“’19 the MUSICAL”

Musical website: 19themusical.com


Read the article  in full:

In ’19: The Musical,’ women sing and dance their way to suffrage

To mark the centennial of women’s right to vote, Through the 4th Wall stages a feminist civics lesson as a rousing Broadway-style musical

On the day I was to see 19: The Musical—which is about how the amendment granting women the right to vote came to pass in 1920—our Constitution Denier in Chief made a perfectly timed gaffe. There he was at his Oval Office desk surrounded by women who had come to watch him put his Sharpie to the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commemorative Coin Act—a bill that would direct Treasury to mint a special one-dollar coin (which had worked out so well for Susan B. Anthony).

Upon signing, a stumped Trump asked in all seriousness: “I’m curious why wasn’t it done a long time ago?”—the meaning of the word centennial apparently out of reach of his brain.  Then, in all self-servingness: “I guess the answer to that is because now I’m president, we get things done.”

19: The Musical has a presidential character nearly as alarming a buffoon: the pompous Woodrow Wilson (Brian Lyons-Burke in top hat), who famously stalled women’s suffrage and jailed and tortured suffragists. At odd moments the musical has him muttering to anyone in earshot, “Mansplain, mansplain, mansplain.” He may be historically a dick,  but here he’s the butt of the joke.

For nearly three years, Jennifer Schwed and Doug Bradshaw (book and lyrics) and Charlie Barnett (music) have been collaborating on a musical that would popularize the much-ignored story of the courageous women who fought for decades against a system stacked against them to get the right to vote. The idea was to have it ready by the women’s suffrage centennial next year. Notable figures in this struggle—such as Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Ida B. Wells—would be brought to life in scenes and show tunes together with a chorus of dancers and singers.

Scene from ’19: The Musical.’ Photo by John Meyers.

Portions of the work in progress have been presented in more than 30 workshop productions. I reported on one at 1st Stage last January, which was when I first recognized not only the outstanding songwriting gifts of the creators but also the enormous challenge they had undertaken: to reconcile the requirements of a song-and-dance Broadway-style musical with the underlying gravitas and hostility in the history of women’s suffrage, which in fact had taken a punishing path to its happyish ending. Now aptly at the National Museum for Women and the Arts (though on a small stage not well equipped for live theater), the full two acts with book intact had their world premiere, and the creators’ material could be appreciated more clearly—even when at times the execution got in its way.

The musical begins at the end, right after the 19th Amendment has passed, with an opening number that is inspired. The stage fills with women wearing black-and-white T-shirts that say Suffragist and singing a lighthearted ditty to a tune you could do the Charleston to, “19 (We Won).” It’s about how inequality “will soon be over”:

The 19th Amendment makes our gender ascendant!…
Our fight for equal rights is done!…
We should have equal pay within the year!…

This witty sendup of over-optimism, accompanied by over-ebullient choreography, gets the show off to a smart start. You just know a reality check is coming. Indeed, a savvy apparition appears—Susan B. Anthony, who in history did not live to see suffrage but who here as “Sue B” (Brenda Parker) warns the revelers in song that it’s not going to be “Easy.”

Scene from ’19: The Musical.’ Center: Brenda Parker (Susan B. Anthony). Photo by John Meyers.

We next meet a central figure in the struggle, Alice Paul, here nicknamed “AP” (Katie Ganem), who sings a beautiful ballad as a letter to her Mother (Karen Bralove) about her aspirations for equality and freedom (“Dear Mama”). Her fierce determination will lead a movement (and, coincidentally, propel the musical’s book) with a seriousness of purpose. AP teams up with Lucy Burns (Krystle Cruz) in a winking vaudeville-style number called “Partners in Crime.” Together they launch the National Women’s Party and the stage fills again with singers singing and dancers dancing to a rousing womanifesto, “New World Order.”

This buoying up of spirits will become a musical motif of the show as it turns its attention to the daunting conflicts—both external and internal—that the real-life movement faced.

