How does one commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment?
It was something Jason Heald, director of music at Umpqua Community College, might not have thought about before he was approached by the League of Women Voters of Umpqua Valley to do just that.
Heald knew he wanted to honor the anniversary through music. It is, after all, what he does. When he was reminded of an earlier work on Abigail Scott Duniway, who is considered Oregon’s Mother of Equal Suffrage, the pieces started to fall together.
The musical known as “Frontier Family Feud” was born. The idea began as a full musical, but when the pandemic hit partway through working on the piece, Heald decided it could still be viable as a recorded performance, which would then in-turn make it easier to share in educational settings.
“We have a two-fold objective. We want to commemorate the event, we want to provide accurate historical information and interest students in that, but at the same time we want to interest students in live performance,” Heald said.
Heald recruited Donna Spicer and Hugh Heinrichsen as actors and Debra Gaddis on piano to bring his vision to life. The musical is historically and biographically driven and based on the volatile relationship between Abigail Scott Duniway and her younger brother, Harvey Scott.
“We looked at biographical material on her and took the story, that to me was such a compelling story about the relationship between Abigail Scott Duniway and her brother Harvey Scott,” Heald said.
Their relationship was a turbulent one. Duniway devoted her life to women’s rights, as well as addressing other social injustices. Scott, on the other hand, was in opposition of many of her ideas. Their disagreements went beyond family arguments, filling the pages of the newspapers both were involved in.
“The content itself is very series as it relates to the relationship between the brother and sister, but the way Jason has put it together, there is humor in some of the lyrics,” Heinrichsen said.
As a musical, there isn’t really any dialogue. Heinrichsen describes it as monologues that go back and forth between the two, often dovetailed off of what the other has to say. There is even an argument between the two, all through song.
Scott was a fun role for Heinrichsen to play.
“Here’s this guy that we could look at and vilify as this wicked man, which was kind of fun to play some of that, but my desire was to create a sense of humanity in him,” Heinrichsen said. “This was a guy that did have a different political opinion, but he was a human being and for whatever reason, it all made sense to him then and there.”
Neither Spicer or Heinrichsen are strangers to performances, but this is Spicer’s first lead role in a historically driven production. She said she learned a lot from the role.
“She saw how hard women’s lives were, she got it. It was definitely man’s world, woman’s world with defined roles of that time period, and she bucked them,” Spicer said. “She had all these struggles, but she was never willing to give up. Quite the achievement.”
The production was recorded and released on YouTube last month. The hope, Heald said, was to make this a piece that can be watched as well as reenacted. The script is available by contacting the League of Women Voters of Umpqua Valley.
“The take away for me that I would want students to walk away with is that your life can actually make a difference,” Heinrichsen said. “Obstacles don’t hinder the mission. Here we have individuals who allowed their convictions to drive them and faced a lot of struggles along the way. But when you invest in something beyond yourself and live for that, amazing things can happen.”