Even if you already know all there is to know about Florida history, you still have plenty of reason to check out Florida: Her Stories, a unique digital production that “explores the stories of women who made and are making Florida.”
Presented by Femuscripts, an all-female and female-identifying fledgling production company dedicated to amplifying female voices in theatre, the show is now available on demand until the end of August and begins with a land acknowledgement that pays tribute to the Native American people who first inhabited Florida’s grounds, who are also the subject of its first story.
Unconquerable Heart, written and narrated by Native American artist Erica Deitz, pairs the true tale of a strong young Seminole woman who escapes attempted conquest by US army forces with Deitz’s evocative artwork.
Though the images are indeed beautiful, the way this story is told feels a little more straightforwardly informational than theatrical in any conventional sense, though most of the rest of the work that follows is substantially more engaging.
For instance, The Lighthouse by Alicia K. Garcia renders another true story, of a Hispanic woman who took over her husband’s duties as lighthouse keeper after his death, in a combination of reflective monologue and dramatizations of letters sent between the two.
The seven minute scene came and went too quickly for me to feel terribly attached to the characters despite the poignancy of their story, but was illuminated by poetic language and the sensitive performances of Herman Spearman and Laurie Tanner—though it’s also worth noting that, somewhat bafflingly for an otherwise culturally aware and inclusive production and despite the fact that the character’s heritage is suggested in the script by the use of Spanish, neither major character was played by a Hispanic actor.
Another historical Florida woman gets her moment in the sun in Julia Tuttle: The Mother of Miami by Marj O’Neill Butler, which imagines a conversation between Tuttle, who was responsible for convincing Henry Flagler to build the railroad that put Miami on the map, and her daughter. The two poignantly discuss the difficulties they have faced as a family, as well as those they have faced as women living during a time in which their gender limited their opportunities.
A later piece, Storm Of Growth by Brooke Lynn White, also focuses on Tuttle, this time by dropping in on a group of her female contemporaries who were also instrumental to Florida’s founding as they celebrate her remarkable achievement over mimosas. Tanner, White, and Garcia do a respectable job of portraying its relatively down to earth characters—down to earth, at least in comparison to the quirky inhabitants of another Herstories piece called Every Tongue Got to Confess.
That short play was not about but adapted from a book of traditional African American folk tales collected by groundbreaking Florida woman Zora Neale Hurston. Actors Herman Spearman and Maggie B. Maxwell show an impressive amount of range as a pair of lively and likable barbers who tell each other some of these tall tales, transforming into a variety of their kooky characters as they do.
But it’s motifs from a more conventional folk tale that inspire poet Zorina Exie’s “Black Cinderella,” one of two insightful and mellifluous spoken word pieces that explore the speaker’s journey through adversity to find strength and power in her identity.
Writer and actress Suki Lanh takes a more comedic approach to her own struggles in The Asian American Woman’s Welcome Guide to Miami, a witty reflection on the particular challenges she faces due to her race as she contends with lecherous drunken husbands, confused spanish grandmothers, and, of course, that omnipresent plague of condescending rich white people in her chosen city.
Prejudice also plays a part in Storming the Weatherman by Laurie Tanner, in which the titular chauvinist is eventually bested by a pair of empowered women who convince him to rethink sexist hurricane naming conventions, and in One Night in Algiers by Alicia K. Garcia, in which the looming threat of the Holocaust lingers over a fraught wartime conversation.
Though the inherent shortcomings of Zoom “theatre” make it hard to judge this production by any true theatrical standard, there are enough memorable moments and talented performers on display that it’s worth enduring the tedium of viewing via Youtube what should’ve been able to take the stage.
Perhaps the most important thing to take away from the tapestry of vignettes that makes up “Herstories” is a reminder of how hard women through the ages have fought to make this world a better place for the generations of women who would come after, as is alluded to when Butler’s version of Julia Tuttle suggests that her daughter may be able to usher in progress for women that she herself will not live to see. We may still have a long way to go when it comes to achieving equality between the sexes, but with women as forward-thinking as the ones behind Femuscripts on the case, there’s plenty reason for us to be hopeful about the fight.
Ilana Jael earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Sarah Lawrence College and a BA in Writing and Psychology from Florida Atlantic University’s Wilkes Honors College. She also served as co-founder of the student theatre troupe “Theatre in the Raw.” She has been dabbling in both playwriting and acting since high school. A few favorite roles include Rebel in Columbinus (Bob Carter’s Actor’s Rep), The Fearful One in The Cave (G-Star School of The Arts), and Amanda in The Glass Menagerie (Theatre In The Raw). Her one-act plays Goodbye, Karma’s A Bitch, Certainly Not About Him, and Open Heart have also been previously performed at Actor’s Rep and/or at Florida Atlantic University. More recently, Ilana appeared in and created the original musical ZeeZou’s Stardust Extravaganza with Area Stage’s Miami Queer Theatre Collective. Her short plays have been produced virtually by New City Players, Theatre Lab, and Femuscripts. She is also a current company member of New City Players, and you can check out her theatre blog at ilanaintheatreland.com!