talkback

Urogynecologist Briana Walton and Literary Historian Gabrielle Foreman join Actor and Scholar Naomi Lorrain to discuss the historical & scientific context of BEHIND THE SHEET

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On March 2, following the 2:00 pm matinee performance of Behind the Sheet, the powerful new drama by Charly Evon Simpson, everyone is encouraged to stay for our fifth talkback about the historical and scientific context of the play, as well as the many issues it addresses. On the panel this week, we have Dr. Briana Walton, director of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery at the AAMC Women’s Center for Pelvic Health, and literary historian Gabrielle Foreman, the Ned B. Allen Professor of English and Professor of History and Black American Studies at the University of Delaware, for a conversation moderated by research scholar and Behind the Sheet actor, Naomi Lorrain.

Behind the Sheet confronts the history of a great medical breakthrough by telling the forgotten story of a community of enslaved black women who involuntarily enabled the discovery. In 1840s Alabama, Philomena assists a doctor—her owner—as he performs experimental surgeries on her fellow slave women, trying to find a treatment for the painful post-childbirth complications known as fistulas. Reframing the origin story of modern gynecology, the play dramatizes how these women supported each other, and questions who, and what, history remembers.

The World Premiere of Behind the Sheet is this year’s mainstage production of the EST/Sloan Project, EST's partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to develop new plays "exploring the worlds of science and technology," an initiative now in its twentieth year.

About the Panelists

Dr. Briana Walton

Dr. Briana Walton

Dr. Briana Walton has served as the Director of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery at Anne Arundel Medical Center (AAMC) since its inception in 2008. She is recognized as an expert in robotic/minimally invasive surgery and treatment of fibroids, urinary incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse. In the field of robotics, she has personally performed 500 plus pelvic reconstructive surgeries while developing programmatic growth around quality, cost containment, and safety. Before starting the Women’s Center for Pelvic Health at Anne Arundel Medical Center, Dr. Walton was the Director of Benign Gynecology at Washington Hospital Center. She has also served as adjunct assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and an assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Urology at Georgetown University School of Medicine. Internationally, she uses her clinical skills and strengths in the treatment of health care disparities. She has worked in Ghana, Niger and most recently Rwanda where the program focuses on obstetrical fistula repairs, but the group has developed other clinical programs to treat the victims of trauma and genocide. She has served as board member and team leader for the International Organization for Women and Development.

Gabrielle Foreman

Gabrielle Foreman

P. Gabrielle Foreman is a teacher and scholar of African American studies and nineteenth-century literary history who has published extensively on issues of racial reform and slavery with a focus on the past’s continuing hold on the world we inhabit today. In her current manuscript The Art of DisMemory: Historicizing Slavery in Poetry, Performance and Material Culture, she traces the story of an enslaved Connecticut man named Fortune who was dissected and skeletonized by his enslaver, Dr. Preserved Porter. As the state abolished slavery, the Porter family turned their chattel property into intellectual property, passing down Fortune’s bones through generations of family doctors before donating his bones to a regional museum where he was the most popular exhibit until the 1970s. Our generation knows his story because the museum commissioned poet Marilyn Nelson to write about him. She and Ysaye Barnwell also created a manumission requiem with Nelson’s poetry serving as lyrics. Gabrielle teaches at the University of Delaware where she is the Ned B. Allen Professor of English and Professor of History and Africana Studies. She is also the founding director of the Colored Conventions Project, which brings decades of nineteenth-century Black activism to digital life.

Naomi Lorrain (Photo: Stan Demidoff).

Naomi Lorrain (Photo: Stan Demidoff).

About the Moderator

Naomi Lorrain plays Philomena in the world premiere production of Behind the Sheet by Charly Evon Simpson at the Ensemble Studio Theatre. Naomi is a New York City-based actor, playwright and scholar. She received her B.A. in the History of Science, History of Medicine and African American Studies from Yale University and her M.F.A. in Acting from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She works part-time as a Scholars-in-Residence Research Assistant at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Her plays include A Trojan Woman’s Tale (Villa La Pietra), The Queen of Macon County (The National Black Theatre), Shelfies (The 52nd Street Project), The Big O (Villa La Pietra), and Rigor Mortis (NYU Tisch). Recent theater credits include What to Send Up When It Goes Down (Movement Theatre Company), Stained (The Amoralist), Song for a Future Generation (Williamstown Theatre Festival), Restoration Comedy (The Flea), and Daughter of Lot (Edinburgh Fringe Festival). TV: “Orange Is the New Black” (Netflix), “Elementary” (CBS), “The Good Fight” (CBS), “Madam Secretary” (CBS). As a Scholars-in-Residence Research Assistant, she has worked on several books, including Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive by Marisa J. Fuentes. At Yale, her senior essay “Plan B: The Collision of the Birth Control Movement and the Uplift Movement Viewed Through Works of Angelina Weld Grimké” received both the Lily Rosen Prize in Women's Health for best essay that contributes to knowledge about women’s health and the William Pickens Prize for outstanding senior essay in the field of African and African American Studies.


Behind the Sheet began previews on January 9 and runs through March 10 at EST. You can purchase tickets here.

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Historian Deborah Gray White, Urogynecologist Ambereen Sleemi, Playwright Charly E. Simpson join Communications Pro Ayofemi Kirby to discuss the historical & scientific context of BEHIND THE SHEET

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On February 23, following the 2:00 pm matinee performance of BEHIND THE SHEET, the powerful new drama by Charly Evon Simpson, everyone is encouraged to stay for our fourth talkback about the historical and scientific context of the play, as well as the many issues it addresses. Joining Charly will be Deborah Gray White, Distinguished Professor of History and Women and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, and Ambereen Sleemi, Executive Director and Surgical Director of International Medical Response, for a conversation moderated by Ayofemi Kirby, who manages all communications and publicity initiatives at the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture.

BEHIND THE SHEET confronts the history of a great medical breakthrough by telling the forgotten story of a community of enslaved black women who involuntarily enabled the discovery. In 1840s Alabama, Philomena assists a doctor—her owner—as he performs experimental surgeries on her fellow slave women, trying to find a treatment for the painful post-childbirth complications known as fistulas. Reframing the origin story of modern gynecology, the play dramatizes how these women supported each other, and questions who, and what, history remembers.

The World Premiere of BEHIND THE SHEET is this year’s mainstage production of the EST/Sloan Project, EST's partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to develop new plays "exploring the worlds of science and technology," an initiative now in its twentieth year.

About the Panelists

Professor Deborah Gray White

Professor Deborah Gray White

Deborah Gray White is Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey. She is author of the seminal book Ar’n’t I A Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South; Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves, 1894-1994; several K-12 textbooks on United States History, and Let My People Go, African Americans 1804-1860 (1999).  In 2008, she published an edited work entitled Telling Histories: Black Women in the Ivory Tower, a collection of personal narratives written by African American women historians that chronicle the entry of black women into the historical profession and the development of the field of black women’s history. Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans, a co-authored college text, is now in its second edition. As a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., and as a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow, White conducted research on her newest book, Lost in the USA: American Identity from the Promise Keepers to the Million Mom March.  She holds the Carter G. Woodson Medallion and the Frederick Douglass Medal for excellence in African American history, and was also awarded a Doctorate in Humane Letters from her undergraduate alma mater, Binghamton University. She currently heads the “Scarlet and Black Project” which investigates Native Americans and African Americans in the history of Rutgers University. With Professor Marisa Fuentes she is editor of the 2016 volume: Scarlet and Black: Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History.

