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A Play That Explores Life Before Birth Control

10/17/2014 04:11 EDT | Updated 12/17/2014 05:59 EST

Hannah Moscovitch is one of 4 playwrights shortlisted for the 2014 Siminovitch Prize. The $100,000 prize, to be awarded Monday night, is the largest theatre prize in Canada.

As well as working on a new play commissioned by the Stratford Festival, and Infinity a play about how time can be a disruptive force in a relationship, Moscovitch is completing work on a new play What a Young Wife Ought to Know. The play tells the story of Sophie, a young working-class wife who has a lot to learn about love, sex, and birth control.

It was inspired by a Marie Stopes book that Moscovitch read a long time ago. Known for her advocacy of women's rights and birth control, Stopes was the first female academic on the faculty of the University of Manchester. Married Love, Stopes' manual about sex, published in 1918, was the first book to note that a women's sexual desire coincides with ovulation and the period right before menstruation.

Stopes was a progressive, starting the first birth control clinic in Britain.

Moscovitch conjured the characters in What a Young Wife Ought to Know, in part, from a compilation of letters sent to Stopes by working-class women. "The letters were shocking" says Moscovitch, because at the time there was no public health information on birth control. The letters painted a picture of women desperate to free themselves from the health and societal implications of unintended pregnancies.

"I got really interested in the beginning of the birth control movement," said Moscovitch.

Moscovitch was drawn to women of the 1920s, their lives being so different than those in the post-birth control era. Further research on sex and birth control in the 1920s convinced Moscovitch that the period provided a setting loaded with layers of life changing events that were shrouded in secrecy and ignored by the literature of the time.

In their letters the working-class women talked about issues like lack of love for your husband, lack of love for your children and infanticide.

"It's not like your read The Great Gatsby and there's much discussion about the fact that women's lives are being determined by lack of birth control."

What a Young Wife Ought to Know, is set in Ottawa during the 1920s. It premieres in January 2015 at the Neptune Theatre in Halifax.

Infinity opens at the Tarragon theatre in March 2015.

The 2014 Siminovitch Prize in Theatre will be awarded on Monday, October 20 2014, at 8:00 p.m. at Hart House Theatre at the University of Toronto.