Equal rights still worth fighting for

Fighting Days to shed light on Manitoba as suffrage hub

Sarah Constible (far right) gets her feminist on in MTC’s Fighting Days. Bruce Monk

Although it’s been almost 100 years since women won the right to vote, people still herald Nellie McClung as one of Canada’s most important historical figures - with good reason.

What most forget is that she did not do it alone.

Wendy Lill’s play The Fighting Days is being produced now by the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre until Saturday, March 3. It gives interesting insight into the suffrage movement, including information on the women who were not remembered.

Sarah Constible, 35, has worked on numerous projects for the stage as well as the screen. She was part of MTC’s After Miss Julie and is also on the hit Space Channel show Todd and the Book of Pure Evil.

In The Fighting Days she plays journalist Francis Beynon, a woman who fought valiantly alongside McClung, but was left behind in the history books because of her anti-war views.

“The thing about Francis is that there isn’t much on her,” says Constible the day of the show’s opening. “She’s known as the forgotten suffragist.”

The only picture found of Benyon by the artistic team is a blurry one of her in a garden.

On the other hand, Marina Stephenson Kerr has the daunting task of portraying Nellie McClung. McClung wrote numerous books and there are many recordings of her that have surfaced since her day.

Interestingly, McClung did a bit of theatre herself.

On June 28, 1914 she staged a mock parliament at the Walker Theatre (now known as the Burton Cummings Theatre) to show the stupidity of gender inequality. The production was a huge success and led the Liberal Party to promise electoral reform if they were elected.

The play depicts the relationship between McClung, Beynon and her sister Lily, played by Daria Puttaert. The fictional George McNair is played by Richard Clarkin.

The piece is directed by Robb Paterson, who has been a part of MTC for many productions as a director and as an actor.

He has directed the play as a naturalistic piece, a style that Constible understands very well.

“You want to make sure that you’re able to convey the right feeling or the right story equally in the back row and the front row,” she says. “They’re not going to see the subtle change in your face. You have to do something with your hand or your posture.”

The play is set in the mid 1910s, an era that might be difficult for some. This is not the case for Constible and company.

“We all had to resist the urge to cross our legs, but it was pretty easy” she says. “We also have to avoid certain modernisms.”

The themes that are prevalent in the play are not lost in the time period.

“It’s a play about human rights, war versus peace,” says Constible. “These are all still incredibly timely topics, unfortunately.”

MTC presents The Fighting Days at the John Hirsch Theatre at the MTC Mainstage until Saturday, March 3. Tickets are $27 to $65. Contact 204-942-6537 for advance tickets. Visit mtc.mb.ca.

Published in Volume 66, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 22, 2012)

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