Telling the Story of Cornelia on Stage

February 17, 2017

British playwright Diane Samuels and research consultant Ghislaine Kenyon (alumna of Mayfield School, England) are visiting the United States in April to run workshops on their full-length play, WALTZ WITH ME, which evokes the life of Cornelia Connelly. The 90-minute events, which are free and open to the public, will include live music and readings from the latest draft of the script. Attendees will be able to ask questions and discuss the impact of Cornelia’s life and work today.

WALTZ WITH ME is a new play by Diane Samuels. Also involved in developing the project is creative and research consultant Ghislaine Kenyon, alumna of Mayfield School.

In WALTZ WITH ME, Aggie, who herself once attended Mayfield, revisits the school for the retirement lunch for a beloved teacher. Struggling to decide whether to leave a deeply unhappy marriage, in desperation, though lapsed, she finds herself in the chapel beside Mother Connelly’s tomb and turns to her in prayer for guidance. During the acrimonious divorce that follows, including loss of custody of her two children, Aggie, continues to call on Cornelia for solace and never lets go of the hope that one day she will be reunited with both her children, despite the increasing alienation from them. Cornelia’s own life story, initially happy home life and marriage to Pierce Connelly, conversion to Catholicism, losses, struggles, discovery of her calling as a nun and foundress of an order and schools,  then heart-breaking separation from Pierce and her children, weaves and dances alongside and through Aggie’s journey, somehow informing and inspiring her to some kind of redemption, perhaps even a miracle. With a company of actors and musicians, Cornelia’s story and legacy are brought alive through modern lives with words, music and dance.

By Diane Samuels

I first came across the remarkable story of the life, marriage and pioneering work of Cornelia Connelly when it was told to me by Ghislaine Kenyon (a Mayfield School alumna). I was immediately compelled, listened with rapt attention, gasped more than a few times, and was on the edge of my seat till the end. This story was all the more powerful for being true and felt like it was already finding its way into dramatic life merely in the telling. In those first few moments WALTZ WITH ME was born.

Researching for the play has been quite an adventure, brimming with surprises, strange coincidences and fascinating discoveries. I was raised in a Jewish tradition and had little knowledge about the church and what it meant to be a nun. So I listened and learned what I could, helped most generously by sisters belonging to the Society.

Especially significant was my first visit to Mayfield School one wintry Ash Wednesday. Being led to the chapel to visit my first ever Catholic service, I passed by photographs on the wall of a student production of my play KINDERTRANSPORT, inspired by the true-life experiences of Jewish child refugees before and during World War 2. Cornelia’s commitment to the arts as a hugely important and integral part to education, particularly drama and live theatre, rings strongly for me too. I wondered if theatre might be a crucial medium for addressing human relationships with the Sacred or Infinite, across boundaries of different religious or non-religious affiliations.

I also realized that day that WALTZ WITH ME is in some ways a surprising sequel to KINDERTRANSPORT, picking up the theme of mother/child separation and taking it further, to some kind of restitution.

WALTZ WITH ME is a story within a story within a play, owing a great deal to true-life experience and just as much to imagination of the playful, psychological and spiritual varieties.

My understanding of what it means to be married, to bear and lose children, and to take up a path of spiritual devotion has been enriched by learning about Cornelia. My commitment to the arts being central to the education of the whole person has been deepened by researching and writing this play. My heart and life are bigger and better for it.

This is a play about faith in the broadest sense of the word, without limits. In a world where different belief systems often regard each other with incredulous hostility, I am glad to make a contribution to the exploration of what is in essence true for all. I hope that all who come to see WALTZ WITH ME will have their eyes opened, hearts moved and minds expanded in unexpected ways too.



4 Responses to “Telling the Story of Cornelia on Stage”

  1. Sam Strike

    Missey, It is still in the process of being produced, but when we know when and where you can see it we will certainly let everyone know! Thank you for your interest. – Sam Strike, Director of Communications for the Society