Monday, 15 February 2021
A new play, that premied at Fringe World, explores the life of Edith Cowan, the obstacles she overcame, and the many achievements of her life.
In 2021 it will be 100 years since Edith Cowan became the first woman elected to parliament in Australia but this is just one of the many achievements of her interesting life.
With Fire in Her Heart: The Edith Cowan Story is a new play, adapted from a screenplay written by Trevor Todd and directed by WAAPA lecturer Dr Gabrielle Metcalf, which is being performed at the 2021 Fringe Festival.
The project began back in 2013 when Trevor Todd was a writer-in-residence at the Peter Cowan Writer's Centre on ECU's Joondalup Campus. The centre is based in a cottage that the university's namesake lived in from 1921. Originally located in West Perth, Cowan and her family lived in the house for 20 years, in the 1990's it was relocated next to the lake on the Joondalup campus.
When Todd began his residency he was asked if he'd consider writing something about Edith Cowan.
"All I knew was that she was the first female elected to parliament anywhere in Australia and her face is on one side of the fifty-dollar note." Todd shared, "Then I read the book that her grandson Peter Cowan wrote about her, and thought ‘I’m in’, it’s a big read."
"It’s the only significant work on her life, she deserves more. I was wrapped from there. At first, I thought of it as a feature film, my training’s in feature film, and I wrote it as a screenplay, a WA historical story."
After he finished his script Todd struggled to find a pathway to getting it made, but one person who was interested in reading it was the President of the Karrakatta Club, the women's group that Edith Cowan helped establish in 1894.
Eventually the script found its way onto the desk of WAAPA Lecturer Dr Gabrielle Metcalf, who admits it spent some time sitting on her desk before she read it.
"It landed on my desk, this screenplay, and it sat there for ages." Metcalf said. Once she did read it though, the director was picking up the phone to track down Todd and propose a collaboration.
"We got some funding to adapt it, and we had a couple of readings of it, and we work-shopped it here at WAAPA with students at the end of 2019, and now here we are." Metcalf said.
The director says a century after Cowan's historic achievement her experiences have a lot of relevance to current politics.
"With the cast we’ve talked a lot about the parallels with the politics of today, we’ve talked a lot about Julia Gillard and what she faced when she was Prime Minister."
The play will be brought to life by a cast of 12 actors who play 47 characters as the story moves from Geraldton in the 1860s to the Suffragettes in London in 1902 and finally to the Western Australian parliament in the 1920s. WAAPA graduate Mikayla Merks plays Edith Cowan in her youth, while Lis Hoffman portrays her in her latter years.
Metcalf says Cowan overcame a lot of adversities in her life, and had many achievements.
"When she was seven years old Edith's mother died in childbirth, at fifteen her father, who had remarried, was hung for the murder of Edith’s stepmother. She was married at eighteen, and had five children. She was a founding member of so many organisations like the RSPCA, the Children’s Court, King Edward Hospital, it’s incredible, it’s such a captivating story. It’s not just her getting into parliament, that was at the end of her life.
"She only started her campaign four weeks before the election, she was sixty years old, and she overturned the sitting member for West Perth who was the Attorney General. He was the one who changed the laws so that women could sit, so that’s quite ironic."
"Her story shows if you’ve got the determination and the courage, you can do anything. I think it's so great for women to see what other women have done and achieved in the face of sexism and misogyny."
With Fire in Her Heart: The Edith Cowan Story is playing at Fringe World all sessions have SOLD OUT.
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