2023 Capital Fringe Preview: ‘My Name Is Norma’

A solo show that explores the life of the controversial plaintiff in Roe vs. Wade,

By Richard Waugh

Editor’s note: Tickets are now on sale for the 2023 Capital Fringe Festival (July 12 to 23), and DC Theater Arts has offered space to ten Fringe producers to describe their shows in their own words. Check back for more 2023 Capital Fringe previews!

My Name Is Norma, a play inspired by the life of Norma McCorvey, better known as “Jane Roe,” the plaintiff in the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that protected abortion rights, is having its world premiere this month at the Capital Fringe Festival. McCorvey was given the alias “Jane Roe” in court to protect her privacy. Though the play is not a biography of McCorvey, it does reimagine and explore her complex and controversial life.

In the summer of 2022, nearly 50 years after Roe vs. Wade made abortion rights legal, the law was overturned in a stunning 6-3 decision by the nation’s highest court. Erin Joy Schmidt, an actor and assistant professor of theater from Providence, Rhode Island, was stunned by the court’s decision. “I couldn’t believe it happened. As a woman in mid-life, I had never known a day before Roe. I felt a strong need to say something about it, but I wasn’t sure how to channel that need. As an artist, I realized my best course of action may be to write about it.” As Schmidt began to contemplate a starting point for the play, she began investigating the original plaintiff of the case, a Texas woman named Norma McCorvey. “Admittedly, I knew nothing about her,” said Schmidt. “I knew the name ‘Jane Roe’ like everyone else, but beyond that, I was, sadly, ignorant of her story. Once I began to read about McCorvey, I realized she would be a fascinating character to explore as an actor, and someone whose life was as complex as the issue of abortion itself.”

As the writer/performer of My Name Is Norma, Schmidt will have an opportunity to perform the words that she has written as she will be playing Norma, and a few other characters, in this one-person, 50-minute show playing at the Capital Fringe this month. Schmidt began writing the play in August of last year, and as a theater professor at Providence College, was able to apply for a grant to support her research and writing. For this professional actor with over 20 years of experience on stage, writing a play seemed daunting at first.

“I’ve spent my entire professional life in the theater, but I never attempted to write a play before. I knew I needed some guidance, and the grant afforded me the opportunity to work with playwright and screenwriter John Yearley,” said Schmidt. “We would have monthly creative sessions where he pushed me to take the play in new directions.” By the spring the script was completed, and Schmidt began developing a vision for mounting the play. Schmidt applied to the Capital Fringe Festival and was excited when her play was chosen. “Doing this play in a city that played such an important role in Norma’s life is exciting to me,” said Schmidt. She brought in a friend and longtime collaborator, Paul Tei, to direct the piece. “Paul and I have a shorthand that is invaluable when you are working under a time and money crunch as you must do for a festival such as the Capital Fringe,” said Schmidt. “I look forward to sharing this play with audiences. Any one of us is two or three moments away from being ‘Jane Roe.’”

Running Time: 50 minutes.

My Name Is Norma plays Thursday, July 13, 2023, at 7:45 pm; Saturday, July 15, at 4:15 pm; and Saturday, July 22 at 2:45 pm at Squirt – 1st Floor – 1050 Thomas Jefferson. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online.

The complete 2023 Capital Fringe Festival guidebook is online here.

Director: Paul Tei
Playwright and Performer: Erin Joy Schmidt

Richard Waugh is an actor who has appeared in the television series Magic City, Burn Notice, and The Glades. His television commercial credits include Visa, Rooms to Go, Winn-Dixie, and the Florida Lottery. Richard has appeared in many plays as an actor throughout the South Florida region, and he currently lives with his family in Providence, Rhode Island.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here