By Jesse Bertel

“Stepping Off the Page,” a play directed by Jody Drake and presented by the Prescott Western Heritage Foundation, is set to premiere at 7 p.m. Friday, March 29, at the historic Elks Theatre, 117 E. Gurley St., Prescott.

Based on the acclaimed book “Hellraisers & Trailblazers” by Bob Boze Bell and Jana Bommersbach, this theatrical event promises an immersive journey into the lives of iconic figures such as Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane and eight other remarkable women who left their mark on the Western frontier.

Audiences will be transported back in time as these legendary women “step off the pages” of history to share their tales of survival, courage and resilience. From well-known figures like “Little Miss Sure Shot” Annie Oakley, to lesser-known heroines portrayed with authenticity and flair, the play promises to captivate and educate. Through meticulously crafted costumes and powerful performances by ten volunteer actors from the Prescott Western Heritage Foundation, attendees will witness the untold stories of pioneer women who played a vital role in shaping the American West.

Drake spoke with Across the Street ahead of the performance. The following interview was edited for length and clarity.

What was the biggest challenge of adapting the book to a play?

It was challenging to find a way to present them in a unified manner — to where it just wasn’t one woman walking on stage, giving her history and walking out — to try and put some kind of a storyline together. When you initially read the book, it’s completely compartmentalized. Each lady is a page, so there’s no joining of the ladies. The first thing I did was start researching to see, of the ladies, who might have known each other. I started finding these interesting connections between the characters. Then, I used the poetry of Emily Dickinson to kind of tie them all together. There’s an Emily Dickinson book on stage and each of the ladies has some relationship with that book. She wrote a lot about women, so there are tons of quotes. Each of them kind of grabs on to quote and then we tied it all together with, ‘How did women keep their sanity on the frontier?’ And the answer was through literature, through art, through music.

How does the story play out?

It takes place in a library and it starts out with a really beautiful piece of music called “I Am My Mother’s Savage Daughter.” Then, the ladies kind of float out of the library into a portrait on stage and then they sort of disappear back into the library, but then they reappear one at a time with their stories. They interact with the characters that are going before them and after them. Olive Oatman comes on stage while Sarah Bowman is talking. Then when Sarah Bowman gets ready to exit, she says, “You did a really good job, honey.”

For more information and to purchase tickets, call 928-777-1370, or visit www.prescottelkstheatre.org.

Jesse Bertel is a reporter/videographer for the Prescott News Network. Follow him on Facebook @ JesseBertel, email him at jbertel@prescottaz.com, or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2043.

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