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Out & About: White River Junction play examines history of Suffragist movement

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    A scene from "The Suffragist Reenactment Society," which will be performed at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction. (Courtesy photograph) Courtesy photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/13/2021 9:48:36 PM
Modified: 10/14/2021 2:43:00 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Two years ago, members of the Vermont Suffrage Centennial Alliance were brainstorming ways of celebrating the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the United States.

They decided on writing and producing a play for 2020, 100 years after the 19th amendment was ratified. Titled The Suffragist Reenactment Society, it will be staged at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction at 2 p.m. Sunday. The production is free and ticket reservations are recommended via bit.ly/suffragistreenactment. Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test and masks are required.

The play is recommended for anyone 12 and older.

While the play was scheduled for 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic put those plans on pause. However, the timing of the play in many ways couldn’t come at a better time, as legislators throughout the United States work to change voting laws. During 2020, voting became more accessible as drive-thru voting options sprung up across the country and mail-in ballots options were plentiful.

“The pandemic made it so much more accessible in so many places,” said Sandy Dooley, the show’s producer. “Then after the election these new efforts to make voting accessible became so controversial. Since this play was all about a 72-year struggle to have voting for women added to the U.S. Constitution, it just became so much more important not to drop this project.”

The play — which is roughly an hour long — was written by Mary Beth McNulty and directed by Laura Roald. It stars Vermonters Kathryn Blume, Sarah Mell and Julia Sioss. It premiered in Burlington on Oct. 2 and ever since the trio has been performing at various venues throughout the state as part of a 10-stop tour.

“This is all a meeting of the Suffragist Reenactment Society and they’re trying to decide which part of suffrage history they’re going to present at a Fourth of July celebration at the town that they’re in at the time,” Cooley said. “There’s a lot of interplay among the three women, their relationships, their friends, how to deal with the racism that was present in the movement.”

The audience plays a huge role in The Suffragist Reenactment Society. Every attendee is given “aye” and “nay” cards. The actors then ask the audience questions throughout the show.

“The voting doesn’t really affect the ending, but it will affect how the actors react in any given moment,” said Katelyn Paddock, who is the stage manager for the show.

The stage is set up to resemble a town hall meeting and the scenery for the show is minimal: There are a few banners modeled after the ones suffragists held while protesting outside the White House in 1917.

“It’s very minimal,” Paddock said. “It’s designed to make the audience feel like they’re just as much part of the show as the actors are.”

So far, the audience response has been positive and people seem to delight in engaging with the actors on the stage. One comment Dooley has repeatedly heard from audience members is that they learned so much about the suffragist movement.

“I hope people recognize the importance of engaging with our history in a way that’s critical, but also not shying away from things that we might not be so proud of looking back on today,” Paddock said. “We need to learn about the great moments and the moments that we’re not so proud of. We need to use all that information moving forward to truly make progress.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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