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Students learn harshness of history

Actor Maureen Rooney brings pioneer experiences to life

By: By Berkley Lamb

  |  Posted: Saturday, May 03, 2014 06:00 am

DAUGHTER AND MOTHER – June Sernowski (left) and Maureen Rooney share a moment after Rooney's performance of her one-woman play Hats and Gloves at Muriel Martin Elementary School on Wednesday.
DAUGHTER AND MOTHER – June Sernowski (left) and Maureen Rooney share a moment after Rooney's performance of her one-woman play Hats and Gloves at Muriel Martin Elementary School on Wednesday.
BERKLEY LAMB/St. Albert Gazette

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A thick hush spreads throughout the music room at Muriel Martin Elementary School, the group of around 30 elementary children rendered completely silent as actor Maureen Rooney acts out the horrifying story of Mary Sernowski’s childhood in Polish Ukraine in the early 1900s.

In her one-woman play, Hats and Gloves, Rooney portrays the immigrant Mary Sernowski. The audience of Grade 5s is spellbound. In attendance is Sernowski’s daughter June.

Clad in a Ukrainian headscarf, Rooney tells Mary’s story.

It’s a sad one. At a very young age, Mary’s mother died in her sleep, surrounded by her young family. Upon her mother’s passing, Mary and her two siblings were left to the care of their aunt. Due to a lack of food in the community, Mary’s aunt killed off the youngest sibling and abandoned eight-year-old Mary.

As a form of feeding herself, Mary was forced to work as a harvester. On more than one occasion she had to walk over dead bodies in the field to continue on with her work.

Sernowski is one of six characters written into Rooney’s play, which traces the roots of pioneering women who were the founders of many aspects of the St. Albert we know today.

The list includes Rose Plante Normand, the childless, hardworking Métis woman. Kate Maloney, the unmarried woman who owned her own land. Alice Giroux, a recognizable name among the audience, who was the beginning of the arts culture in St. Albert.

“All of these women were just amazing people,” explains Rooney when asked about researching and writing Hats and Gloves.

The script and dialogue arose from her research of the characters, Rooney says. Many of the quotes from the play are directly from letters and notes the characters actually wrote.

“All of these women worked to take their troubles and do something positive,” Rooney said, adding that she hopes this lesson remains with her young audience.

Judging from the reaction within the room, Rooney’s performance clearly resonated with the young audience. As soon as Rooney opens the floor to questions, 20 little hands immediately shoot up.


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