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Plays for Labor Day. In praise of theater about unions, workers and workplaces.

It was while attending the current revival of Lillian Hellman’s 1936 play “Days to Come,” which is set during a strike at a brush factory in Ohio,  that I suddenly wondered: Where are the American plays about unions, or workers, or even just workplaces?

It seems an apt question for Labor Day, which, contrary to what may be public perception, was not created to promote barbecues. Congress passed a law making Labor Day a legal holiday in 1884 to celebrate the labor union movement, a holiday first proposed by a labor union official

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Shame or the Doomsday Machine. TNC’s Free Street Theater

For the 42nd summer in a row, the Theater for the New City’s touring Street Theater Company is presenting an original show for free in the streets and parks throughout New York City. (see schedule below.)

This year’s hour-long musical, “Shame! or The Doomsday Machine,” presents a tuneful and anarchic mix of rock, rap, physics, politics, satire and vaudeville, featuring scenes as varied as a classroom in New York City, a Black Hole in the Universe, and Club Mad, 2000 feet below Mar-a-Lago (Trump’s Florida estate,) each presented in hand-painted scenes on a hand-cranked scrolling backdrop.

Click on any photograph by Jonathan Mandell or Jonathan Slaff to see it enlarged

Twenty-eight performers portray a dizzying array of characters, from a group of protesting students carrying picket signs to Melania in her “I Don’t Care Do U?” jacket. Trump makes multiple appearances, first in a bright orange wig, then transformed into a black man, a woman, and a Mexican.

Ok, so the show is not subtle. But it is fun, and entertaining, and there is even something of an arc, and a loud, clear and hopeful message.

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Watch Rosie’s Broadway’s White House Protest

Wearing t-shirts that said “Now showing: Truth,” Rosie O’Donnell and dozens of other performers who had traveled from New York for the day participated in the 22nd day of protests outside the White House, in front of a bright orange “Treason” sign, making speeches and singing Broadway tunes (such as “A Brand New Day” from The Wiz) and patriotic songs, ending with “America the Beautiful.”
Watch the event below, which was live-streamed last night.

Protest is Patriotic: Words of Protest for the Fourth of July

Anthony Lee Medina and cast in Hamilton, 2018

The United States of America was founded in protest and resistance; most of the text of the Declaration of Independence is a protest against the actions of the British Crown. It is Americans’ patriotic duty to protest American injustice — “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually,” James Baldwin said —  and the Fourth of July is the most patriotic day of the year.  The holiday historically has been a time for protest. (What to the slave is the Fourth of July,” – Frederick Douglass, 1852)  Judging from protests and rallies across the country today, we are returning to that tradition.

Some apt quotations:
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In the Body of The World Review: Eve Ensler, Fighting Cancer and Injustice, Ranting, Riffing, Raging, Revealing

Perhaps you’d think it chutzpah that in “In The Body of the World,” the latest solo show by Eve Ensler, best known for “The Vagina Monologues,” she merges her story of her fight against uterine cancer with world crises such as mass rape in the Congo and the deadly oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Maybe you’d be squeamish at her graphic storytelling of her illness, treatment and recovery, during which she literally bares her physical scars, and exposes her emotional ones, which are more disturbing. You could well disapprove of her self-defeating and dubious speculation about what might have caused her cancer – from tofu to Tab to bad reviews.

You could grapple with all these reactions to Eve Ensler and her show – I certainly did at one time or another during its 90 minutes – and still find “In The Body of the World” (as I did) eye-opening, entertaining, and one of the most satisfying works of theater so far this year.
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Watch #BroadwaySoWhite? People of Color Panels at BroadwayCon 2018

Speakers at three of the panels at BroadwayCon — Beyond the Heights: Latinx Representation in Theatre; Fan Tan Fantastic: Asian American Representation; and Being A Critic of Color — summarize their discussions.

BroadwayCon: Anthony Rapp on Speaking Out. Actors and Activism.

“I wasn’t afraid of the risk; I don’t know why, maybe I’m stupid,” Anthony Rapp said in answer to an audience member’s question about the difficulty of going public with his accusations of sexual misconduct against Kevin Spacey.

Rapp was speaking at the third annual BroadwayCon, a theater convention that he co-founded, in a panel entitled “Actors and Activism,” along with fellow panelists Lisa Kron, Ilana Levine, Arian Moayed, Emily Skeggs, and Britton Smith.

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#ArtActionDay: Events in NYC

Today, the first anniversary of the inauguration of Donald Trump, is Art Action Day.
The day is organized by The Federation, founded last year to spread the message:

Art is essential to democracy

There are events planned throughout the country. Here are some in New York:

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Martin Luther King Jr on The Three Sicknesses of U.S. Society: Racism, Poverty, and War

On Martin Luther King Day, many people read or listen once again to his most famous speech, from August, 1963,  I Have a Dream, But today, people are finding King’s speech below, delivered four years later, on August 31, 1967, especially apt. Speaking at the first and only National Conference on New Politics in Chicago, he focused on what he considered the “triple prong sickness” of “racism, excessive materialism and militarism,” and exhorted the listeners:

“Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world, declaring eternal opposition to poverty, racism and militarism.”

He said:

“…on some positions; cowardice asks the question, is it safe; expediency asks the question, is it politic; vanity asks the question, is it popular, but conscience asks the question, is it right?”

King was killed seven months later.

Transcribed excerpts of the speech, with some sentences highlighted, are below the audio of the complete speech.

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#WorldAIDSDay: Still Here, Still Affecting the Theater Community

The death from AIDS of theater artist Michael Friedman in September at the age of 41 was a shocking reminder that, yes, people still die from AIDS — and yes it is still affecting the New York theater community, a fact worth repeating on World AIDS Day, which is today.

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