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Batavia performance to depict Civil War spy

Live Art Series Aug. 24 event to explore historical figure’s life

"Miss Major Cushman" will be performed by Sarah Rachel Schol of Chicago at Water Street Studios in Batavia, promising something for lovers of theater and Civil War history.
"Miss Major Cushman" will be performed by Sarah Rachel Schol of Chicago at Water Street Studios in Batavia, promising something for lovers of theater and Civil War history.

BATAVIA – Spies and lies in the thick of the Civil War will be the entertaining heart of a one-woman show about a historical figure presented by the Live Art Series at 7 p.m. Aug. 24 at Water Street Studios in Batavia.

“Miss Major Cushman” will be performed by Sarah Rachel Schol, an actor from Chicago. It’s the latest offering in the series, which strives to present unusual performances not readily available in the suburbs, according to Jaime Gutierrez, facilities and events manager at Water Street Studios.

“It’s the story of a woman who ended up acting as a spy during the Civil War and then afterwards toured the country … telling her story,” Gutierrez said. “In addition to the stories about the war, the show is also about truth. Because at the time and even now, it’s almost impossible to verify whether the stories were true or to what degree they were true.”

Schol said her hourlong performance will be followed by an intermission after which she and the show’s playwright, Erin Austin, will lead a discussion with the audience.

The other two Chicago collaborators who shaped the story are director Egla Kishta and movement director Nick Thornton. The team started creating the production about 18 months ago.

Schol said little is known factually about Cushman, although there have been a number of books or chapters written about her.

“She had a friend who wrote a biography about her in 1865 when she was still alive,” Schol said. “A lot of it is very sensational. We don’t know what’s true or not.”

In creating the performance piece, she said they chose what they believe to be facts and expounded from there to flesh out a character that would be interesting theatrically.

“How much is true and not true is up to the audience to decide,” Schol said. “She’s an unreliable narrator. That’s the joy of her as a character. That question of what is truth is a pretty important part of the piece that we have built. It’s interesting to note she was one of [many] women who fought in some capacity in the Civil War. She’s one of many stories, the majority of which have been lost to history.”

Gutierrez said the show’s topic is a good match for Batavia and history buffs, given the city’s Civil War connections, including an extended stay by Mary Todd Lincoln.

He said the Live Art Series has presented everything from comedy, film, modern dance and storytelling to featuring the director of Chicago Tap Theatre dancing to a live jazz band.

“We always try to feature musicians that normally wouldn’t have an audience in this part of the region,” Gutierrez said. “We’re open to just about anything as long as it fits into our plans [for] performances that are unique to our community.”

Schol’s production was brought to his attention by Julane Sullivan, president of the Batavia Arts Council and owner of All Dressed Up in Batavia. She had been collaborating with Schol on costumes.

The Batavia Arts Council sponsors the Live Art Series.

“We receive a grant from the Batavia Arts Council in order to be able to offer a performance fee,” Gutierrez said. “We feel it’s extremely important for artists to actually be paid for their work. As a nonprofit organization, we welcome all the help we can get. The Batavia Arts Council has really stepped up … to allow us to showcase all these different types of art.”

He said part of the goal of the Live Art Series is to introduce more people to the offerings of Water Street Studios, home to gallery shows, art classes, outreach and after-school programs, community events, Waterline Writers and artists’ personal studio space.

When new people walk in the doors, he said they give two reactions.

“I’ve driven past … and didn’t know this was here [or] this is so amazing that something [like] this is right here in our backyards,” he said. “Something they’d expect to see closer to the city. We’re just doing everything we can to offer some value to our community. [There’s] always something different going on. [It’s] usually not the same place twice.”

For the Live Art Series, Gutierrez said ideas come from a lot of different areas.

“Every once in a while, we’ll put out a call for performers to submit their proposals for shows,” he said.

All ticket sales go to support the continuation of arts programming at Water Street Studios.

Gallery shows

The Dempsey and upstairs galleries have new exhibits on display until Sept. 9. Gallery hours are 2 to 6 p.m. Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

“This is our Artist Collective show,” Gutierrez said of the main-floor exhibit. “There is quite a lot of work on display and we have paintings. We have assemblages. We have sculptures and 3-D works on display. We really enjoy these group shows. The level of artistry is really high. Also, there’s a little something for everybody.”

If you go

WHAT: The one-woman show “Miss Major Cushman”

WHEN: 7 p.m. Aug. 24; cash bar starts at 6 p.m.

WHERE: Water Street Studios, 160 S. Water St., Batavia

COST: $5 in advance at or $10 at the door

INFO:, 630-761-9977

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