- Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2014

LYNN, Mass. (AP) - A suffragette rejected by peers when she married. A Hollywood temptress and inventor. The first woman in the American military. Revere actress Judith Kalaora said she is drawn to characters who seem conflicted about society’s gender roles.

But Kalaora not only portrays these women on stage, she emulates them in life, starting her own company to portray and educate about “influential, but oft forgotten women.”

“There are all different reasons why I feel connected with each character, but most of the time they are all women who have conflicts with their gender roles because I am conflicted at times as well,” Kalaora said. “And if you’re not getting the roles you want, you have to make the roles you want.”

Kalaora, 30, is an actress, historical interpreter, educator and founder and chief performer at History at Play, a theater company where Kalaora performs one-woman shows and offers acting and educational workshops.

Kalaora studied acting at Syracuse University and then with the Globe Education Program at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. She has performed in productions from London to Montreal and all over the United States. She took the stage at Lynn Classical High School Tuesday, portraying Deborah Samson Gannett, who proclaimed herself as the only woman who is “a Son of Liberty and a Daughter of Liberty.”

Samson Gannett was born in Plympton and became an indentured servant at age 5 after her father abandoned the family. Gannett effectively grew up as a boy, indentured to a family with a farm and 10 sons who taught Gannett to read and write, hunt and work the fields.

While working at a tavern following her indentureship, Samson Gannett found and mended an old uniform and tried to enlist in the Continental Army as the Revolutionary War was winding down in 1782.

Her first attempt failed; so she walked 150 miles to register where nobody would recognize that she wasn’t her deceased brother Robert Shurtlieff.

Samson Gannett served a year and a half on the front lines, was wounded in upstate New York (and removed one of two bullets in her leg herself so she wouldn’t be discovered), and then was found to be a woman when being treated for the flu on a posting in Philadelphia. She presented a letter from her doctor that revealed the secret, and received an honorable discharge from the Army.

When her new husband Benjamin Gannett proved to be as poor a businessman as her father, Samson Gannett successfully petitioned Congress for a soldier’s pension and began giving lectures about her experience to support the family.

Kalaora said she found similarities between Samson Gannett’s experience and her own experience growing up as a tomboy more interested in toy soldiers than Barbies. Then she recalled being continually cast as “The Vampy Woman” in productions and trying to make the character’s wit smolder along with the character’s figure.

“She was strong, but also has moments when she is funny, and she has moments when she is effeminate,” Kalaora said.

The other characters she portrays have similar “conflicts” in their respective personal and professional lives. Hedy Lamarr was a Hollywood sexpot scandalously scantily clad in the 1949 classic “Samson and Delilah.” But Kalaora also notes Lamar invented radio technology that was applied for military coding and even cell-phone technology.

Lucy Stone was the first woman who kept her maiden name when she got married; but her decision to marry ruined her relationships with other women’s rights leaders Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Kalaora said.

But from the reactions of students Tuesday, Kalaora seems to be resolving this conflict.

Neither Nicole Stanley nor Ruben Ruiz said they had ever heard of Deborah Samson Gannett before. But they said they loved it.

“It was very informative watching her, it made me feel more interested,” said sophomore Nicole Stanley.

“I loved her enthusiasm and the way that she acted the whole time,” Ruiz said.

In fact the performance (and a prior performance at the Lynn Business Education Foundation dinner) was so well received that Kalaora will be returning to Lynn as Samson to visit other schools. And Kalaora will be coming back as herself to Classical for a drama workshop in December.

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