BURLINGTON — This Saturday, Colchester's Julia Sioss will take to the theatrical stage for the first time in almost two years.
She's a star in "The Suffragist Reenactment Society," a play commissioned by the Vermont Suffrage Centennial Alliance and written, acted and directed by Vermont women. It debuts on Saturday at Main Street Landing in Burlington. The hour-long show is one of ten performances taking place statewide in October.
Originally scheduled to debut in fall 2020, but delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the play commemorates the centennial anniversary of the passage 19th amendment, which gave many, but not all, U.S. women the right to vote.
Though Sioss has not acted during the pandemic, she's been busy behind the scenes. Before graduating from the University of Vermont in May, she directed both her senior capstone and "A Year with Frog and Toad" with Lyric Theatre. She also serves on the board of Vermont Shakespeare.
"I don't like to choose between directing and acting," she said. "It's really nice to be able to see a production from both sides."
Sioss is joined on stage this weekend by Kathryn Blume and Sarah Mell, from Charlotte and Winooski, respectively. The show is written be Mary Beth McNulty and directed by Laura Roald.
The Sun's Bridget Higdon caught up with Sioss at a rehearsal of the "The Suffragist Reenactment Society" earlier this week. Here's what Sioss had to say about the show, growing up in Colchester and her journey to theater.
Q: When did you first become interested in acting?
A: I always liked to play pretend as a little kid. I was always encouraged to go in the backyard and play with the sticks and imagine my world. I participated in a lot of Colchester Recreation programs.
My older sister danced at Spotlight Vermont, in the warehouse right behind Costco. After watching her for so long, I decided I wanted to dance too. Ten years later, I found singing, and then two years later I found acting. From then on, it's just been an obsession.
Q: How did you get involved with "The Suffragist Reenactment Society?"
A: I got involved with the project because Sarah Mell, who is one of the actors, and I have this beautiful mentorship-relationship. We met when we did Lyric Theatre's "Mary Poppins" when I was 16, and then I went to the University of Vermont, and Sara works in the Women and Gender Equity Center there.
We were also in Vermont Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew" together, and in that show, we were just buddies. Life pulled us together in this really wonderful, beautiful way.
Sara included me in "The Suffragist Reenactment Society" when they were looking for a twenty-something year-old to be in the show.
Q: Who do you play in the show?
A: I play Lin, who is a bit naive. This isn't in Mary Beth's script, but I like to think she's just gotten into activism, the pandemic really pushed her towards it. She's the treasurer of the Reenactment Society. She loves costume history and designs all the costumes for the group. She is interested in learning about the women of color and the movement, and looking at the history visually, because she is, as she proclaims, a visual learner.
This is a challenge for me, to play a bit more of like an open-eyed and questioning character. I don't usually get the opportunity to do that, so it's been really fun.
Q: What has being in this show taught you about women's suffrage?
A: I've learned so much; it's ridiculous. I came into this play kind of being like, 'okay I'll play a twenty-something year-old,' and I didn't know much about it besides that it was a play about the suffrage movement. But then I went to the table read, and it was this amazing play about deconstructing white supremacy and how to not cancel people.
You can acknowledge that Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B Anthony, Alice Paul and all of those amazing suffragists were very flawed people, while still understanding that they did amazing things or that they were good and socialized to do terrible things.
Q: What do you hope audiences take away from the play?
A: I hope there's a little bit of arguing afterward. I hope people feel a little uncomfortable, because I certainly felt uncomfortable.
That's the point of the play: to reckon with the dissonance that our heroes did bad things for sure, yet we're still grateful for them. Victoria Woodhull, for example, was the first woman to run for president, almost 50 years before women had the right to vote. She was a proponent of free love, laid a lot of groundwork for the queer community, but was also a eugenicist. All of those things exist within this one extraordinary and complicated person.