Dr. Ambereen Sleemi

Dr. Ambereen Sleemi

Ambereen Sleemi is a female pelvic medicine reconstructive surgeon (urogynecologist) and trained obstetric fistula surgeon. She is Co-founder, Executive Director and Surgical Director of International Medical Response and leads a medical relief project in Puerto Rico, and fistula training programs in Malawi, Liberia and Haiti. Dr. Sleemi has served as an obstetric fistula surgeon for the Eritrean Women’s Project in Mendefera, Eritrea since 2007, and as a surgical team co-leader for Medicine in Action’s spring trip to Kingston, Jamaica as well as on the medical board. She spent six years on the executive committee of the International Society for Obstetric Fistula Surgeons (ISOFS) and is still an active member. In January, 2013, she developed the Haitian Women’s Heath Collaborative in partnership with the Department of Ob/Gyn at the National Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Charly Evon Simpson

Charly Evon Simpson

Charly Evon Simpson is the author of BEHIND THE SHEET, this year’s EST/Sloan mainstage production. Her other plays include Jump, Scratching the Surface, form of a girl unknown, it’s not a trip it’s a journey, Stained, Hottentotted, Trick of the Light, While We Wait, who we let in, or what she will, and more. Her work has been seen and/or developed with Ensemble Studio Theatre, Ars Nova, Chautauqua Theater Company, Salt Lake Acting Company, The Flea, P73’s Summer Residency, National New Play Network through its NNPN/Kennedy Center MFA Playwrights Workshop and National Showcase of New Plays, and others. Jump will receive an NNPN Rolling World Premiere, with productions at Playmaker’s Rep (Chapel Hill, NC), Actor’s Express (Atlanta, GA), Milagro Theatre (Portland, OR), and Shrewd Productions (Austin, TX) in 2019-20.  She’s currently a member of WP Theater’s 2018-2020 Lab, The New Georges Jam, The Amoralists 18/19 ‘Wright Club and she’s The Pack’s current playwright-in-residence. Charly is a former member of SPACE on Ryder Farm’s The Working Farm, Clubbed Thumb’s 17/18 Early Career Writers’ Group, Ensemble Studio Theatre's Youngblood, and Pipeline Theatre Company’s PlayLab. She is currently an adjunct lecturer at SUNY Purchase and an engager at The Engaging Educator. 

About the Moderator

Ayofemi Kirby

Ayofemi Kirby

Ayofemi Kirby is a communications and public engagement professional who builds mission-driven brands, engaged audiences and active communities, on and offline. She is passionate about helping individuals, multicultural communities and organizations across sectors tell powerful stories, start provocative conversations and build the relationships necessary to achieve meaningful results and measurable impact.

With more than 10 years of experience at the intersection of communications, civic engagement and culture, Ayofemi has managed online and corporate communications in the financial sector, developed award-winning programs that empowered Snake People across the country to be leaders in their communities and more active in our democracy, and led communications for the Congressional Black Caucus on Capitol Hill. She has also shaped and shifted community and media conversations about political, civic engagement, entertainment and cultural initiatives as an independent consultant.

Ayofemi currently manages all communications and publicity initiatives at the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture and continues to runs her own consultancy, CODE PR GLOBAL where she has worked with SONY Pictures, the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation, the NYC Office of the Mayor, A+E Networks and others. Her work has shaped media coverage in and secured partnerships with the New York Times, USA Today, ARTNews, Teen Vogue, CBS News, Essence, Ebony, OkayAfrica, The Huffington Post, NBC, among many others.


BEHIND THE SHEET began previews on January 9 and runs through March 10 at EST. You can purchase tickets here.

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Historian Marisa Fuentes, Urogynecologist Ambereen Sleemi, Public Health Specialist Erin Anastasi & Playwright Charly E. Simpson join Actor Naomi Lorrain to discuss the context of BEHIND THE SHEET

From left: Marisa Fuentes, Ambereen Sleemi, Erin Anastasi, Charly Evon Simpson, Naomi Lorrain

From left: Marisa Fuentes, Ambereen Sleemi, Erin Anastasi, Charly Evon Simpson, Naomi Lorrain

On February 2, following the 2:00 pm matinee performance of BEHIND THE SHEET, the powerful new drama by Charly Evon Simpson, everyone is encouraged to stay for the third and final talkback about the historical and scientific context of the play, as well as the many issues it addresses, especially the history of gynecological surgical techniques, the rights of enslaved women to be used for experiments, what urgent gynecological concerns exist today in the developing world, and much more. Joining Charly will be Marisa J. Fuentes, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and History at Rutgers University, Ambereen Sleemi, Executive Director and Surgical Director of International Medical Response, and Erin Anastasi, Coordinator of the Campaign to End Fistula at the United Nations Population Fund, for a conversation moderated by actor and research scholar Naomi Lorrain (Philomena in the play).

BEHIND THE SHEET confronts the history of a great medical breakthrough by telling the forgotten story of a community of enslaved black women who involuntarily enabled the discovery. In 1840s Alabama, Philomena assists a doctor—her owner—as he performs experimental surgeries on her fellow slave women, trying to find a treatment for the painful post-childbirth complications known as fistulas. Reframing the origin story of modern gynecology, the play dramatizes how these women supported each other, and questions who, and what, history remembers.

The World Premiere of BEHIND THE SHEET is this year’s mainstage production of the EST/Sloan Project, EST's partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to develop new plays "exploring the worlds of science and technology," an initiative now in its twentieth year.

About the Panelists

Professor Marisa J. Fuentes

Professor Marisa J. Fuentes

Marisa J. Fuentes is the Presidential Term Chair in African American History and Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and History at Rutgers University—New Brunswick. Her scholarship brings together cultural studies, critical historiography, and black feminist theory to examine gender, sexuality, and slavery in the early modern Atlantic World. Professor Fuentes is the author of Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016) which won the Barbara T. Christian Best Humanities Book Prize, the Berkshires Conference of Women’s Historians First Book Prize, and the Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Prize from the Association of Black Women Historians. She is also the co-editor of Scarlet and Black: Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History, Volume I (Rutgers University Press, 2016), and the “Slavery and the Archive” special issue in History of the Present (November 2016).  

Dr. Ambereen Sleemi

Dr. Ambereen Sleemi

Ambereen Sleemi is a female pelvic medicine reconstructive surgeon (urogynecologist) and trained obstetric fistula surgeon. She is Co-founder, Executive Director and Surgical Director of International Medical Response and leads a medical relief project in Puerto Rico, and fistula training programs in Malawi, Liberia and Haiti. Dr. Sleemi serves as an obstetric fistula surgeon for the Eritrean Women’s Project in Mendefera, Eritrea since 2007, and as a surgical team co-leader for Medicine in Action’s spring trip to Kingston, Jamaica as well as on the medical board. She spent six years on the executive committee of the International Society for Obstetric Fistula Surgeons (ISOFS) and is still an active member. In January, 2013, she developed the Haitian Women’s Heath Collaborative in partnership with the Department of Ob/Gyn at the National Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Erin Anastasi with children in northern Uganda (Gulu district) where she worked on a project with MSF/Doctors Without Borders.

Erin Anastasi with children in northern Uganda (Gulu district) where she worked on a project with MSF/Doctors Without Borders.

