'Patriot Acts' dramatizes women's hard-won right to vote

Publication Date

The winter term theater production,Patriot Acts: A Suffrage Pageant for Our Time,” will be staged Feb. 1-3 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 4 at 2 p.m. in Studio A in the Yulman Theater.

The play is written and directed by Cheryl Black, visiting assistant professor of theater. It draws upon speeches, letters, sermons, songs, cartoons, news reports, memoirs, poems and other historical sources to chart America’s perilous journey to female enfranchisement.

A poster advertising "Patriot Acts: A Suffrage Pageant for Our Time"

“It’s a quest that intersects with the larger story of securing America’s long-deferred dream of liberty and justice for all – a complex, sprawling journey beginning in 1776 and continuing into the present day,” Black said.

Following the Feb. 1 performance, Zoe Oxley, the William D. Williams Professor of Political Science, will lead a discussion about the play’s themes.

“Patriot Acts” features everyone from Abigail and John Adams, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton (whose brother, Eleazar, attended Union), Susan B. Anthony, W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells, Mabel Ping-Hua Lee and Mária de López to more contemporary women’s rights advocates Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stacey Abrams.

“This is a profoundly dramatic story filled with fascinating historical figures who marched, preached, sang, wrote, rallied, went to prison and rode horses down Fifth Avenue to win ‘the free delights of women’s rights!’” Black said. “It’s about citizenship and true patriotism.”

Black, who joined the Theater Department in the fall, is an award-winning actor, director and teacher. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland.

She began researching and writing Patriot Acts in 2019 to commemorate the centennial of the passage of the 19th amendment, which recognized women’s right to vote, and to remind people to vote as the 2020 U.S. presidential election neared. The play was performed once in March 2020, the day before the pandemic shut down live theater.

“Now, fortuitously, a revised version is going to be performed just as we enter another, and many say even more historically significant, election year,” she said.

Black also hopes that by highlighting the suffragette movement’s diverse leaders, the play will help challenge the perception that the movement was entirely dominated by middle class white women. Leaders included Black, Latina, Native American, Asian American and working class women as well as a coalition of men from different backgrounds.

For many of the students in the cast, who grew up close to two centuries later than some of the historic suffragists, the play is resonating deeply.

“I took a Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies course last term and became intrigued by the concept of the play,” said Dana Aument ’26, a biology major. “To see how women have fought for the right to vote over the course of U.S. history is just another example of how women have fought for equality at every level. I think it’s important we know about them and what they do.”

Stage manager Victoria Avon ’24, a dual major in biology and psychology, has worked on numerous Union theater and dance productions. It was a sophomore year course on the history of women in America that inspired her to take part in “Patriot Acts.”

“This is my first time working on a show that is based on real people and events, so it gives me a new, interesting challenge. It’s also exciting to learn about some lesser known but essential individuals from the suffrage movement beyond reading about them in a textbook,” Avon said.

“This show is a great way to appreciate how important the right to vote is by demonstrating the effort it took from hundreds of brave women to get us to where we are now.”

For Ashlesha Bhagat ’26, a computer science and studio fine arts major from Kolkata, India, the play serves as somewhat of “a crash course for me in understanding U.S. history and the finer details of America’s suffrage movement.

“Your vote is crucial for shaping the future of a country,” Bhagat said. “If you live in a country, I believe you should at least know how this privilege/right of voting came into your hands. ‘Patriot Acts’ tells this exact story.”

Other cast members include Jolita Brettler ’25, Alanna Byrne ’26, Seona Chutaro ’27, Eli Coleman ’24, Matthew Connolly ’26, Mel De La Cruz ’26 (also choreographer), Jay Hernandez ’25, Maggie Kelley ’24, Ishita Khambete ’25, Anthony Montás ’26, Matt Parr ’25, Thomas Raimo ’24 (also musical director) and Evie Tilison ’27.

Department faculty working on the show include Brittney Belz, costume designer and production manager; Drew Bodd, scenic designer and technical director; and Andrew Mannion, graphic designer. Robin MacDuffie is scene shop supervisor, and Mackenzie Trowbridge is stage management mentor.

Ollie Taylor ’24 is lighting and projection designer, Lilian Ruggieri ’25 is assistant stage manager, and Lexi Knowles ’27 is house manager.

Tickets (general seating) are $15 general admission, and $5 for senior citizens and those with a Union ID. They can be purchased at the Yulman Theater Box Office Monday through Friday, 1-2 p.m., or online at eventbrite.

“Patriot Acts” is part of the Theater and Dance Department’s Studio Series, which offers smaller scale productions with a focus on scripts and acting. It runs 90 minutes.

Audiences are cautioned that the play contains loud noises, bright lights and direct quotes on topics such as gender and race taken from historic source materials. These quotes include outdated viewpoints and wording that is biased and discriminatory, and may be offensive to modern viewers.

For more information or accommodative seating arrangements, contact the Yulman Theater Box Office at boxoffice@union.edu, or call (518) 388-6545.