Silver Spring Stage opens “Blue Stockings” on October 27, with performances running on weekends through November 12. The play is set at a women’s college in 1890s England, where the students demonstrate their wit and savvy, but also their anger about not being treated as equals of male students at Cambridge. The way that those established in power use ridicule and pseudo-science to limit access resonates today when women and other underrepresented groups continue the fight for equality.
Making her directing debut for Silver Spring Stage, Director Eleanore Tapscott discusses the themes that drew her to this play.
Question: Tell us about the play.
Tapscott: It’s set in 1896 in Cambridge, England, and it’s based on historical facts. It opens at the start of the academic year at a women’s college called Girton. They sought to bring a petition for women to receive degrees from Cambridge. The vote on the petition comes in the second act. The play looks at the experiences of four women at the college.
Q: The women at Girton clearly show themselves to be the men’s equals in intelligence, but that doesn’t mean they will be accepted as equals.
Tapscott: The outrage by opponents was intense. During the vote on the petition, a woman riding a bicycle was hanged and burned in effigy, and students rioted in the town.
Q: Some of the arguments used were scientific, or what passed for science at the time. The play opens with a famous biologist saying that blood used by the brain to learn was needed for women’s uteruses so they could be mothers.
Tapscott: Yes, that was accepted science at the time. As knowledge has been advanced, those opinions have evolved, but they were real at the time.
Q: However, in today’s America, we still have intense fights about education, even if the justifications are different. It’s still about who is educated and what they learn.
Tapscott: Education and having critical thinking skills are so important to push us forward. Education was emphasized in my family, and it’s key for underrepresented people in general. The message I hope people take away when they leave the theatre is that we need to keep striving to make education available to everyone—regardless of their gender identity, where they live, or their socioeconomic status. The chance to learn is an amazing thing, and it ought to be open and available to everyone.
Q: Your reference to critical thinking skills calls to mind how in “Blue Stockings” the lecturers encourage the women to not only memorize what male experts have said, but also to think for themselves.
Tapscott: This theme—take the information you’re learning and expand it to develop your own thoughts/ideas—is one of my favorites of the many important themes in this play. It is that level of critical thinking that results in creativity and growth.
“Blue Stockings” Director Eleanore Tapscott is a classically trained actress who has acted and directed at various Metro D.C. theatres, including ACCT, Colonial Players, Dominion Stage, Reston Community Players, and Little Theatre of Alexandria. She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of California-Berkeley and is a graduate of the National Shakespeare Conservatory.