Erin Anastasi is Coordinator of the Campaign to End Fistula and Technical Specialist for Sexual & Reproductive Health (SRH)/Obstetric Fistula in the Technical Division at the United Nations Population Fund. In 2017, the United Nations Federal Credit Union Foundation awarded Erin its Women’s Empowerment Award for her leadership of the Campaign.  She received her doctorate in Public Health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine at the University of London and her Master of Health Sciences from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Launched in 2003, the Campaign to End Fistula now consists of over 100 global partners working in more than 55 countries across Africa, Asia and the Arab region. In each country it focuses on prevention by increasing access to quality maternal health care services; treatment, from training doctors in fistula surgery to equipping and upgrading fistula centers; and rehabilitation/reintegration, including emotional, economic, and social support.   

Charly Evon Simpson

Charly Evon Simpson

Charly Evon Simpson is the author of BEHIND THE SHEET, this year’s EST/Sloan mainstage production. Her other plays include Jump, Scratching the Surface, form of a girl unknown, it’s not a trip it’s a journey, Stained, Hottentotted, Trick of the Light, While We Wait, who we let in, or what she will, and more. Her work has been seen and/or developed with Ensemble Studio Theatre, Ars Nova, Chautauqua Theater Company, Salt Lake Acting Company, The Flea, P73’s Summer Residency, National New Play Network through its NNPN/Kennedy Center MFA Playwrights Workshop and National Showcase of New Plays, and others. Jump will receive an NNPN Rolling World Premiere, with productions at Playmaker’s Rep (Chapel Hill, NC), Actor’s Express (Atlanta, GA), Milagro Theatre (Portland, OR), and Shrewd Productions (Austin, TX) in 2019-20.  She’s currently a member of WP Theater’s 2018-2020 Lab, The New Georges Jam, The Amoralists 18/19 ‘Wright Club and she’s The Pack’s current playwright-in-residence. Charly is a former member of SPACE on Ryder Farm’s The Working Farm, Clubbed Thumb’s 17/18 Early Career Writers’ Group, Ensemble Studio Theatre's Youngblood, and Pipeline Theatre Company’s PlayLab. She is currently an adjunct lecturer at SUNY Purchase and an engager at The Engaging Educator. 

About the Moderator

Naomi Lorrain (Photo: Stan Demidoff).

Naomi Lorrain (Photo: Stan Demidoff).

Naomi Lorrain plays Philomena in the world premiere production of BEHIND THE SHEET by Charly Evon Simpson at the Ensemble Studio Theatre. Naomi is a New York City-based actor, playwright and scholar. She received her B.A. in the History of Science, History of Medicine and African American Studies from Yale University and her M.F.A. in Acting from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She works part-time as a Scholars-in-Residence Research Assistant at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Her plays include A Trojan Woman’s Tale (Villa La Pietra), The Queen of Macon County (The National Black Theatre), Shelfies (The 52nd Street Project), The Big O (Villa La Pietra), and Rigor Mortis (NYU Tisch). Recent theater credits include What to Send Up When It Goes Down (Movement Theatre Company), Stained (The Amoralist), Song for a Future Generation (Williamstown Theatre Festival), Restoration Comedy (The Flea), and Daughter of Lot (Edinburgh Fringe Festival). TV: “Orange Is the New Black” (Netflix), “Elementary” (CBS), “The Good Fight” (CBS), “Madam Secretary” (CBS). As a Scholars-in-Residence Research Assistant, she has worked on several books, including Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive by Marisa J. Fuentes. At Yale, her senior essay “Plan B: The Collision of the Birth Control Movement and the Uplift Movement Viewed Through Works of Angelina Weld Grimké” received both the Lily Rosen Prize in Women's Health for best essay that contributes to knowledge about women’s health and the William Pickens Prize for outstanding senior essay in the field of African and African American Studies.

BEHIND THE SHEET began previews on January 9 and runs through February 10 at EST. You can purchase tickets here.

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Historian Deirdre Cooper Owens, Gynecologist Nerys Benfield and Director Colette Robert join Actor/Scholar Naomi Lorrain to discuss slavery, the birth of gynecology in America, and BEHIND THE SHEET

From left: Professor Deirdre Cooper Owens, Dr. Nerys Benfield, Colette Robert, Naomi Lorrain

From left: Professor Deirdre Cooper Owens, Dr. Nerys Benfield, Colette Robert, Naomi Lorrain

On January 26, following the 2:00 pm matinee performance of BEHIND THE SHEET, the powerful new drama by Charly Evon Simpson, everyone is encouraged to stay for what promises to be a provocative discussion of the many issues the play addresses, especially the history of gynecological surgical techniques, the rights of enslaved women to be used for experiments, race and gender relations in nineteenth-century America, and much more. Joining the play’s director Colette Robert will be Deirdre Cooper Owens, Associate Professor of History at Queens College, CUNY, and author of Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology, and Nerys Benfield, Associate Professor and the Director of Family Planning in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Women’s Health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine for a conversation moderated by actor and research scholar Naomi Lorrain (Philomena in the play).

BEHIND THE SHEET confronts the history of a great medical breakthrough by telling the forgotten story of a community of enslaved black women who involuntarily enabled the discovery. In 1840s Alabama, Philomena assists a doctor—her owner—as he performs experimental surgeries on her fellow slave women, trying to find a treatment for the painful post-childbirth complications known as fistulas. Reframing the origin story of modern gynecology, the play dramatizes how these women supported each other, and questions who, and what, history remembers.

The World Premiere of BEHIND THE SHEET is this year’s mainstage production of the EST/Sloan Project, EST's partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to develop new plays "exploring the worlds of science and technology," an initiative now in its twentieth year.

About the Panelists

Professor Deirdre Cooper Owens

Professor Deirdre Cooper Owens

Professor Deirdre Cooper Owens is Associate Professor of History at Queens College, CUNY in Queens, New York and an Organization of American Historians’ (OAH) Distinguished Lecturer.  She has served as an American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology Fellow in Washington, D.C. and is a board member for the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians. Her first book, Medical Bondage: Race, Gender and the Origins of American Gynecology (UGA Press, 2017) won the 2018 Darlene Clark Hine Book Award from the OAH as the best book written in African American women’s and gender history. Professor Cooper Owens is also the Director of the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia, the country’s oldest cultural institution. In the fall of 2019, she will join the University of Nebraska, Lincoln’s Department of History as the inaugural Linda & Charles Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine and the Director of the Humanities in Medicine Program. Copies of Medical Bondage will be available for saleand signing by the authorfollowing the talkback.

Dr. Nerys Benfield

Dr. Nerys Benfield

Dr. Nerys C. Benfield is an Associate Professor and the Director of Family Planning, the Fellowship in Family Planning, and the Global Women's Health Program at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine. She is a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist in Bronx, New York and is affiliated with Montefiore Medical Center. Her research interests include the integration of contraceptive counseling, access, and distribution into medical care for high-risk women both domestically and internationally, uro-genital fistula, and clinical training and health technologies in low-resource settings. Dr. Benfield has worked in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since 2008 where she has developed an academic collaborative research and clinical training program with research interests that include the integration of contraceptive counseling, access, and distribution into medical care for high-risk women, uro-genital fistula, and methods to optimize evidence-based clinical training and the use of health technologies such as information and communication technologies (ICT) and ultrasound in low-resource settings.

