Online, Global

21/05/2022 - 21/05/2022

Production Details

An interactive online performance about transnational surrogacy  

The unfulfilled desire to have children drives couples from Germany and Switzerland abroad. They entrust surrogates in India, the US and Ukraine to deliver their children. These ‘intending parents’ duck legal boundaries and enter unknown moral ground.

Flinn Works has undertaken research in all five countries in order to gain a deeper understanding of gestational surrogacy. Is it a blessing of modern medicine or a neocolonial act? Is bearing the child of a stranger work or charity? How do we compensate this ‘labour of love’?

Since transnational surrogacy became illegal in countries such as India and Thailand, follicles, embryos and surrogates are being flown around the globe. Where the desire for a child meets biotechnology, children will find a way into the world. So they exist and they need passports. But which ones?

Global Belly portrays people embroiled in the surrogacy industry. Professional agents meet content surrogates and argumentative feminists encounter loving fathers-to-be. With its ethical complexity and emotional polarisation, its legal grey zones and its medical realities the industry comes alive on the Zoom stage.

The performance is interactive. Audiences are kindly requested to participate from a laptop or desktop with camera and microphone.

Date: Saturday, 21 May, 8pm (NZ time) 
Language: ENGLISH 
Duration: 90 Minutes
TICKETS:  Please email us to receive your zoom link (free entry, limited capacity).

Flinn Works is an award-winning independent theatre company from Berlin, Germany. With a focus on feminist and postcolonial topics, Flinn Works performances and installations are research based and devised with a team of international artists.

Anne Hoffmann, Matthias Renger, Sonata, Crystal Travis, Jennifer Lynn Tune, Lea Whitcher
Direction: Sophia Stepf
Research & Text: Team Global Belly
Consultation: Dr. Anika König
Costume Design: Philine Rinnert
Music: Jörg-Martin Wagner
Video Design: Marc Jungreithmeier
Zoom Host: Konradin Kunze
Production Assistant: Alice Harrison
Production Management: Marit Buchmeier, Lisanne Grotz / xplusdrei Produktionsbüro

The 2021 Zoom Performance is a Flinn Works and SOPHIENSÆLE Production.
The 2022 shows are funded by Fonds Darstellende Künste as part of Neustart Kultur using funds from the German Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media.

Further information:  

Webcast , Theatre ,

1 hr 30 min

A delight to interact so personally post-show

Review by Cordy Black 23rd May 2022

About a dozen audience members and a handful of live performers come together to co-create Global Belly, a Zoom based video presentation that spans an hour and a half. The theme: international surrogacy, from the perspective of surrogates, practitioners, agents, recipients and more. Players dial in from a few countries including Germany and the USA – one of the advantages of an online experience is that we get a globally distributed chat to match our global theme.

The bulk of the show consists of breakout room discussions which pull audience members into structured chats, each one supervised by an actor – in this breakout chat, we’re endowed with personas who are involved in the surrogacy process. Konradin, our digital host, hustles professionally to get us across the technical ins and outs.

The amount of improvisation that the actors need to do, especially during the first couple of chats where the audience isn’t warmed up, must be truly impressive. They have a body of research on their particular scenario to back them up, and several actors are happy to dig in and answer audience questions. It all goes better and less awkwardly once participants know the rules and we can all give ourselves permission to connect. The side conversations that land the best and open us up are definitely those that contain a bit of a backstory, with familial relationships endowed between the audience participants.

When we’re not in conversation, we’re served up a few strangely artificial spoken or sung performances, with overlapping voices and sometimes choreographed gestures. These structural motifs are a bit of a contrast with the breakout conversations (which feel far less staged). The ‘pillar’ pieces with their choreographed hand motions probably make a bit more sense in a live theatre context, but they’re not as effective online and break a bit of the immersion.

It’s hard to talk about ‘staging’ in a Zoom call, but we do see a few nice moments of video related play, including floating window boxes which are multiplied and stacked up, denoting the repeated advertising pitches by surrogacy businesses or the clash of ideological viewpoints in a feminist debate.

Participants enjoy delving into some of the ways conservative countries skirt local laws, including laws that are meant to outlaw surrogacy itself. Some of the loopholes involved in international surrogacy (where it is not allowed in the recipient’s homeland) are startling. Actors and audience have fruitful chats comparing the situation in different countries around both surrogacy and egg and sperm donations – how knowledge is shared or not shared, where consent begins and ends. It all seems highly inconsistent.

We’re given survey questions at different stages in the piece. The interactivity is a nice touch, but the interface is clumsy and there’s no timer on the questions, which makes things hurried in places. It’s also not an accessible interface for slow readers – a limitation of the online medium, but still worth wrestling with in order to watch how our collective responses play out.

The call takes an intense and fascinating turn when we join a topical discussion about the legal and humanitarian ramifications of the war in Ukraine. This includes the welfare of a few hundred surrogates who are potentially giving birth in very dangerous conditions. Anne Hoffmann’s role has morphed from playing the character of a lawyer to discussing, directly and emotively, the dangers that people are facing and the fragility of the whole legal edifice that enables people to take babies out of the country. She does a captivating job of handling such a brutal but necessary reality.

We’re navigating shaky and unstable moral ground on our surrogacy journey, and the audience questions and different scenarios only reinforce the uneasy feeling that underlies the whole show. In the final coda, technology and futurism are presented as a sort of hopeful end point. That said, we’ve also just had a crash course on rampant global inequities and questions of human rights and choices, so talking about artificial wombs hardly feels like a tidy solution at this point.

Our post-show conversations prove deep and fruitful. It is always a delight to interact so personally with the crew after a show. We are able to discuss with the directors how the performance would work in a live stage act, commiserate over technical challenges such as producing and compressing music for an online format – and even offer feedback for the next iteration of this world-touring piece.

How special it is to have such deep and honest conversations from opposite sides of the globe!


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