Shenandoah Conservatory’s Theatre Division will present “Blue Stockings” – a moving, sometimes humorous, play that resonates with today’s ongoing fight for women’s equality in the classroom and beyond – from Friday, Nov. 11, through Sunday, Nov. 13, in Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre on the campus of Shenandoah University (1460 University Drive, Winchester, VA, 22601).
Set in 1896, the play focuses on the young women of Girton College, Britain’s first college to admit women, who are preparing for battle. After sacrificing their reputation in society and studying ferociously to match the grades of their male peers, the women are told they will not be able to graduate. Branded as “blue stockings” (a derogative term for an educated woman considered “unmarriageable”), the women wage a yearlong fight for education and self-determination.
“Shenandoah University is unique in its history for providing women opportunities in higher education,” said Director of Acting and Associate Professor of Theatre J.J. Ruscella, M.F.A., who directs the university’s production of “Blue Stockings.” “From its earliest years where women were admitted as students and served on the faculty, to today where both the president of Shenandoah and the chair of the university’s board of trustees are brilliant female leaders, it is important that we remind the younger generations of the struggles and triumphs it took to get us where we are today.”
Leading up to the weekend performances, an exhibit will be on display in the lobby of Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre beginning Monday, Nov. 7, providing historical context regarding the women’s movement in both England and the United States, as well as the history of Shenandoah University and the roles that women have played in its development, including current leaders.
“The process of working on this exhibit has been so interesting for me, simply because of the experience of listening to women from all walks of life share their experience,” said Shenandoah Conservatory Production Manager Elizabeth Albert. “Every woman has a story, and it’s been fascinating getting feedback from community members, faculty, staff, administrators, students, family, friends, and more. All of these stories illustrate at the same time the differences between us and that which makes us the same.”
The exhibit, created in partnership with the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum, will also contain a slideshow of quotes from community leaders, as well as university staff, faculty, and students that were gathered via a survey created and disseminated by the university. Artifacts and sample costume pieces from the era in which the play is set will also be on display.
“The Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum is thrilled to partner with Shenandoah University to help tell the story about the importance of education for all,” said Museum Education Specialist Diane Jackson Schnoor, Ph.D. “The museum’s mission pairs beautifully with ‘Blue Stockings’ as we actively seek to spark curiosity and engage children through provoking questions and hands-on exhibits and play. We hope to use the exhibit pieces to continue the conversations sparked by this production of ‘Blue Stockings.’”
After its installation at the university, the exhibit pieces that the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum helped develop for and with the university will be displayed at the museum beginning the week of Nov. 22 and continuing throughout the winter months.
A screening of “Iron Jawed Angels” at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6, will kick off the week. The 2004 film details the suffrage movement in the United States and star Hilary Swank, Julia Ormond and Angelica Huston. The screening will be in Glaize Studio Theatre (accessible via the lobby of Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre) and is free and open to the public. A brief “ArtsEngage” discussion about the history of the movement will be held before the screening and is led by the dramaturg for “Blue Stockings,” freshman student Rachel Louis.
A dialogue with Ruscella and select members of the cast will be held after the play’s Saturday matinee. Audience members are invited to join the conversation in the lower portion of the house immediately following the performance.
“The community has banded together in our efforts surrounding ‘Blue Stockings’ to remind us how far we have come,” added Ruscella. “It’s important to teach our young women that it was not that long ago that women were not seen as equal citizens. The stories of our past are important, to inform our youth of what their parents and grandparents fought and strived for. But maybe even more important are the stories we inspire women to tell themselves about themselves. That they are good enough. That they are smart enough. That they can be the next great scientist or engineer or doctor. This week the community comes together to celebrate our past in order to inspire the women of the future. As a father of a thirteen-year-old daughter, I want her to see herself for all the amazing potential that lives within her. To me, this week is about coming together for our daughters.”
“Blue Stockings” is presented at 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 11; 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 12; and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 13. Tickets for each performance are $20 general admission, $17 senior citizens and $10 for military, students, and youth. Tickets and information are available at the Shenandoah Conservatory Box Office, (540) 665-4569, located in the lobby of Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre and online at conservatoryperforms.org. “Blue Stockings” is written by Jessica Swale and directed by J.J. Ruscella.