Monday, March 18th, 2013
Women’s History Month performance & dialogue explores legacy of Matilda Joslyn Gage
The D.R.E.A.M. Freedom Revival (DFR), a Syracuse-based grassroots theater company that uses music and theater to spark conversations about freedom and democracy, has partnered with The Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation and students from Syracuse University to create their unique brand of “tent revival,” this time on the issue of women’s rights and empowerment. They will perform on Sunday, March 24, at 5 p.m., at Grace Episcopal Church (819 Madison Ave). The performance, “Daughters of the Harvest,” a reference to a quote by Gage, the 19th century feminist leader from Fayetteville, will invite audience members to reflect on and discuss the parallels between the issues women confronted in the 19th century and those faced today. But beyond discussion, the show’s organizers are aiming for something more.
Local doula and childbirth educator Aimee Brill, who is also a lead organizer for DFR, says, “All of our shows are about calling people to action and so we want to do more with this performance than simply compare different historical eras. We want to engage people with the idea that advancing the cause of women’s rights — or any cause pointing toward social equity — is not going to occur solely by looking backward toward historical ‘saviors’ like Gage. She certainly offers plenty to inspire us, but change will only happen when we embrace and act on the spirit of liberty that each one of us possesses.”
Delivering that message live on stage will be none other than Gage herself, performed by noted historian and executive director of the Gage Foundation in Fayetteville, Sally Roesch Wagner. “I’ve been excited to partner with DFR since I first got to know the company. But I wasn’t inspired by the idea that the women in the show were looking toward Matilda to rescue them. And then Aimee [Brill] started speaking with such passion about the need for Matilda’s message to come forth. I thought that if my character could play the role of pointing the women back to themselves and back to their own inherent power, then it was a fitting way to bring Matilda back to life.”
Wagner has also brought more than 20 of her Syracuse University undergraduate students into the process of creating the performance. “It’s been so important for the students to see how what they’re learning can be applied to contemporary issues. Their understanding of the suffrage movement, and of that entire era, has contributed so much to the creative process. It’s been a wonderful experience for all involved.”
The D.R.E.A.M. Freedom Revival is the brainchild of Dr. Kevin Bott, a grassroots theater scholar, and associate director of Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life, a national higher education consortium based at Syracuse University. Bott also plays the show’s emcee, The Dr. Reverend Ebenezer Abernathy. “My creative starting point,” he says, “is always to ask what theatrical form can best capture and express the unique history and energy of a place. To me, Syracuse and Central New York are about freedom movements, from the Haudenosaunee to the Underground Railroad to the women’s suffrage movement and beyond. When I discovered the ‘burnt-over district’ and the whole 19th century tent revival movement in Central and Western New York, I immediately had the idea for a tent revival about freedom. The revival is the perfect vehicle for celebrating democracy and community.”
Sponsored by Imagining America and the New York Council for the Humanities, “Daughters of the Harvest” is the second in a four-part performance and dialogue series that the DFR is creating in partnership with local organizations. The March 24th performance will be followed by a meal and facilitated conversation about the show’s themes. It is free and open to the public but space is limited.
For more information, contact Jamie Haft, Imagining America’s communications manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org and 315-345-3931.