Destigmatizing Infertility One Laugh at a Time, an Interview With Meirav&nb
Meirav Zur is an actor, writer, and producer currently based in Israel. She was born and raised in the US, where she first began to pursue her theatre and education studies. In 2005, Zur founded English On Stage, an independent English‑language professional traveling theater, subsequently writing, directing, and acting in its various original productions. The theatre’s extensive repertoire includes original musicals, children’s plays, and improv shows, with productions having been performed across Israel, including at the Habima National Theatre of Israel. Zur’s most recent production and first solo show, “Inconceivable: The Totally True One‑Woman Semi‑Fertile Quasi‑‘Musical,’” had its US debut at the 2018 United Solo Theatre Festival in New York City, where it was awarded Best Interactive Show. Cynthia Darling: How has your experience founding and working with English On Stage influenced “Inconceivable: The Totally True One‑Woman Semi‑Fertile Quasi‑‘Musical’”? Meirav Zur: When English On Stage just started out, I was doing most of the necessary work involved in theater production—from administration to sales and marketing, from costume and set design to stage management—on top of writing and acting. Over the years, I had the opportunity to work with so many different talented people, and meet many fascinating audience members. In hindsight, I guess all that time being a figurative one‑woman show sort of trained me for a literal one‑woman show, and all those people I got to work with along the way led me to understand the possibilities of such a show. The response to “Inconceivable” has been amazing, especially from women. How has your understanding of the message of the show evolved as you’ve performed and also spoken about the show? Great question. That response is my main motivation for performing this show for as many people as possible. I initially thought that I was just telling a story, trying to entertain and make people laugh, and maybe give something to think and talk about later. Now, I see how “Inconceivable” shows people how we can all connect. I’ve realized that so many women around the world experience infertility and its craziness, but rarely speak (or dare laugh) about it openly. So they miss out on possible supportive connections to others around them. Until this show, I had missed these connections myself. I always thought I was the only one around me experiencing this, and nobody else could understand it. I have met so many other people who had similar experiences, and saw how they were learning about each other, and it’s been very empowering. At every show I learn something new from the audience. I connect with more people and see how they relate and connect with others. Every single person is unique, but not alone. We all have issues, and that’s okay. It’s really interesting to see how everyone has common ground. How do you integrate improv into your show? How does improv influence your show and its message? I use improv throughout the show, either in direct conversation with the audience or to propel certain scenes. I love improv because it’s unexpected and energetic, which most often leads to great comedic moments. It’s great for breaking the ice on something like infertility or women’s health. Also, improv’s basic concepts can be easily applied to life. Life is not scripted, and unexpected things happen. So sometimes, it’s good to try to go with the flow (the YES concept), play the cards you’re dealt, and try to build on that to move the situation forward so you can move on. Stopping or being negative just blocks everything, and prevents any other (possibly amazing) opportunity. It’s like when I was deep in this all‑consuming infertility “bubble” and I was blocking everything. I didn’t want to talk about it with anyone. I didn’t want to think about it. I was hiding my hormone shots, my schedules, my feelings, hiding myself. So I was in this bubble surrounded by walls and a moat and everything, possibly protected but stagnant and full of negative feelings. The moment I said “yes” to talking about it, as relatively big and quirky as it may have been, it led to amazing things. I got to vent my feelings, meet and connect with people, try new things, and even accomplish some professional goals I never knew I had. What is the role of music in the show? How does it play into the message and performance? Music is another way to bring people into the show, and it allows me to tell my story in yet another fun medium. I have songs in the show that relate certain facts, observations and jokes, and I use music to accompany or enhance particular scenes. Music just makes everything more fun, too. I could tell you about my experiences at the gynecologist, but it’s much more fun (and funnier) to do it in rhyme with music. How do you achieve the down‑to‑earth voice of the show? What risks do you take as a writer and performer in sharing this story with your audience? I think I achieve the down‑to‑earth voice because I’m telling my story to an audience of strangers pretty much the same way as I would tell it to my close friends. The show is very personal, yet every part of it is relatable to someone. That, in itself, puts the audience and me into a sort of