In the spotlight: Blue Stockings

Libby Darrell, Contributing Writer



Well, what is it, exactly? Please, don’t stop reading here.


The brief snapshot definition from the Institute on Gender Equality and Women’s History goes something like this:


“It is rooted in the Latin word ‘femina,’ meaning ‘woman.’ The first wave advocating for equal women’s legal rights began in 1850, and later the feminist movement progressed to focus on women’s suffrage, political equality, and workplace equality … (Feminism in the 19th Century).”


Or, the alternate way of you understanding feminism is through its prominent role in the University’s upcoming spring production, “Blue Stockings.” From there, one can create their own definition.


“Blue Stockings,” a play by Jessica Swale, documents the experiences of female students and their revolutionary professors campaigning for the right to earn a degree. Set at Girton College, the University of Cambridge in 1896, the play features female students fighting against their male peers and health professionals’ beliefs that the risk for mental disorders was higher among women with longer schooling. Through defying male peers and taking classes at Cambridge, the female protagonists of the play can be seen as rebelling against patriarchal values.


Moreover, the authenticity of the women’s victories and failures in the play is what has made the rehearsal process of the production all the more enjoyable. “There are a lot of exciting things about producing a show,” Emma Saloky ’21, an actress in “Blue Stockings,” said. “I resonated a lot with this show because I felt that the characters are very real; their experiences are relatable, even now.”


At its core, “‘Blue Stockings’ is about finding the strength to carry on after defeat, getting back up after being knocked down, and trying again after failure, however difficult it may be,” Saloky said.


So, although the play’s conflict centers on the issue of gender equality, females and males, feminists and non-feminists alike can find pleasure in the show because anyone can relate to the struggle of fighting for something significant. Everyone should admire the bravery and fear these women felt in their feat of demanding justice. “Many people believed women should be good wives and mothers in order to be respectable,” Saloky said. This perception of women at the time, unfortunately, did not include them being good scholars.


That may be a little snapshot of the content that will play out on stage at the showcase of “Blue Stockings” in the spring, but what occurs behind the scenes until then?


When discussing the spring production with Saloky, the energy and liveliness of each production rehearsal are evident. Here’s a little more about what goes on behind the stage curtain, as told by the actress:


Are there different stages of rehearsal?


On Wednesdays, we do full runs of the show to see where we are with the characters and put it all together to see what else we can add. The first two weeks of rehearsal consisted of blocking scenes and figuring out the movement of our characters and relationships with the “world of the play.” After memorizing lines, rehearsals are a lot more playful because we don’t have scripts in our hands, and we can explore more with acting choices in the show.


What do the actresses wear?


Women always wear corsets, ankle-length skirts, and character shoes with a small heel for rehearsal.


What is your favorite part of the play?


My favorite part about “Blue Stockings” has probably been the dramaturgical aspect – looking into the real stories behind the fictional characters, and the fact that these women and men engage in intellectual conversations beyond the classroom. Their spirit and desire to learn is inspiring and it forces me to consider how lucky I am to be at college pursuing an education in the liberal arts where I can take humanities courses, in addition to my STEM classes. The conversations in the play are intellectually stimulating and they encourage thinking beyond just knowing or memorizing, but understanding. The arts and the sciences interlink in remarkable ways and this play does an excellent job representing that.


How is the play written? Do you think the play will have a lasting impact?


The play is written in such a way that the scenes are short in length but plentiful in content – they make you think. I can guarantee the show will live on for me beyond the production and I think audience members will have a lot to think about when they see it. We have found so many sources of inspiration for women in history who have fought for generations to be where we are today. Even though, as women, we often still struggle to earn the same as our male counterparts in the workplace, it is uplifting to see how far we have come. These women did not even earn degrees – they attended school out of the pure joy they felt from learning and thirst for knowledge – and I think we can all strive to be a little like them.


Other University students working on “Blue Stockings” include Drew Hopkins ’20 (lighting design), Katharine Cognard-Black ’21 (assistant director), and Midge Zuk ’19 (actress).

“Blue Stockings” will be showcased in Harvey M. Powers Theatre on the following dates: Friday, April 12 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, April 13 at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, April 14 at 2 p.m.; and Monday, April 15 at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased for $7 at the University’s online Box Office.

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