Pitt State Theatre brings trailblazing woman’s story to life 

Photo ID: Esperanza Deterding, Khadija Ceesay, and Corin Cooper.

“Emilia” is a performance about the the first woman to publish a collection of poetry. The role of Emilia Bassano will be played by three PSU students representing her in three stages of her life, Esperanza Deterding, Khadija Ceesay, and Corin Cooper. Photo courtesy: Pittsburg State University.

Emilia Bassano was a trailblazer 400 years ago, but her story is almost completely lost to history. 

Next week, students will bring it alive in Pitt State Theatre’s production, “Emilia.” 

Bassano, who is thought to have been a woman of color and perhaps Jewish, is considered to have been the first woman to have published a collection of poetry. It was radical, feminist, and subversive. Many remember her for potentially being the “Dark Lady” in Shakespeare’s sonnets.  

In this contemporary play, her story unfolds as she struggles with getting her work seen and her voice heard. In a flip from Shakespeare’s time when casts were all male, Emilia features an all-female cast. 

Directed by Gil Cooper and Jenna Russell, it will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23-25 and 2 p.m. Feb. 25-26 in the Dotty and Bill Miller Theatre in the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts at Pittsburg State University. Tickets are on sale now. 

“Emilia is a roar of empowerment for anyone and everyone whose voice has ever been marginalized,” Russell said. “The playwright does a great job of taking 17th Century characters and bringing them home for a 21st Century audience with humor, compassion, and vision.” 

The role of Emilia will be performed by three students representing Bassano in three stages of her life, beginning with Esperanza Deterding (Texas), then Corin Cooper (Pittsburg), and finally Khadija Ceesay (Olathe). 

The rest of the cast, comprised of students and alumni, play the roles of about 30 other characters. They include Miranda Madden (BS ‘21), Grace Springer (Pittsburg), Haley Denton (Pittsburg), Korah Calvin (Pittsburg), Katia Arians-LaForte (BS ‘19), Emilie Crowley (Tonganoxie), Michaela Henningson (Joplin, Missouri), Darcy McDonald (Lamar, Missouri), Tayler Matthews (Nevada, Missouri), Kaya McFall (Pittsburg), Natalie Rigdon (Linwood), and Leah McDonald (Lamar, Missouri). 

They will wear Lisa Quinteros’ brilliant costumes that bridge the 400 years between Elizabethan and current styles, and in scenes designed by Linden Little. 

Cooper noted that only a handful of theater programs in the U.S. have been granted permission to perform the show, so it’s an honor for Pittsburg State to be among them. 

It’s not the first time in recent years that Pitt State Theatre has brought to life the story of a little-known woman whose work was important: in February 2020, the company performed “Silent Sky” about Henrietta Leavitt, who in the early 1900s was not allowed to touch a telescope yet made an important astronomical discovery by analyzing photographic plates to map the stars for a renowned male astronomer. 

Ticket information 

Tickets are free to students, staff, and faculty with a valid PSU ID. They are on sale to the public for $7 for 17 and under and 65 and older, and $12 for the general public.  

They may be purchased at the PSU Ticket Office in Room 107 of the Garfield Weede Building, online at pittstate.edu/tickets, by phone at 620-235-4796, or at the box office in the Bicknell Center 30 minutes before each show begins, based on availability. 

— Media release from Pittsburg State University —