On the Souls of her Feet

On the Souls of Her Feet: an original musical production developed and produced by the Cyrenes, © copyright 1999
 
Script: Leonie Harrison, Judy Johnson and Michelle Hallinan
Musical Director: Loani McRae
Choreographer: Jane Ingall
Healthpact mental health message – ‘Walk in Your Own Shoes’
 
About the production
In November 1999, the Cyrenes staged their original musical production, On the Souls of Her Feet, at the ANU Arts Centre. Made possible through a Healthpact grant and in partnership with the Women's Centre for Health Matters, the production was the culmination of almost two years dedication and commitment by the choir. It was a celebration not only of women's stories but also of the ten-year musical journey of the choir.
 
On the Souls of Her Feet tells, in part, eleven women's stories. The eleven characters and a chorus form a 'croc en bouche' of womanhood - a taste here, a taste there - delicious! Together they take us on 'woman's' journey; making choices, breaking free of the things that would tie her down; walking in her own shoes; being true to self.
 
Through music, dialogue and song we follow each of the women as they tell us fragments of their lives. In each scene one of the woman's stories is featured, with the chorus (as backdrop) in turn becoming factory line, chorus line, picket line, army regiment and an Order of nuns.
 
The idea
A conversation with a neighbour sowed the seed of an idea for Loani McRae, then Cyrenes' musical director. Listening to this woman's extraordinary stories she was struck with the realisation that there are many such women whose stories remain untold. "Wouldn't it be a great", she said, "to tell some of these women's stories through song."
 
The process
A core group of choir members formed what came to be known as the 'Women's Stories Project Group'. One of the first tasks undertaken by the group was a series of interviews with 11 Canberra women who were asked to talk about a turning point in their lives. These interviews and a successful grant application laid the foundation for the production. Through meetings, discussions and workshops, choir members contributed to the vision and development of the script, the shape of the production and the writing of original material. The process gave many members the opportunity to expand existing skills and to develop new ones.
 
Experienced professionals such as Director Tessa Bremner and singer-songwriter Melanie Shanahan (formerly of 'Arramaeida' and 'Akasa'), assisted the choir in this process. A workshop with Melanie Shanahan was the catalyst for a spate of song writing by choir members, some of them venturing into this medium for the first time. Tessa's expertise was vital in pulling together the myriad of ideas and themes already developed by the choir. She brought to this process clarity, coherence and an eventual shape for the production.
 
Who
The members of the Project Group who oversaw the development of the production were: Christine Larkin, Claudia Cresswell, Helen Skeat, Jane Ingall, Jewells Rickwood, Judy Johnson, Leonie Harrison, Loani McRae, Margy Wylde-Browne, Michelle Hallinan and Sue Davenport. The project would not have been possible without the generosity and courage of the eleven women who entrusted us with their stories. It was a privilege to work with them.
 
The Women
Pseudonyms have been used for several of the women who chose to remain anonymous.
  • Saree, a refugee from Iran.
  • Stella, who achieved her childhood dream of becoming a singer and dancer.
  • Mabelle, a woman who has struggled with cancer for much of her adult life.
  • Ruby, child of an alcoholic mother, dealing with her own addiction and her sexuality.
  • Rosa, who chooses to stay with an alcoholic partner, the father of her children.
  • Molly, the wife of a serviceman struggling to be her own woman whilst following her husband from posting to posting.
  • Emma, a midwife who was willing to leave behind traditional expectations and to challenge the medical system.
  • Jennifer, a palliative care nurse who only recently openly acknowledged that she was a relinquishing mother at the age of seventeen.
  • Bonny, an Aboriginal woman, living with a disability, who was determined to get herself an education and find her own voice.
  • Adye, who was born during the First World War, and set sail at seventeen to study art.
  • Ann was a nun for more than 30 years; hers is a story of internal struggle.
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