Actresses in “Quilters,” from left, SaraJane Benjamin, Maddie Montana, Susan Cates, Sarah Shea, Marissa Wilson, Charisa Silliman, and Gabi Simonson perform the song “Thread the Needle.” Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Actresses in “Quilters,” from left, SaraJane Benjamin, Maddie Montana, Susan Cates, Sarah Shea, Marissa Wilson, Charisa Silliman, and Gabi Simonson perform the song “Thread the Needle.” Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

‘Quilters’ pieces together pioneer women’s journey at OTA

Seven women share life on the frontier in musical play

From birth to death and everything in-between, “Quilters” touches on everyday things that happen to a woman while traversing the American frontier — with parallels to today — says actress Susan Cates.

The latest production from Olympic Theatre Arts brings seven women together for a three-week run, telling tales of braving tough terrain and raising families with song and dance layered in.

“It’s basically telling the story and experience of pioneer women as a whole,” actress Charisa Silliman said. “We we each play pioneer women as a whole, but with their triumphs and tragedies.”

“It’s like watching a documentary on pioneer people with music,” she said.

Directed by Richard Stephens, “Quilters,” runs Feb. 21-March 8 with shows at 7:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays.

Tickets are $24, $22 for OTA members and $15 for students with ID. Advance seats available online at www.OlympicTheatreArts.org or by calling 360-683-7326.

“Quilters” brings together interrelated stories on the trail of the good — childhood and marriage — along with the bad — fire and illness.

Rollercoaster

“It’s a roller coaster ride,” said actress SaraJane Benjamin. “It goes from a low to a turnaround of singing about toys and children. Within 30 seconds, we’re frozen to death to singing children.”

Cates said it’s challenging but a nice skill to develop as an actor.

“It’s like an improv mindset,” Benjamin said.

“You engage with the audience and lift them back up. Richard has helped us key into that and help with transitions.”

Stephens agrees that it puts people “through an emotional ringer.”

“These women have guts and determination,” he said.

“There’s no general store, no Starbucks. They built everything with their own two hands and do it while bringing out 16 children, with no modern medicine or electricity or Amazon Prime, or any of the things we take for granted every day.”

Following recent snowfall, actress Sarah Shea said she was thinking about the adversity women faced on the frontier.

“I was keeping my heat down because it can be expensive, and I kept thinking of these characters in these little dugouts, but making due,” she said. “It kept a positive mindset in me, ‘Oh Sarah quit your complaining.’ It helps you keep things in perspective.”

Fellow actress Gabi Simonson agreed saying people “can handle more than we think we can.”

“The mind gives up before the body does and we never push ourselves,” she said.

A nod

Cast and crew agree the show pays homage to our mothers and grandmothers from yesteryear.

“It’s a nod to the women who settled this area and braved the wilderness and made a life out of here,” Benjamin said.

Stephens feels it shows women handing off the torch to the next generation and saying, “You can do it.”

“It’s about the resiliency of women, and that’s a story to tell,” he said.

Cates said in the past the phrase “women’s work” and being a homemaker was not valued in society, but “Quilters” reinforces how much effort went into keeping a home and raising a family and children.

“It’s critically important,” she said.

A new mom, Shea said she has a lot more respect for women birthing babies in the days without epidurals and bath tubs with bubble bath.

For Silliman, the show serves as a reminder that “women’s bodies have not been their own.”

“They were property to be bred with and work, and (had) no say over what they could and couldn’t do with their bodies,” she said. “It’s sobering.”

Women and men

Silliman added that it’s important for men to see the show to understand what women went and continue to go through in life.

“Women have been integral in forming the country,” Silliman said. “We did all the footwork. We did everything necessary to keep people alive.”

Stephens said it’s a funny dichotomy when people ask, “Why would a guy want to see a show with seven women? But no one says, ‘Why would a guy want to see a show with seven men?’”

“The reality is when people see this or read the play, they say they could never do what these women did,” he said.

As one of the few men involved in the production, Stephens said he’s loved “Quilters” for years and asked for an opportunity to direct only if no women wanted to direct.

“It’s such a wonderful show about the strength of women and the power and fortitude of women,” he said. “It is a story that very much about the early days of Sequim. This is our story.”

He said westerns typically focus on men and guns.

“But the reality is it was women working very hard in adverse conditions,” Stephens said. “They dug irrigation ditches and planted farms and ran schools. That’s how the west was contained.”

For more information about Olympic Theatre Arts and “Quilters,” visit www.olympictheatrearts.org, or call 360-683-7326.

Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

‘Quilters’

A musical play by Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek

When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 21-March 8,

Where: Olympic Theatre Arts, 414 N. Sequim Ave.

Tickets: $24 general public, $22 OTA members, $15 for students with ID

• In advance at www.OlympicTheatreArts.org, at box office from 1-5 p.m. Monday-Friday

Pay-What-You-Will show, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27

• Sunday shows are a Talkback show with Q&A with cast and crew

More info: 360-683-7326.

Actresses with “Quilters” ready quilts while singing “Needle’s Eye” to celebrate a man’s 21st birthday on the frontier. Some of the women are family members while others are hoping to catch his eye, says director Richard Stephens. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Actresses with “Quilters” ready quilts while singing “Needle’s Eye” to celebrate a man’s 21st birthday on the frontier. Some of the women are family members while others are hoping to catch his eye, says director Richard Stephens. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

A group of women form a wagon train during their journey of “Quilters” to depict some of the hardships they encounter on the frontier trail. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

A group of women form a wagon train during their journey of “Quilters” to depict some of the hardships they encounter on the frontier trail. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Actresses with “Quilters” ready quilts while singing “Needle’s Eye” to celebrate a man’s 21st birthday on the frontier. Some of the women are family members while others are hoping to catch his eye, says director Richard Stephens. Right, SaraJane Benjamin looks to baptize Maddie Montana during a scene. Sequim Gazette photos by Matthew Nash

Actresses with “Quilters” ready quilts while singing “Needle’s Eye” to celebrate a man’s 21st birthday on the frontier. Some of the women are family members while others are hoping to catch his eye, says director Richard Stephens. Right, SaraJane Benjamin looks to baptize Maddie Montana during a scene. Sequim Gazette photos by Matthew Nash

Charisa Silliman puts out flames from a fire on Maddie Montana as SaraJane Benjamin looks on. Actresses say “Quilters” shows the many ups and downs of pioneer women’s lives traveling west. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Charisa Silliman puts out flames from a fire on Maddie Montana as SaraJane Benjamin looks on. Actresses say “Quilters” shows the many ups and downs of pioneer women’s lives traveling west. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

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