We Did It for You Shines Light on How Far Women Have Come

J.D. O’Gara
We Did It for You, a musical play by Thea Iberall, tracks the rights women have fought for in this country. With a cast of local volunteers, it will show this month at Amazing Things Art Center in Framingham and other locations.
Issue Date: 
March, 2018
Article Body: 

March marks Women’s History Month, but one group of women is trying to bring the history of women’s struggle for equal rights into everyday consciousness. We Did It for You: Women’s Journey through History, a historic musical by Thea Iberall directed by Terra Taylor Knudson (also musical arranger), with Shirley Riga, of Millis, as Associate Producer, tells the tale of how women fought to have any rights in America. The play, which began on the west coast and has been performed for of 3,500 people at conventions, museums and colleges, is now being produced in Massachusetts. It uses local women as volunteer actors to tell its story.
Iberall, who trained as a playwright at the University of California, has always been interested in women’s rights. The play, she says, began at a women’s journey conference in 2010 in Orange County, Calif. “The head of that, Patty Tyrell, wanted a play about women’s rights,” says Iberall, who worked with a professor at California State Fullerton who guided her to address five topics: education, leadership, civil rights, political rights and personal rights.
“At first it was only a 20-minute long play,” she says. “I did a lot of research, and then I started looking for women that represented those five areas through history.” The play saw some success, says Iberall.
“Patty was producing it, and she wanted to do it more, and we decided to extend it to a 45-minute musical,” she says, “and so I wrote the rest of it. It has changed over the years.” In fact, Iberall is still in the process of expanding the narrative on the Civil Rights era, something she says will take some time to find the right characters and stories.
“It’s not just telling history – it’s telling it through these anecdotal stories,” says the playwright.
Iberall purposefully looks for positive stories.
“We made a decision not to have any kind of negativity in it at all,” says Iberall, which, she said was hard to do. “We’re covering 450 years in 45 minutes.”
Associate Producer Shirley Riga, who moved to Millis in 2014, became involved with the production while living in California.
“I took some acting lessons and became part of the cast and in California, and I could already sing, and so I just developed through the process. It’s been tremendous. Every time we do it, we get more people interested in joining us and more gigs to do it in,” says Riga, who encourages women of all ages to “think outside the box,” and not do “what they think is expected of them if they don’t want to.”
As a member of the cast, she says, “We are living in times where we’re still struggle for our rights and for our respect, so every time we put on this play, we demonstrate the need for recognition of what we have accomplished and what we still have to offer. I think young people just don’t have the education of what women have done.”
Millis teacher Marianne Ziemba is one of about 25 local women in the production. She became familiar with Iberall and Riga when they applied for a Millis Cultural Council grant to do a workshop in the schools.
“Thea and Shirley came into my classroom last year, for my freshman. My students were the characters. It was really cool,” says Ziemba. “Thea asked me if I’d like to be involved, and she cast me as Susan B. Anthony.”
“Sexism exists in subtle forms and more blatant forms,” says Ziemba. “It’s important for young girls and women, and men as well, to notice it and know it can’t be dismissed. It does have an impact in society.
“One of the things that amazes me is that the United States is obviously the most successful developed country in the world, yet we are extremely low on the list when it comes to female leaders. In 2017, we were something like number 99 in the world when It comes to female lawmakers,” says Ziemba, who adds that this past year, more women are running for office.
“By celebrating these women who paved the way, you’re showing this is where this originates,” says the Millis teacher. People might be afraid of the word “feminism, but they shouldn’t be. It just means equality of the sexes.”
“I still see it in my classroom, the smirks, the comments, the discomfort when people talk about sexism and gender,” says Ziemba. “I’ve had students say we’re equal and everything is fine, but it’s not, and I need them to understand that without getting defensive, to have a fair and safe conversation.”
Iberall hopes the play will inspire people. “I want them to appreciate the history that all of these people fought so hard for. We take so much of our rights for granted, and when we take them for granted, we can lose them. The only way to know the future is to see the past, see where we’ve been to see where we’re going.”
You can catch We Did It for You this month on March 10th, at 7 p.m. at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Middleboro, on March 15th at 6 p.m. at the Whaling Museum in New Bedford, and on March 18th at 2 p.m. right down the street at The Amazing Things Art Center in Framingham. For more information, visit www.wediditforyou.org.