Dawn Hanley is a veteran playwright with Gaslight Tour, and has written this years’ script about Madge, a Collingwood-born women who helped start the British Women’s Institute. Photo by John Knox

A woman born in Collingwood helped start a movement that saved Britain from starvation during the first World War, and she’d say so herself.

The story of Margaret Robertson Watt is one of four being told during this year’s Gaslight Tour. Veteran Gaslight playwright Dawn Hanley has written her seventh play for the annual production with this years’ drama focused on Watt.

The theme of this year’s Gaslight Tour is Herstory, so each playwright was tasked with telling the history of Collingwood through stories about women.

Watt was born in Collingwood in the 1860s. She was known to most as Madge, and left Collingwood for Victoria, BC, and then to England.

“She lived a Downton Abbey life there,” said Hanley.
While there, Madge saw the beginning of the First World War and knew famine would follow. She helped form the British Women’s Institute with a focus on growing and the safe preservation of food.

Hanley’s play is set in the 1940s and has Madge back in Collingwood visiting her sister. Madge is in her late 70s and she’s trying to secure more funding for her international travels that had her speaking to other women’s groups around the world. Her travels are always first class, according to Hanley.

“She’s waiting for letters to tell her funding is on the way,” said Hanley of her play. While she’s staying with her sister, she’s also interviewed by a Chatelaine writer.

“I get [Madge] into a bit of trouble,” she said. “To have a play on stage, you have to get your characters in trouble a bit.”

Hanley said the idea to write about Madge came from the Collingwood Museum, where Melissa Shaw, a museum assistant and fellow Gaslight Playwright, showed Hanley a book on Madge written by a professor.
Having done Gaslight plays before, Hanley was pleased to find all her research in one place.

Hanley has developed a certain process, she starts by compiling more research than she will ever use, and she said she has to write out her research notes by hand.

“I have to let the ink flow and that magically gets the story flowing,” she said. From there, her characters begin to talk to her as she sets their scene and writes their dialogue.

“It’s a challenge, you do all that research and you cannot let it be a lecture, you have to create drama,” she said. “All of that information you have to show, you can’t tell it.”

The Gaslight Tour features four 20-minute plays performed at four undisclosed locations around town. The audience walks from play to play. Each play matches the theme of the year and tells the true history of Collingwood’s people.

“It’s so wonderful … learning about Collingwood’s history this way is so completely charming and fun,” she said. “It’s a huge gem for the community.”

Sep 27, 2019 5:59 PM By: Erika Engel www.collingwoodtoday.ca/