15 Anniversary Artist Interviews: Tracey Erbacher, Theatre Prometheus

2017 Abortion Road Trip

Capital Fringe has never shied away from featuring cutting-edge – and even controversial – work. But in 2017, Theatre Prometheus’ world premiere of Rachel Lynett’s Abortion Road Trip drew anti-choice protestors targeted the plays to Festival venue location.

Those loud intruders – with megaphones – attracted attention and anger. But they didn’t overshadow a lively and timely play on reproductive rights that also won the festival’s Best Comedy Award that year.

Theatre Prometheus artistic director Tracey Erbacher says that her company wasn’t courting controversy at all, just picking the best play in a moment right after the election of Donald J. Trump. That she recalls the playwright being told that Abortion Road Trip was “unproducible” did not deter Erbacher or her company members.

“It’s such a fantastic script. I read it and I fell in love with it,” recalls Erbacher. “Right after the election, there was just this feeling of being shocked, and overwhelmed, and feeling like you wanted to do something — but you didn’t know what that was. Then, I thought of Abortion Road Trip, and I messaged my team, and immediately everyone got back [to me] that this is the right thing. Absolutely. Let’s do this.”

Erbacher says producing the play at Capital Fringe was a chance “to put into the world a perspective that we think is really, really, important on reproductive rights. And, also, it was just a killer script. That was a good combination. We just wanted to tell a story that we thought was really important.”

Abortion Road Trip was Theatre Prometheus’ third Capital Fringe production, following The Second Coming of Joan of Arc in 2015 and Good Kids in 2016.

 “Our organization had been growing along with Fringe,” observes Erbacher. “Our second show ever was our first Fringe show, and we had a great experience. It’s a great way to get plays to a wider audience, which we thought was really important for [Abortion Road Trip] in particular. There’s not really another environment in DC where you get all of these artists in one place, along with a bunch of people who don’t necessarily go to see shows all the time.”

Erbacher adds that the play worked for Fringe because of it asked for a staging that put the vision of the piece itself at the center of the action. “The play is about friendships. There are not a ton of actors. It’s very mobile…. and that really made it a great fit for Fringe. I’m a big believer in not putting too much stuff on your stage. Put what is necessary to tell the story.”

Abortion Road Trip was a strong choice thematically. “I can understand that a lot of people were nervous about the subject matter,” sats Erbacher, “and the boldness with which is put it forward.”

That boldness was part of the reason that the piece was quickly targeted by anti-choice protestors who turned up at Fringe’s headquarters in Trindad (where Abortion Road Trip was produced in the festival) with megaphones and clear intentions to disrupt the play.

“Honestly, it was a little surreal, you know,” recalls Erbacher. “W didn’t choose the play for shock value or to be controversial. We chose it to be beautiful. On opening night, close to the end of the show, we started to be able to hear protesters through the wall. There was actually a line close to the end [of the play] – “Protesters. Are they not the worst? – and it suddenly became a laugh line, because audience members were all hearing it.”

The interventions of protestors did not stop at shows, but also came in the form of online smears that targeted Erbacher and her company. “One featured my headshot,” she recalls, “with “inhuman” stamped on it. It’s bizarre to be suddenly part of that world. I have to shout out to the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force (WACDTF) for helping us figure out how to handle the protesters.”

Erbacher adds that the attitude of Capital Fringe was also notable in its steadfastness. “[Julianne Brienza] was so fantastic. She absolutely never wavered in her support of the show. The protests became a real inconvenience to everyone because they were right at the entrance to the venue and the Festival Bar. The staff worked really hard to make sure everyone felt safe. It was incredible support.”

Abortion Road Trip eventually made an appearance at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage during the Page-to-Stage Festival – and Theatre Prometheus produced another play, 1 2 3, at the 2018 festival.

“We really appreciated the support that Fringe gives to artists,” says Erbacher. “Fringe was just a wonderful place for us to start out, and to grow. Our first play with Fringe was a one-woman show, with, like, a single apple crate and a stick. Every year, we were able to grow a little bit more, be a little more ambitious in what we wanted to do with it. And that is true of a lot of folks who have produced at Fringe.”

– Richard Byrne