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19th Amendment Project to show the fight for gender equality is far from over

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Marisa Clemente will perform alongside Sarah Richardson in the dance theatre piece "The Debate." The performance will be part of the 19th Amendment Project, which will feature performances by UNC faculty artists. The performance will take place at the CURRENT Art Space on Feb. 27-28, 2020. Photo courtesy of Donn Young.

A century after women earned the right to vote, UNC faculty came together to show how the fight for voting rights is still far from over. 

The 19th Amendment Project, which will feature performances by UNC faculty artists, will take place at the CURRENT ArtSpace on Feb. 27 and 28. The performances will be centered around the 19th Amendment, which will be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. 

The project is part of a larger annual series called the Process Series, which features developmental presentations of new works in progress. The Process Series hopes to illuminate the ways in which artistic ideas take form, examine the creative process and create a closer relationship between artists and audiences. 

Four faculty projects were selected for the 19th Amendment Project, and include dance, drama, visual arts and music. The performances will consist of 20-minute excerpts from a play called "XIX," a one-woman show called "Sojourner Truth," a live cinema performance called "#19" and a dance-theater piece called "The Debate."  

Process Series Producer Heather Tatreau is a choreographer from the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at UNC. Tatreau said she proposed this project to offer faculty an opportunity to collaborate with each other outside of their home departments through an interdisciplinary approach. 

“I wanted to introduce the idea of a faculty performance series here as something that we could repeat every year, and could give a platform for our faculty artists to collaborate with one another across disciplines and have some financial support to put that on stage,” Tatreau said. 

By focusing on the 19th Amendment for this year's Process Series, Tatreau and those involved hope to shed light on the fact that the 19th Amendment didn't give the right to vote to all women. 

"I feel like we have an opportunity as artists and scholars to bring to the stage some of the complicated issues around women in politics, as well as race and women in politics,” Tatreau said. “It extends beyond just the issue of gender to really incorporate, in particular, how women of color were affected by the passing of the 19th amendment that wasn't inclusive of them.”

Jacqueline E. Lawton, an assistant professor in the Department of Dramatic Art, is the playwright for the play, "XIX." Lawton’s play exposes the racial divide of the 19th Amendment by following an interracial family where all the women were fighting for suffrage, but only half of them won the right to vote.

“Anti-miscegenation laws at the time didn't allow Blacks and whites to marry," Lawton said. "So, I had to figure out how this woman would marry into this family and what the social dynamics of that would look like for her.”

Lawton said one of the best things about the project is being able to collaborate with students through casting them in plays or bringing them on as stage managers or research assistants. 

“Unless you're in arts administration, if you're an individual artist, you've got to learn how to become professional and astute at multiple disciplines within the field,” Lawton said. “So being able to work with professional artists who are doing this, students get to see how that works in life and in practice.”

Lawton said she hopes audiences recognize the importance of supporting democracy through voting, especially since it is an election year.

“This right to vote was hard-won, and people died, lots of people died, for all of us to be able to vote,” Lawton said. “No matter how we all may feel at any given moment, that right to vote is our voice as a citizen, and we need to exercise our voice.”

Associate professor Sabine Gruffat from the Department of Art & Art History and associate professor Bill Brown from the Department of Communication are working on the live cinema performance "#19," which will incorporate original laser-etched 16mm film, a selection of archival 16mm film loops and an original electronic soundtrack in order to explore the past and present struggles of women to achieve political empowerment. 

Brown said that a Process Series performance is different from other performances because it gives the artists a chance to receive audience feedback immediately after their performance. 

"There's always a really interesting conversation after the performances with the audience,” Brown said. “Audiences can respond to the work in progress and the performers then can sort of speak about that reaction from the audience as we continue to finish the pieces.”

Tatreau also said that she thinks the opportunity for audience feedback is incredibly beneficial to the artists and can heavily influence what the final product looks like. 

“It's less about what the artists have to say, more about what the audience has to say,” Tatreau said. “That really informs us, as artists, where our piece is going, how it's being read and where we might want to take it in the future.”


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