FST's womens suffrage program begins

Florida Studio Theatre’s Managing Director Rebecca Hopkins, left, and Florida State Representative Margaret Good were at the kick off to FST’s women’s suffrage project

“The right to vote is important, and it is important that we all have it,” Kate Alexander said at the Florida Studio Theatre’s Suffragist Project Launch and Celebration.

Alexander is the at-large associate director and Suffragist Project director at Florida Studio Theater. The eight-month project will celebrate the 100 years of women having the right to vote. The bill was ratified Aug. 20, 1920.

“Theater is about truth, and communication can be both common and dangerous,” she said. “We can look at the lives of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King to learn how dangerous oratory can be.”

She went on to explain how hundreds, even thousands of years ago, men played women’s roles in theatrical performances because women were not permitted. It took until the 19th century for the birth of women’s right to speak in public.

She mentioned that Sophocles’ “Antigone” (496-406 BCE) and even Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (first performed 1597) were both originally cast with males playing all the roles.

FST’s Suffragist Project honors the work of yesterday’s women — Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and others — who battled for women’s right to speak up and vote in the United States. That battle lasted 72 years (1848-1920). To celebrate that effort, more than 80 events will be held throughout Sarasota and Manatee counties. Fifty-five community partners and organizations have joined the celebration by holding programs and projects monthly through August 2020, including some in Venice and surrounding areas.

At the launch, Rebecca Hopkins, FST managing director, welcomed nearly 150 women and men and introduced Alexander, who was instrumental in forming the project.

Upon taking the stage, Alexander noted that FST’s first building (Sarasota Woman’s Club building, which is now home to FST’s Keating Theatre) was built six years before women won the right to vote.

She named key project sponsors: Susan Fromm Shimelman and Shelley and Sy Goldblatt. The project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Alexander expressed appreciation to state representatives Margaret Good and James Buchanan for their attendance and support. She noted that Ron Turner, Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections, was present and valued his presence. The audience responded with a low chuckle relating to his presence and to the nature of the event — women’s right to vote.

Judge Charles E. Williams, FST Trustee and Forums chair, explained the connectivity of various movements throughout history. He pointed out that social change begins with a movement, such as immigration and what it means to be an American, and what it means to have the right to vote.

Williams will moderate the program “The Rights of All: LGBTQ and Women’s Suffrage,” Jan 7, at 5 p.m., in FST’s Bowne’s Lab Theatre. Timothy McCarthy of Harvard University will be featured. The discussion will focus on the intersectionality of women’s suffrage, LGBTQ and the feminist movement.

Not one of the 80 events planned will present the full picture, according to Alexander.

“Each one is a little kaleidoscope that will keep turning and, hopefully, by August, the picture will be complete and we all will learn to honor them,” she said.

Sarasota Orchestra will present “Voices Unbound: Three Centuries of Women in Music,” at the Sarasota Music Festival in June, according to its president and CEO Joe McKenna. The program was created by Festival Director Jeffrey Kahane.

“We will bring ... living composers here during the festival, to share stories,” McKenna said.

Charlie Ann Syprett, chair of the Florida Bar Diversity & Inclusion Committee and the Booker High School Law Academy, spoke about FST’s “Historically Speaking” program that will tour middle schools and high schools starting in January in Sarasota and Manatee counties. This is a three-day in-school residency to inspire students to write plays about civil rights and suffrage. Students will see performances of stirring speeches given by suffragists, followed by lawyers from the bar association who will lead dialogue on voting rights.

Students will attend playwriting workshops to gather tools needed to write a script. Historically Speaking will end with the students submitting a play to the theater’s annual play-writing competition as part of FST’s “Write A Play” arts-in-education program.

The grand finale will be “The Dangerous Ladies Festival” in August. Included will be world premiere public readings of four new Suffragist Project-commissioned plays written by playwrights Rachel Lynett, Jacqueline Goldfinger, Mark St. Germain and Sandy Rustin.

In addition, “Dangerous Ladies: The Voices of the Suffragists,” created by Kate Alexander and Meg Gilbert, will feature work developed by Ariel Blue, Kim Crow, Susan Greenhill, Carolyn Michel, Rachel Moulton, J Paul Nicholas, Zoe Speas, Katherine Michelle Tanner and Alicia Taylor Tomasko.

Judge Williams spoke again, this time on behalf of Dr. Queen Mecca Zabriskie, assistant professor of sociology at New College, stating she will present about “Black Suffragists” January through March.

“This (Suffragist Project) is an unparalleled opportunity to open up discussion in the community, to celebrate where we are and meditate on where we have yet to go,” Williams had said earlier in a press release. He repeated the sentiment from the stage.

The schedule of events included two for December in addition to the Launch: A Walk With the Suffragists” was held Dec. 7, when walkers joined the Sarasota Holiday Parade, wearing white to celebrate the coming new year and the women who fought for equality.

On Dec. 11-12, “Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947): The Life and Times of a Suffragist,” sponsored by Classroom on Wheels for Life Long Learning, was held at the historic Crocker Church, 12th St. in Sarasota. Visit the Historical Society of Sarasota County website: hsosc.com.

Upcoming Suffragist Project events include:

• January: Sarasota Libraries “One Book One Community” — “The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women,” by Kate Moore.

• Jan. 6: “Historically Speaking” — Launch in Sarasota and Manatee County middle- and high schools.

• Jan. 7: “The Rights of All: LGBTO and Women’s Suffrage” — FST Bowne’s Lab, 5 p.m.

A full list of community partners and a listing of event calendar items are located at floridastudio theatre.org/suffragist-project.


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