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.