The first of those conflicts is dramatized with the introduction of Carrie Chapman Catt (Maria Ciarrocchi), whose conservative blouse and skirt reflect her politics (“I’m Prim, So What”). Though Catt’s got plenty of grit (“You best not mess with me!”), she contrasts with the radical activism of AP and Burns (who will later wear a T-shirt saying Feminist AF). Subsequently in the show a tactical difference will divide them: Catt wants a cautious state-by-state approach to women’s suffrage; Paul insists the focus be federal. Here, in another upbeat song-and-dance number, the musical cleverly depicts the stresses and successes of coalition-building toward a common goal (“Two Sides of the Same Coin”).

A visit to London proves a sobering turning point. The American suffragists meet with British suffragists, in the persons of Christabel Pankhurst (Elizabeth Keith) and Emeline Pankhurst (Millicent Scarlett), who had been brutally jailed for public protests. “Power responds only to pressure,” Christabel tells them, meaning power will crack down on dissent. The Americans get the point, which is underscored when foremother Sue B reappears to spur them to civil disobedience: “Don’t make my mistakes… The right is more precious than peace.” Later AP will address a rally of women activists about what the future may hold: “I cannot guarantee you your safety. I cannot guarantee you your life.” And the show as essential feminist civics lesson gets a whole lot more real.

Scene from ’19: The Musical.’ Center: Millicent Scarlett (Ida B. Wells). Photo by John Meyers.

With the introduction of Ida B. Wells (Millicent Scarlett), the show confronts the racism of white suffragists head-on. Born in slavery and raised as a free woman, Wells became an important journalist of the era and was devoted to Black liberation. Here the character functions as the show’s conscience. When a major suffrage demonstration is being planned, AP critically decides that Wells should not march in front, so as not to lose the support of “white Southern ladies.” Several gorgeous songs express Wells’s dismay—and Scarlett’s vocals are powerful—”Will You Be Here for Me” and “Put Yourself in My Shoes,” in which AP pointedly stands her ground. Finally AP decides Wells can march in the rear with the  Howard University contingent. “I’ll march where I damn please” is Wells’s response:

Don’t talk to me about your pain… How dare you ask me to wait?… No more can I stand for this privileged equality… Only the Black woman can say when and where I enter.

That last line references the title of a work by the African American historian Paula Giddings, and it’s just one example of the many quotes tucked insightfully into the script. Another is a line the book gives to Alice Paul—”Courage in a woman is often mistaken for insanity”—which was actually what a male shrink said when refusing Woodrow Wilson’s order to declare her crazy.

The show includes some very dark episodes in the struggle, indelible reminders of just how brave these women were. In silhouette, backlit by red light, we see women political prisoners who have gone on hunger strike (“Jailed for Freedom”) being forcibly funnel-fed. Similarly in silhouette we see women arrested at a protest being pummeled by cops with billy clubs. “Protest, arrest, release, repeat” goes the refrain of another song-and-dance number (“Release & Repeat”), this time devoid of naive cheer.

During a visit to Wilson’s office, Alice Paul is amusingly met with the aforementioned mansplaining plus musical condescension: “Be a Sensible Girl,” he sings, backed up by a bouncy chorus line in polka dots. Preoccupied with a gathering war in Germany, Wilson is unsympathetic to her cause. “La la la” he says, plugging his ears to tune her out. Unimpressed, AP later calls him a “charlatan, fraud, hypocrite.” Only massive public pressure—which included a silent protest at the White House (“Silence”)—was to change presidential and congressional minds. But that pressure came at a great cost for movement sheros, who in 1917 were viciously imprisoned and tortured at the Lorton jail in Northern Virginia. (A museum near the site will open next year.)

