BREASTLESS, at the Midtown International Theatre Festival, written [because she had to] by Laurel Turk

 Breastless is a play about the impact of double mastectomy on body image and sexuality.  Intimate monologues are interspersed with satirical song and parody.  The main character is lesbian, feminist, and chooses not to have breast reconstruction surgery.  She struggles with her political ideals about not wanting to hide the reality of breast cancer versus the fact that she no longer feels beautiful.  She also struggles with the effects of cancer treatment on her sex life.  The main character is supported by three women actors who take on other characters as needed.  They also serve as a chorus of “voices” in group scenes and songs, which broaden the discussion and highlight that this is not just one woman’s story.

I have passions for singing, writing, environmental activism, and for laughing as much as possible.

I am is a first time playwright.  A lifelong journal writer, I began writing the pieces that became “Breastless” when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012.  Having a love of musical theater, my first impulse was to write  “Breast Cancer:  The Musical,”  but as I lived through the trauma of treatment, my sense of humor was seriously challenged, and the writing evolved into a more serious and vulnerable piece.

My writing has always been very personal, and so my Muse tends to be those parts of myself that are either clamoring to be expressed, or the parts that are hidden away and silently waiting for me to notice them. Sure, I’d like Breastless to be famous.  I want is for a lot of people to see it, and for it to be part of changing breast cancer culture. I think if more of us told the truth about the realities of breast cancer, everyone would have to take this epidemic much more seriously.

I wrote this because I had to.  . I want to find  different way to be involved in breast cancer activism.  And I would want to be involved with helping other women express their authentic voices in one way or another. Going through breast cancer is an intense experience, and I kept sane by writing.  And I couldn’t find much written about the effects of cancer AFTER treatment––no one was talking about the struggles with body image, sexuality, and intimacy.   I also noticed there was a lot of pressure in cancer culture to be positive, strong, or courageous, and that many women weren’t giving themselves permission to say and feel what was really true for them.  The importance of this piece is in its honesty.  It’s also important because its rare to see a woman who has had a double mastectomy without reconstruction show her body onstage.  (There’s no nudity, but just the shape of my body in a leotard is a key part of the experience.)  I also noticed that women often choose breast reconstruction surgery without being fully aware of what it involves. Although many women love their reconstructions, some have regrets about the multiple surgeries and aren’t happy with the results.  (I respect all the choices women make around reconstruction, I just feel like we should have a truly informed choice.) It’s also a lesbian story, and a feminist story, and I’ve been amazed how little feminism there is in the current mainstream breast cancer culture.  And even thought the story is personal and specific, everyone can relate to it.  We’ve all felt uncomfortable in the locker room at the Y.  We’ve all had moments when our partner wants to make love and we don’t.  Most of us struggle with how we feel about our bodies in one way or another.

I would want to be remembered as someone who created and honest piece of writing, who had a sense of fun and humor, and who made it easier for women to talk about the not so pink-happy-and-hopeful aspects of breast cancer.


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