In Rutland, Women Weave Stories And Song Together In Musical, 'Quilters'

Oct 13, 2017

Quilts have historically been created out of left over scraps of fabric; pieces stitched together to create something both practical and beautiful.

In Rutland, a group of women will perform Quilters, the musical, a play first performed in 1982 that explores the joys and sorrows a group of pioneer women face and the quilts they sew that weave their lives and stories together.

Quilters is not a linear musical with a beginning, middle and end. It’s more a collection of vignettes and memories; separate stories woven together, like the squares of a quilt.

Rutland resident Maureen Sullivan leads the cast of six and plays Sarah, the mother of all the women.

“So my character is a quilter, an old woman who is building her last quilt,” says Sullivan. “And she’s decided to use squares that remind her of different parts of her life and different stories she knows about women who are her friends and her children and her neighbors.”

For instance one of the squares is made from a piece of her wedding dress, while another square comes from a yellow muslin dress she wore after her son was born.

The blocks in the quilt recall stories of love and heartache, a deadly prairie fire, a lost romance, childbirth and old age.

“It’s all the aspects of the difficulties of life, yet it’s the strength of these women that prevails," says director Jennifer Bagley.

And she says many of the challenges facing women a century-and-a-half-ago still face women today.

"This particular play, which is talking about the strength and the collaboration of women, it’s so timely now," says Bagley, "because of things that are going on in our country."

"Everybody believes in it even more strongly," she adds, "because we need to be reminded of the role women play and all of the issues that are still very much relevant.” 

Each performer plays 12 different roles, acting as well as singing, which Maureen Sullivan says is challenging. But she says she loves the music and the underlying message. 

“I think for me the whole play is a letter I am writing to my daughters with this quilt that I have built and put together,” she says.

"The letter says, ‘I leave you this quilt, and I want you to use it,' explains  Sullivan. "'And Jenny you keep it for a year and then you pass it on to the next sister,' and she’ll keep it for a year and the next one and the next one, 'and while you have it you’ll tell my grandchildren and my great grandchildren the stories of each of the different squares.'" 

Passing on the family’s history she says smiling.

Or as one of the central songs notes:

The patches and tatters…

All of the precious, the little, the matter of our lives…the stitches and secrets…pieces of women’s lives.

Several of the performers, including Sullivan, are actual quilters. Jennifer Bagley says it’s an art that’s still very much alive in Vermont, which is why she was so intrigued by this musical.

Besides Rutland the group will perform the show in four other nearby communities and Bagley says women in each town helped stitch parts of the quilt they use in the show.

“There will be quilters in the audience,” says Bagley. “So, when we go to Middlebury (Jan. 20) there’s someone from the Middlebury quilting organization who made a couple of the squares.”

It’ll be the same when they perform in Shrewsbury on Nov. 12, Dorset on Feb. 10 and Brandon on March 10. Tickets are free, but Bagley says they'll ask patrons for a goodwill offering.

After their last show in Rutland on April 7, she says they’ll raffle off the quilt from the play and all proceeds from the show will go to the NewStory Center, formally known as the Rutland County Women’s Network and Shelter.