Indignation – Determination - Celebration
Otago Pioneer Women's Hall, 362 Moray Place, Dunedin
13/08/2018 - 15/08/2018
During 2017, the Otago Pioneer Women’s Memorial Association was in discussion about a suitable way to mark Suffrage125. A play, based on the extraordinary material from our archives, was seen as a way to tell the story of how a group of determined women eighty years ago obtained a building for women to use and meet in, despite opposition from many who felt women had no business wanting to go to meetings, that their place was the home and the care of children. It was also seen as an opportunity not only to reconnect existing members with a variety of pertinent material, but to open the doors to a new audience, to explore a little of our history and to share it as an example of women’s work and the struggles they were still faced with, several decades after the vote had been granted to them.
7pm – 13 & 14 August
1pm – 15 August
Door sales only – $10
Many layers of relevance as well as entertainment value
Review by Hannah Molloy 14th Aug 2018
Effectively an historical narrative, the Otago Pioneer Women’s Memorial Association play, Indignation – Determination – Celebration tells it like it was, and in so many ways still is.
Staged as a special general meeting of the Association, in 1941, the work is devised and directed by Karen Elliott based on material from the Association’s archives.
The audience is greeted by the charming Mrs Williamson (Sue Graham) as they enter the building, with an explanation of how the evening is to progress. We are given a card with the name of a women’s organisation and its representative and instructions on how to proceed. There is an opportunity to purchase a recently published book and the author is handing out lemons grown by another member.
The mood in the room is chatty and dynamic. The show starts punctually as the audience is drawn to order by President Dr Emily Siederberg-McKinnon (Clare Adams). We stand and sing the national anthem (‘God Save the King’) and the narrative commences. A roll is called of the representative organisations, which range from the Girl Guides through the Dunedin Housewives Union and the League of Mothers to the Federation of University Women: a very engaging and somehow moving litany of the various groups of women who helped to establish our city, and it feeds the remainder of the work.
The task of sharing the history of the purchase of the building in which we now sit is shared between 10 women – Adams, Elliott, Graham, Gwenda Holmes, Ainslie Carnahan, Carol Garry, Miriam Sharpe, Beth Evans, Lesley Prescott and Willie Campbell – and they each bring both their own personality and that of their characters to bear.
The audience is encouraged to cry “Shame!” and to applaud the trials and successes of the enterprising women who committed themselves to procuring this space for the women of “present and future generations”. And there were trials aplenty – mostly resulting from having their voices removed by men who knew best!
Ah how times have changed. Oh wait…
There is entertainment to found in the audience by-play: Graham sitting next to Evans and Prescott seems to be convulsed with infectious giggles at regular intervals and the three of them mutter hilariously under their breath (but audibly) to each other and offer dry interjections during the proceedings.
This is a play that has many layers of relevance, as well as its entertainment value. While the pioneer women of the time would largely have been Pākehā settlers, they were a strong, willful, brave and long-sighted bunch with community at the core of everything they did. The strength of their work laid a powerful foundation for the pioneering women of today who have different struggles and successes and this work deserves to be seen and heard by many, so we can thank them in spirit “for their continuing grit in the face of many obstacles.”
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