An innovative new musical developed in consultation with women of Northumberland, began streaming to audiences everywhere on Wednesday 8 March, International Women’s Day.
Produced by Morpeth's November Club and The Space, Josey celebrates the life of a once national heroine, Josephine Butler. Josephine Butler (1828-1906) was an English feminist and social reformer with a particular concern for women’s rights in British law. In 1886 she successfully repealed the Contagious Diseases Act, legislation which had an impact on the dignity of women and internal examinations.
Now Josephine Butler’s story is at the centre of a new audio musical. The work is available on all podcast streaming sites including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Anchor FM, free now HERE.The digital venture will lead to a full touring version of the musical in 2024.
Josey, The Indignant Daughter is written by award-winning singer-songwriter Katie Doherty, following a series of workshops with women of all ages across Northumberland to discuss women’s rights and activism today. Informed by the workshops, Katie has created a brand-new dramatic piece which explores how prominent women like Josephine Butler have been written out of history and how the campaigns they led are still relevant. Exploring gender equality and female activism, the audio production features a community choir of women from across Northumberland as well as young women from local schools, Cramlington Learning Village and Duke’s Academy in Ashington.
Josephine Butler’s campaigning work against underage prostitution, for women’s rights and to promote education for women, took her across the UK, over Europe and on to India. In attacking the Contagious Diseases Acts, Josephine Butler honed in on an area of serious inequality, in which female sex workers were subjected to intrusive examinations which were not required of their male clients.
Katie Doherty said, “We couldn’t not tell the story of Josephine Butler. When I began talking to other women about her, it became apparent that her incredible story has been forgotten in its detail and impact. Discussing the weight of her achievements, given the time that she was living when it was highly unusual to see a woman speaking in public as she did. Josephine Butler is utterly inspiring as a woman. The causes she fought for are still being fought for today. The adversity female activists face in today's world is different, but it is in many ways harder to speak out, to carry on, to raise your voice as a woman in a culture where everything is instantly amplified through the media.
“I'd like listeners to come away with questions, I'd like them to feel something, to be moved, to look at their own lives, to think about the future and to think about how we as a culture support Female Activism and the importance of it. I'd like them to take away the hope too. In effect Josey's story is about us too. This is a brave piece of audio; unlike anything you have heard before.”
Sandra Whitton, participant said, “It’s been fascinating being involved in a project from such an early stage - from exchanging thoughts and ideas to seeing how these have been developed by Katie and turned into something so powerful and yet so beautiful. Katie has this incredible ability to do that - the beauty of her sound that encapsulates femininity along with the power and energy common to female trailblazers. Josephine Butler‘s place in history needs to be acknowledged and celebrated. Reflecting on her life encourages us to review how much has changed, and more importantly in some ways not changed, for women today. Her story needs to be told and I feel proud to be a very small part of this incredible project.”
November Club is an award-winning, multi-art form performing arts company based in Northumberland. Working in unconventional places, regionally and nationally, they tell unexpected theatrical stories which weave together historical and contemporary themes. Each production is made in collaboration with local people, with the aim of bringing communities together, to create memorable shared experiences. The musical is an innovative example of how it is possible to create new digitally-focused cultural work within areas of the UK that are typically ‘digitally deprived’. While November Club has a history of producing live musical work, Josey marks the first time that it has produced a ‘Digital Audio Musical’ in recognition of the potential of digital distribution to reach new audiences.
The production is being created with digital support agency The Space, whose Executive Producer Harmeet Chagger-Khan, is mentoring and supporting the November Club team throughout production and delivery of its work. Harmeet Chagger-Khan said, “Retelling stories of the past so that we can think about the present and imagine the future is vitally important. To see November Club working to create a digital musical is refreshing as it brings crucial issues of activism and gender equality to a younger audience, which accesses content digitally. When The Space commissions organisations, we always want to know what skills they will gain by working digitally. November Club excels at working with rural community choirs and professional musicians and composers, to tell their stories. Now we are excited to be helping to bring their work to a new format and, hopefully, a wider audience."
Joe Hufton, Artistic Director of November Club, said, “One of the recurring questions in my mind is if Josephine Buter were alive today, who would she be? There are so many contemporary issues – some not wholly different from those that concerned Josephine nearly 200 years ago – that women are passionate about and motivated to change in much the same way as Josephine Butler. We are determined to take their issues and tell Josephine’s story through a modern lens, reflecting the concerns of women in the UK today. The arts are vital to rural communities, and we are excited to be employing a new method of creating work with them. The workshops have seen lively discussions of female activism around issues of double standards and injustice today within an environment where people feel confident to speak and raise subjects that concern them.”
November Club works across Northumberland, mainly in rural locations or with communities and groups who experience the biggest barriers to participating in and enjoying arts and cultural projects. It eschews traditional theatres or arts venues in favour of all sorts of diverse venues, including auction markets, remote village halls, gardens, historic libraries and museums, a train station and even in the back of a horse wagon.Community involvement is at the heart of this and each November Club project. Stories and ideas come from delving into archives, seeking people from different backgrounds to contribute to the project and often to take their place in the final performance alongside professional artists and musicians.