Melissa Rasmussen on SUFFRAGE

Melissa Rasmussen has been a Plan-B patron since 2000. When I think about women’s rights, and our struggle to get the vote as well as to be treated as equal citizens of the United States of America, I think about women like Alice Paul. She was treated inhumanly in a jail cell when she chose to continue her protest with a hunger strike. I think of African-American women who had to fight for their right to take their place beside white women in the struggle. I think of current women who, even though we now enjoy equal voting rights with men, still pay life-altering prices because they dare to speak their mind on political issues, like Natalie Maines of The Dixie Chicks. I think of women I know personally who have been harassed by their own family members for daring to publicly state their objections to the current theologically influenced political climate. But after watching SUFFRAGE, I realized there was one group I had never even considered, that small group of polygamous women who fought for the vote; even though they must have known that it would most likely cost them their way of life. It also forced me to ask the question; “What happened to the polygamist families already in existence after Utah and the Mormon Church no longer acknowledged polygamy?” I’m going to admit something here. The cynic in me has always assumed that the majority of the men in Utah at the time realized that if women got the vote, that their power in the country would essentially double, as most wives would vote the way...

Sarah Young on why she's proud to be part of SUFFRAGE

Sarah Young has previously appeared in SLAM and the Script-In-Hand Series reading of 8 for Plan-B Theatre Company. In my short 24 years on Earth, I have taken full advantage of the rights and privileges I have as a woman. I vote, wear pants, date without a chaperone, and do many other things my Great-Great-Grandmother and even my Grandmother and Mother were looked down on for doing. It was not until I started working on SUFFRAGE that I realized how much I take those privileges and rights for granted. This realization left me with so many questions and thoughts about women in history, specifically my own family, and the legacy they have left for me. From my mother’s telling, my Great-Great Grandmothers on my maternal side were both Suffragettes in New York. Both were first-generation Americans, one from Ireland and the other from Czechoslovakia. They marched and fought to give me the future I now have. However, I know nothing of my mother’s father’s side of the family except that they were part of the original troupe of Mormon Pioneers that settled here in Utah. But what were they like, those women with whom I share a bloodline? Were they polygamists? Maybe. Were they Suffragettes? I certainly hope so. I wish I knew and I now strive to find out. I also question what both I and women today are doing to continue the legacy these women worked so hard to build. Are we really living the dream they saw for us? Are we supporting each other in our freedoms? What are we really doing to help? Those questions...

Local troublemaking women respond to SUFFRAGE, a play about historical troublemaking women

Anna Brower from the ACLU of Utah, Jenn Gonnelly from the League of Women Voters of Utah and Mary Ellen Robertson from Sunstone attend last night’s preview of SUFFRAGE.  Below are their thoughts.  I was very moved by the excellent writing and acting in SUFFRAGE – but mainly by the poignancy of the issues raised so eloquently in the play. The struggles of the women felt so contemporary and their conversations recalled the current debates over same-sex marriage, the ordination of women in the LDS Church and the nature of women’s empowerment more generally.  Well worth 75 minutes of anyone’s time!  Extremely thought-provoking and compelling. Anna Brower, ACLU of Utah I was struck after seeing SUFFRAGE just how painfully current the struggle of these characters, from a hundred years ago, is to my life now. As women we struggle to be everything, brilliant mothers and partners, all the while striving to stand out as individuals. These issues are current. Are we as women represented fully within our government bodies?  Do these ruling government bodies have a right to decide how we construct a loving family?  Is this continued struggle for equality a distraction from the fulfillment of our joy in having the family we want?  While the playwright does not answer these questions, she leaves the whole audience with a powerful need to examine this struggle and ask themselves, “How much progress have we made?” Jenn Gonnelly, League of Women Voters of Utah Many of the struggles in Jenifer Nii’s phenomenal play, SUFFRAGE, are familiar to Mormon women: being pulled in different directions by work and family responsibilities, feeling...

