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Chicago School and Local Theatre Company Offer Students a Unique Opportunity

Chicago’s Josephinum Academy, a Sacred Heart school, is teaming up with resident troupe Polarity Ensemble Theatre to present the world premiere of Chuck Palia’s The Society of Adventurous Women. The production will be directed by Polarity’s David Fehr and assistant director Sarah Baughman and will feature a mostly female cast of students portraying notorious women of history, including Mata Hari, Grace O’Malley, Virginia Dare, Hannah Reisch, Jackie Cochran, Josephine Earp and others. Fehr and Baughman spent weeks on actor training with the cast before they began working on the script.

“You don’t often see a high school production that features a world premiere play directed and produced by the professional staff of a local theatre company,” says Polarity Artistic Director Richard Engling. “We’d been working with Chuck on developing his play, and when the Josephinum asked us to help them with a student production, I saw a great opportunity. Producing new work is part of our mission.”

The Society of Adventurous Women takes us to a bar in the Netherworld where only adventurous women can enter. They may not buy drinks, but instead must earn them by telling the stories of their heroic endeavors. Bartender Joseph, the only male, sends Grace O’Malley into history to recruit young women with an appetite for adventure to join their ranks, and she returns with a mysterious Young Woman who is pivotal in the lives of young women everywhere.

Playwright Chuck Palia, a retired high school drama teacher, says he was inspired not only by the novel, The Captain’s Table, in which great fictional captains from history gather to tell their stories, but also by the abundance of female talent in schools and the ironic lack of meaty roles for women. This play certainly embodies that theme.

Palia says, “I could have chosen the ‘usual suspects’ like Joan of Arc, Cleopatra, Amelia Earhart, and others, but I chose to go with a few of the many adventurous women throughout the ages… I recently read an article about Amelia Earhart and the author stated that if not for the fact that Amelia mysteriously disappeared over Japanese held islands supposedly on a secret spy mission for President Roosevelt that she would have been relegated to the ranks of Hannah Reisch and Jackie Cochran.”

School president Michael Dougherty stresses the importance of opportunities for women to make themselves heard and feels that drama is one of the best ways to do that. Perhaps Josephinum alum Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street would agree. Dougherty describes the partnership with resident troupe Polarity Ensemble as mutually beneficial.

Polarity Ensemble Theatre was named “Best Emerging Theater Company” for 2008 by the Chicago Reader. At the Josephinum, Polarity has produced The White Airplane, The Rivals, A Streetcar Named Desire and their annual Dionysos Cup Festival of New Plays. The winner of last year’s festival, The Good Harvest by Lisa Rosenthal, will be presented in March at Josephinum for Polarity’s second world premiere of 2010.

The Society of Adventurous Women performs at the Josephinum Academy (Theater – second floor), 1501 N. Oakley Boulevard, Chicago, IL 60622. All performances are at 7:30pm. Previews: Friday, Jan. 15 and Saturday, Jan. 16. Regular performances: Thursday, Jan. 21and Saturday, Jan. 23. There will be a Special Performance Friday, Jan. 22 with a wine and cheese reception and a discussion with the cast and playwright after the show. Tickets for the special performance are $10. Tickets for all other performances are $5 in advance or $10 at the door. For advance tickets call the Josephinum front office at (773) 276-1261.

Established in 1890 in Chicago’s Wicker Park, Josephinum Academy serves 150 junior high and high school girls that hail from over 36 zip codes. The mission of Josephinum Academy is to empower young women to become confident, faith-filled leaders. The academy teaches its students to overcome economic disadvantages (more than 75% come from poverty) by preparing for success in college (100% college acceptance rate for graduates over the last 3 years). Tuition paid by students is approximately 10-15% of the actual cost of their education. Josephinum is in formation to become the 22nd member of the network of Sacred Heart Schools.

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