After the embarrassment of that “night of terror,” Congress passed the 19th Amendment, leaving it up to at least 36 of the states to ratify. The nailbiter came down to Tennessee, where the outcome would be decided by the vote of one tiebreaker: Representative Harry Burn (Gregory Scott Stuart). In one of the most amusing and touching scenes, he is schooled by his mother (Scarlett) in the beautiful “Listen to Your Mother”—and he comes around.

There follow more big musical numbers of celebration and empowerment including a “Reclaiming Our Time” chorale and a very moving “My country, ’tis of thee, / Sweet land of liberty, / Of thee I sing…” When near the end Alice Paul reads the actual text of the 19th Amendment, it comes not with the fizzy optimism of the beginning but with deep emotion well earned:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

19: The Musical reclaims a time when women fought like hell and paid a price so that women today can go to the polls—even if like most white women in America three years ago they vote a racist idiot into the White House. The book is sturdy, the lyrics are skillful, the score is first rate. I’ve listened to and enjoyed the preliminary cast album over and over on Spotify (see link below). It’s terrific.

That said, the show feels long, and the boost-your-spirits musical numbers get repetitive. Worse, the choreography was too show-off-y for this small stage, too cutesy, and did not so much enhance the storytelling as distract from it.  At times it was as if Busby Berkley and June Taylor had a quarrel and no one won. The production of this musical needs to trust more the substance of its storyline. There’s too much ingratiating, too much making nice.

The creators are raising funds to do an industry reading in New York for Broadway investors, producers, and directors. My hope for this show is that it secures such professional backing and that its next iteration will be a production conception worthy of the very promising material. (Click here to make a tax-deductible donation.)

Musical Numbers

19 (We Won)
Dear Mama
The Reasons
Partners in Crime
New World Order
I’m Prim, So What
No Matter the Price
Will You Be Here for Me
Put Yourself in My Shoes

Will You Be Here for Me (Reprise)
The Bloody March
Liberty For Inez
Dear Mama (Inez Reprise)
Two Sides of the Same Coin
Sensible Girl
The War at Home
Right Women, Right Time
Dear Lucy
Release & Repeat
Victory Will Be Mine
Damned if I Do
Release & Repeat (Reprise)
Reclaiming My Time
Night of Terror
Jailed for Freedom
Hypocrite’s Tango
Easy (Reprise)
19 (Reprise)
So Close
Listen to Your Mother
Dear Mama/19 (Reprise)
Easy (Reprise)
Reclaiming Our Time (Reprise)

Alice Paul (aka AP): Katie Ganem
Carrie Chapman Catt: Maria Ciarrocchi
Emmeline Pankhurst / Ida B. Wells: Millicent Scarlett
Lucy Burns: Krystle Cruz
Sue B. Anthony (aka Sue B): Brenda Parker
Christabel Pankhurst / Inez Milholland: Elizabeth Keith
President Woodrow Wilson / Dr. Gannon: Brian Lyons-Burke
Police Chief Sylvester / Representative Harry Burn: Gregory Scott Stuart
Chorus & Dancers: CinCin Fang, Haylee Green, Raquel Jennings (swing), Danielle Marquis, Angela Norris, Reyina Senatus, Katy Sherlach, Elizabeth Spikes, Rebecca Weiss, Katie Zajic
Ensemble: Alexis Primus, Katy Sherlach
Mother / Ensemble: Karen Bralove

Production Team 

Jennifer Schwed: Writer/Lyricist/Director/Producer
Doug Bradshaw: Writer/Lyricist/Director/Producer
Charlie Barnett: Composer/MusicalDirector/Arranger/ Piano/Producer

Costumes: Jennifer Schwed
Lighting Design: Dan Martin
Sound: Turner Bridgforth
Vocal Captain: Millicent Scarlett
Choreography: Danielle Marquis, Angela Norris
Dance Captain: Kristen Briscoe
Stage Manager: Elise Edwards

Running Time: Two hours 35 minutes, including one intermission.

