‘In Canada, birth control was made widely available and then legalized by a man, which is a bit of an irony,” explains Kathleen Weiss, director of The Kaufman Kabaret. “His name was A R Kaufman, and he was a boot manufacturer.”
Yup. This article is about the legalization of birth control in Canada. Now that I have your attention, let’s rewind a bit.
A professor in the University of Alberta’s drama department, Weiss was given the opportunity to commission a play, thanks to a generous donation from U of A alumnus William Campbell. In her search for a playwright, Weiss knew she wanted a Canadian who was willing to tackle a Canadian theme, and who would connect with her young students. Enter Hannah Moscovitch.
Described by CBC Radio as “the wunderkind of Canadian theatre,” Moscovitch’s résumé is overflowing with accolades, including being the first Canadian playwright to receive the $150 000 Windham-Campbell Literature Prize, an honour administered by Yale University.
When Weiss decided on Moscovitch, the playwright came to meet the class she’d be writing for.
“She asked them what they would love to do on stage,” Weiss says. “And one of the things they said they wanted to do on stage is have sex. It was kind of a joke.”
As it turns out, the history of birth control in Canada was a subject Moscovitch was interested in, so they pursued the story of A R Kaufman.
“[Kaufman] had all these incredibly poor employees,” Weiss says. “He became very concerned about how desperately miserable these people were and decided that part of the problem was they kept having too many children.
“He did all this research and came up with the idea that what his workers needed was some kind of birth prevention device,” she continues. “So then he went to visit Margaret Sanger, who was a big birth control advocate in the United States, to find out what was available, and she gave him a pessary and a condom.”
He took both back to Canada and opened clinics, where they started distributing these birth prevention devices either free or at a very low cost. Of course, this was all still illegal. Eventually, one of the nurses he employed was arrested for her work providing birth control and Kaufman had a choice: pay her fine or push the issue towards a trial.
I’ll leave the twists, turns and titillating details to The Kaufman Kabaret. Built around the theatrics of a cabaret-style performance, Weiss warns that it’s pretty racy with plenty of adult content, including Kaufman testing these new devices on his wife.
“It has everything,” Weiss says. “It’s theatrical, it’s fun, it has some great comedy in it, but yet it has real depth and resonance.”
Thu, Mar 24 – Sat, Apr 2 (7:30 pm)
Directed by Kathleen Weiss
Timms Centre for the Arts,
$12 – $25