relationship. And of course, it helps that the tone of the show is comedic. The big risks I take are my putting it all out there. Not only am I talking about something most people keep to themselves, but it’s all true. I’m not an actor portraying a fictional character someone else created, which is fascinating and hard work in itself, but I’m actually myself on stage. The feelings are real and the stories actually happened. I feel very vulnerable and exposed. Also, I’m interacting with the audience and using improv, which is always risky. I have no idea what someone may say or how they will react; it’s potentially dangerous for the flow of a show. I feel more of a risk before the show, when people who haven’t been to the show see it advertised somewhere and think, how dare I laugh at such a loaded and personal issue. But then, when I hear laughs and applause during the show, and the amazing feedback afterwards, it’s all worth it. What has been the most unexpected/surprising thing to come out of your writing and performance of this show? The most unexpected thing to come out of this show is this show. I’ve learned so much about myself, professionally and personally, and I’ve gotten to meet and work with amazing people. I never thought I’d be able to write and perform a solo show, and then perform it at the National Theatre of Israel, and then Off Broadway in New York City. It’s really inconceivable! And I love how the show has been evolving. It will continue to evolve and that’s really exciting. In what ways has “Inconceivable” grown beyond the stage to make you a voice and advocate for couples and specifically women experiencing infertility? I think the show provides a sort of “user‑friendly” platform for discussing this topic openly. Revealing it through comedy makes infertility and women’s health much more accessible topics. When something is taboo or hushed, people don’t know all the facts, and that influences attitudes, care, funding, policies, and laws that essentially affect everyone. With this show, people experiencing infertility can feel less isolated, maybe relieved, because they can see that they’re not alone in their experiences or feelings. They can look at it all from a different perspective, and even laugh. It lightens the load and gives people a sense of connection instead of isolation. On a personal level, it’s even helped my husband and me deal with it all, even retrospectively. The show also affects those who haven’t experienced infertility, like family members, friends, and even medical personnel. Those outside infertility can never really understand it, and those on the inside of infertility can never really explain it. So this show can somehow bridge that gap. I’ve had couples thank me after a show because they finally understood their children who were going through infertility. I’ve even had doctors and IVF nurses appreciate that they can now better understand what their own patients are really going through. And then there are those who’ve experienced infertility, who love that everyone around them finally understands what they never could or want to explain. I guess the show is kind of like a wild love child of modern sex/health education and group therapy. Given your time living in America and Israel, do you see differences and/or similarities in how the two countries approach infertility? Does this come out in your show? In Israel, most conventional treatments are covered by health care, so there is a big financial difference between the two countries. On top of all the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of infertility, most couples in America must also deal with the financial burden, which is extremely challenging. On the other hand, it seems like in America there is less outside pressure on couples. In Israel, anyone from your neighbor’s gardener to your boss might feel free to ask, “Why don’t you have any kids?” or “When are you going to have another child?” and offer plenty of unsolicited advice and references, and that can be frustrating. I mention the countries briefly during the show, and I’ve included both American and Israeli characters since I’ve naturally encountered both, but otherwise I find that the experiences are pretty universal. Conventional protocols for infertility are similar, as are the unconventional options available. The emotional roller coasters experienced are also, sadly, similar. Fortunately, all of those surreal experiences can be so bizarre and funny that the comedy in the show is universal, too. It’s pretty amazing to see someone who relates to your exact words, even though she has a completely different background from you and lives on the other side of the world. “Inconceivable: The Totally True One-Woman Semi-Fertile Quasi-‘Musical’” Written and Performed by Meirav Zur Sunday, Sept 22nd at 6PM Photo credit: Tomer Lupashko 2019 United Solo Theatre Festival Theatre Row New York City
CYNTHIA DARLING is a writer and teacher living in Hell’s Kitchen. A writer for NAfME’s Teaching Music magazine for many years, she also wrote for New York Family magazine. She is currently working toward an MFA in Creative Writing with the Bluegrass Writers Studio. Her fiction and nonfiction appear in Louisiana Literature, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and Wanderlust Journal.