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Play explores life of children’s book author

June 6, 2012
By JOHANNA BOYLE - Journal Staff Writer (jboyle@miningjournal.net) , Journal Ishpeming Bureau

MARQUETTE - Marquette area residents might be familiar with the small, bright yellow house on East Arch Street known as Dandelion Cottage. Thursday and Friday, however, they'll have the chance to learn more about the woman who wrote the book "Dandelion Cottage."

"She was kind of a trail blazer for women at that time," said Monica Nordeen, playwright and actress of "Behind the Dandelions," a one-woman show that explores the life of Caroline Watson Rankin, the author of the Marquette-based children's book. "She did some remarkable things at a time when it wasn't the norm."

Set against original music composed and performed by Marquette musician Carrie Biolo, the play centers on the life and experiences of Rankin, who wrote under the pen name Carroll Watson Rankin, and went by the name Carrie.

Article Photos

Monica Nordeen, left, and Carrie Biolo rehearse for Thursday and Friday’s performances of “Behind the Dandelions,” a one-woman show that explores the life of Marquette author Caroline Watson Rankin. Nordeen wrote and acts in the play; Biolo composed and performs the music. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)

Writing was an unusual career for a woman in the early 1900s.

With her husband often away for his work with a railway company, Rankin was forced to raise and provide for their four children almost on her own.

"I think a lot of the heavy lifting went to her in terms of parenting," Nordeen said.

The play jumps between the "present" in the early 1900s and Rankin's past as a child and teenager, when she got her first job at The Mining Journal when an ad asked for an intelligent boy to write stories and edit pages. She convinced the editor to hire her, despite being a young woman.

Although they had never worked together previously, Nordeen and Biolo were commissioned to work on the piece together, which serves as a fundraiser for the Marquette Regional History Center. The center is organizing a month of Dandelion Cottage-related events throughout June, including walking tours, crafts, book discussions and other activities.

Nordeen said the project grew out of previous short plays she had written highlighting other strong women who either lived in Marquette or had an impact on the area. Rankin, who wrote 11 books and a number of articles, fit the bill.

"She was writing at a time when it wasn't popular for women to have a career," Nordeen said. "Her interests went beyond just writing, but she was juggling a lot."

While acted on stage by Nordeen, the show is equally centered in the music, written and performed by Biolo. Although she did incorporate melodies from Charles Johnson's ragtime tune "Dill Pickles," Biolo said the main "Dandelion Waltz" theme that runs throughout the show is based on a chord progression created from the first letter of Rankin's major works.

"I'm a fifth generation resident of Marquette," Biolo said. "For me to be able to play my art, it's cool."

Performed almost entirely on percussion instruments, the music for "Behind the Dandelions" also includes some unusual instruments, including a slide whistle, a typewriter and a series of specially made clay pots that symbolize Rankin's love of gardening.

"Behind the Dandelions" runs at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday at Kaufman Auditorium. Tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the door, available at the Marquette Regional History Center and the Marquette Arts and Culture Center. Tickets can also be purchased online at marquettehistory.org or by calling 906-226-3571.

Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401.

 
 

 

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