Playwright Callie Kimball has written a new play about women’s suffrage called “Perseverance.” Portland Stage is doing a reading of the show on Nov. 4. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

To help mark the centennial of women winning the right to vote, Maine playwright Callie Kimball is writing a fictional play that explores the lives of two schoolteachers who occupy the same space a century apart.

“Perseverance” tells the story of Perseverance Turner, an African-American schoolteacher, writer and suffragist, who works to raise her students above their circumstances, and Dawn Davis, a white schoolteacher who is running for political office on a platform of education reform 100 years later, in 2020.

Their lives intersect when Davis finds Turner’s letters in the basement of the schoolhouse where Turner taught. Davis has purchased the building at auction and is renovating it.

Portland Stage gives the play a staged reading at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 4. The reading will occur on the theater’s main stage and will be directed by Cait Robinson, who is fresh off directing “The Clean House” at Portland Stage. It will feature actors Abigail Killeen (who also appeared in “The Clean House”), Tim Dugan, Janice O’Rourke, Dustin Tucker, Bari Robinson and Jessica Speight. Todd Brian Backus will read the stage directions.

The reading is presented in coordination with the Maine Suffrage Centennial Collaborative, which commissioned the play. It also will be read at 6 p.m. Nov. 14 at the Maine State Library in Augusta. Based on feedback she receives from the readings, Kimball may revise her script, and hopes the play will receive a fully staged production in 2020.

The Portland reading of “Perseverance” comes nearly exactly a century after Maine voters ratified the 19th amendment, on Nov. 5, 1919. It became the law of land in 1920, giving women the right to vote.

The readings are part of a long series of events about women’s suffrage presented by the Maine Suffrage Centennial Collaborative, including movies, book groups and historical talks. The November First Friday Art Walk in Portland, happening this week, will be dedicated to the theme with multimedia messaging, pop-up exhibitions, concerts, spoken word and poetry performances. From 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, LumenARRT! will project suffragette footage in Monument Square and voting rights information on the facade of the Portland Public Library.

Kimball has written historical fiction before, using events and people from the past to tell a story in the present. She had hoped to do the same with “Perseverance,” but wasn’t interested in writing a suffrage play centered around Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton or other widely-known figures from the long-fought fight for women’s voting rights. She also wanted an African-American suffragist at the heart of her story, and couldn’t identify one with roots in Maine around whom she could tell the story.

So she created characters and based her play on the events and moods of the day, both 100 years ago, when the 19th amendment was ratified and became law, and today, when the fair treatment of women and others who have been marginalized remains a prevailing issue in politics and across the culture.

“Percy is a schoolteacher, teaching a small group of African-American children in the cellar of a building. She is a teacher, a suffragist and an unpublished writer, living in a cellar and just trying to do her work,” Kimball said. “She is a mix of passion and formality. She uses her commas.”

One hundred years later, Davis continues the effort by trying to reform the local educational system, and draws inspiration from Turner’s letters and their shared history. She is idealistic, earnest and “a bit self-serious,” Kimball said.

“Perseverance” is a story about the unlikely intersection of their shared work over time to improve the lives of those in their communities.

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