“Spring Awakening: In Concert,” an event raising money for All-Options and its Hoosier Abortion Fund, will be held at The Cabaret on Saturday, August 19. All-Options has created the first statewide, community-based abortion fund in Indiana, providing assistance paying for medical care, transportation, childcare, and other expenses related to obtaining abortion care.
The concert is directed by Emily Ristine Holloway, with musical direction by Michael Berg Raunick. The event is produced by Michael and Dr. Cara Berg Raunick and Joey Mervis through Riverbend Production Co., with generous support from The Cabaret and Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre.
Recently, I sat down with Mike Raunick and his wife Cara, a nurse practitioner, to chat about the concert and the abortion issue. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.
MR: We have friends who told us about concrete things they were going to do to help in this moment of the Supreme Court decision of Roe vs. Wade. I just kept thinking I don’t know what I can do that is concrete. Then, I had the idea about the musical “Spring Awakening” because some of the themes in it relate to abortion and relate to the idea that adults try to close their eyes to things they don’t like, and they still happen anyway with tragic consequences. I wanted to do “Spring Awakening” and I texted back and forth with Emily Holloway, and she said, “Well, I think you should do a concert because you could put that together.” I don’t know if she thought I was serious, but I thought, “I think we could put that together.” I asked her if she would direct it and she said, “Sure!” and then we were off to the races. It was about a week before we were able to get the Phoenix Theatre on board to give us rehearsal space for free. The Cabaret is giving us the space at cost to do the show, and we had the whole creative team on board, everybody giving their time.
CR: I am a women’s health nurse practitioner and so from my perspective, it is a perfect marriage: here’s what I bring to the table in this world and then Mike’s skill set. I worked interactively with All-Options for a long time through my work. They are a nonprofit that as their name implies, supports women and childbearing people through whatever choice they are making through this process. They have all kinds of services including a statewide diaper bank and menstrual-supply bank. They have a wonderful talk line where they provide support to folks wherever they are in this journey, even if they are sure in this choice and just need to talk to somebody or don’t know what choice they are making. They also house the Hoosier Abortion Fund, which provides financial support for people seeking abortion services. As most people know, insurance can’t be used for abortion care, and it is not inexpensive. It is health care and so they provide for the cost of the procedure and have the capability to help with travel and childcare.
They don’t actually provide abortion services?
CR: They are not a medical provider, but they provide funding for people who can’t access the services.
MR: So all proceeds from the show are going to go to them. We have already raised enough money to cover our costs. We already know we are going to donate $10,000, even if we hadn’t sold a single ticket beyond what we sold today.
Will this cause a backlash for you with North Central High School where you are Director of Choirs?
MR: I want to say this very clearly. This project doesn’t have anything to do with North Central. I am being very purposeful about completely separating it. There are many times I will borrow a keyboard or a music stand from the school, but I am not doing it for this to make sure it is completely separate. My opinion is that it is not a time for us to be quiet. It is a really important time, and it is important for people to stand up and say this matters, and it is not okay what is happening. I imagine there are some people who’ll see this and think they may not like me as much as they did before, but to be honest, that is less important to me than the issue at hand is— doing what’s right.
Is this consistent with what you do professionally?
CR: One of the things we keep coming back to is abortion is health care. It is safe and it is common. We know that one in four women will have an abortion by the time they turn 45. Everyone knows someone who’s had an abortion. They just don’t talk about it because of stigma. Not only are we trying to raise money, of course, we want to raise money for the cause. Part of our goal is also to build community and raise awareness. Nothing does that better than the arts.
MR: And one of the things we are most excited about is using this as an opportunity to get together a group of people, who might be having these feelings, but might feel less comfortable standing up and saying it. We want to bring an audience of people into a room where they can be together and have these feelings together and know there is a community out there who wants to support this and who want to say that we need to be standing on the right side of this.
Remind me of the plot of “Spring Awakening.”
MR: In the beginning of “Spring Awakening” a young girl asks her mother where babies come from, but the mother doesn’t want to tell her because it is inappropriate. She is really asking and the mother refuses to tell her the whole truth of it. Over the course of the show, the girl has a relationship with a boy. They end up having sex without her really understanding what it is, and she ends up becoming pregnant.
CR: There is an incredible scene at the end where her mother, sort of, tells her she is pregnant and she goes, “But mommy, I’m not married.” Her belief is the only way you can get pregnant is if you are married. Incredibly powerful. What ends up happening in the show is the mother thinks this is unacceptable and takes her for an abortion, which, at that time, is like in a back-alley situation and she dies. There is a secondary plot about a student who is not doing good in school and, sort of, shows how teachers are not supporting him. His parents are really pounding on him about it, and he ends up failing out of his school and dies by suicide. And there are scenes of child sexual abuse. All the adults are played by one man and one woman.
MR: We are very excited. Constance Macy and Chuck Goad are playing the adults. That’s about as big as you can get in Indianapolis.
How are you staging it?
MR: There will be minimal staging. We are doing most of the show with minimal sets, just to make it fit on that stage.
CR: We also have a choreographer on board.
MR: There is going to be some choreography. It’s going to be tight on that stage. We are going to use microphone stands for the main songs.
The concert format is becoming increasingly popular. A good example is “Into the Woods,” which is on Broadway right now.
MR: This whole idea only began about three weeks ago and part of it is because of limited time, and everyone is donating their time. We don’t want to be demanding.
Who are the singers?
MR: There are some current high school students and college students. The oldest person in the show is going to be a junior [in college] and the youngest is going to be a high school junior.
