By John Longenbaugh
For UMO Ensemble
Victoria C. Woodhull: spiritualist, suffragist, free lover — and in her day, the most famous woman in the United States.
UMO Ensemble, a physical theatre company based on Vashon Island, Washington, has pivoted to present its first-ever audio drama, “VIC: The Life and Times of Victoria C. Woodhull, Future Presidentess,” by Maria Glanz.
This seven-part audio series will premiere on Voice of Vashon at 9 p.m. Sunday, July, 4, and then be heard bi-weekly to its conclusion.
The drama is framed around the last night of Woodhull’s life — when she’d been nearly erased from history — as she reckons with spirits and voices from her past as she relives moments both painful and exultant.
Adapted from Glanz’s stage play “VIC: Spirit Made Flesh,” and directed by her frequent collaborator Elizabeth Klob, the show includes original music by Jason Webley and Gretta Harley and a company of actors including Jeannie Dougherty, Ted Dowling, David Godsey, Tami Brockway Joyce, Alyssa Keene, Victoria Knox, Janet McAlpin, Steffon Moody, Jon Schroeder, Dylan Smith, Jason Webley, Lyam White, Bob Williams and Anthony Winkler, with Glanz herself playing Older Victoria and Klob as her mother Roxy.
The drama takes the audience on a ride through an unforgettable American story. In 1872, the Civil War had shattered notions of what it meant to be “American.” Slavery was eradicated, but reconstruction and racism were coiling around what it meant to be “free.” Robber barons were building railroads and running banks, creating the seeds of what Mark Twain coined the gilded age. Suffragists were calling for women’s right to vote – and Victoria Woodhull became the first woman to run for President of the United States.
Owners of the first woman-run stock brokerage in the US, newspaper publishers, and as notorious in their time as the Kardashians are today, Victoria and her sister Tennessee were praised and condemned in equal measure.
The show developed from a planned stage production at ACT in 2020, meant to coincide with the 100th anniversary of a woman’s right to vote in 2019 and the coming election. But when COVID intervened, the company and writer turned to adapt the work as an audio production, making it possible to work with many of the same artists in a new medium.
According to Klob, the play remains incredibly relevant in terms of many of the same basic human rights issues that are still being fought for.
“She was indeed ahead of her time…. for example, her stance on free love, an eight-hour workday, income inequality…you name it,” Klob said.
The adaptation allowed Klob and Glanz to reconsider the form and to adapt the play to use a larger cast than planned.
“The radio recording process was a sharp learning curve,” Klob said, “and it was extraordinary to build completely new skills at this point in my career.”
For Glanz, the process was one that moved quickly from excitement to nervousness, and then abject terror, as she realized the challenge of translating a physical spectacle into an entirely different medium.
“At that point, I entered the most intense creative exertion I have ever experienced,” Glanz said. “It culminated in a stretch of working eight to ten hours a day, writing in a way I had never done before … But Victoria’s story persevered.”
Episode one of the production, “It Is Time,” can be heard on Voice of Vashon, KVSH 101.9 FM or on the free VoV mobile app or by streaming at voiceofvashon.org. Worried about missing the debut episode? Listen on-demand anytime at voiceofvashon.org.