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'Girls In The Boat' Celebrates Rowing, Girl Power & Teamwork

First Stage Theater

Forty-seven years ago, the federal government passed Title IX. The civil rights legislation was designed to level the playing field for women in higher education — both in the classroom and on the field. But even before Title IX was passed, history had seen determined groups of women rowers fight for their place in the boat.

Milwaukee writer and filmmaker Alice Austen’s new play, Girls In The Boat, follows the history of female rowers, their trials, personality and strengths. It’s inspired by the real experiences of women rowers from 1950 to the present. Austen wrote it for Milwaukee’s First Stage Theater, where it had its world premiere and is open through Dec. 16.

She says the characters are all different, with different political views and reasons for rowing. She says they don't always like each other or get along. "This is not a saccharine, girly play," she says. "It's a play about real people."

She says Marcella Kearns, the director, has done a great job staging and choreographing it. "[Kearns] describes it as 'stomp meets the rowing docu-play," says Austen. "It's an incredibly physical piece of theater," she says, adding that the play captures what it means to be an athlete.

Alice Austen explains why rowing is a frontier for girl power. "Rowing is the ultimate team sport. You have to work together all the time," she explains. "You can't sort of go off on your own and be a star, it's the boat. And all of that is as important as winning but winning is important. And that's a message I think too often that we don't give girls."

She says there are also universal themes in rowing and in the play. "It was also important to me to get across the idea of people, people — not just girls, working together in the same boat who don't necessarily agree — towards a common purpose, because I think that's a message that we as Americans can all use right now."

Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.