'The Suffragette that Knew Jiu-Jitsu. The Arrest.' By Arthur Wallis Mills, originally published in 1910 in Punch Magazine and The Wanganui Chronicle.
This November, Minnesotans will go to the polls and cast ballots on an amendment that opponents say will disenfranchise large portions of the population, especially minority, elderly, and young voters. Theatre Unbound's fall production, The Good Fight, takes a look at another battle over voting, one that happened nearly 100 years ago involving women's suffrage.
Delta Rae Giordano
Photo by Scott Pakudaitis
The Good Fight, by Anne Bertram, tells the story of a militant branch of the British women's suffrage movement that used jujutsu as a tactic for defense. Yes, you read that correctly. Edith Margaret Williams was one of the first female marshal-arts instructors in the Western world. She trained the bodyguard unit of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in response to the Cat and Mouse Act, where Suffragette leaders on hunger strikes would immediately get re-arrested after they were released from jail.
Carolyn Levy, who directed a portion of Bertram's The Murderess with Theatre Unbound two season ago, says she initially got involved in the production as an artistic advisor after attending an early reading of the piece last January.
"I really liked the play a lot," Levy says, though she knew that it needed a bit of work. She had very much enjoyed working with Bertram on Murderess, so she took on the director position for the project.
Levy says she was interested in the play because it explores a piece of women's history, and the limits of what we can and will do to be heard. In the case of the women in the story, they used acts of violence but also went through negotiations within their group. Would they only do violence against property? If so, what are the risks against people? And how does that intersect with the world going to war?
The play was cast in May, with workshops in June with the actors. Bertram did a lot of re-writing during this time, articulating the characters more clearly and streamlining the plot.
In rehearsals, the cast all learned jujutsu, as there's a fair amount of stage fighting in the production. They worked with Mike Lubke, who Levy says not only has technical expertise but an understanding of it in the context of staging a play.
While Levy isn't a company member with Theatre Unbound, she's no stranger to women-focused theater. In the 1980s, she started the Women's Theatre Project, which lasted eight years. "For me personally, it's been a coming home. The work I feel is very important."
Levy is especially drawn to the piece because while the play has its roots in history, it echoes issues that are happening today. "We are still grappling with who can vote," she says. "We're looking at voting on an amendment about who has the right to vote and what you need to ascertain those rights." For Levy, historical plays "are at their best when don't just live in the past."
IF YOU GO:
The Good Fight
7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
September 29 through October 14
The Lowry Lab Theater
350 St. Peter St., St. Paul $15-$25