On May 28, Birmingham was home to the first ever Fertility Fest - a unique event bringing together writers, visual artists, theatre-makers, film-directors and composers along with some of the UK's leading fertility experts for a day of performances and discussion about infertility. It proved to be a fascinating day; moving, uplifting and thought-provoking.
The wide array of artists had produced an amazing range of different work charting their own responses to their experiences of fertility problems. To have them joined at Birmingham Repertory Theatre by so many leading fertility specialists added another context to the discussion.
The day began with an opening session where Jessica Hepburn, Director of Fertility Fest, was joined by playwright Gareth Farr, whose play The Quiet House, which is about a couple going through IVF, formed a central part of the festival. I chaired the session with Jessica, who wrote a book about her own fertility experiences, and Gareth. They explained why they'd chosen to write about the subject, and talked about the stigma and taboo which still surrounds infertility and treatment. They set the tone for the day, explaining how the idea for Fertility Fest came about and what they hoped it would achieve.
There was a choice of three sessions in the morning; one about the infertility experience with two playwrights who presented extracts of plays they'd written which tackled the subject, one about involuntary childlessness with a film-maker and a visual artist and the third, which I chaired, about IVF. The IVF session began with writer Jo Ind reading some passages and a poem about her fertility problems and treatment. Jo was followed by visual artist Tabitha Moses who presented some of her work about fertility - her beautiful embroidered hospital gowns featuring women's fertility stories and the light-box embryos, pinpricked out using left-over IVF syringes. We were joined by Anya Sizer, patient co-ordinator at a London clinic, and had a discussion about infertility and treatment, IVF pregnancy and parenthood and about the compulsion to explore fertility problems through art and writing.
In the afternoon, the sessions were on donation with two theatre-makers, on finding an alternative Plan B with an artist and writer, and a session on male fertility which I chaired. Photographer Aaron Deemer opened this session with his extraordinary photographs of the men's rooms at fertility clinics, and he was followed by musician and composer Fergus Davidson who gave an deeply moving talk about his fertility problems and experience of miscarriage, and then played some music he had composed accompanied by pictures. We were joined by Professor Allan Pacey for the discussion, and it became very clear how rare it is to hear men talking about fertility and how often the male perspective is completely overlooked.
The final session of the day on the Future of Fertility was started by Amanda Gore from Liminal Space who talked about their most recent project which involved the creation of a fictional beauty brand and pop-up shop aimed to teach people about the realities of egg freezing. A panel of experts joined her for a discussion about what they felt might lie ahead and Professor Geeta Nargund, Professor Jacky Boivin, Dr Gillian Lockwood and Professor Allan Pacey covered egg freezing, synthetic sperm and eggs, a dwindling population and the future of NHS-funded fertility treatment.
The day ended with a production of Gareth Farr's play The Quiet House - the incredible play which is at the heart of Fertility Fest. The blend of art and science in a day of discussion proved to be fascinating and is to be repeated in London on June 11 - if you haven't got tickets, I'd book now at www.fertilityfest.com before they sell out as you are sure to find it a really interesting experience.