How did you get the word out?
MR: All we did is send an email to a list of about 20 to 30 excellent young actors that Emily and I knew from the Indianapolis area, explaining the project to them, and asking if they were available and interested. We knew it was a tight turnaround, so we didn’t audition and it kind of worked out. We got responses from just the right amount of people that we needed. We think they are going to fill all their roles just great.
You never considered reuniting the Summer Stock Stage cast, did you?
MR: They’re too old and so Chuck and Constance are returning from the Eclipse production from a few years ago and were the adults in that one. We did, sort of, talk about that briefly, but then realized this is supposed to be a show about teenagers. Those guys are all 27 and 28 now, and we thought this is not going to work with people who are almost 30 now.
What do you hope the takeaway will be?
MR: The goal of this is just for us to stand up and say what is happening is wrong. We need to keep using our voice and continue to fight, especially right now in Indiana with the special session that is happening (soon after this interview the Indiana legislature banned all abortions in the state with few, onerously restrictive exceptions). The main point is this conversation can’t stop because the Supreme Court made the decision, and we were upset and now we are going to move on. This is going to be something that is going to affect us and our children and the women we care about, and we need to keep the conversation going. I am hoping to have an event like this and bring a community together of people who understand—that will help it not just be in that space but be throughout our community.
And how about you, Cara?
CR: One of the things I want to emphasize is that abortion care has become so much safer, obviously. We are moving away from using coat-hanger imagery. Self-managed abortion can be safe. It is different than it was in 1891, the year the original “Spring Awakening” was written. The things that make abortion care less safe is the restrictive legislation making it illegal and causing women to travel, as well as other imposed hardships that will follow. The original legislation that was proposed is bad enough, but they have only made it worse through amendments in the last few days. And so, while we want to emphasize that abortion is safer than it was in 1891, obviously, women and people will be harmed by this legislation. Hoosiers will be less safe. We already have the third worst mortality in the country anyway, and this will just make that worse in putting our women and children at risk.
Aren’t people of color most affected?
CR: Absolutely. They are the most vulnerable among us. Whether that is LGTB folks or people of color, people without resources are most impacted.
MR: We know that people of means are going to find a way to go to a different state or find a way to meet their needs, but it’s the people that don’t have the means that are going to be the most affected.
Do you both have personal experience with abortion that informs your attitudes about it?
CR: I have worked my entire career in reproductive health care. Even before professionally, I had been volunteering for Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health care organizations my entire life, and the stories I have witnessed? More than 50 percent of women who have had abortions are already mothers. They make these choices for all kinds of reasons, all of which are valid and are often to protect the families that they have or hope to have and of course, health reasons. Pregnancy can be high risk. I believe in my core that people are the experts in their own lives, and women know what they need and what their families need. I trust women to make their own decisions. And every story I have seen is unique and valid, and I believe abortion care is compassionate and lifesaving.
What are your religious backgrounds?
MR: We are Jewish.
CR: So, we know that the idea of when life begins is personal, something that people define personally. Medically, it’s defined at implantation, and we hear a lot of folks talking about life beginning the minute the egg and sperm meet but that is not a universally held belief, and it is not a Jewish belief. Typically, Jews believe that life begins at first breath and that a developing fetus is potential life. Potential life deserves honor, and it is a special thing, but it does not supersede the existing life.
MR: The Rabbis in Indianapolis have been quite vocal as this has been happening.
CR: There are circumstances in Judaism where abortion would be required, and many would be permitted. It’s to save the life of the mother, and it expands to the health of the mother as well.
Shifting gears, it must be fun for you two to be working together.
CR: We always say we are at our best when we have a project. (laughs)
MR: I was thinking about your question before about what we want people to take away from this. What I really want people to take away is that this time is so important to stand up, and I hope that they can think about what they can do to be a part of advocating and standing up in this moment. For us, it was putting on a musical. It seems a bit silly. Here we are saying “Oh, there is bad abortion legislation. What are we going to do? We are going to put on a musical.” (laughs) But what we know is what to do. But I imagine there are a lot of people out there that have a lot of random things that they are capable of doing that could be helpful in this moment. They should continue the conversation, raise money or be supportive of people in these situations. I hope this is kind of inspires people to think like “Well, Mike and Cara did that and so what can I do?”
As far as the concert, tell me about the music. Will there be a band?
MR: Yes, full orchestration. It’s a small band but its maybe piano, bass, drums, guitar, violin, viola, cello, and it should be really nice.
CR: Every person we reached out to said “yes” immediately. Every person who we reached out to in the orchestra as well as the creative folks…each person said immediately “yes,” and “can my wife be involved?” and “I have three friends who want to do this and how can I help?”
MR: We had multiple people in the theatre community and once they heard about it, they texted me and said, “Can I work on this?”
CR: It speaks to the fact that people don’t know what to do. They don’t want to rally at the Statehouse, but this is giving them a way to connect.
You may have started a movement for arts groups to get involved.
MR: We would love that.
Who is sponsoring the event?
CR: Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation are backing us as is Glick Philanthropy which is at a significance level and a lot of physicians are sponsoring tables, the Good Trouble Coalition has a table. We also have community partners. We are also going to have educational resources there during the performance. The ACLU will be there. All Options will be there. Women4Change, and Path4Change. Our supporters are a super diverse group. It’s been really amazing.
Performances will take place at The Cabaret, 924 N Pennsylvania St, Indianapolis, IN, at 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $125, with a limited number of $50 student tickets available for each performance. Tickets are on sale now at: springawakeningconcert.com.