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Key West Play Calls Back To Women's Fight For The Right To Vote

an image of the screen with actors in the play a Flourish of hatpins rehearsing on zoom
Courtesy Karen Leonard
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The cast of "A Flourish of Hatpins" rehearsed and recorded on Zoom, which playwright Karen Leonard turned into a streaming film.

Karen Leonard first came up with "A Flourish of Hatpins," her play about a Key West family during the suffrage movement, five years ago. It was part of a program marking the 100th anniversary of the Key West Woman's Club.

Since it was set right when the Amendment was being ratified, she knew she wanted to revamp it and produce it for the anniversary. But COVID-19 meant she couldn't put on a staged reading at a Key West nightclub, as she'd originally planned.

"I decided to continue the effort. Because I didn't want to throw that whole play away," she said. "So I decided to look into Zoom as my vehicle. And Zoom is really difficult to work with. You don't really always look good on Zoom, and the sound isn't good."

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Leonard didn't have a template, tech help or a co-director — but she had most of the cast, she recruited some new members and they rehearsed and recorded the play on Zoom.

The play is set in Key West and Washington D.C. and centers on a family of women. Edith runs a boardinghouse in Key West with her two daughters, the younger of whom decided to go to Washington and open a hat shop.

Edith's sister, Abigail, is an organizer for the suffrage movement, working to get the final vote in Congress.

"Women didn't just win the vote," Leonard said. "They fought for it. It's incredible how this just keeps repeating itself. And how social injustice continues. So we just keep fighting."

Flourish-online-graphic2.jpg
The Studios of Key West
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Leonard said researching that time period has affected how she views the movement for racial justice now taking place.

"It's made me feel stronger about the fight. I always think that in order to achieve social justice people have to go through such aggravation and sometimes violence. It's unfortunate but that's the way that our country works and probably very global in its nature," she said. "People have to have a very very loud bang in order to make themselves heard."

Leonard said she was determined to go ahead with the play, even if they couldn't perform it together in front of a live audience.

"I think that people are so cut off from each other now that they can't go to anything live whether it's music or dance — I'm not talking about everybody, but people who love live performance, who understand the value of it, need it as part of their lives," she said. "I'm going to guess that there are a lot of very smart software designers now working on programs to make this a better way to produce theater, dance, music."

Despite a cast in locations including Boston, Miami Beach, Colorado and Key West, Leonard said she still got the joy of creating a collaborative work of art.

"We would sit and laugh altogether and say the funniest things and then go back and do the scene again. I mean, it's not like being in person. But it's the next best thing," she said. "And doesn't have any germs."

"A Flourish Of Hatpins" is available to stream from The Studios of Key West through Sunday,

This story is part of “Intermission,” a WLRN series looking at how South Florida’s arts community is coping during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you’ve got a story for us, please send an email to talktous@wlrnnews.org, with the word “Intermission” in the subject line.