19: The Musical played November 25 to 27, 2019, presented by Through the 4th Wall Productions performing at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Avenue NW, Washington. DC.



One-Woman Performance: Tea With Alice & Me

“Tea With Alice & Me” is a one-woman performance by author and activist Zoe Nicholson that spotlights the life of Alice Paul, a leading suffragist who used civil disobedience tactics to help secure women’s right to vote in the United States.

Nicholson created the performance as a way to bring Paul’s ideas and life to a wide audience.

Wild West Women, the company that produced the show, explains:

Wild West Women is the proud producer of Tea with Alice and Me, a full length one woman performance that takes the audience to women’s tearooms ~ Seneca, Selfridges, The National Women’s Party, Women’s Bookstores. Of course it is really about a cup of revolution served up in nonviolent direct action. From 1775 through today, Zoe takes you on her militant, revolutionary, feminist call to action. Hundreds of pictures and personal stories transport you to each time and place she describes.

For more information about the show and for upcoming performance dates, click here.

The Kickstarter fundraising platform for “Tea with Alice & Me” has a wealth of additional information  about the performance.


Virtual Resource on Suffrage Leader Alice Paul

This website on suffrage activist Alice Paul was created by author and activist Zoe Nicholson (who is also the creator of the performance “Tea With Alice & Me“.)

It features a wealth of material on Paul, who utilized non-violent civil disobedience tactics to help win suffrage in the U.S.

The website has chapters on Paul’s life and political philosophy, photos, a bibliography of books and articles on Paul and video and audio.

Browse the whole website here.


Video: Suffragists From the Stage

“Suffragists From the Stage” is a performance of pro-suffrage quotes that American actresses uttered during the fight for voting rights, a history lesson wrapped in a theatrical performance.

The performance by contemporary actresses features the words of figures like Mary ShawFola La Follette, and Izetta Jewel,  accompanied by a slideshow to give more context to the speeches. The featured women were prominent stage actresses who used their platforms to advocate for women’s suffrage.

“Suffragists From the Stage” has been put on a number of times in New York.

This video is a sample of what you would see if you attended the performance:

British National Archives: Documents and Multimedia on Suffrage

To mark the 100th anniversary of British women of property winning the right to vote, and the 90th anniversary of all women getting to vote in Britain, the National Archives created a website filled with primary source documents, videos and teaching resources.

Among the notable aspects of the site is a section detailing how website visitors can comb through government documents on the suffrage movement, including some documents that you can view online. These documents detail “the government’s response to militant activities and civil disobedience such as destruction of property, tax evasion and census boycotts.” There are also links to archival footage of suffrage actions and newspaper reports.

It also includes new films—like the one below created by young people in collaboration with filmmaker Nigel Kellaway—on the British suffrage movement.

Check out the entire website here.

A Special SuffrageandtheMedia Report: How the Media Covered the New York State Suffrage Centennial

February 12, 2018



On November 6, 1917, New Yorkers voted to give women the right to participate in elections. It was a milestone for the national movement to get women the vote, and helped paved the way for ratification of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, which enfranchised every eligible American of voting age in 1920.

Celebrations across the state in 2017 honored the 100th anniversary of this New York milestone. Up, down, and across the state, local communities both big and small held events that highlighted the sacrifices and activism that led to victory.

Performers for “Votes for Women,” a play put on in New York that chronicled the suffrage movement. Photo: Ron Schubin/”Votes for Women” by Krysta Dennis.


The New York press dutifully followed along. Media outlets, particularly local newspapers, covered many of these events. The local coverage focused on reenactment marches; historic markers commemorating particular suffragists; book talks and readings; museum and historical society exhibits; plays; and the elected officials who showed up. The volume of local press coverage was substantial.

The deluge was not accidental. It grew out of years of organizing among pockets of advocates who pushed for government funding for suffrage centennial commemorations and concerted publicity drives to put these often voluntary efforts in the public eye. The state centennial funding appropriation of $500,000 was far below the $2 million suffrage event organizers had requested.

