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Suffs’ Shaina Taub on These Hamilton Comparisons and Her Musical’s Broadway Future


The ladies of Suffs had a plan. Very like the characters of their buzzy musical—which traces the struggle for girls’s suffrage from 1913 to the passage of the nineteenth Modification in 1920—creator Shaina Taub and her workforce had thought of the right time to make their case to the nation: In Sept. 2020, the present would premiere, falling proper after the centennial of the nineteenth Modification and proper earlier than the litmus check that was the presidential election.

However like the trail to suffrage, there have been nonetheless a number of twists to come back. The pandemic ended up shutting down productions throughout the nation, and Suffs wouldn’t open on the Public Theater in New York Metropolis till March 2022. With President Biden in workplace and the Supreme Courtroom poised to overturn abortion rights, Suffs entered at an much more advanced, and even perhaps extra becoming, second in time.

phillipa soo standing with her right hand raised while shaina taub looks at her

Phillipa Soo and Shaina Taub in Suffs.

Joan Marcus

Taub, who wrote the e book, music, and lyrics, stars within the present as Alice Paul, the unconventional suffragist and chief of the Nationwide Girl’s Get together, who’s decided to safe the suitable to vote in any respect prices, even when it means sidelining her fellow ladies of colour. She clashes with the older Carrie Chapman Catt (Jenn Colella), the president of the Nationwide American Girl Suffrage Affiliation, whose methods Paul finds gradual and inadequate. (Paul, however, is daring in her strategy and ultimately will get thrown in jail, the place she and her cohort are pressure fed after happening a starvation strike.) Their relationship is mirrored by distinguished Black journalist Ida B. Wells (Nikki M. James) and activist Mary Church Terrell (Cassondra James), who’ve pleasant disagreements about work with the white suffragists. By the top of the present, Paul finds that, having lived to see the rise of second wave feminism, she’s now turn into the previous guard—the brand new starting of a mandatory cycle. All of the characters, together with the lads, are performed by ladies and non-binary actors, with ladies of colour typically, and purposefully, portraying traditionally white figures.

Naturally, it’s drawn comparisons to Hamilton, one other historic retelling that first premiered on the Public. Suffs even options one of many main ladies from Hamilton’s unique Broadway solid, Phillipa Soo because the dazzling suffragist and labor lawyer Inez Milholland. Although the musicals have distinct variations (extra on that under), Suffs appears to have taken on among the identical fervor; with performances constantly bought out, Bloomberg reported resale websites have been itemizing Suffs tickets for hundreds of {dollars}. And in the identical manner Hamilton match completely inside the hope-filled Obama period, Suffs appears to mirror the present nationwide temper, reminding us that “the work isn’t over,” “hold marching.”

Taub and I have been first set to speak on Could 3, the day after Politico reported that, per a leaked draft opinion, the Supreme Courtroom would quickly vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. We rescheduled the interview, and Taub and her castmates headed to Foley Sq. in Manhattan to carry out at an abortion rights rally. As information of the leak settled, and I thought of the lengthy street forward for reproductive justice activists, I considered one among Suffs’ early moments, when Paul and her right-hand Lucy Burns (Ally Bonino) contemplate how they’ll plan the 1913 Girl Suffrage Procession, the primary large-scale political march on Washington. Alone in an workplace, the 2 sing to one another: “How will we do it when it’s by no means been performed? How will we discover a manner the place there isn’t one?”

For now, it’s a query audiences must take with them, as Suffs could have its ultimate efficiency on the Public on Could 29. However Taub has hopes for its future. “I’d love for it go to Broadway,” she advised ELLE.com. “I simply really feel it in my bones that we’re not performed. That’s our dream, for certain.” Beneath, she shares extra about how Suffs first got here to be, what it’s been wish to have activists like Gloria Steinem cease by to see the present, and why it’s essential to her to make use of Suffs’ newfound platform to contribute to those ongoing fights.

What first made you assume that the story of girls’s suffrage must be a musical?

Rachel Sussman, one among our producers, gave me the e book that suffragist Doris Stevens wrote known as Jailed for Freedom. I couldn’t imagine it hadn’t made it to me but. In addition to the truth that it’s an untold, essential chapter of our historical past, it was so dramatic and dynamic. These protests the suffragists pioneered have been actually the primary examples in American social actions of this large, visible rhetoric, of literal choreography and music and pageantry and colour and formation and parades, picket traces. Simply the staging of the protests alone was so inherently theatrical to me. Then the extra I went down the rabbit gap of every particular person lady who was concerned, I used to be like, “These are such difficult, fascinating, uncommon, extraordinary, flawed, particular individuals who appear ripe for dramatization.” It simply fired on all cylinders. I stored trying over my shoulder being like, “Another person should be writing about this.” There must be 100 suffrage musicals. There are such a lot of extra tales than my one two-and-a-half-hour present may presumably include.

suffragist nurses demonstrating

A bunch of demonstrators sporting white clothes and sashes that say “Votes for Girls” in New York in 1913.