Colette Robert

Colette Robert

Colette Robert is the director of the world premiere production of BEHIND THE SHEET by Charly Evon Simpson (New York Times Critic’s Pick) at the Ensemble Studio Theatre. Her recent directing credits include: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (NYU Grad Acting), Mary’s Wedding (Chester Theatre Company), Big Love (Sarah Lawrence College), How My Grandparents Fell in Love (EST, New York Times Critic's Pick), What Every Girl Should Know (NYU/Stella Adler Studio), Hottentotted (The Tank, Ars Nova/ANT Fest), The Mountaintop (Chester Theatre Company), Icons/Idols (The New Ohio/Ice Factory Festival), Flops, Failures, and Fiascos (The Civilians), and When Last We Flew (Diversionary Theatre and FringeNYC, GLAAD Media Award). As a playwright, her play The Harriet Holland Social Club Presents the 84th Annual Star-Burst Cotillion in the Grand Ballroom of the Renaissance Hotel has been developed with Fuller Road Artist Residency, New Georges, Mabou Mines, and The Drama League. Colette is a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre, a co-facilitator of the New Georges Jam, and an adjunct lecturer in the Humanities department at Hunter College. 

About the Moderator

Naomi Lorrain (Photo: Stan Demidoff)

Naomi Lorrain (Photo: Stan Demidoff)

Naomi Lorrain plays Philomena in the world premiere production of BEHIND THE SHEET by Charly Evon Simpson at the Ensemble Studio Theatre. Naomi is a New York City-based actor, playwright and scholar. She received her B.A. in the History of Science, History of Medicine and African American Studies from Yale University and her M.F.A. in Acting from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She works part-time as a Scholars-in-Residence Research Assistant at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Her plays include A Trojan Woman’s Tale (Villa La Pietra), The Queen of Macon County (The National Black Theatre), Shelfies (The 52nd Street Project), The Big O (Villa La Pietra), and Rigor Mortis (NYU Tisch). Recent theater credits include What to Send Up When It Goes Down (Movement Theatre Company), Stained (The Amoralist), Song for a Future Generation (Williamstown Theatre Festival), Restoration Comedy (The Flea), and Daughter of Lot (Edinburgh Fringe Festival). TV: “Orange Is the New Black” (Netflix), “Elementary” (CBS), “The Good Fight” (CBS), “Madam Secretary” (CBS). As a Scholars-in-Residence Research Assistant, she has worked on several books, including Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive by Marisa J. Fuentes.

BEHIND THE SHEET began previews on January 9 and runs through February 10 at EST. You can purchase tickets here.

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Historian Evelynn Hammonds and Urogynecologist Lauri Romanzi join Playwright Charly Evon Simpson and Historian Jennifer L. Morgan to discuss medical experiments, lost voices, and BEHIND THE SHEET

From left: Professor Evelynn Hammonds, Dr. Lauri Romanzi, Charly Evon Simpson, Professor Jennifer L. Morgan

From left: Professor Evelynn Hammonds, Dr. Lauri Romanzi, Charly Evon Simpson, Professor Jennifer L. Morgan

On January 19, following the 2:00 pm matinee performance of BEHIND THE SHEET, the powerful new drama by Charly Evon Simpson, audiences are encouraged to stay for what promises to be a lively discussion of many of the issues the play addresses, especially the history of gynecological surgical techniques, the rights of enslaved women to be used for experiments, race and gender relations in nineteenth-century America, and much more. Joining playwright Charly Evon Simpson will be Evelynn Hammonds, Chair, the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University, and urogynecologist and fistula surgeon Lauri Romanzi for a conversation moderated by Jennifer L. Morgan, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis & History at New York University.

BEHIND THE SHEET confronts the history of a great medical breakthrough by telling the forgotten story of a community of enslaved black women who involuntarily enabled the discovery. In 1840s Alabama, Philomena assists a doctor—her owner—as he performs experimental surgeries on her fellow slave women, trying to find a treatment for the painful post-childbirth complications known as fistulas. Reframing the origin story of modern gynecology, the play dramatizes how these women supported each other, and questions who, and what, history remembers.

The World Premiere of BEHIND THE SHEET is this year’s mainstage production of the EST/Sloan Project, EST's partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to develop new plays "exploring the worlds of science and technology," an initiative now in its twentieth year.

About the Panelists

Professor Evelynn Hammonds

Professor Evelynn Hammonds

Professor Evelynn Hammonds is a member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University. She is currently Chair of the Department of the History of Science and Director of the Project on Race & Gender in Science & Medicine at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard.  Prof. Hammonds was the first Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity at Harvard University (2005-2008).  From 2008-2103 she served as Dean of Harvard College. Professor Hammonds’ areas of research include the histories of science, medicine and public health in the United States; race and gender in science studies; feminist theory and African American history. She is the author of Childhood's Deadly Scourge: The Campaign to Control Diphtheria in New York City, 1880-1930 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999, 2002), and, most recently, with Rebecca Herzig, The Nature of Difference: Sciences of Race in the United States from Jefferson to Genomics (MIT Press, 2008.) Professor Hammonds’ current work focuses on the intersection of scientific, medical and socio-political concepts of race in the United States.

Dr. Lauri Romanzi

Dr. Lauri Romanzi

Dr. Lauri Romanzi is an international fistula surgeon, urogynecologist and an advisor to the Office of Global Women’s Health of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Her international work includes academic appointment through Yale University to Rwanda’s Human Resources for Health, as well as long-term relationships with Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and with Edna Adan Maternity Hospital in Somaliland.  She has worked in West Africa onboard Mercy Ship, throughout sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia as an academic collaborator to national and international healthcare organizations, and as technical consultant to the United Nations Population Fund for development of  “End Fistula” strategic plans for Nepal, Afghanistan and Eritrea.  Within the United States, she collaborates with global health organizations to advocate on Capitol Hill for effective fistula legislation. In addition to  academic publications, she has authored works to inform the public, including Plumbing and Renovations, The Good In Bed Guide to Pelvic Organ Prolapse, and the chapter “Sexual Violence: Genital Fistula and Conflict” for the book Operation Crisis: Surgical Care in the Developing World during Conflict and Disaster.

Charly Evon Simpson

Charly Evon Simpson

Charly Evon Simpson is the author of BEHIND THE SHEET, this year’s EST/Sloan mainstage production. Her other plays include Jump, Scratching the Surface, form of a girl unknown, it’s not a trip it’s a journey, Stained, Hottentotted, Trick of the Light, While We Wait, who we let in, or what she will, and more. Her work has been seen and/or developed with Ensemble Studio Theatre, Ars Nova, Chautauqua Theater Company, Salt Lake Acting Company, The Flea, P73’s Summer Residency, National New Play Network through its NNPN/Kennedy Center MFA Playwrights Workshop and National Showcase of New Plays, and others. Jump will receive an NNPN Rolling World Premiere, with productions at Playmaker’s Rep (Chapel Hill, NC), Actor’s Express (Atlanta, GA), Milagro Theatre (Portland, OR), and Shrewd Productions (Austin, TX) in 2019-20.  She’s currently a member of WP Theater’s 2018-2020 Lab, The New Georges Jam, The Amoralists 18/19 ‘Wright Club and she’s The Pack’s current playwright-in-residence. Charly is a former member of SPACE on Ryder Farm’s The Working Farm, Clubbed Thumb’s 17/18 Early Career Writers’ Group, Ensemble Studio Theatre's Youngblood, and Pipeline Theatre Company’s PlayLab. She is currently an adjunct lecturer at SUNY Purchase and an engager at The Engaging Educator.

