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The school is staging “Blue Stockings” this weekend

 

When Marshall High School’s Theatre Director Bernie DeLeo was searching for a play for this year’s fall production, he wanted something different and one that would showcase the amazing actresses the school had among its thespians. 

“Every high school theatre teacher is in the same bind; we usually have an imbalance of female students to male students, so I am always looking for scripts that have a large cast and have enough opportunities for a sizable female cast,” DeLeo said. “My summers are spent reading scripts, finding new scenes and planning a new season.” 

During his search, and with the help of a theatre teacher Facebook group, he discovered Jessica Swale’s “Blue Stockings,” a British play first produced in London in 2012, which he characterized as “a moving, comical and eye-opening story of four young women fighting for education and self-determination against the larger backdrop of women’s suffrage.”

“This was one of those scripts where I read it, put it down, and knew I needed to do this script,” DeLeo said. “There was an instant connection and it’s worked out really well. The young ladies in the cast are having a ball.” 

Set in Victoria, England, 1896, the story follows four young women studying at Girton College, one of the first women’s colleges in the UK, where female students could study, though not graduate or earn degrees. The four look to change things as they fight for equality.

One of those characters is Tess, played by junior Sophia Welch, who explained that Blue Stockings is a derogatory term from the time that men gave to women who wanted to be scholars or intellectuals. 

“Tess is very determined and learns to speak her mind and share her voice throughout the play,” Welch said. 

The four girls are helped by their impassioned teachers, including Miss Blake, a female professor who helps them fight for their rights and find empowerment.

“She encourages the female students to really open their minds and allow themselves to have thoughts that might be different than others,” said Sara Porjosh, a senior at Marshall, who plays the helpful teacher. “She wants them to step out of their comfort zone.”

Since the play is set in the UK, the students needed to learn to speak in British accents. So, every rehearsal started with an accent warmup, and the entirety of rehearsal was done in the accent, even if the kids were only talking about their weekend plans. 

“It didn’t take us long to really get into it and hone our skills and improve, and let it be part of the character as a whole instead of a separate thing,” Porjosh said.

The students have also had a lot of practice on posture, as DeLeo noted the way the characters stand and move helps in the way they deliver their accents. They even watched “Downtown Abbey” to get a feel for their mannerisms.  

Unlike a lot of plays out there where the female roles are always centered around their relationship with a male character, this show is separate from that, which Porjosh noted sends a really powerful message.  

“There are a lot of lessons that the audience can take away from this show; it honors the history and struggles that women have faced in pursuit of their education, but also encourages these audiences to step out of their own comfort zones and think and have ideas away from the status quo,” she said.

Welch added that even though the story was written more than 100 years ago, the message is still very relevant today. 

“I have grown really close to the other three girls, and I’ve seen and I’ve felt that our confidence through our characters has grown,” she said. “But also I’ve seen it reflect in my own life, and I feel I can share my voice more in class and that my opinions are welcomed.” 

“Blue Stockings” will be staged Nov. 10 to12 with nightly shows at 7:30 p.m., and a matinee on Nov. 12 at 2 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.statesmentheatre.org.

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