Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center is thrilled to announce that the museum has been awarded the prestigious 2021 Award of Merit from the Connecticut League of History Organizations (CLHO) for its multi-program project SISTERS.
According to CLHO Executive Director Amrys O. Williams, Ph.D., the CLHO committee “was impressed with this effort to grapple with difficult history head-on. By bringing thorny issues around race, gender, and enslavement to life through theater, and connecting the play to a series of educational activities and public conversations, the ‘Sisters’ Project offers a model of the sort of innovative work that small organizations in Connecticut can do.”
SISTERS is a KTM&HC initiative that includes public and school program components based on an original play titled “Sisters.” At the heart of the “Sisters” production lies the story of two women – Anna Resseguie, a white woman, and Phillis DuBois, a Black woman – who lived at the Resseguie Hotel, today the site of KTM&HC, in the mid- to late-nineteenth century. The play explores the complicated dynamics of the women’s relationship. The play – co-written by Royal Shirée and Joanne Hudson, directed by Kimberly Wilson, and choreographed by Sharece Sellem – is informed by historical records from KTM&HC’s archives and the lived experiences and imaginations of its playwrights: Shirée is Black and Hudson is white. The play was staged for school and public audiences in 2020 (virtually, due to the pandemic), followed by programming and lessons for students and a community talkback for the public.
Playwright Shirée emphasized the importance of efforts to encourage present-day reckoning with and discussion of historical injustices: “In co-authoring ‘Sisters,’ I appreciate the opportunity to un-silence a bit of history to give voice and agency to the unaccredited many. I'm honored that in some way, I helped to spur thought and conversation, hopefully until the need to do so does not exist.” Shirée’s co-author, Joanne Hudson, expressed her appreciation for the collaborative nature of the play and its accompanying public and school programs, stating, “I am filled with love for everyone involved in this project. It’s a great honor for SISTERS to be recognized for the intention we envisioned.”
Both the public and school program components of SISTERS fulfill the museum’s renewed effort to “speak truth to history” by critically examining how KTM&HC tells its site history to ensure that all voices are heard truthfully and completely. This includes the site’s stories at the intersection of race, gender, and privilege, such as those told in SISTERS. KTM&HC aims to use the site’s history to reflect upon and contribute to our town, state, and national identities with the goal of affecting structural change and changing behavior and outcomes for a more just society. In addition, the school program uses historiography – the study of how the writing of history changes over time – to challenge students to think through how history was interpreted and taught in the nineteenth century and today.
“We are honored to receive this award, and we want to recognize the many people who helped make this project possible,” said KTM&HC Executive Director Hildegard Grob. “Combining history and theater, SISTERS is exceptional because it harnesses the power of the humanities to create honest, open, and critical engagement with the past, including difficult history, to provide context for the present.”
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