About the Moderator

Professor Jennifer L. Morgan

Professor Jennifer L. Morgan

Professor Jennifer L. Morgan is Professor of History in the department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University where she also serves as Chair.  She is the author of Laboring Women: Gender and Reproduction in the Making of New World Slavery (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004) and the co-editor of Connexions: Histories of Race and Sex in America (University of Illinois Press, 2016).  Her research examines the intersections of gender and race in in the Black Atlantic world.  Her most recent journal articles include “Accounting for ‘The Most Excruciating Torment’: Trans-Atlantic Passages” in History of the Present and “Archives and Histories of Racial Capitalism” in Social Text.  In addition to her archival work as an historian, Professor Morgan has published a range of essays on race, gender, and the process of “doing history,” most notably “Experiencing Black Feminism” in Deborah Gray White’s edited volume Telling Histories: Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower (2007). She is currently at work on a project that considers colonial numeracy, racism and the rise of the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in the seventeenth-century English Atlantic world tentatively entitled “Accounting for the Women in Slavery.”  Morgan teaches courses on the history of slavery, on race and reproduction, and on comparative feminist theory and praxis. 

BEHIND THE SHEET began previews on January 9 and runs through February 10 at EST. You can purchase tickets here.

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Jorge Odón, Mario Merialdi, David Milestone, Claudia Weill, Chiara Atik, and Sonia Epstein on car mechanics, birthing technology, the Odón device, and BUMP

From left: Sonia Shechet Epstein, Chiara Atik, Claudia Weill, Jorge Odón, Mario Merialdi, translator Rosa Rivera, and David Milestone

From left: Sonia Shechet Epstein, Chiara Atik, Claudia Weill, Jorge Odón, Mario Merialdi, translator Rosa Rivera, and David Milestone

An amazing thing happened during the last weekend run of BUMP, the new comedy by Chiara Atik that was this year’s EST/Sloan Mainstage Production. The idea for the play began when Chiara discovered the story of Jorge Odón, an Argentine garage mechanic who saw a YouTube video about a cork getting removed from a wine bottle – and that video inspired him to invent a revolutionary new device to help in the late stages of childbirth delivery. A fictionalized version of Odón’s story became, in Chiara’s hands, one of three storylines in BUMP. Odón still lives in Argentina but on Thursday, May 31, three days before the play was due to close, the EST office got a call that Jorge Odón himself was flying in to attend the Saturday matinee performance . . . and yes, he would be happy to participate in a talkback after the performance. Odón arrived with his wife and with Mario Merialdi, the former World Health Organization executive who was critical in helping Odón turn his idea into a product that has gone on to be clinically tested in Iowa, South Africa, and Argentina and may start going into use in 2020.

Joining Odón and Merialdi for this remarkable talkback on June 2 were the playwright Chiara Atik, the director Claudia Weill, translator Rosa Rivera, and David Milestone, the Acting Director of the USAID’s Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact, an organization that also played a key role in funding the development of the Odón device. Sonia Shechet Epstein, Executive Editor of Sloan Science and Film at the Museum of the Moving Image, moderated the discussion.

A lively comedy about childbirth, BUMP explores women’s evolving understanding of and control over the birthing process through three stories: a young first-time mother giving birth in colonial New England with the help of an experienced and peppery midwife; five women sharing quips, gripes and observations on an online message board; and a grandfather-to-be getting inspired to invent a device that could revolutionize how infants in difficulty get delivered (this is the storyline inspired by the experiences of Jorge Odón).

Some of the highlights of the June 2 discussion follow: (Recap by Rich Kelley)

Sonia Shechet Epstein: Chiara, in BUMP there are characters who give birth in a range of ways. Why was it important for you to present that range?

Chiara Atik: The play is not trying to say that there is a correct or incorrect way to give birth. My hope was that by offering an assortment of examples of what giving birth is like, that the audience could take what it wants from the different experiences. The play ends with the colonial girl looking at her future. That’s where I wanted the focus to be.

What Jorge Odón thought after seeing BUMP

Sonia: Jorge, what is your reaction to seeing your invention dramatized? 

Jorge (translated by Mario Merialdi): The play is great and he is still surprised about his invention and how it has been interpreted. . . . This invention actually took him around the world to meet many important people. He met Princess Caroline in Monaco. He met Pope Francis. The device got on the front page of The New York Times. Seeing this play was really a surprise for him.

When he was seeing the play he could see and feel very much of what had happened in reality. He was spending hours on this device. His wife Marcella, who is here with him today. She actually did sew parts of it . . . He congratulates Chiara the playwright and all the actors who interpreted his story.

Sonia: And what do you have there?

Jorge (translated by Mario): [shows prototype for Odón device] This is a simulator of the uterus that he uses for demonstrations of the Odón device. The first prototype of the device is what he is showing here. He’s a car mechanic. He’s not a doctor. He needed to learn how the baby exists inside the uterus. This part was used the first time to insert the device. It was difficult for the doctor to use it and to position the device correctly. This is the inserter. The gauge indicates when the device has been inserted properly.

From left: Chiara Atik, Claudia Weill, Jorge Odón, Mario Merialdi

From left: Chiara Atik, Claudia Weill, Jorge Odón, Mario Merialdi

It’s been fourteen years since he had the original idea. This is the bag we use now. Now he is going to fill it with air. This is not hard to do. The device immediately deflates once the baby is removed. You have now seen in just a few minutes the evolution of the device over fourteen years. Imagine what happened in between. Jorge was actually very afraid of seeing blood. Because of his passion, he was able to attend 48 deliveries. In these 48 deliveries he was able to deploy the device. Without the help of his family, his friends, and everyone who believed in him, he would not have been able to develop the device. Without them it would not have been possible for a big company like Becton Dickinson to pick up his idea and take it to the next level. It first was his family that supported him, then it was CEMIC, the Center for Medical Education and Clinical Research in Buenos Aires; then it was me [Mario Merialdi] who was shown this device and fifteen weeks later Jorge and I were together in a hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, a very specialized advanced center testing the device. . . . I didn’t mention that I’m actually his friend.

How the Odón device went from an idea to a product

From left: Sonia Shechet Epstein, Chiara Atik, Claudia Weill, Jorge Odón, Mario Merialdi

From left: Sonia Shechet Epstein, Chiara Atik, Claudia Weill, Jorge Odón, Mario Merialdi

Sonia: Mario, you’ve been instrumental in the development of Jorge’s device. I’m curious about two things: first, what about the Odón device stood out for you when you first saw it and second, how aware were you of the need for innovation in obstetrics before the device?

Mario: Someone mentioned in the play that there had been no innovation in the instruments used for childbirth deliveries for centuries. There was definitely a gap there. I remember I was working at the time at the World Health Organization. I was leaving to go from Geneva to Buenos Aires for a meeting. I got a call in the evening from a colleague in Argentina telling me about a crazy doctor at a hospital working with an even crazier mechanic who had a new device for assisted vaginal delivery. I was very skeptical but at the same time I was intrigued because of the unmet need for new devices both in developed and developing countries. So I said I will be at this meeting and will be able to give him ten minutes. I met with Jorge who showed me the device. The moment I saw that this was something new in the field I was intrigued. The reason why it’s so appealing is that forceps and suction are all lifesaving procedures but they require professionals and they are not available everywhere in the world, especially in the area where most of the world lives. Seeing this device that is potentially easier to use and potentially safer was very, very promising and pushed me to invest and to develop a research plan.

How USAID innovates new medical solutions — and helped develop the Odón device

Sonia: Dave, I know that you and USAID also helped develop the device. What are some of the criteria you were using to decide which innovations to support?

From left: Jorge Odón, Mario Merialdi, Rosa Rivera, David Milestone

From left: Jorge Odón, Mario Merialdi, Rosa Rivera, David Milestone

David Milestone: I’m with the Global Health Bureau of the US Agency for International Development, the part of the State department that works on economic development and humanitarian assistance primarily in places with low resources. Think Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia. We’ve made a lot of progress in global health. For example, we cut child mortality in half in the last few decades. We still have a long way to go to reach what we call sustainable development goals that the United Nations targets around maternal newborn mortality. One of the things we recognize is that we need to start working and thinking in different ways if we’re going to have any chance of reaching those targets. Part of that is casting a wider net to different nontraditional problem solvers.