Scarlett Rebman, a grants officer for Humanities NY, spoke about the considerable energy community organizations put into digging up local suffrage history. She said local media outlets were important contributors. She said they “uncovered a lot of interesting stories and interesting sources.” Humanities NY had responsibility for distributing $266,000 in grants around the state for New York suffrage centennial events.

The attendance count for events her organization funded stood at more than 90,000 by January  2018.The total number is likely higher, since the organization does not keep track of the numerous other events that did not receive Humanities NY funding.

Some examples of significant local news coverage:

  • The Adirondack Almanack publicized a reenactment of a 1900 suffrage convention held in Glens Falls, NY.
  • The Auburn Citizen reported on a Girl Scouts convention held in Seneca Falls, the birthplace of the national women’s rights movement, and a speech Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, chair of the NY Women’s Suffrage Commission, delivered to the scouts.
  • WNYC, the popular radio outlet, took a look at suffrage commemorations in the five boroughs on the 100th anniversary of winning suffrage, and conducted an interview with an expert on suffrage.
  •  AMNY covered plans to erect statues of suffrage leaders in Central Park.  
  • And the East Hampton Star  focused on the planning and reenactment of a 1913 rally and march for suffrage attended by Harriot Stanton Blatch, whose descendants came to the East End to participate.

The opening of the women’s suffrage exhibit at the New York State Museum in Albany is a centerpiece of the celebration. Called “Votes for Women,” it features over 250 items that help tell the story of how New York activists won their fight. In addition to extensive coverage in the local press, the Associated Press covered it, generating reprints in such outlets as US News and World Report, the Seattle Times, and the Washington Times, among others.

Attendees at the “Votes for Women” exhibit at the New York State Museum in Albany. Photo courtesy of the New York State Museum.


“It was covered around the state quite a bit mostly because we borrowed from so many different local institutions,” said Jennifer Lemak, the chief curator of history for the New York State Museum, adding that the museum borrowed artifacts from over 50 institutions in New York State, creating interest in the project from communities whose artifacts are on display.

Lemak added that tours of the exhibit were well-attended. And while the state museum does not keep track of attendance by exhibition, Ashley Hopkins-Benton, a senior historian and curator at the museum, said that on “social media right now, if you look at the photographs people post from the museum, a quarter to a third are from the suffrage exhibit.”

Lemak said that the museum exhibit has had success in attracting a younger audience, even though the exhibit was light on the use of multimedia or interactive features. The exhibit’s two digital components were a video about the 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act—which prohibits creditors from discriminating against applicants on the basic of race or sex (see the video below)–and a big map of New York with videos and pictures of women’s protests projected on it.


“We declined to have more AV/digital components in the gallery because the artifacts are so great we did not want to distract attention away from them,” she said.

The museum was able to broaden the impact of the exhibition with a suffrage program, based on the museum exhibit, made available to more than 50 different institutions in New York, which then were able to print it out and put it on display.

In addition, many historical societies created their own exhibits to highlight different communities’ contributions to the suffrage movement, exhibits that in turn generated local press coverage. Attending the Suffolk County Historical Society’s suffrage exhibit was mandatory for students at a local high school, and several Girl Scout troops came, said Wendy Polhemus-Annibell, the head research librarian at the society.  

The Ticonderoga Historical Society’s exhibit was similarly well-attended. “I know from informal feedback that our ‘Votes for Women’ exhibit was very popular,” said Diane O’Connor, the program assistant at the historical society. “And, since we set an attendance record during the 2017 season (nearly 3,000) visitors to the museum, it would follow that the exhibit was enjoyed by many.” Local media attention was also strong, she said. “We had several local angles to the history of suffrage (Sarah Thompson Pell and Inez Milholland), and I believe this made our local media very receptive.”