April Fossen on SUFFRAGE

April Fossen has created roles in Plan-B Theatre Company’s MIASMA, MESA VERDE, LADY MACBETH and appeared in SHE WAS MY BROTHER, 8 and many-a-SLAM. I had an on-and-off boyfriend in college who told me once that he thought it was a waste of my smarts for me to be an actor. I guess he admired my brain-power and thought it would be put to better use if I were a doctor or a lawyer. Needless to say, he’s long gone. And I ferociously disagreed with his thoughts on the matter. Because the thing I appreciate most about the variety of theatre projects I get to work on is that I am constantly in a state of learning and absorbing. I enjoy acting as my own dramaturg of sorts: researching, studying, finding out all I can about a time period, an historical figure, a political issue. And that was my first instinct with this project too. When Jerry first talked to me about what Jenifer Nii was writing, I wanted to immediately acquire and devour everything I could about the subject. I noted the names of books I should read about the national Suffrage movement, about Utah history, about Suffrage in the West. I jotted down titles of movies I should watch. I scribbled out the names of people I should research. But then life happened and I didn’t end up fulfilling all of my “should”s. I did a little research. Committed the timeline of Suffrage in Utah to memory. Watched a movie or two. And then kicked myself and beat myself up as I realized the time for rehearsals to...

Cheryl Cluff on directing SUFFRAGE

Cheryl Cluff co-founded Plan-B Theatre Company in 1991.  She is the company’s Managing Director and Resident Sound Designer and directs each season.  Most recently, she directed Matt Bennett’s RADIO HOUR EPISODE 8: SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE BLUE CARBUNCLE earlier this season and Jenifer Nii’s adaptation of THE SCARLET LETTER last season. A few years ago, Jerry Rapier said to me one day, “Did you know that there were many Utah polygamist women involved in the women’s suffrage movement?”  My response: “Really? REALLY????”  I’ve been thinking of it as the supposed suffrage/polygamy dichotomy.  Except it’s not.  It’s not so surprising when you take a look at the actual lives of polygamist women in the 1800s. Take Emmaline B. Wells for example.  You should take a few minutes to read about her.  A very, very short description of her life is that she was an extremely accomplished polygamist woman who migrated from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City and pretty much raised five daughters on her own.   Oh, and she was the editor of a feminist magazine supported by the Relief Society, represented Utah women in the National Woman Suffrage Association and the National and International Councils of Women, and acted as a lobbyist for Utah interests. She met congressmen and presidents and addressed the issues of polygamy and women’s suffrage from the Utah woman’s point of view. In addition, she was invited by the International Council of Women to speak in London as a representative of the United States.  She was also the president of the Relief Society in her later years.  Wow – she definitely put her shoulder to the...

Playwright Jenifer Nii on discovering SUFFRAGE

Jenifer Nii has previously premiered WALLACE and THE SCARLET LETTER at Plan-B Theatre Company. Most times, I vote. I try to get involved in causes I believe in, choosing to hope that adding my voice helps. But it wasn’t until I started work on SUFFRAGE that the hard truth of some things about me bonked me square on the head. SUFFRAGE is an exploration of late 1800’s Utah. Did you know that Utah was the second territory in the Union to grant women the right to vote? Not New York or Connecticut. No. It was Wyoming (!) in 1869, and Utah in 1870. I had no idea and it shocked me, frankly. It was here, the people here, who recognized in law a woman’s voice as equal to man’s. That right was stripped 12 years later when suffrage became a whip for politicians who wanted to end polygamy. The two issues became entwined in a strange, more than a little malicious way, which made me so angry. But the way these women responded—my goodness. During the two decades portrayed in the play, unlike (and without disparaging other suffragettes), Utah women found themselves being called upon to stand strong on two equally threatening fronts. And they did. The story of Ruth and Frances, the two women in the play, I hope conveys a bit of what women—particularly polygamous women—faced. The attack on their way of life, which in so many ways must have felt like an attack on their God and family. And, the threat that women might again be deprived of what in so many ways is a recognition...

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