Over the last several years we’ve run programs called “Grand Challenges,” which are open innovation competitions around maternal and newborn health, like Saving Lives at Birth, and around the Ebola and Zika grand challenges to help us be better prepared for the next outbreak. [Note: The Odón device received funding in Round 5 of the Saving Lives at Birth challenge in 2015]. What we’ve found is that great ideas can come from anywhere, from Buenos Aires to just up the street at Columbia University where a group of students developed a type of colorized bleach to be used in decontamination settings during the Ebola outbreak in Liberia. It’s now being used in the current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. What’s exciting about that is that was a group of students at Columbia. They now have a business, they’re making money and it’s sustainable. That was only three or four years ago, in 2014.

Traditionally, in global health it can take 30 to 40 years for a product to go from an idea in the garage to scale. This can really accelerate the progress. There’s a saying that vision without execution is hallucination. It takes a village to execute. Jorge delivered the vision. It took us as a government agency to take the risk and invest in this device and it took the World Health Organization to be supportive of it and to get it to scale. We look for products that are potentially game changers, that can leapfrog existing technology and address the leading killers of newborns and mothers.

Sonia: Were there any other innovations that you awarded that also address these needs?

David: Yes, over the course of the eight years that we have run the Saving Lives at Birth Grand Challenge we have awarded some 120 different awards to innovators. Some awards were as low as $250,000. Some as high as two million dollars in order to be catalytic. Yes, we’ve seen a whole host of ideas. About 15% of these will transition through development and get to scale. That doesn’t sound like a lot but when you’re looking for new approaches to reach what we call the last mile in real rural settings, it’s proven to be a pretty successful model. We’re going to be seeing more of it.

Claudia Weill on directing BUMP

From left: Sonia Shechet Epstein, Chiara Atik, Claudia Weill

From left: Sonia Shechet Epstein, Chiara Atik, Claudia Weill

Sonia: Claudia, one of my favorite storylines in the play is during colonial times when you see and feel the terror of giving birth without the aid of technology or community. What was it like directing that scene?

Claudia Weill: We were very lucky. We found an amazing group of actors who really brought the play to life. The two actors in that scene (Lucy DeVito and Jenny O’Hara) were fantastic in making it come to life. When Chiara writes “1690” she writes it almost as a contemporary scene. It’s not like “Ye ole . . .” It’s very hip and edgy. That made it very easy to direct and easy to connect it with the other material.

Sonia: Claudia, can you tell us about the creation of the set and the development of the prototype for the device?  

Claudia: I wasn’t so much involved in developing the prototype. We had wonderful prop people who were.  In terms of the set, we worked with this wonderful woman Kristen Robinson. Early on, we realized we had to create the world of the Internet and to bring it onstage in some alternate space. She came up with this wonderful idea of this window. Everything that happens in the window is somehow connected with the Internet, whether it’s a YouTube video or a chat room or whatever. I thought that was a marvelous visual concept, a visual metaphor for what Chiara is doing in the play. One of the things Chiara is writing about is that we are more intimate with our devices and with what’s happening on the Internet than we are with the person next to us in bed. It’s as if that person in the device is in the room. It’s not a remote thing. The set brings that home.

Why outsiders may be key to medical innovation

From left: Sonia Shechet Epstein, Chiara Atik, Claudia Weill, Jorge Odón, Mario Merialdi

From left: Sonia Shechet Epstein, Chiara Atik, Claudia Weill, Jorge Odón, Mario Merialdi

Sonia: Jorge, another question. How do you think your experience as a car mechanic helped you to think about the problem that your device solved?

Jorge (through Mario): He has several patents related to automotive mechanics. When he was having issues with mechanics in his garage, he used to go to bed with the problem and woke up with the solution. This time when he had the idea his wife was not pregnant. He thanks God for giving him this idea. He wants to congratulate the actor who portrayed him on stage. He has only one complaint. In the program he is not described as an Argentine mechanic but simply as a grandfather inventing the device.

Sonia: I have a question for any of the panelists. Forceps were invented in the seventeenth century. I’m surprised there haven’t been more innovations in this area. Do any of you have ideas on why that is?

Mario: There have been many attempts to improve the forceps and the vacuum extractor. There are at least one thousand different kinds of forceps. Obstetricians have typically tried to improve on what’s already existing. Being a car mechanic, Jorge looked at the problem from a different perspective. Speaking as an obstetrician, I know we often refer to labor and delivery as a biological process, but mostly it’s a mechanical process. The baby has to go down the birth canal and navigate different diameters, taking different positions as it is being pushed by the mother. It has always struck me that Jorge has a better understanding of the dynamics of delivery than a physician. He always says he’s a car mechanic. He’s not a doctor, so he doesn’t have any kind of biological background. This always brings to mind for me the saying that sometimes imagination is more important than knowledge. What you need sometimes is someone who takes a totally different view who has a lot of creative imagination. It’s great that there are now platforms available for innovation. Innovation can come from totally different backgrounds. This is my view. This is why there has not been so much innovation. We had to wait for Jorge.

David: I’d add that it’s very expensive to develop new medical technologies. For a good reason. We want to make sure that they’re safe. So they often require these randomized controlled trials which are very expensive. If you’re a medical device company like Becton Dickinson, you want to make sure that the devices you’re developing and testing will allow you to make more of those and make a profit. Often In these low resource settings . . . in northern Nigeria, for example, women often will give birth by themselves by tradition. These are completely different markets with different user needs than are available in more developed places. There is not necessarily an incentive for innovation in these low resource stings. Fortunately, Becton Dickinson is very progressive in moving into these emerging markets – the fastest growing markets in the world – Africa and Southeast Asia – so we’ll likely see more of this innovation coming sooner than later.

How the testing process for a new medical device works

Question from audience: The play makes a point of the difficulty of moving from testing a device on dummies to clinical trials on people. How does that process work? How are the first human testers chosen?

Jorge (through Mario): There is a process you have to go through in order to get a device approved. There is an ethics committee that has to approve it. In this case, there actually was a first woman to test the device that had never been used before in the world. Jorge was involved in approaching the women. Jorge is really grateful to the first woman. We have to remember that the women in Argentina were going to have a normal delivery. They would not actually need the device. They needed to start with women who were going to deliver anyway. So the first women who agreed to participate were doing it for science. When you do research of this kind there is a very detailed form the women have to read and discuss with their family. Reading the two or three pages describing all the possible risks could have been very scary. Despite that, the women decided to participate. Another requirement of the ethics committee was that the first test had to be conducted with women who had advanced education, a university degree.  They wanted a population of women who could not be interpreted as being disadvantaged or who might consent without properly understanding what they were consenting to.

What inspired  BUMP

From left: Sonia Shechet Epstein and Chiara Atik

From left: Sonia Shechet Epstein and Chiara Atik

Question from the audience: Chiara, what was it about Jorge’s story that made you want to write a play about him?

Chiara: I read this article and I just loved the idea of a man, a mechanic, someone not in the medical field, someone just completely out of it in this very female experience and I thought this was a funny juxtaposition. The idea of someone with a plastic uterus in his garage just seemed lovely.

The 2018 EST/Sloan Mainstage Production, BUMP by Chiara Atik began previews at the Ensemble Studio Theatre on May 9 and completed its run on June 3, 2018.

