Familial fractures, pain, loss and the desperate need for a child are the bases of award winning play, Water Child, by Australian playwright, Emma Wood. Water Child is a very personal journey for Wood that is written with both humour and pathos It is a powerful and poignant tale that reflects the hardship of many couples who so desperately want to become parents. It also honours the children lost to miscarriage as well as giving us a sensitive perspective on the pain and sorrow involved with that loss from both parent’s perspective.
Read on as Wood talks about her own battle with inexplicable and shocking infertility; her desire to give others a voice; the importance of femalecentric theatre and the importance of compassion and fellowship in times of grief. Water Child offers a rare glimpse into the myriad of difficulties faced by so many – and talked about by so few.
What was the genesis of Water Child and what significance does this work have for you personally
It’s hard for me to pin down exactly how I came to Water Child. Actually it sort of came to me. I woke up at 4am one morning in 2010 and it the opening scene was burning in my mind. This was not a familiar experience as I’d never written a play before. I was in my early thirties, I had a very young son who had taken a long time and some medical intervention to conceive, and a recent pregnancy which we were delighted about had ended suddenly in miscarriage. They were twins, although we didn’t know this till an ultrasound confirmed neither foetus had developed to the point of a heartbeat. This was gutting – and very unexpected. And perhaps this is one of shoots that led me to think more about miscarriage. Why was it so shocking? I know the stats now – one in six pregnancies ends in miscarriage. But it felt so wrong. The stats make it sound both commonplace and fairly pedestrian – but each loss is a time of grief for the parents. And the longer the pregnancy goes on, the harder the loss is – as we found out time and time again as the years rolled by. And the more losses mount, the more the feelings of desperation, panic, and grief become entrenched. People who struggle with fertility are walking wounded – but one of the toughest aspects of this grief is that you are not expected to talk about it, seek understanding or compassion. So many times your heart will break on the inside while you paste a smile on as you are left behind while others have baby after baby without any trouble. Social media and the glorification of motherhood make it impossible to shield yourself from daily reminders of what you wish for desperately but cannot have. It feels unnatural to be unable to do what is the most primal thing of all – and yet there are many of us who cannot. I hope that the play will allow those who know the pain to have it recognised, to feel they are not alone, to see characters feeling what they feel – and those who have never known it to be more compassionate to those who are struggling with it. It should not be taboo. Infertility is touching lives around us all the time.
Once the idea to write the piece took root, what was the process time from mind to page and what were your most challenging hurdles while writing
Perhaps the greatest hurdle was that I had never written a play before! Yet having spent my life in theatre as an actor, director and teacher, the dialogue came easily once I began. I found the dialogue just came flowing out – but at the end of each scene I would stop and sit on it, sometimes for months, while the wheels slowly turned in my subconscious, guiding me to a sense of what had to happen next. Some local actors were interested and a couple of readings were held, and out of that a workshopping group developed led by Janet Nelson, a highly experienced director. The workshopping process was wonderful actually – I felt the actors all believed in the play and were helping me fine tune it to a point where it was polished and ready for production.
Which character was the easiest to write for and why and which was the most difficult
The protagonist, Jeannie, was certainly the easiest to write. It was both a pain and a relief to be able to write someone I understood so well. She is not me and her story is not mine, but I knew her pain – I think all of us who have struggled with fertility know the many ways the grief can strike. I like to think I sensed the deep anguish of her husband too, as men’s grief regarding fertility is often overlooked, although he was more complex for me to write partly because I was concerned about creating an authentic male voice, and because his grief is played out in some dramatic actions and decisions, which can make him hard to empathise with at times. The other female characters were easy and enjoyable to write because they are each so different – but I think the family dynamics are recognisable and often laugh out loud funny, as all families can be! The character of Angela is gay, and I was concerned about giving her an authentic voice too when she speaks of her fertility explorations, and relieved when some gay friends who saw it thanked me for offering a gay perspective which rang true for them.
The play centres around a couple who are unable to have children – what broader audience are you aiming at with your work and what themes will be of interest to the wider community
I think the play would interest anyone who can immerse themselves in a story about how people behave and interact with those closest to them at a time of crisis, and how they find a way to rebuild when the direction of their lives has been changed in a way they did not choose. Infertility is a core theme of the play, but the way characters are driven to handle their very strong feelings is fascinating, and the journey they each move through as time progresses and relationships founder, develop, or heal, is a study of people that could engage anyone. Many audience members of a wide range of ages commented on this in the premiere production in 2012.
You are involved with various surrogacy programmes – what would you say to others who are undergoing this very difficult time
So many things! One is that there you are not alone, and one of the upsides of social media is there are many forums dedicated to bringing people together who are struggling with fertility, or investigating particular paths such as IVF or surrogacy. But real friends who will sit down and listen without judgement or unhelpful platitudes are irreplaceable. In my case I was unwilling to give up unless we got past the age it was still possible – and fortunately we met a wonderful surrogate who helped us have a child in our early 40s – the end of a twelve year journey. But I’ve become aware of many wonderful organisations – gatewaywomen.org is one – which help people see a way into a bright future even when all efforts and interventions fail. I don’t think mantras such as ‘dreams will come true’ are always helpful. There does come a point for many people when no amount of time, effort, emotional or financial investment, will bring them a child. This is not their fault, it is the lottery of life, and one that cannot always be changed. The many medical avenues open to people struggling to have children gives the impression that the struggle will always end in triumph. So, for some, the quest can literally last for decades, and the story of some woman somewhere who had a baby naturally at 47 will continue to shine like a beacon even when perhaps a time to let go is at hand. I have read wonderful stories of women who have chosen to redirect their energies into entirely different lives once they accept that a family will not be their path. I think it’s worth contemplating how you will live a good life if all attempts fail.
As a playwright and creative, what stories interest you and why
I love to be immersed deeply in the lives of others. Theatre is a wonderful, visceral way to really involve yourself in the struggles and journeys of characters. I love humour too – bringing light to darkness is what we do in life, and I like to create it on stage too. It’s also important to me as a playwright to create strong, dynamic roles for women of all ages. That was one of the inspirations for Water Child – creating roles that are the centre of a piece, not the sidelines, and that approach subject matter many women think about, perhaps even talk about, but do not see reflected on stage.
What would you say to encourage an audience to attend Water child
Water Child presents believable characters facing real life issues, presented with humour, pathos and sensitivity. The story will surprise you, the action will engage you, and your sympathies may shift as a range of complex characters grow in response to a crisis we can all imagine. It’s a new Australian play which puts women front and centre – something we need to see more of in Australian theatres. At the premiere production at Newcastle Theatre Company in 2012 the audience laughed, cried, and stayed back in the foyer to share their own stories and shed a tear at feeling able to speak of something that is so often swept under the carpet. Oh – and it won Best New Play at the City of Newcastle Drama Awards – so someone else thinks it’s good too!
When: Friday September 1 at 8pm
Saturday September 2 at 2pm and 8pm
Wednesday September 6 at 8pm
Thursday September 7 at 8pm
Friday September 8 at 8pm
Saturday September 9 at 2pm and 8pm
Where: Crossroads Uniting Church: Corner of Duncans Road and Synnot Street Werribee.
Tickets: $25.00 Full / $22.00 Concession
Cast: Marti Ibrahim, Travis Handcock, Gabriella Mazzarino, Rachel Clayton, Stephanie King.