If you’ve ever wondered why NASA thought they’d send Sally Ride on a 6-day trip to space with 100 tampons, why pads are even made without wings, or why your period poops are like that, then A Period Piece is for you. If you’ve ever leaked, been told to stop being so dramatic, felt alone, lonely, or embarrassed talking about your period, I insist that you watch this video series.
Composed of Monica Bradford-Lea and Lauren Welchner, Spicy Day is an award-winning theatre duo based in Toronto that took their stage production, A Period Piece, digital. This series provides an honest and incredibly entertaining look at our periods and everything to do with vaginas, broken down into 10 short videos.
In 55 minutes, Bradford-Lea and Welchner take viewers on a journey, beginning with the question, why, related to all things menstruation. Through sketch comedy, songs, and more, viewers learn that periods and everything that go along with them are completely normal and okay. Spicy Day takes viewers through the basic things menstruators wish we learned about in school and uses the series to talk about menstrual experiences that we can all relate to, such as using wadded up toilet paper to manage your flow, having insatiable cravings, and getting what seems like the world’s worst acne breakouts.
A Period Piece also touches upon some of the complexities related to menstruation, such as period poverty, and takes an inclusive stance through the use of gender-neutral language.
These videos are incredibly entertaining, educational and- most importantly- real (I would know- I’ve watched the series 3 times through). Welchner and Bradford-Lea’s candor discussing periods and vaginas is palpable, and makes viewers wonder: if they’re willing to get up on stage and post on the Internet to share all their bloody, messy, funny (and sometimes embarrassing) experiences, why should I be afraid to speak up? Spicy Day encourages people with vaginas to love and celebrate them along with the rest of us and teaches us that we absolutely do not need to feel shame for our bodies just doing their jobs.
Not only did I have the pleasure of watching A Period Piece, but I also got to interview Bradford-Lea and Welchner; here is what they had to say about their series:
How did you go about forming Spicy Day?
B-L: Lauren and I knew each other in high school. We were a couple years apart, but had done a couple plays together. We kept in touch after high school, and then pretty spontaneously decided we would submit to the Ottawa Fringe Lottery and make a play together if we got in. We didn’t know each other super well at the time but we had good vibes and wanted to make a play to submit to the lottery. We didn’t get the lottery and then chose to show up with our own space and put up our own play, and it went so well. We still do that play, In Waking Life, today. We really hit it off and kept on going and have the same goals to make the theatre company our career, and the momentum and our work has continued over the last 5 or 6 years.
W: It [the play] was in the basement of this bar, and there was a pool table bolted to the ground on what was the stage. It was a random space and a weird, weird show that you wouldn’t think that two people who didn’t know each other that well would write, and then we realized, this is our life now, this is our home.
B-L: We got lucky to find this partnership very young, and [in this play], we were these kooky psychic sisters. We did that play and we’ve done a few other plays since, and some of the most notable shows we’ve worked on since have been very feminist-minded shows and that’s become a real focus for our company- we like to approach topics that aren’t talked about a lot with humour and heart. We like to balance empathy and compassion with theatre but also humour because life can be joyful. We try to dance that line.
What incited you to create A Period Piece?
W: There wasn’t a big defining moment for this one. We were always thinking of random things that could be a show, and there were a couple months in a row where we were talking about our periods and making jokes about and laughing about it and thinking, wow, that should be a show. And that was the one we ended up committing to for that year of creating. It really wasn’t until we were creating the show and doing the research about it [menstruation] that we realized how meaningful and important a show like that would be. It started off as something that was kind of funny and silly for us, and we knew it would have a feminist angle, but we didn’t know how important it was. I didn’t know a lot about menstrual equity, and I don’t think Monica did either, so throughout creating the play and researching we did a lot of learning and I think it became so much more important to us.
B-L: When we did the play in 2019 for the first time, we didn’t know what to expect from it. From the time we’d written it to rehearsed it, we were very scared. It’s very vulnerable. The play is similar to the video series in that we tell a lot of our own stories and jokes but we also share a lot of facts and information. The response to the play when we did it was phenomenal, meaningful and joyful. The play is fun. We talk about some real stuff and hopefully you feel empowered and positive when you leave the space no matter what your experience with menstruation is. That has so much fueled us into making this video series and continuing the conversation and has really pushed us into doing so much more in the space of menstrual equity. For us, it’s been a cool way of art bringing us through this journey, and now by making our art, I think it can bring other people into this journey too.
How has the response for A Period Piece been?
W: We had some sold out shows, which was amazing. We had a house of 100. But I think the most meaningful impact was people coming up to us afterward and sharing their period stories, feeling comfortable enough to come up to strangers and saying, “I tried the Diva Cup,” or whatever. In the live play, we ask the audience members in the end if anyone has period stories they’d like to share. When we first did the show, we were 1000% expecting dead silence. But every single time we’ve done a show, and we’ve done two runs of it now, each with six performances, we’ve never had less than three period stories from the audience. There’s usually more than that and it’s so lovely. We’ve had totally different kinds of crowds. We’ve had people sharing their leak stories, people asking for advice about how to use Diva Cups, and there’s a back and forth with audience members giving each other advice. It’s such a beautiful bonding time. We had one show where there was a lot of middle-aged people that were educating us about menopause. It was awesome.
