‘Mill Girls’ Play a Labor of Love and Learning Written, Directed by Cathedral Member Peter Harrigan
A 14-member student cast at Saint Michael’s College started work on Labor Day, which felt appropriate, for a new original play with music about the lives of 19th century girls who worked the mills of New England towns like Lowell, MA, and Winooski, VT.
Peter Harrigan, professor of fine arts at St. Michael’s College and member of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, wrote and directed the new play, aptly titled Mill Girls.
Performances are scheduled for November 2, 3,4,10 & 11 at 7:00 PM in the McCarthy Arts Center Theater.
Performances are scheduled for November 2, 3,4,10 & 11 at 7:00 PM in the McCarthy Arts Center Theater. All performances are free and open to the public. Cathedral goers may recognize another familiar face in the production, as well. Harrigan’s husband, the Rev. Stan Baker, will be in the pit band.
Mill Girls features an ambitious musical score by the well-established Burlington-area talent Tom Cleary, who long has been involved with Saint Michael’s Playhouse productions and many other local projects. Cleary will lead a small band for performances, including his wife, vocalist and teacher Amber DeLaurentis, Saint Michael’s Fine Arts Professor Bill Ellis on guitar, and Stan Baker on cello.
“Mill Girls” as a concept for this year’s history-charged and socially conscious “Mainstage” production at the College arose as Harrigan, now in his 27th year of teaching, looked for new ways both to challenge himself as a director and teacher and to model different artistic approaches for students, he said.
The resulting production has been a semester-long teaching tool across multiple disciplines on the Colchester campus.
The resulting production has been a semester-long teaching tool across multiple disciplines on the Colchester campus. For example, at 4 p.m. on Thursday, October 19 in the McCarthy Recital Hall will be an “Academic Panel” discussing the issues presented by the play; Harrigan tapped a History Department colleague’s earlier research and knowledge as he wrote the play; and the student cast will present an abridged version of the play for Winooski school children based on lesson plans from colleagues in the College’s Education Department.
Harrigan said that in creating Mill Girls, he took the approach of creating a “collage” from primary sources, as he had observed and admired in earlier productions that he directed, including “The Laramie Project,” “Mad Forest,” and “Execution of Justice.” In each case, the authors used non-theatrical materials – newspaper articles, court transcripts, interviews, journal entries, to name a few – to examine historical incidents and create a script for a play, he said.
“When I directed these plays, I found that undergraduate actors were able to make a deeper connection…because it all ‘actually happened.’”
“When I directed these plays, I found that undergraduate actors were able to make a deeper connection to the emotional lives of the characters and the troubling incidents depicted in the plays, because it all ‘actually happened.’ With a theatrical collage project in mind, I searched for a story from the past that would speak to student performers, and audience members, in the present,” Harrigan said.
He didn’t have to look very far since the Champlain Mill and the other industrial structures from the 19th century are still part of the local architectural landscape. But the stories of the original uses of the buildings and the people who labored within them are perhaps less known, he said.
Read More on the St Michael’s College Website: http://www.smcvt.edu/news/2017/october/mill-girls-a-labor-of-love-and-learning.aspx
Photos courtesy of St. Michael’s College Website.