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Theatre For Thought, November 10, 2012
HATCHED FROM A THEATRICAL EGG
“I didn’t want it to be an issue play,” said Claire Burns. “Just a play that deals with certain issues.” She’s referring to Hatched, her new play that was inspired from her own experience as an egg donor back in 2004. Produced by Toronto’s Triangle Co-Op Productions, the show aims to be less about the moral / legal issues surrounding in vitro fertilization and more about the ripple effect our choices have on generations to come.
It’s hard to discuss Hatched without resorting to puns, so I’ll get them out of the way now. The show was “conceived” after Burns donated her eggs, it “gestated” while Burns conducted research, interviewing egg donors, recipients and donor children. After its initial “birth”, it was “nurtured” by Burns with some dramaturgical help from the people at Triangle Co-Op. And last week, the show finally arrived, aged and mature, at the Toronto Free Gallery.
“I wonder what he’s like, does he act like me and so forth.”
Hatched deals with the story of Nicholas, an adolescent whose pubescent angst is given some provocation when he learns of the unusual circumstances surrounding his conception. It’s no accident that the play is about a young man: Claire Burns is well aware that the eggs she donated eight years ago resulted in the birth of a little boy. “It sparked a lot of what ifs,” she told me. “I wonder what he’s like, does he act like me and so forth.”
Burns will probably never know: her donation was closed, meaning she doesn’t even know the people her donation helped all those years ago. This is what makes Hatched such a striking play: knowing its backstory, one cannot help but see the play as a theatrical message in a bottle. For all Burns knows, the family she helped will be in the audience. And the story she invented about Nicholas’ identity crisis may actually come to pass.
Hatched may be focused more on Nicholas than the politics surrounding IVF, but Burns herself has some definite opinions on the subject. Currently, Canadian law prohibits selling eggs and sperm, forcing infertile couples to rely on the altruism of others. Since both egg and sperm donation is a time consuming process – Burns had to undergo a battery of tests, psychological and physical – Canada’s fertility clinics have had to rely on donors from outside the country to fill their banks.
According to a CBC report from March, 2011, out of a selection of 200 sperm donors, less than 40 came from Canadian men. This is because Canadian law does not prohibit the purchase of sperm that originates from outside the country. Dr. Edward Hughes, of McMaster University, was quoted as saying that from a practical point of view, “infrastructure and regulation are the two things right now that need to be defined, refined and built.”
“The system needs to be more realistic.”
This hasn’t been happening, resulting in an unregulated industry in which donors are often “compensated for their time”, a vague phrase that allows them to do an end run around the law. And as there’s no regulation, both they and the fertility clinics often inflate their prices and take advantage of an infertile couples’ desperation. "It’s very naïve to think that the one thing you need most is the thing that’s supposed to come for free," Burns remarked. “The system needs to be more realistic.”
It’s these issues which lie at the heart of Nicholas’ identity crisis in Hatched – his crisis is provoked by the knowledge that, in the end, he is a product of a business transaction. Yet the politics lie at the fringes of this play, establishing the background without ever taking over the plot. Burns definitely hopes to provoke discussion, but she’s not interested in doing it at the expense of her show. She credits the people at Triangle Co-op for helping her in the development process. “The show is much more active and dramatic,” she said. “The process definitely helped me as a playwright.”
So for all the questions surrounding the ethically ambiguous world of assisted reproduction, Hatched is ultimately about a boy trying to find his place in the world. “I don’t think I’m on a soapbox,” said Burns. “I just tried to concentrate on the characters and the story.”
Hatched by Claire Burns runs at the Toronto Free Gallery until November 17. For tickets visit www.totix.com. For more information about Hatched visit http://hatchedtheplay.wordpress.com/
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