Read more about BUMP

Interview with Chiara Atik about BUMP: Chiara Atik on new mom message boards, ALT lines, science stories, and BUMP

Background on the science behind BUMP: Childbirth’s “Grinding Pirouette,” a Colonial Midwife, the Odón Device: Some Background to BUMP

May 26 talkback panel on BUMP: Rebecca Tannenbaum, Debra Pascali-Bonaro, Chiara Atik and Robin Marantz Henig on Midwives, Doulas, Colonial Home Births, Birthing Positions, Medical Devices, and BUMP

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Inventor Jorge Odón, Global Health Experts Mario Merialdi and David Milestone, and Director Claudia Weill join Playwright Chiara Atik and Editor Sonia Epstein to discuss Birthing Technology and BUMP

Clockwise from top left: Jorge Odón. Mario Merialdi, David Milestone, Sonia Shechet Epstein, Chiara Atik, Claudia Weill

Clockwise from top left: Jorge Odón. Mario Merialdi, David Milestone, Sonia Shechet Epstein, Chiara Atik, Claudia Weill

On June 2, following the 2:00 pm matinee performance of BUMP, the lively new comedy by Chiara Atik, audience members are encouraged to stay for an extensive discussion of many of the issues the play addresses, especially current birthing technology, devices for instrumental vaginal delivery  (IVD), the Odón device, and how medical devices get approved for clinical use. Joining playwright Chiara Atik  and director Claudia Weill will be Jorge Odón, the inventor of the Odón device, Mario Merialdi, Senior Director of Global Health at Becton Dickinson, and David Milestone, Acting Director for the Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact, USAID, for a conversation moderated by Sonia Shechet Epstein, Executive Editor of Sloan Science & Film at the Museum of the Moving Image.

BUMP is the exuberant exploration of the evolution of women's understanding about and control over the childbirth process through the  stories of three separate quests for knowledge: a young expectant mother in colonial New England getting coached through her first pregnancy by a peppery midwife (inspired by the diary of Martha Ballard); a contemporary message board where new pregnant moms swap gripes, quips, and observations; and a grandfather/mechanic's invention of a device that could revolutionize how babies in distress could be safely delivered (the last inspired by the story of Argentine mechanic and inventor Jorge Odón). 

The World Premiere of BUMP is this year’s mainstage production of the EST/Sloan Project, EST's partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to develop new plays "exploring the worlds of science and technology," an initiative now in its twentieth year.

About the Panelists

Jorge Odón

Jorge Odón

Jorge Odón is the inventor of the Odón device. For more than thirty years, he operated the El Rayel S.A. automobile alignment and wheel balancing service center in Lanús, Argentina. During that time he patented several products relating to car parts. In 2005, he had an idea for facilitating childbirths after seeing a YouTube video about how to pull a cork from an empty wine bottle. After developing several device prototypes, Odón’s big breakthrough came in 2008 when he presented his device to Dr. Mario Merialdi, then director of Reproductive Health at the World Health Organization. That meeting led to both traveling that December to the birth simulation center at Des Moines University in Iowa for a successful series of tests. The WHO then agreed to conduct a series of hospital-based tests of the device in three phases in Argentina and South Africa. In 2013, Becton Dickinson and Company (BD) licensed the development rights of the Odón device and developed a new prototype based on their pre-clinical studies. In March 2018, BD and WHO announced the results of the latest round of tests. The report concludes: “Delivery using the Odón device is therefore considered to be feasible.” BD will next pursue a randomized pivotal clinical trial before potential introduction in clinical practice.

Odón has won recognition for his invention that includes finalist in the First WHO Forum on Medical Devices in Thailand (October 2009); winner of one of the 19 awards in the international contest Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development, in Washington (July 2011); recognition at world congresses and athenaeums in gynecology and obstetrics; first prize from INNOVAR 2011, and the gold medal from IMPI as best inventor of 2012.

Dr. Mario Merialdi

Dr. Mario Merialdi

Mario Merialdi, MPH, MD, is Senior Director of Global Health at Becton Dickinson (BD), with a special interest in Maternal and Newborn Health. Prior to joining BD, Dr. Merialdi served as the coordinator of Human Reproduction and as a Medical Officer in the Maternal and Perinatal Health Research Unit at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. He worked in the design, implementation and coordination of large multinational epidemiological studies involving research institutions in developed and developing countries. Dr. Merialdi’s research interests have been focused on issues related to the reduction of maternal and newborn mortality worldwide. He is a strong supporter of the need to foster international research collaborations between researchers from developing and developed countries.

David Milestone

David Milestone

David Milestone is Acting Director of USAID Bureau for Global Health's Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact (CII). CII applies business-minded approaches to the development, introduction and scale-up of health innovations. Since 2011, USAID, CII, and its partners have cultivated a pipeline of over 150 innovations and supported them on their path to deliver health impact—from improved maternal and newborn health to enhanced outbreak response for diseases like Ebola and Zika to strengthened health supply chains. David has also held various strategic marketing roles at Stryker, an $11B medical device company, where he led innovation and strategy initiatives in India.

Claudia Weill

Claudia Weill

Claudia Weill is a film, television, and theatre director. After graduating Harvard in 1969, she made 30 short films for Sesame Street (still on the air) and directed documentaries, notably This is the Home of Mrs. Levant Graham (Kennedy Journalism Award) and The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir, with Shirley MacLaine, released theatrically in 1975 (Academy Award Nomination). She produced and directed her first feature, Girlfriends, in 1979, which she sold to Warner Brothers after winning multiple awards at Cannes, Filmex, and Sundance. Next she directed It’s My Turn for Columbia Pictures, winning the Donatello (European Oscar) for Best New Director.

She directed mostly new plays at Williamstown, The O’Neill, Sundance, ACT, Empty Space and in New York at MTC, the Public and Circle Rep among others. In 1984, she was nominated for the Drama Desk Best Director Award for the premiere of Donald Margulies’ Found a Peanut, produced by Joe Papp at the Public Theatre. Moving to Los Angeles in 1985, she began working in television, directing episodic, cable movies and pilots. She is most well-known for multiple episodes of Thirtysomething (Humanitas and Emmy Awards), My So-Called Life, Chicago Hope (Reynolds Award), Once and Again, and TV movies, including Johnny Bull and Face of a Stranger (Gena Rowlands, Emmy Best Actress). Returning to theatre in the last few years, she directed the West Coast Premiere of Pulitzer Prize winner, Doubt, at the Pasadena Playhouse; Tape, Memory House, and End Days at the Vineyard Playhouse, Archy and Mehitabel at the Yard; Huck and Holden at the Black Dahlia; La Bella Famiglia at ACT; Twelfth Night, Act a Lady and Sweet Mercy at Antaeus; Melancholy Play and The Shore at the Pasadena Playhouse.

Chiara Atik

Chiara Atik

Chiara Atik is a graduate of the Obie Award-winning EST/Youngblood program, and a portion of BUMP had its origins as a short play written for Youngblood's monthly Sunday Brunch series, specifically its annual crossover with the EST/Sloan Project, the Youngblood Science Brunch. Her plays include I Gained Five PoundsWomen (a mashup of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and HBO’s Girls) and Five Times in One Night, which was first produced at EST. She is the author of numerous articles for Cosmopolitan Magazine, Glamour Magazine, Refinery29, and New York, as well as the book, Modern Dating: A Field Guide. Her screenplay, Fairy Godmother, was on the 2016 Blacklist. Helen Estabrook (Whiplash) and Cassidy Lange will produce for MGM, which won the rights in a bidding war. Television: NBC’s Superstore.

