A look at the past

Letters penned between Katharine Martindale, left, and her sister Henrietta serve as the basis for an upcoming play reading. The Martindale Sisters Project details the life of the two members of this prominent La Crosse family, whose bright yellow and elegant Italianate style house is still recognizable today at 10th and Cass streets. Photo courtesy of UWL Special Collections.

Bygone local letter collection meets the stage in a new dramatic play reading

A new play reading details the lives of two sisters of a prominent La Crosse family.

The Martindale Sisters Project, a dramatic play reading, will be presented at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 7, in the 3rd floor ballroom of the Bentley & Wheeler Bed & Breakfast, 750 Cass St. A play reading is a form of theater without costume and with minimal stage movement in which actors read scripts. The event is free and open to the public.

The Martindale Sisters Project reveals the historical complexity of progressive young women, Katharine and Henrietta Martindale, who stood out for their boundary-pushing interests and achievements in early 20th century Midwest America. The sisters represent the last of the Martindales, an old, prominent family of early La Crosse whose bright yellow and elegant Italianate style house is still easily recognizable today on the corner of 10th and Cass streets.

In 2010, Teri Holford, engagement librarian at UW-La Crosse’s Murphy Library, discovered the story of these two sisters and approached Beth Cherne, UWL theatre arts professor, to consider creating a theatrical adaptation of the letters. The result is the dramatic production, written by Cherne, that focuses on a lifetime of handwritten letters between the two sisters.

“After pouring through 50 boxes of documents and 10 boxes of family photos, the characters became real to us,” explains Holford. “We saw them change and grow, everything from their handwriting to their advocacy as women who challenged the male-dominated status quo of their era. This fascinating story comes to life through Cherne’s theatrical interpretation.”

The letters featured in the play were written during different stages of the sister’s lives, from roughly 1915, when the two women were college students, to their adulthood during the early 1960s. The letters are a part of the Katharine Martindale Family Papers, a collection preserved in the Murphy Library Area Research Center.

The evening reading will present a snapshot of where the project is with several local actors taking on roles. It will include a panel discussion with local historical and theatrical experts, along with live piano music.

Find out more about the project at http://teriholford.wixsite.com/martindalesisters

If you go—
What: The Martindale Sisters Project play reading
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 7
Where: Bentley & Wheeler Bed & Breakfast, 3rd Floor Ballroom, 950 Cass St.
Admission: Free and open to the public