Sarah Daniels' play points out how well-meaning aristocrats can damage other people's lives.
Delores Ringer says her experience as director of "The Gut Girls" has made her think about the lack of support women extend to each other.
"Why can't women of different economic and social groups support each other even if they don't have the same values?" she asked. "It's made me think about different women's groups, and groups of artists, who don't support each other and instead make value judgments."
"The Gut Girls," an episodic and sometimes funny play written by British playwright Sarah Daniels, opens Friday in Crafton-Preyer Theatre in Murphy Hall. The play is based on the real-life experiences of women who worked in the London slaughterhouses at the turn of the century and how they were treated by people in the middle and upper classes.
The play was commissioned in 1988 by Teddy Kiendl, artistic director of the Albany Empire Theatre in Deptford, England, where the play is set.
"These women prepared the casings and removed the veins from hearts and livers. They were preparing the edible parts to be sold. It was considered to be disgusting work and they were considered little better than prostitutes," said Ringer, an associate professor of theater and film at Kansas University.
"But they made more money than any of the other women of the lower working class. They had a degree of autonomy that most others didn't enjoy. Their real sin was having freedom.
"There were all sorts of rumors about them because they didn't conform to the normal ideas of femininity and servitude. They weren't humble " so they were condemned by the middle and upper classes."
In the beginning of the play, the five characters are powerful, united and joyful, despite their social status as "gut girls." By the play's end, after a wealthy woman decides to rescue them and improve their lot by sending them to work as domestic servants in aristocratic homes, they are dependent, isolated and silenced.
A maid earned in a year what a gut girl could make in a week, Ringer said.
"The aristocratic ladies honestly think they are doing the best thing to reform them socially and morally. They believe (the gut girls) don't have moral lives, but they just have different value systems," she explained. "The ladies think they should teach (the gut girls) to be 'proper,' but 'proper' doesn't do them any good in their lives."
"The Gut Girls" features 17 cast members who have been working with Paul Meier, associate professor of theater and film, to perfect their British accents.
"The play is written like a cinema script," Ringer said, when asked what had challenged her most as the play's director. "It has a structure of cutting from one place to another, so we're doing simultaneous staging from one scene to another so (scene changes are) happening smoothly and quickly."
Scenic design for "The Gut Girls" is by Christian Roy, a KU graduate student in scenography. Lighting design is by Dennis Christilles, assistant professor of theater and film, and Tony Fuemmeler, a KU senior, is in charge of costumes.
-- Jan Biles' phone message number is 832-7146. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: "The Gut Girls," a play by Sarah Daniels.
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday and 8 p.m. April 29-May 1.
Where: Crafton-Preyer Theatre, Murphy Hall.
Tickets: Available at the Lied Center Box Office, 864-ARTS; Murphy Hall Box Office, 864-3982; and the Student Union Activities Box Office, 864-3477.
Special event: "Working Women and Class Distinctions," a free panel discussion, 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Borders, 700 N.H.