Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
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GU theater production explores stories of women of Scripture
by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the Jan. 14, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)
Mary Catherine Bradley (left) and Christi Ann Hofland were among the performers in the 2006 touring production of Weaving Our Sisters’ Voices. (IR photo courtesy of Suzanne Ostersmith)
In 2002, Gonzaga University Theatre Arts professor Suzanne Ostersmith directed a Medieval Mysteries production which she staged at St. Aloysius Church in Spokane. She described the experience as “very powerful. But what was really poignant to me was that at auditions about 80 or 90 percent of the people auditioning were women, and 80 or 90 percent of the roles were for men. Certainly we know all the great men’s stories, but where were all the cool women’s stories?”
This prompted Ostersmith to look into stories of women in Scripture. In 2005 she began a collaboration with GU Religious Studies Professor Linda Shearing, who wrote the script for what became Weaving Our Sisters’ Voices.
They selected the stories of 12 different women from Scripture and used the Jewish tradition of midrash to interpret the stories by filling in narrative gaps that might only be hinted at. “We looked at how we could connect these stories with our contemporary lives. It’s not a historical piece in any sense, it’s more a ‘re-looking-at,’” said Ostersmith
In writing the script, Shearing said, she “took women, Biblical characters, and tried to recover their presences and voices. For example, the Daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 26:33- 27:3). Very few people even know who they are, but they are interesting because they press for inheritance rights at a time when daughters couldn’t inherit, and they actually get them. This isn’t midrashic, it’s drawing attention to a story that very few people know.”
As they approached the story of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, “what we did there is a little bit more midrashic or creative. When people think about Mary they think about her virginity or what happens to her in terms of Mariology. What I tried to do in the script was to recover an image of not of Mary the Queen of Heaven, but Mary the mother of Jesus.”
The original 2005-2006 production utilized the talents of three female student actors, staged at several locations around the Spokane area, including Gonzaga University, St. Thomas More Parish and other churches, women’s shelters, and other sites.
“It was so moving to me,” Ostersmith said, “to collaborate, and to see the results, and then to see the reactions of our audiences.” She wanted to revisit the production, as part of the university’s main stage season, and the faculty of the Theater Arts Department agreed.
This year’s production, directed and choreographed by Ostersmith, uses five student actors and a set she describes as “beautiful.”
The show will utilize music from the 2006 production, composed by Bob Spittal of the university’s Music Department. Some of the music utilized will be pre-recorded; all of the live music, performed by two Music Department students, is scored for percussion instruments.
In pitching the new production to prospective student actors, Ostersmith described it as being about “sneaky sex, murder, dismemberment, and bliss – blended into dance, music, and poetry about women from Scripture.”
Spittal said that writing the music included reading the script and talking with Ostersmith about what she was looking for. “A lot of the music is dance music,” he said, “so the music is designed to support what she envisioned for the dance numbers. There is no singing, it’s all instrumental music.” Pre-recorded music includes strings and other instruments.
Ostersmith sees the production as “very consistent” with Gonzaga University’s mission statement, which declares that the school’s mission is “humanistic,” “Catholic,” and “Jesuit.” She draws attention in the production to the “contemplative nature and exploration of the rich material.”
(Performances of Weaving Our Sisters’ Voices will be in Gonzaga University’s Magnuson Theatre at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 29 and 30, and 2 p.m. on Jan. 31 and Feb. 7. For tickets and information call (509) 313-6553.)