By Tessa Climer, Social Media Manager
Toward the beginning of last week, I told myself to take the weekend off. You know, take some time to catch my breath from the stress of Election Day. But instead I found myself stepping into the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre on Friday evening for the premiere of the 1896 based play, “Blue Stockings.” With an amazing cast and crew as well as director, J.J. Ruscella, the Shenandoah Conservatory put on a moving show that ended with a standing ovation.
As the lights dimmed and rose again, the stage was set up with beautifully-aged wood and books lining the shelves. The opening scene began with Dr. Maudsley (played by Michael C. Kennedy) who had a few words to share about women and their roles in the world. The title of this play, “Blue Stockings,” came from a clothing article that these hardworking women would wear each day. The term came to have a negative connotation, referring to women who were undesirable because of their ambitions and intelligence.
As the story progresses, we follow Tess Moffat (played by Marissa Chaffee) through her struggle of finding out whether love or knowledge is more important. As a character that many can relate to, Chaffee perfectly portrayed Tess with humor and grace. We watch her fall in love, question herself, and sit on the decision of giving up, but with the help of her support system at Girton College, she moves forward the best she can.
Elizabeth Welsh (played by Ashley Knaack) had a tremendous role to play, with major decisions and hard circumstances throughout the story. As the head of Girton, she continues to work toward merging women into the world of higher education. Despite the riots of the male students and the negative words she receives, Elizabeth perseveres and encourages the girls to do the same.
The most striking aspect of this play was that it was realistic. The struggles that these women faced were issues that many of us still have today—from staying focused to being distracted by other factors in life. As Tess was coming to a decision on where to go next, the question of “Love or knowledge, which would you choose?” arose, leaving an imprint on the audience. Tess realized her love was with knowledge and made the decision to keep working toward her future at Girton with the blessing of the head of the college.
As the final vote was being determined, the women endured a riot of male students angered by the possibility of their rights being granted. The devastating outcome ceased the commotion as everyone realized the women really wouldn’t be graduating. Some wept, others paced and some began to clean up the mess.
“What are you going to do now?” was asked by one of the men. This answer could have been filled with anger and sadness, but it wasn’t. The response was, “Carry on” which gave a glimmer of hope as the play ends.
“Blue Stockings” gave just what the doctor ordered after this past week. Many were feeling uneasy and deeply saddened by the election turmoil, but “Blue Stockings” showed the importance of education and working together for a better future, no matter how much hard work and dedication it will take to get there.
In 2012, when Jessica Swale published this work, I’m sure she had no idea how much it would resonate with us now seeing as it was based in 1896. As she tells this story of the woman fighting for their right to graduate, in real time, so many of us are fighting for our rights to continue to live on. With the heartache and humor laced into one, “Blue Stockings,”did more than just entertain—it gave much-needed hope to all that attended.
RELATED: History student Mary Katherine Francisco takes a look at the “Blue Stockings” women of Shenandoah University throughout the years
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