important in this political climate.” While, in public arenas, “women’s reproductive health and just health in general… gets constantly pushed aside,” Berger wants to talk about it.
Set in a high school girls’ swim team locker room, the play follows the story of a young girl who is seeking an abortion in Florida, a state in which she cannot get a safe abortion without the consent of a parent or guardian. To avoid having to tell her parents, she tries to figure out a “back-alley” abortion method.
Spiegel includes the actual abortion in the show and wrote a note to directors insisting that the “abortion should be seen, and should not be covered by any sort of set piece or a costume item.” Berger explained that if the procedure is “covered, that tells the audience that [abortion] is something that should be disguised, not talked about, or pushed aside because it’s taboo.” When directing the scene itself, Berger intends to “stay true to… the experience of the character” and show “how scared she would be, rather than make it a spectacle with all this blood.”
The central conflict of Dry Land is abortion, but it covers a host of other topics as well. The show touches on mental health, bisexuality, queerness, and “how the characters deal with all these other problems and… the isolation that goes along with figuring out who you are in high school.” Due to its focus on female friendship, Berger proudly explained that the show passes the Bechdel test, which asks if, in a work of fiction, two women talk about something other than men. “It’s about a women’s issue… and how women feel in society.”
Through a story about abortion, Spiegel is able to make a profound commentary on the expectations of young girls in society. Berger discussed that as women, we are told to “look a certain way and… act a certain way.” “Once you hit a certain age, you become a sex object. But, if you act on that… that’s a horrible thing. Suddenly, you’re considered a slut and a whore.” Directing this show is a sign of resistance against societal expectations for Berger. “I want to show that friendship is messy, high school is hard, love is messy. There shouldn’t be any hard and fast lines.”
Concerning the show’s subject matter itself, Berger encourages those unsure or conflicted about abortion to see Dry Land so that they are able to “expose themselves to things that they’re scared of.” Berger explained that exposing these sorts of topics in the theater space is particularly valuable. Theatre, as a medium, is unique in the sense that audience members can “absorb” and “connect” to shows, and then continue to process and think about what they’ve just experienced once they’ve left the theater. “It’s going to be a funny show, because it has to be, because it’s so dark. And I hope people will come and see the light as well as the dark.”