B-L: So much of the impact of the show does resonate with menstruators or people who have menstruated. People will come up to us and start talking to us or people will start talking to each other, and that’s what we want. We want conversations started from the play. A lot of conversations have come from non-menstruators coming up to us, too. A lot of non-menstruators would come back and bring their moms and their sisters and try to learn from it and also were entertained. That was really special to see, that we could find a way to resonate with all kinds of folks.
If you have experienced shame and stigmatization regarding menstruation, how did you work to overcome this to get onstage and talk about this?
B-L: I feel like my lifestyle gave me support to know at least having a period was healthy and safe. I had access to products, I had water, I had a sink, all the basics you need, but it is totally the society. I think with our play we try so much to stoke compassion through sharing our stories. In the video series, it’s such a small thing but I reveal that, still to this day, I’ve never had a tampon in my body because I could never get it to work properly, so I just wore pads until finally I made the Diva Cup work for me, and I love it. But even just saying this now, I’m worried Jenna [interviewer] is gonna think I’m not cool because I’ve never used a tampon before. I find we get so wrapped up in these things, and just telling the stories stokes compassion and gives me further compassion for myself and my own body. Doing this play was a huge part of our journey in overcoming our stigma because we threw ourselves out there. Now, it’s [menstruation] a constant topic of conversation for us. We love to bring it up with people and talk about it because it feels so meaningful, and it dovetails into so many parts of our lives.
W: We talk a lot about how privileged we are. We both grew up in very progressive families. We’re both white, middle-class, non-religious and cis, so considering all the people in the world, we feel like we had a pretty easy time with our periods. But even then, until you start to have to say it out loud, you really don’t know how much shame there is internalized. Even with this video series, putting it on the Internet, I tell a story in the video series about how my mom had to put a tampon in, I was worried that I was going to get bullied, that people were going to come for me, and no one has. So, this definitely comes with a lot of fear. Once you share one thing and you’re met with an okay response, next time you tell a story that’s a little more embarrassing. It really has helped us to have each other to talk about it with. But it’s still scary to this day because you never know who’s in the audience and who’s going to be mean.
W: I’ll also say, it’s so empowering and awesome to hear feedback from people saying, I do that too, or I also struggle with that because you really feel alone when you’re growing up and think that no one else leaks, only I leak, no one else has these struggles and has stains on all their underwear and bedsheets, and we all did! Because no one talks about it, you feel alone and shitty about yourself. The first show, we were shaking in our pants. I remember, at the end of our show, the lights went down and we were gonna bow, and Monica turns to me, and she goes, “I’m gonna shit my pants”. The more we do this show, people raise their hands and say I can’t put a tampon in, or I use 3 pads at a time, and we go, oh yeah, we’re not alone.
Where does this shame come from?
B-L: I think it would be the hidden nature of it [menstruation]. I haven’t watched it yet, but apparently there’s a period product scene in Turning Red. There are shows that are trying to have it present. I think it’s so rad. That’s the biggest thing for me, is not seeing these things, having no reference point. Even commercials, it’s the angels and blue liquid. I think that’s probably where the fear and shame came from. I was also a really shy kid so that was probably an added factor in being self-conscious talking about things. As a twelve-year-old getting her first period, you always assume you’re doing something wrong, that there’s a cooler way of doing something. That’s a messed-up age to throw something new at someone.
W: I also think it’s so hard at that age because all it takes is one kid to say that it’s gross. It’s so hard to combat because you so badly want to fit in and to be cool. Also, as much as I’m like, “ra ra we love periods”, it can be a little bit inherently gross so I think that’s a part of it too, that it’s understandable that people find it gross and it does take some learning to think, it’s just my blood.
What was your favourite part about creating A Period Piece?
B-L: For me, it’s finding the ability to laugh at and with these stories and realities. I don’t think I was doing that before, and not openly, anyway.
W: For me, it’s been the connection it’s caused between the two of us and audience members and people who have seen it. The bond is so immediate and intense when people talk about their periods because it’s so vulnerable but also funny, and it’s so freeing when someone lets you talk about it. I’ve connected so much with so many people surrounding this show and I now feel comfortable to talk about it when before we created the show I didn’t. I’ve found a lot of freedom in it. I was telling Monica for the first time, even just a couple weeks ago, I ripped open a pad in front of my partner and I thought, oh, I never would have done that before.
B-L: When we first did the play in 2019, that set us on a journey. I feel like now I seek information and I follow accounts that give me juicy stuff, and the evolution doesn’t stop. It’s been really delightful. And the growth is huge.
How do you think "regular" folks can work to combat period shame and to work toward menstrual equity?
B-L: I think talking about it is the easiest thing. That’s a big thing we try to preach in the show and the video series. I know so many menstrual equity organizations that say the exact same thing. Telling a joke, confiding in your friends, sharing a little detail is truly meaningful and really nice. That’s it. Just challenging yourself to talk about it a little more.
W: Totally! And for parents, normalizing it really early. Talking about it as something that’s part of life and not being like (whispers), “I need a pad”. Just being open about it. It’s a normal thing that shouldn’t be weird. I think that will go a long way for everyone, but especially for parents.