Shelburne Falls show celebrates women’s suffrage as way to give ‘voice to the voiceless’

  • Dancers Colleen Rauch, Gabriella Cotrill and Karen Shulda rehearse for a performance of “Gloria” in Shelburne Falls. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Pianist Laura Josephs and songstress Carmela Lanza-Weil rehearse for a performance of “Gloria” in Shelburne Falls. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 9/28/2020 1:47:22 PM

SHELBURNE FALLS — The 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote was celebrated in a performance on Sunday, hosted in a backyard in Shelburne Falls for a small, socially distanced audience.

“Gloria,” directed by Shelburne Falls resident Karen Shulda, was created to commemorate the challenges that women in the United States have faced in achieving the right to vote. The show is a 40-minute program of dances and songs, strung together with narration from historic women, some famous and some ordinary.

“It’s not a linear narrative, but it does have a linear history,” Shulda said. “We do have historical snippets that are placed throughout to give a sense of the overall suffrage movement in this country.”

The show was premiered in December, for the Shelburne Falls Area Women’s Club. In the audience for that show was Michael McCusker, owner of the Bridge of Flowers CoWorking Business Center, who sponsored Sunday’s show.

The show on Sunday was held in Shulda’s backyard, which was turned into a theater with markings on the lawn for the boundaries of the stage, facing rows of socially distanced lawn chairs.

Tickets were free, but had to be booked ahead of time, to ensure social distancing. Only 30 people were admitted, and by Thursday the show was totally booked. Audience members also wore masks.

Another performance may be scheduled for October, Shulda said, but a date has not been announced.

The narration, performed by Louella Atherton, for most of the show serves to contextualize the songs and dances. But, toward the end of the show, the pace changes, and Atherton speaks uninterruptedly for a longer period.

The story is of Atherton’s mother, Julia Louise Pratt Barber, who voted for the first time in 1920, while the family was living in Bernardston. In Atherton’s narration, which was informed by a real entry in her mother’s diary, she contrasts her mother’s life at home — caring for children and supporting a domineering husband — with the quiet yet politically powerful act of voting.

“(She) was a woman who was not a suffragist, nor was she breaking down barriers. She was a local woman who grew up on a hardscrabble farm in Bernardston,” Shulda said. “(Voting) gave a voice to the voiceless. The story of Julia Louise is a story of one of those women who was, in a very public way, voiceless.”

Reach Max Marcus at or 413-930-4231.

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