And the Rochester Area Suffrage Centennial Alliance’s exhibit, “Because of Women Like Her . . . Winning the Vote in New York State,” was featured at the Rochester Public Library. Michelle Finn, Rochester’s deputy historian, said that during the exhibition’s 2017 run, more than 27,000 people were counted at the library’s door.

Celebrity involvement in suffrage-related events also attracted media attention. For instance, Meryl Streep’s narration of a short film on suffrage, “We Rise,” which exclusively played at the New York Historical Society museum exhibit “Hotbed,” garnered coverage outside the local press. For instance, Hollywood Reporter and Refinery29 ran articles on Streep’s involvement.

Another popular event that the local press covered was the placement of historic markers to highlight particular suffragists. The William G. Pomeroy Foundation gave out over $20,000 dollars to communities in New York. That money funded the placement of 20 markers to honor suffragists such as Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, a philanthropist and suffragist from Sag Harbor, Elizabeth Browne Chatfield, a suffragist who was the secretary for Susan B. Anthony and who lived in Owego, NY, and Mae Groot Manson in East Hampton, NY.


Standing in front of a suffrage marker for Mae Groot Manson in East Hampton, NY. Photo: Coline Jenkins.


“The dedication ceremonies were highly attended, and had some amazing speakers,” said Paula Miller, the executive director of the William G. Pomeroy Foundation. Those dedication ceremonies lead to substantial local press coverage of the marker program, she added.

Coline Jenkins, the great-great granddaughter of suffrage icon Elizabeth Cady Stanton, said local media coverage of suffrage markers, and other centennial events, was “a way of reminding women how hard it was to get the right to vote, how it shouldn’t be taken for granted, how it should be used.  It is the right that you get all of your other rights from. It’s really important to get all these messages out.”

But much to the chagrin of volunteers who organized suffrage events, major newspapers such as the New York Times gave only minimal attention to centennial coverage.  

The Times did not completely ignore it, however. The paper ran an article on an opera on the issue, and a piece on the New-York Historical Society’s exhibit on the role Greenwich Village played in suffrage activism. It also reviewed two relevant books in its metropolitan section. In all, only three articles on the New York centennial appeared in the newspaper, although its online-only New York Today did mention the centennial a few times, including suffrage-related events at local venues. Articles on the subject of the suffrage movement more generally did not give the state centennial celebration special focus.

The Wall Street Journal appeared to be even less interested. The newspaper did reprint a number of Associated Press stories on the topic but produced no original reporting on the subject.

In general, little attention was paid to the role of particular minority groups who played a big, if little unacknowledged, role in the suffrage movement.

There was some coverage of the role that black women played in the movement, many of whom worked hard for the vote despite divisions in the movement over black civil rights and outright racism.

That said, numerous media outlets covered Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement of plans for a statue of Sojourner Truth, a black advocate for suffrage and the abolition of slavery. There was also some local press coverage on the role black women played and the divisions in the movement over black civil rights. Some local outlets covered book talks given by Susan Goodier and Karen Pastorello, whose book, Women Will Vote: Winning Suffrage in New York State, includes chapters on the voting rights advocacy of black people, the working-class, rural New Yorkers, and immigrants. Still, the coverage of minority groups’ role paled in comparison to more general coverage of suffrage.

Rebman of Humanities NY said it was her sense that “a lot of groups, as they developed their events, were sensitive to telling an inclusive story, and also in dealing with the complicated sense of that story.” Still, she said, “There was sensitivity to that but there’s more work to be done.”

Publishing houses timed a few books to the New York centennial and they, in turn, received wider attention than they likely would have, given their placement with academic houses. Sam Robertson’s “New York Bookshelf” column in the New York Times featured both The Suffragents: How Women Used Men to Get the Vote, by Brooke Kroeger (who runs this website), and the aforementioned Goodier-Pastorello book, Women Will Vote. Kroeger wrote articles for Town & Country, the New York Daily News, and Tablet magazine on the men who lobbied for suffrage, and one in press for Zócalo Public Square/ASU/Smithsonian’s “What It Means to Be an American” series. The Gotham Center for New York History’s blog devoted the month of November 2017 to a series of articles on women’s suffrage, including essays growing out of the research by all the current suffrage authors and several others.