Ken Florey Suffrage Assortment/GadoGetty Pictures

You’ve beforehand talked about the present modified a bit after the racial reckoning of 2020. How did Suffs evolve throughout that point?

It’s at all times been my intention with the present, from its earliest inception, to be actually trustworthy and unflinching concerning the racism that existed within the motion. Proper earlier than the pandemic was when the primary actual, full draft of the present existed, and we have been about to do a pair extra developmental steps that received minimize brief due to the shutdown. In that 12 months and a half earlier than we ever received again right into a room, me and my collaborators realized, we have now a chance right here to, not solely deepen the script in how we’re portraying the characters of colour and their arcs within the present, but additionally how are we casting the present? How are we being trustworthy concerning the racism inside the historical past and making a manufacturing that represents the values we have now as theater makers?

We introduced on the sensible scholar Ayanna Thompson, who’s so unimaginable with so many issues, however she’s particularly a casting scholar. She actually challenged us to rethink our casting follow. What does it imply to have ladies of colour on stage portraying each ladies of colour and white characters? How may we create a language onstage that would assist an viewers perceive that complexity? It was getting particular and intentional about each single position and the holistic constructing of the ensemble.

Then even offstage, determining, how are we going to make our processes extra inclusive, safer? How will we create extra time and area for dialogue, for compassion within the room? I selected to jot down a present about very fraught subjects of race and gender and sexuality and historical past in our nation, and that requires care. Our hope was to create an atmosphere the place individuals felt empowered to really feel like an actual collaborator within the room.

members of the cast of suffs standing together with their hands clasped in front of them

Shaina Taub, Phillipa Soo, Nikki M. James, Hannah Cruz, Cassondra James, Ally Bonino, Jenn Colella, and Nadia Dandashi from the corporate of Suffs.

Jenny Anderson

After all of the delays, how does it really feel to have the present being carried out now, throughout this political second?

Within the preliminary years, when it was simply me and Rachel, we had these desires of, we’ll do the present, and President Hillary Clinton will come see it. In fact, that didn’t come to move. There was a brand new tone of darkness and dread that overtook all of us. We thought [we’d premiere] in fall 2020 and that the specter of the 2020 election hanging over us could be part of that. Then that didn’t occur. And right here we are actually, on this third American second the place it’s not the optimism of late Obama years coming into what we thought was the primary feminine president. It’s not the existential dread and horror of 45. It’s someplace in between, the place all these forces of oppression are very alive, gaining energy. Our nation’s so divided. Girls are getting legislated out of existence, and but we, ideally, have a progressive champion within the White Home, despite the fact that he possibly is extra average than we want. And we have now the tremendous sturdy progressive actions on the bottom combating.

It’s a thornier second, and I believe all of it form of occurred the way it’s alleged to be, as a result of the present is about that thorniness, [about how] social actions will not be black and white. It’s not the great guys versus the horrible tyrant, and we ultimately prevail and get the change performed, increase, the top. That’s not the way it works. A part of the provocation of the present is you want a multiplicity of techniques to realize change. You want the Alice Pauls burning the president outdoors whereas Carrie Catt is inside having tea with him. Battle inside a motion is definitely wholesome and useful.

shaina taub and jenn colella rehearsing

Shaina Taub and Jenn Colella in rehearsal.

Joan Marcus

How did you resolve to make these intergenerational conflicts such a distinguished a part of the present?

I knew I didn’t wish to make the central battle simply between suffragists of all stripes and the forces in opposition to them, as a result of I didn’t need this to only be this straightforward, we have been on the suitable aspect of historical past [story]. To me, it was extra fascinating to remain inside the motion. And it was this quote I noticed early on that Susan B. Anthony stated, one thing like, “There by no means was a younger lady but who didn’t assume, if solely she had had administration of the work from the beginning, the trigger would’ve been carried way back. I felt simply so after I was younger.” In the event you keep within the motion lengthy sufficient, you turn into that previous guard who’s doing every part too gradual and unsuitable, and the younger are telling you all the explanations you’re doing it unsuitable.

For me, it resonated, not solely within the themes of social actions. I can solely converse for my very own expertise, however as a girl arising in theater, it’s like, you’re younger, and also you’re out of faculty, and also you’re like, the way in which they do issues on this enterprise is backwards, and we’re going to blow all of it up and take over. Then all of us have these moments the place we’re type of like, oh my god, am I the previous one now? Actions or no actions, I wished to dramatize that feeling you might have while you’re like, oh my god, I’m turning into my mom. I hadn’t ever fairly seen that dramatized, that have as a girl of what it feels wish to be encountered by your youthful self and the difficult feeling of that. It’s not all heat and fuzzy.

nikki m james and cassondra james both on stage looking over to their left

Nikki M. James and Cassondra James.

