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 of their humanhood—their right to speak, to affect, to change the world in which they are citizens.
My hope first is that SUFFRAGE is interesting, and that I’ve done my job as a dramatist to tell a real story. But within that story, I hope to invite a conversation about whether the fight these women so bravely fought—suffragette and wife/mother/guide—have made a difference in the years since. Right this minute, do we care? Do we believe that we, each of us, can change our world for the good—and are we willing to do what we say we believe? I’ve come to believe that we should, or at least try harder to. I know I will, and I am so grateful to Ruth and Frances for that.
Jenifer Nii’s SUFFRAGE receives its world premiere at Plan-B Theatre Company April 4-14, featuring April Fossen and Sarah Young, directed by Cheryl Ann Cluff. Click here for tickets and more information.