Other outlets that ran book reviews and articles on those books, as well as Johanna Neuman’s Gilded Suffragists: The New York Socialites who Fought for Women’s Right to Vote, included The Ithaca Journal, which also reviewed Women Will Vote, and the Poughkeepsie Journal.

Neuman also attracted national press attention. The Atlantic magazine published an in-depth interview with Neuman on her book, and Neuman authored a Wall Street Journal article reviewing the “five best” books on the fight for suffrage.

Authors for all three books gave speeches and appeared on panels at dozens of local events across the state and beyond.

Cornell University Press, which published Women Will Vote, was pleased the attention the book received. “As a university publishing house, many of our titles are generally reviewed solely in academic outlets (which post reviews 1-3 years after publication date),” Jonathan Hall said in an email. He handled publicity for the book.

The SUNY University Press publicists for Votes for Women, a catalog based on the New York State Museum’s exhibit of the same name, and for Kroeger’s book, were similarly upbeat. “I definitely think that the centennial played a big role in the amount of interest we saw,” said Katherine Dias, who had publicity responsibility for Kroeger’s book.

But Christian Purdy, the publicist for Gilded Suffragists: The New York Socialites who Fought for Women’s Right to Vote (NYU Press) said he felt that other events in the news overshadowed the coverage the book received. “While Gilded Suffragists received some great reviews in mainstream periodicals, I was hopeful there would be more media interest given the 100th anniversary of the suffrage movement’s securing the right to vote for women in NYS,” he e-mailed. “Unfortunately media seem more obsessed with Presidential tweets and other DC nonsense than this historic milestone.”


Play: “Woman on Fire”

Woman on Fire is an original play showing August 20-26 at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Presented by the award-winning Certain Curtain Theatre company, Woman on Fire recounts the turbulent life and times of the suffragist Edith Rigby—mild-mannered doctor’s wife with a secret identity as an (alleged) arsonist, bomber, and jiujitsu-trained militant suffragette. Jailed six times, she went on hunger strike almost to the point of starvation. Released, she went toe-to-toe in ferocious pitched battles with the police. Written and directed by John Woudberg and performed by Claire Moore, the play presents both sides of this eccentric and often-overlooked woman.

From the show’s description:

An explosive one-woman show, taking you into the fiery spirit and turbulent times of one of the most passionate and singularly dangerous women in Edwardian England—Mrs Edith Rigby. Present at the tempestuous birth of the suffragette movement, she became a major player in the violence of its unfolding. Mild-mannered doctor’s wife, guerrilla fighter, vandal, arsonist and suffragette bomber, this outrageous woman remains an enigma to this day. Woman on Fire seeks to shed light on the mystery that is Edith Rigby.

“The story of Edith Rigby remains largely unsung,” says Moore. “She is best known for burning down Lord Leverhulme’s house in Rivington, but she was a woman of ‘firsts.’ She was the first woman, in Preston, to ride a bicycle—in bloomers! She founded Preston’s first branch of ‘The Women’s Social and Political Union’ and devoted her life to improving the lives of girls and women locally and nationally. She was shunned by neighbours, but her fiery spirit was not easily dampened. Her story and the wider suffragette struggle is one worth sharing and I hope audiences agree.”

Venue:  The Space on North Bridge (Venue 36), Edinburgh, Scotland
Dates: 7-26 August 2017
Time: 12:55 (50 mins)
You can read more about militant suffragist tactics in the UK here. Those intrigued by Rigby’s knowledge of jiujitsu may be interested in the graphic novel trilogy Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons, a work of fiction based on real historical events, including pioneering women’s self-defense programs within the British suffrage movement.