Joan Marcus

The present has been getting a number of Hamilton comparisons. How has that felt?

Hamilton is essentially the most profitable musical of all time, so even to be talked about in the identical sentence as it’s thrilling. I like [Hamilton creator] Lin[-Manuel Miranda], and all of the individuals who made that present have been so extremely supportive. In fact, the superficial similarities are apparent. I wrote it, and I’m starring in it. It’s within the literal identical theater. It’s about American historical past. And in addition, I problem the comparability, as a result of it’s so essentially totally different. Hamilton advised the story of lots of people we all know rather well already, who did have that energy and company to create our Structure. And that energy wasn’t actually questioned.

With Suffs, I’m coping with ladies nearly all of my viewers have by no means met. So that is an entry level. It’s the story of People who have been deliberately, by design, stored out of the techniques of energy and the way they refused to simply accept that and pushed in opposition to it. And furthermore, there’s not a stylistic mashup. With Hamilton, there’s the brilliance of, here’s this founding fable everyone knows, and right here it’s advised by way of hip-hop. With [Suffs], there’s no current thesis. There’s no script to flip. So I didn’t go the route of a pop rock, up to date rating. It’s a narrative of social actions and the messiness of how they get made, and I can’t actually consider one other musical that does that. Perhaps Newsies. And I like Newsies! I noticed the film as a child and was like, “I wish to do Newsies with women.” I really feel like that’s precisely what I did.

phillipa soo pointing to a suffs playbill while standing next to lin manuel miranda

Phillipa Soo and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Bruce GlikasGetty Pictures

lin manuel miranda and shaina taub pose backstage at suffs

Miranda and Shaina Taub backstage at Suffs.

Bruce Glikas

There’s additionally been this activism arm to the present. Hillary Clinton and Lin-Manuel Miranda participated in a Suffs occasion benefitting political motion organizations; the solid went to a rally for abortion rights. Why is that side essential to you?

Music, theater, storytelling, artwork has an enormous position to play within the motion, as a result of we’re capable of humanize these points. Altering the Structure felt fully insurmountable when [the suffragists] began with simply two women within the basement workplace, and but, they did it. In addition they tousled in a number of horrible methods, however each are true. And if they will do it, we are able to do it too.

It’s additionally at all times been my hope that we, as a solid and as a manufacturing, can use no matter platform we have now and id we type as Suffs to lend ourselves to those fights. I’m fortunate to be concerned with a number of organizers inside these progressive actions. After that SCOTUS ruling leaked, it was going round that there was this rally, and Donna Lieberman, who runs the NYCLU, was like, “Would Suffs wish to do one thing?” I despatched out the e-mail to our solid that morning, and instantly, individuals wished to come back. A lot of organizing and mobilization is to not look ahead to an emergency. It’s to be prepared. All it took was one electronic mail to have 15 unimaginable artists already know the tune that was acceptable for the second to sing for the trigger. And that’s at all times been one among my objectives; we’re like emergency responder artists, able to roll. I hope that may occur time and again.

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Activists have additionally come to see the present, individuals like Gloria Steinem and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. What have their reactions been like?

I used to be actually honored that they appeared to specific that it resonated with the issues they’ve handled. I’ve seen it play out amongst AOC and all these younger new legislators who’re like, Inexperienced New Deal now, well being look after all now, and also you see an older era [in] Nancy Pelosi being like, “Nicely, we have now to do…” That actual divide feels alive in the way it behooves the techniques of energy to make us assume that the narrative is about them versus one another, when actually, I imagine they’re combating for a similar factor however simply have totally different techniques. And like I stated earlier than, I believe you want the Alices and Carries. You want the AOCs and the Pelosis. So to really get to sit down and chat with them about that was very significant. Additionally Alice Paul lived by way of 1977, and I’d been dying to ask Gloria Steinem if they’d ever encountered one another. She stated they hadn’t, as a result of in Alice’s later life she was in a nursing dwelling, they usually hadn’t crossed paths. But it surely’s loopy. You possibly can attain again and contact this historical past.

alexandria ocasio cortez and shaina taub

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Shaina Taub.

Bruce GlikasGetty Pictures

the cast surrounding gloria steinem and sandra oh

Gloria Steinem and Sandra Oh backstage at Suffs.

Bruce GlikasGetty Pictures

What do you hope for the way forward for the present?

All of us have large desires for it. We’d like to do it once more right here in New York, and my hope is to someday take it across the nation, and even past that, for faculties and communities to have the ability to put it on themselves. However I don’t really feel even one hundred pc completed with the writing. Being within the present each night time, there’s a lot I’ve discovered, and I’m so excited to maintain engaged on it. Now we have unimaginable producers and this unimaginable momentum, and I really feel hopeful that we’ll get to have a future to do this. So I imply, I’m not going wherever.

This interview has been edited and condensed for readability.

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