With women’s suffrage icon and New York University Law school graduate Inez Milholland as our inspiration, students, faculty and staff of NYU’s Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions created two major productions in the fall of 2016 focusing on the breakthrough passage of women’s right to vote in New York State on Nov. 6, 1917.
Darci Tucker, a storyteller specializing in bringing historical figures to life, created a performance for the storytelling series at NYU’s Provincetown Playhouse about women’s suffrage activist Inez Milholland. Entitled Upon a White Horse, her show was a combination of storytelling and Chautauqua talk with a rousing question and answer session at the end. Dressed in a period costume, Tucker strode onto the stage fully in character as Milholland. In the guise of hosting a rally, she presented a quick and rousing talk about the history of the suffrage movement. Then, in first-person, she told some of her own story about participating in the movement. In the discussion that followed, more of Milholland’s story was shared with the audience.
At the end of Darci Tucker’s show, many audience members crossed Washington Square Park and attended a matinee of the play Hear them Roar. Under the direction of Professor Nan Smithner, a cast of students, faculty and a few outside performers were invited to join the fun. They created a “devised theatre” piece focused on the historic 1917 vote. The student writers researched many issues and activists, both pro-and con, involved with the vote in NY. Historical figures such as Carrie Chapman Catt, Max Eastman, Japanese suffragist Komoko Kimura, and leading anti-suffragist Josephine Dodge interacted with characters representing many of the groups and issues that formed the complex history of women’s rights, civil rights, and women’s suffrage over one hundred years ago.
After one of the performances, Professor Burt Neuborne, who held the Inez Milholland Chair at NYU Law for ten years, and NYU journalism professor Brooke Kroeger, who wrote the recent book The Suffragents: How Women Used Men to Get the Vote, presented a “talk back” session for the cast and audience.
Attendees at both Upon a White Horse and the nine performances of Hear them Roar (which included two special shows for middle school students), along with those of us immersed in the creation of these events, came away from the experience with a deepened understanding of the characters, the context, and the complexities of the suffrage struggle.
At the end of the play, the actors came forward as themselves to proclaim what issues they will “use their voices for” now. As we all know, the struggle for women’s rights, indeed, humans rights, has not ended. We, at NYU, were thrilled to be able to bring to the public these two intertwined productions that gave a bow to the fabulous group of people who fought for women’s suffrage and the rights of all to have a voice in our democracy.
Award winning storyteller, actor, and educator Regina Ress has performed and taught for over fifty years from Broadway to Brazil in English and Spanish in a wide variety of settings from grade schools to senior centers, from homeless shelters and prisons to Lincoln Center and the White House. She teaches storytelling at New York University and produces the long-running storytelling series at the historic Provincetown Playhouse in NYC. reginaress.com