Local actors to present work on women’s rights

In 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and four other women invited the public to the First Women’s Rights Convention to discuss expanding the role of women in America. At the end of the two-day gathering, 100 people made a public commitment to work together to improve women’s quality of life.

At 3 p.m. on July 20, 165 years later to the day, a group of actors and actresses from the Warren area will present “Equality of Rights: The First Woman’s Rights Convention,” a play written by Gerald Argetsinger at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, N.Y.

“Equality of Rights is an historical dramatization of the events leading up to, and a re-creation of, the first Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, July 19-20, 1848,” explained Argetsinger, who is on the instructional faculty at Rochester Institute of Technology. “While it is true to the people and events portrayed, as in all historic drama, some dramatic license was required in order to tell the story in a cohesive, straight-forward manner. Very little is actually known about specific conversations between individuals. In some instances, such as the meeting at Mary Ann M’Clintock’s house, it is not known who actually attended. However, the issues discussed and the viewpoints of the characters are accurate insofar as current research and opinion allow. Even though the play is not ‘history,’ it is historically true,” according to Argetsinger

The local cast performed the play in 2008 and again last year at the Warren Women’s Club, under the direction of Mark Davis.

Jenette Guntly, who directs the play and performs in it as well, said, “We redid the script, with the author’s permission. The original script was not very active, the women just sat at a table and couldn’t move around. Now there is a more natural interaction and emotional attachment with the audience, with a lot more reactions as opposed to ‘speechifying’.”

“The third act is about the convention itself, and introduces audience participation by seating actors in the audience, including men who protest the revolution to fight for women’s rights; to vote, to have custody of their children, keep their wages and being able to speak at religious and public functions.”

“We made an offer to the National Park Service to present the play as a part of their annual Convention Days and they were very happy to accept,” Guntly added.

She explained that the park encompasses all of the area involved in that advocacy of women’s rights, and several of the houses belonging to the women that were involved have been restored to their original condition and are open for public tours.

Sponsors for the production include ITT Gould in Seneca Falls, the National Park Service and the Warren County Historical Society, which has loaned archival items, including period costumes to the production. First Lutheran Church in Warren has donated space for rehearsals, which are ongoing.

In addition to Guntly, who plays Lucretia Mott, cast members are Lil Hunkele portraying Charlotte Woodward; Karin Davidson as Elizabeth Cady Stanton; Melissa Port as Jane Hunt, Jean Gomory as Mary Ann M’Clintock Ruth Barnes Shaw as Martha Coffin Wright; Jeff Johnson plays a reporter; Jack Shaw as Daniel; John Shaughnesy as James Mott; Mike Taylor as Frederick Douglass. Ron Keeney and Jonathan Hart portray educators.