New Residential College play depicts first female UM students

Sunday, January 8, 2017 - 3:32pm

LSA juniors Emma McGlashen and Sophia Kaufman are working on a play for the bicentennial celebration that will follow the trials and tribulations faced by the first five women to attend the University of Michigan.

“The Dangerous Experiment” will debut in East Quad’s Keane Theatre on Feb. 10 at 8 p.m. and run until Feb. 12. The play will depict the stories of five women who came to the University in 1871, and were a part of the first co-ed graduating class in 1876.

Kaufman, also a Daily arts reporter, explained how the title of the play stems from real events occurring at the University.

“The title is a direct quote from a meeting in which leaders of the University debated whether to admit women into the University,” Kaufman said. “The play follows five women ... all based on real women, including Madelon Stockwell, Amanda Sanford, Alice Freeman Palmer, Annie Smith Peck, Julia Knight Edwards and Olive San Louie Anderson.”

The play was commissioned by the Residential College as a part of the University’s bicentennial celebration where LSA will dedicate its winter and fall 2017 semesters to exploring the impact of the University on the world throughout history. Each semester will include a variety of programs for students, administration and the public that examines the University’s legacy from a variety of perspectives.

Both McGlashen and Kaufman have backgrounds in theater at the University and worked together on Shakespeare in the Arb this past summer. The pair are also working closely with LSA Drama Prof. Katherine Mendeloff, a lecturer in the Residential College, who is producing the play and has been the artistic director of Shakespeare in the Arb since its creation in 2001.

Mendeloff, who has directed a variety of plays for the Residential College, said the upcoming play is notable because it is based off primary sources as well as part of the University’s bicentennial celebration.

“ ‘The Dangerous Experiment’ is unusual in that it was commissioned for the 200th anniversary of U of M, and is developed from primary sources,” Mendeloff said. “Several storylines were taken from a novel written by one of the first co-ed graduates, Olive San Louie Anderson, who wrote about her experiences at the college as a member of that first group of women.”

The directors noted how the message of the play resonated with them, especially because the inequalities women faced in 1871 have not vanished completely. They said the main characters of the play struggle to be taken seriously by both the administration and their male peers, and cast members used this struggle as a talking point to discuss the lives of older relatives who faced similar issues in school.

Furthermore, McGlashen noted one of the main goals behind “The Dangerous Experiment” was to bring history and notable historical figures to life, through a fictionalized account of the very real pressure they faced from the community and University.

“One of the main objectives of our project is to humanize the history,” McGlashen said. “To enforce the fact that these historical retrospectives that the University is doing for the bicentennial are based on living, breathing people who experienced many of the same joys and frustrations that students and faculty experience today.”

Both Mendeloff and the play’s directors said the play is a good fit for both the Residential College and the bicentennial celebration because of its basis in history and relevance to current issues faced by female students.

“I think that ‘The Dangerous Experiment’ perfectly represents how the bicentennial is not only an opportunity to look back and see how far we’ve come, but to think about how we can push ourselves now even further in the pursuit of equality,” Kaufman said.