The 1780s were tough times for Londoners with little in the way of means. And for the 25,000 women known to history as the “mothers of Australia,” it didn’t take much to get banished across the globe.
A new alt-pop musical telling part of the womens’ story, penned by a Charlottesville composer and songwriter and her twin sister, will have a five-day run next month in the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center in New York as part of the New York Musical Festival.
World-premiere performances of “LadyShip” are set for 8 p.m. July 10, 5 p.m. July 12, 1 p.m. July 13, and 5 and 9 p.m. July 14. Samantha Saltzman is in the director’s chair.
“LadyShip,” featuring book, music and lyrics by Laura Good and Linda Good, is a new musical that tells the story of Alice and Mary, teenage Irish sisters convicted of petty crimes in 1789 and deported to Australia under the Transportation Act, which was considered at the time a humane alternative to languishing in London’s harsh prisons.
“The story just came to us and wouldn’t let us go,” said Laura Good, who performs in the indie-rock duo The Twigs with her sister. “We’ve been working on it for three solid years.”
Good first became aware of the story of the deported women while living in Australia.
“My husband went to grad school in Australia,” Good said. “While we lived there, we made a lot of friends. Folks there knew if an ancestor had been deported there for stealing a loaf of bread.”
The more the sisters learned about the women and what they faced, the more questions they had.
“We’ve always wanted to write a musical, and Linda said, ‘What about these women?’” Good said. “It was a much different story than we had expected.
“In London, many young women were on the streets and stole food. Many were Irish who’d gone there from the Irish famine.”
The court records showed “they were just poor. That was their crime,” she said. “They couldn’t defend themselves.”
Physical reminders that remain in Australia prompt deep reflection.
“You can go to Sydney, where they first arrived, and see the jails — and see how differently they thought of women,” Good said. “As property.”
The sisters didn’t address the harrowing conditions that the deported women faced in a strange new land once they reached their destination. “Our musical focuses just on the journey,” she said.
The physically miserable voyage took months. Along the way, the women learned to look out for themselves to survive the harsh conditions.
“They made ways to work within the system. They could get paid to write letters for sailors and thereby afford protection,” Good said.
Once they reached Australia, many of the deported women were surprised to find more rights — and better futures. “Women could own businesses and keep their money,” Good said.
The well-traveled Good sisters wrote the musical in many different parts of the world.
“Linda used to tour as a keyboard player,” Good said. “I follow my academic husband all over the world. We talk every day. We Skype; we share files.”
In addition to performing around the world as The Twigs and releasing five CDs as a duo, the sisters pursue multiple musical dreams.
Linda Good’s skills as a keyboard player and vocalist have taken her on the road with Jane’s Addiction, The Lisa Marie Presley Band and The Mars Volta. Her compositions and songs have been heard in many films and television shows, including “True Blood,” “Gossip Girl” and “American Teen.” “Love Is ...,” a single from her solo CD “Love Is a Curious Thing,” has been used in the rebooted “90210” and several other TV shows.
Laura Good has performed in collaborations with several international musicians, including Paul Andrews of the Australian bands Lazy Susan and Family Fold. She also helped create noisebox.com, one of the internet’s first independent music subscription services.
While official history may remember the “mothers of Australia” as criminals and deportees, the Good sisters discovered stories of tenacity and triumph. Women started families, founded businesses and forged new lives that might not have been possible if they’d been able to avoid trouble back home.
“There are all kinds of nuances of who writes the history,” she said.
For tickets to “LadyShip,” which are $35, go online to nymf.org.