About the Moderator

Sonia Shechet Epstein

Sonia Shechet Epstein

Sonia Shechet Epstein works at the intersection of science and culture. As Executive Editor of the Museum of the Moving Image’s website Sloan Science & Film, she produces all of its content. At the Museum, she also curates the ongoing series “Science on Screen” which pairs rarely screened films with discussions between scientists and filmmakers. Since 2014, she has been a mentor at NEW INC—the New Museum of Contemporary Art’s incubator for practitioners in art and technology.

BUMP began previews at the Ensemble Studio Theatre on May 9 and runs through June 3. You can purchase tickets here.

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Historian Rebecca Tannenbaum, Doula Trainer Debra Pascali-Bonaro, and Playwright Chiara Atik join Journalist Robin Marantz Henig on May 26 to discuss Midwives, Birthing Technology, and BUMP

From left, Rebecca Tannenbaum, Debra Pascali-Bonaro, Chiara Atik, Robin Marantz Henig

From left, Rebecca Tannenbaum, Debra Pascali-Bonaro, Chiara Atik, Robin Marantz Henig

On May 26, following the 2:00 pm matinee performance of BUMP, the spirited new comedy by Chiara Atik, audiences are invited to stay for a far-ranging discussion about how the experience and technology of childbirth — from how a child is delivered to how much the mother understands and controls — has changed over the past two hundred and fifty years. Joining playwright Atik will be Rebecca Tannenbaum, Senior Lecturer in History at Yale University, and Debra Pascali-Bonaro, childbirth educator, doula trainer, and Chair of the International MotherBaby Childbirth Organization, for a conversation and Q&A moderated by journalist Robin Marantz Henig.

BUMP is the exuberant exploration of the evolution of women's understanding about and control over the childbirth process through the  stories of three separate quests for knowledge: a young expectant mother in colonial New England getting coached through her first pregnancy by a peppery midwife (inspired by the diary of Martha Ballard); a contemporary message board where new pregnant moms swap observations and complaints; and a grandfather/mechanic's invention of a device that could revolutionize how babies in distress could be safely delivered (the last inspired by the story of Argentinian mechanic and inventor Jorge Odon). 

The World Premiere of BUMP is this year’s mainstage production of the EST/Sloan Project, EST's partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to develop new plays "exploring the worlds of science and technology," an initiative now in its twentieth year.

About the Panelists

Rebecca Tannenbaum

Rebecca Tannenbaum

Rebecca Tannenbaum is Senior Lecturer in History at Yale University and Yale NUS Fellow in International Affairs. Her research is focused on Colonial America, especially women’s history and the history of medicine, history of women’s health, as well as history of the family. She is currently working on a cultural history of biological motherhood in America, from the Colonial period through the mid-nineteenth century. Nancy Tomes hailed her book, The Healer’s Calling: Women and Medicine in Colonial New England (Cornell University Press, 2002), as “a masterful account of women's healing practices in colonial New England. . . . a major contribution to the history of medicine and to the history of early American culture.”

Debra Pascali-Bonaro

Debra Pascali-Bonaro

Debra Pascali-Bonaro has trained thousands of doulas and birth professionals around the world in the practices of gentle birth support. Debra is Chair of the International MotherBaby Childbirth Organization, member of the White Ribbon Alliance, Lamaze International childbirth educator, birth and postpartum doula trainer with DONA International, and co-author of the book Orgasmic Birth, Your Guide to a Safe, Satisfying and Pleasurable Birth Experience. Creator and director of Orgasmic Birth, an award-winning documentary that examines the intimate nature of birth, Debra has been featured on ABC’s 20/20, Good Morning Russia, The NBC Today Show, Discovery Health, in The New York Times, The LA Times, The UK Times as well as numerous Parenting and Health Magazines around the world.

Chiara Atik

Chiara Atik

Chiara Atik is a graduate of the Obie Award-winning EST/Youngblood program, and a portion of BUMP had its origins as a short play written for Youngblood's monthly Sunday Brunch series, specifically its annual crossover with the EST/Sloan Project, the Youngblood Science Brunch. Her plays include I Gained Five PoundsWomen (a mashup of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and HBO’s Girls) and Five Times in One Night, which was first produced at EST. She is the author of numerous articles for Cosmopolitan Magazine, Glamour Magazine, Refinery29, and New York, as well as the book, Modern Dating: A Field Guide. Her screenplay, Fairy Godmother, was on the 2016 Blacklist. Helen Estabrook (Whiplash) and Cassidy Lange will produce for MGM, which won the rights in a bidding war. Television: NBC’s Superstore.

About the Moderator

Robin Marantz Henig

Robin Marantz Henig

Journalist and science writer Robin Marantz Henig is the author of nine science books. A contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, Robin has also written for Scientific American, The Washington Post, National Geographic, and numerous women’s magazines. Her book on the first test-tube baby, Pandora’s Baby (2004), won the Outstanding Book Award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Most recently, Robin collaborated with her daughter Samantha Henig to write Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck? (2014).

BUMP began previews at the Ensemble Studio Theatre on May 9 and runs through June 3. You can purchase tickets here.

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Marine Geophysicist Timothy Crone, Marine Geochemist Beizhan Yan, Science Reporter Henry Fountain & Playwright Leigh Fondakowski discuss the Deepwater Horizon disaster, its impact and SPILL on April 1

On April 1, following the 2:00 PM matinee performance of SPILL, the powerful new drama by Leigh Fondakowski, Timothy Crone, Beizhan Yan, Henry Fountain, and Leigh Fondakowski, author and director of SPILL, will gather for a lively discussion of the social, scientific and political issues the play addresses.

Marine Ecologist Carl Safina, Public Health Professor David Abramson, Playwright/Director Leigh Fondakowski discuss Deepwater Horizon disaster, its impact on Gulf Coast life, and SPILL on March 18

On March 18, following the 2:00 PM matinee performance of SPILL, the compelling new drama by Leigh Fondakowski, Carl Safina, Professor for Nature and Humanity at Stony Brook University and author of A Sea in Flames: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Blowout; David Abramson, Clinical Associate Professor and Director of the Program on Population Impact, Recovery and Resilience at New York University; and Leigh Fondakowski, author and director of SPILL, will gather for a lively discussion of the social, scientific and political issues the play addresses about risk, technology, the tension between industry and nature, and the impact of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on the wildlife and people of the Gulf Coast.  

Psychologist Ken Corbett, Biologist Stuart Firestein and Playwright Anna Ziegler discuss gender identity, the biology of sexual differences, and BOY in a post-performance talkback on March 31

On March 31, following the 7:00 PM performance of BOY, the acclaimed new play by Anna Ziegler, Ken Corbett, Stuart Firestein, and Anna Ziegler will gather for a lively discussion about the personal and social issues the play raises concerning gender identity, the biology of sexual differences, how psychologists treat – and how society views - children of ambiguous sexuality.

Sociomedical Scientist Rebecca Jordan-Young, Biologist Darcy Kelley, and Director Linsay Firman join Journalist Robin Henig on March 24 for a post-performance talkback about BOY

On March 24, following the 7:00 PM performance of BOY, the powerful new play by Anna Ziegler, Rebecca Jordan-Young, Darcy Kelley, Harold Weintraub, and Linsay Firman will join journalist and moderator Robin Henig for what promises to be a lively discussion about the issues the play raises concerning gender identity, the sexual development of children, and how the treatment of children of ambiguous sexuality has changed since the time of the play.