When Megan Marsh-McGlone saw openly antagonistic responses to the recent breastfeeding snafu at Grampa's Pizzeria, the east side mother was incensed.
"There were people who were outright mean and hostile," she said.
After unintentionally offending a breastfeeding mother, Grampa's staff quickly made amends by apologizing and offering free pizza to moms with babies. For Marsh-McGlone, whose daughter Morgan is 10 months old, what lingered was the online backlash.
On The Capital Times site, one reader compared feeding a baby in public to changing a diaper on the floor of a restaurant. Another called it disrespectful. One huffed, "If you feel the need to breastfeed in public, expect to be stared at."
"It was the comments that were terrifying to me, that there were people in our community saying these things," said Marsh-McGlone. "Some of them were saying women who breastfeed in public were sluts, whores — that (comment) was actually removed. Others were saying women should pump and feed their baby a bottle.
"I think a lot of times people don't know what that means."
So Marsh-McGlone, a doctoral student in the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Department of Theatre and Drama, decided to explain in performance, with her baby as a squirmy co-star.
Breastfeeding is a key element of her one-on-one "table top" performance piece at the aptly named Mother Fool's Coffeehouse, located less than half a mile from Grampa's on Williamson Street.
Marsh-McGlone's miniature show, "No Keener Revelation," runs about 25 minutes and opens on Wednesday, Sept. 25 (audiences can sign up here). Part of a performance series called Café Allongé, it's free, though viewers are encouraged to buy a coffee.
The title is a reference to a quote attributed to Nelson Mandela: "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children."
When she heard about the Grampa's dustup, Marsh-McGlone already knew she wanted to include Morgan in her performance piece for Café Allongé. Previously held in Montreal 2011, Café Allongé is a performance art exhibition, facilitated locally by the duo Spatula & Barcode and running Sept. 22-Jan. 5 at 16 coffee shops around the city. It's one part of the 2013 Wisconsin Triennial at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
Marsh-McGlone compared her piece to exhibitions like Taisha Kelleher's Breastfeeding Is Normal photography project and "nurse-ins."
"It's a move toward trying to normalize breastfeeding," she said, "so if people see someone breastfeeding, they'll react like they would if someone was drinking a cup of coffee or if someone was giving their baby a bottle.
"I just want to nurse my baby. It's not a political act."
The performance itself begins with a letter to Morgan. It is conversational in tone, and centers on her experiences as a new mom. Marsh-McGlone uses Morgan's (blank) baby book as a touchpoint to talk about the difficulties surrounding Morgan's birth, the challenges of using a breast pump — which she demonstrates, holding the wiggling baby in her other arm — and her dismay at not being able to breastfeed right away.
"I felt like the biggest failure in the world," she said. "I thought that all you needed to do was make this choice to breastfeed, and I made the choice.
"I took a breastfeeding class, my doctor is a lactation consultant … I went to a nursing clinic."
But it wasn't that easy. It took Morgan four months to get enough milk when she fed; at first, Marsh-McGlone had to pump eight times a day.
Breastfeeding in public spaces — which is legal in every state — should be about babies who need to eat instead of adults who feel uncomfortable, Marsh-McGlone said. Forcing a mom who is breastfeeding out to her car or into the bathroom means more seclusion for young moms who may already feel alone.
"Allowing mothers to nurse in public makes it so they're able to participate in life," she said. "There's so much about having a baby that makes you isolated."
Marsh-McGlone has embraced controversial topics before. She founded the satirical Facebook group "The Co-op Driveway Stole My Jacket" and performed in a protest called "Living Letters to Scott Walker" in February 2011.
While Morgan won't necessarily be hungry for every performance, Marsh-McGlone enjoys the unpredictability of her daughter, part of what makes "No Keener Revelation" unique. Moms have to calm their fussy babies no matter where they are.
"This is an ideal use of the one-to-one form," said Michael Peterson, one half of Spatula & Barcode and a curator of the Café Allongé performances. "She can look across the table and see if she's getting across what she wants to get across. I would call that a political performance.
"It's advancing these ideas of what it means to have women's bodies in the world, but at the same time it's entirely trafficking in interpersonal relations. It says to the viewer, in the most mildly confrontational way, 'I'm here, deal with me.'"
For Marsh-McGlone, her performance is an entry to conversation about personal experience, societal pressure and community support. Mother Fool's itself has been very supportive.
"When I talked to the owner, I said I'll probably be nursing," Marsh-McGlone said. "He said, 'We've had way crazier things happen. I don't even know why you're asking.'"