"This is a story that is highly relevant in Australia, where one-in-six couples are infertile and more and more are seeking overseas surrogates."
So says playwright and former Age journalist and section editor Jane Cafarella. "Commercial surrogacy is illegal in Australia and it is illegal for Australians living in NSW, ACT and QLD to seek commercial surrogates overseas. e-baby is set in the virtual world, England and America, one of the few places where commercial surrogacy is legal, although not in all states."
e-baby was initially inspired by an interview Cafarella did in 2005 with an expat woman in Thailand who had both her children via a surrogate. "We got talking about our kids and she said, "I've never been pregnant."
I found the idea intriguing and asked to interview her. The story was never published but it stayed with me. She did not say much about the surrogate other than that she was a wonderful person and that she was very grateful to her. But I began to wonder how this relationship was negotiated.
When we moved to Singapore in 2012 for my husband's work, and I had time, I began to research online communities. I found myself drawn into a fascinating world where it was normal to go home with a cheque rather than a baby after nine months of pregnancy. it was a world that lent itself perfectly to theatre as it was a roller-coaster ride of high drama.
But e-baby is much more than a play about surrogacy – it is about two iconic women who are fascinating in their own right. I've really enjoyed creating the characters, which have been inspired by all the women who post in online surrogacy communities, and developed under the expert guidance of dramaturge and director Anna McCrossin-Owen, who has been a joy to work with.
As a two-hander, I felt it had to have interesting characters. The husbands are alluded to in the play, but not present, as this is something that happens very much between women.
The medical community are only alluded to, as well. I didn't want it to be a play with men in white coats telling women what to do. The technology allows Assisted Reproductive Technology but the women are the ones who drive it. It's definitely not a play full of hospital scenes. It's very much about the women and their relationship.
But the fact that it's a two-hander and that they also have to communicate across countries at times, created challenges. But I think this has been good as it's inspired us to incorporate the technology as a metaphor for the technology that enables surrogacy.
The play also has a lot of comedy, which is my natural bent. In fact, when the play was in development during one reading of what I had thought was a very dramatic scene, the director at the time looked up and said: "You realise this is funny?"
Another question raised is Who has rights and responsibilities in the creation of new life in the modern world? Infertility, grief, hope, the modern sense of entitlement, the commoditisation of motherhood, and what it means to be a mother or parent in this new world. It's also about the indomitable human spirit that will urge people to find solutions, no matter how difficult the problem.
The project has had a very long gestation – a 27 month pregnancy or three years. I started writing it as a project for an online course in advanced playwriting under tutor Richard Caliban at the Gotham Writers Centre in New York in 2012.(An excellent $400 investment).
I did a CAE course on playwriting with Jodie Gallagher in 2008, which set me on my playwriting path. (Thanks Jodie!), and had had one acts and short plays produced in Singapore and Melbourne but this is my first full-length play.
But it was Carolyn Masson and Brenda Palmer (New Performance Company) who really started the ball rolling and who urged me towards production. I wouldn't be here without their support.
Where do I begin about difficulties in producing!? As a first time producer I feel as if I've learned the rules and broken many of them along the way. Firstly, we were very fortunate to get an in-kind grant towards the Chapel Off Chapel (the Loft) rental from Stonnington Council, which started us off. But the rest I've had to raise myself.
In an ideal world I would have done this first, not along the way, but as surrogacy suddenly became a hot issue, I felt I had to jump now. I no longer recommend this method.
Also, while it's not a prop-heavy show, some were essential. You've no idea how hard it is to get good fake pregnancy bellies. Those that are around are full body suits, very expensive and mostly used for film. No one would lend one or hire one for a whole theatre season.
I ended up getting them from a cross-dressing site in China (discretion assured). Mr WenWu3 was very nice about my frequent missives begging to know when delivery would occur, and always addressed me as "Hi Sweety". I still get spam offering me fake boobs and fannies.
Then there is the issue of hauling bits of set from one rehearsal venue to another. My Getz, fondly known as the blueberry, was frequently seen chooffing between the VCA and Chapel off Chapel with it's belly dragging along the ground from the weight of our stuff. I am very grateful to the VCA and Chapel. I don't think we would have made it if our rehearsal venues were very far apart.
The thing I've learned most is that you need nerves of steel and very long pockets to produce a play. I will never sit in a theatre again and be cavalier about what is before me. Instead, I will bow down with gratitude, not just for the creative drive that makes all happen but the sheer courage.
Luckily, I have a fantastic team – a combination of seasoned professionals and young new talent – who have cheerfully managed to come up with solutions to any challenges we've had and who have guided me along the way. I've also been supported by some wonderful sponsors, and my family and friends.
That's why I'm looking forward to a fantastic season.
4-15 March, 2015
Chapel off Chapel, Prahran