The Department of Language Studies and the Arts, along with the Saint Leo University Theater Arts Program, put on an original play in the Black Box theater that ran from Oct. 28 through Oct. 30. The play, entitled “Women on the Move,” followed the history of Saint Leo through the eyes of the Benedictine Sisters of Florida.
The play was one year and a half in the making. It was written by several students inspired by and under the guidance of Dr. Alicia Corts, an assistant professor of Dramaturgy at the University Campus. The play required a great deal of research into the lives of the Benedictine sisters, as well as Saint Leo’s development. The students made use of the Internet, archives, newspaper articles, and even a dinner meeting with the nuns themselves. The process proved fruitful; the students were able to produce a script which, with Dr. Corts as the director, became the play that it is today.
The title “Women on the Move” came about because the Sisters were always experiencing change throughout their lives, as a line from the closing of the play, “We are sisters on the move,” aptly describes. Since their landing in Pittsburgh, PA from Bavaria in 1889, the Sisters have experienced three different moves; From Pennsylvania to San Antonio, FL, then to Saint Leo, and lastly to their new monastery across the street from the University.
The history of their movements is linked to the Theater Arts community at Saint Leo finding their new home. After the construction of Benedictine Hall in 1960, the sisters made another important move 50 years later.
In 2014, the Sisters moved into the newly built “Holy Name Monastery,” which was right across the road from their former home. This move facilitated the construction of a new Black Box Theater inside Benedictine Hall; the same theater in which the Sisters story is now being told.
Corts said, “When I first had the idea to produce a show based on the lives of the Benedictine sisters, the motivation was simple: gratitude. There hasn’t been a theatre at Saint Leo for decades, and to have a new home means the world to the students and me.”
The play took the audience through the trials associated with setting up and eventually moving their monastery and their lives during the development of the University. It opened with a hymn to set the tone of the play. The show made use of a narrator that introduced each scene with either a synopsis or a story that linked it to previous scenes.
The narrator began the story of how the Benedictine Sisters to San Antonio, which needed teachers. This ironically started with a judge, who decided to create a “Catholic paradise,” to which many came as a means of escaping Catholic persecution.
Upon arrival, the Sisters were made to stay in the old Sultenfuss Hotel, which later became the “Holy Name.” The convent was a bit of a distance away from the school on the shores of Lake Jovita. Therefore, in 1911, they decided to move the convent closer to the school by rolling it on logs pulled by oxen. The move took six summer weeks to complete.
The play depicted many of the hardships faced by the Sisters, such as the persecution they faced after they arrived in one town and were instantly thought to be witches, as well as the death of a fellow sister.
There were also many moments of humor throughout the show, such as a scene in which two male students, who were known troublemakers, decided to skip class and take two girls out on the lake. They were soon met with trouble when their boat began to sink and Sister Rosaria was awaiting them onshore. They also depicted the origin of the theater club started by Sister Mora, affectionately known as “Mighty Mo.”
The play continued with the growth of the monastery over the years as more sisters joined and played integral roles in the Saint Leo community. This paralleled the development of the school, its cafeteria, and its clubs. The play closed with the Sister’s move from Benedictine Hall to the Holy Name Monastery across the street.
The sold-out show drew an audience of about 50 people per night. There was even a matinee added to the weekend to accommodate the demand for seating. Those in attendance included Saint Leo students and faculty, family of the cast, and nuns of the Benedictine Sister of Florida. The play was very well received.
“This was a good way for people of the Saint Leo community to learn more about the history of the Benedictine sisters; more than they knew when they came here. I truly enjoyed the play especially the scene depicting Mighty Mo,” said Barbara Molloy, an oblate to the monastery.
Andrina Pierre, a sophomore biology major, said, “The play was well done. You could see the effort the student put into creating it. I love that each of the nuns had very different personalities that all balanced each other. The play has taught me quite a bit about the Benedictine sisters, and I have a newly-found respect for them.”
The play went off seamlessly. The cast seemed well rehearsed and confident in their abilities and the stage crew worked hard to ensure that the lighting, music and sound effects were on point.
According to Corts, “The opening night was fine. The audience seemed to enjoy it, and that was the purpose- to build something for the Saint Leo community. Therefore, if the community enjoyed it, then it was a success. The play went as I expected. All the cast had notes, and that is how things are in educational drama. Not everything is exactly rehearsed.”
Overall, “Women on the Move” was a wonderful and educational experience. The Saint Leo Theater Program has other events coming up next semester, such as “A Walk in the Woods” by Lee Blessing that will run from Jan. 27-28. Do not miss out on an opportunity to personally experience work of these talented students.