Plays about Work, Labor and the Economic System, collected via email from the United Association for Labor Education and the Union for Radical Political Economics lists in August, 2014

Collected by Lynn Duggan. To add your own suggestions, send them to the webmaster.

At bottom is a list put together by Indiana University Bloomington Theatre Department Themester Committee

Work Two Trains Running, by August Wilson

A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry

Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller

Working - musical based on Studs Terkel's interview book.

Nickel and Dimed, based on Barbara Ehrenreich’s book.You can find the adaptation by Joan Holden here:

Various plays from the Federal Theater Project in the 1930s http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=3978

All the Livelong Day - A version of Barbara Garson's book

Hard Times, the Stephen Jeffreys adaptation of the Dickens novel.  


Pajama Game, Richard Bissell,

Newsies (Musical loosely based on the New York City Newsboys Strike of 1899)

We Were There “a multi-media women's labor history project featuring voices, songs and projected images depicting our sisters' struggles from abolitionist Sojourner Truth, fighting for women's rights to Dolores Huerta fighting on behalf of the farmworkers of today.” http://bevgrant.com/we_were_there/

Staged Action: A collection of six plays from the American Workers' Theatre  http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1053&context=books

I just wanted someone to know, play put together from oral histories of women workers written by Joyce Kornbluh (Labor Studies Center at the University of Michigan) and Bette Craig (of the Labor Theatre. The play, published in 1981, might be a great taking off point to use for students to update with newer oral histories.

Can’t Scare Me: The Story of Mother Jones, written and performed by Kaiulani Lee

From Wharf Rats to Lords of the Docks, written and performed by Ian Ruskin

I am a Man, by OyamO about the Memphis sanitation strike

The Dodo Bird, Brothers for A’ That, Drop Hammer, Elegy for Stanley Gorski, The Second Beginning,

Marked for Success, and Boilermakers and Martini’s by Emmanuel Fried

Love Songs from the Liberation Wars, a new labor jazz opera by Steve Jones

Forgotten: Murder in the Ford Rouge Plant, a labor jazz opera by Steve Jones

Working for a Living, a musical by Elise Bryant and Chris Wakefield

The Full Monty, musical, book by Terrence McNally and score by David Yazbek.

False Promises/Nos Enganaron by Joan Holden (San Francisco Mime Troupe)

Pins and Needles,  musical, book by Arthur Arent , Marc Blitzstein, et al, about the garment industry, originated with the ILGWU and ended up on Broadway--

Kinky Boots, musical, music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein.

For Profit --a great one man show about for-profit higher education that has been used by many higher ed unions especially during Campus Equity Week activities. From point of view of a young recent grad trying to pay off his student loans, who gets a job as an "admissions counselor" at a for-profit college. More info search for the title and Aaron Calafato, the writer/actor.

Railroad Bill, by Chuck Portz, from The Labor Theatre (Bette Craig), toured nationally ca 1981.

Don't Iron While the Strike is Hot, a new play about the nineteenth century union leader Kate Mullany:  http://www.troyrecord.com/events/20140515/play-panel-discussion-today-focuses-on-labor-pioneer-kate-mullany

Caroline or Change, Tony Kushner's musical (or opera) about the relationship between a black woman working as a maid and young Jewish boy in whose house she works, and their families, and all the characters' relationships to the political events of the civil rights era in their Louisiana town. loosely autobiographical (Kushner was the little boy).

Good Person of Szechuan, Bertolt Brecht, another favorite, is about the economic system: its ruthlessness.

American Buffalo, David Mamet has a similar theme (to Good Person of Szechuan).

Cradle Will Rock, the 1937 musical by Marc Blitzstein.

Waiting for Lefty, by Clifford Odets, about taxi workers making the decision to strike.

Of Mice and Men

The Grapes of Wrath

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs - despite its title, Mike Daisey's monologue has a lot about iPhone workers in China

Urinetown - this musical isn't about work but is about the econ system, privatization

The Fever - Wallace Shawn's monologue is about the econ system too, the basic inhumanity of capitalism

All Powers Necessary and Convenient, by Mark F. Jenkins is about the firings of university employees during Washington state's red scare

Glory Road – Bill Freeman, about the 1946 Steel Company of Canada strike which split not only the community but several families is classic.

53 Days - Local 2 on Stage - William Shields. Tells the story of the 2004 strike and lockout of the hotel workers of San Francisco and their union, from the workers' perspective. It's good drama, with some humor, and an excellent description of all the components of a comprehensive campaign.

Nuestro Testimonios/Our Stories - We are still at work on this domestic workers' piece, which should be completed this December. (William Shields)

Welcome to the City, William Shields – about tour guides.

Marx in Soho, by Howard Zinn.

John L. Lewis play – (Judy Ancel may soon have info on this.)

George Bernard Shaw’s and Caryl Churchill’s - Some of these socialist playwrights’ plays

New York's Working Theater specializes in plays dealing with working life, offering two or three productions per year.

Play script on the history of the packinghouse workers, drawing upon interviews with former UPWA members and short quotes from Upton Sinclair and Tillie Olsen. Harry Targ

Play representing the reality of work in the mid-80s, by Joan Hill

Billy Elliot , a musical about a young boy from a British coal-mining family who aspires to be a dancer. There's very good context concerning the miners' strike in the Thatcher era. 

Pray for the Dead: A Musical Tale of Morgues, Moguls and Mutiny, by Gene Bruskin.

There have been several iterations of the Triangle Factory Shirtwaist Fire, the most recent was Triangle: from the Fire , an oratorio written by Elizabeth Swados to commemorate the centennial of the Fire and performed nationally and internationally--including at the Edinburgh Fringe, I believe.

Lindberg's Flight, Baden Learning Play of Consent, Fatzer, Baal the Asocial, The Yes-sayers and the No-sayers - The "learning plays" of Bertolt Brecht

Table Top by Rob Ackerman

Slaughter City - by Naomi Wallace.   A play about a strike at a meat plant.  Based on a strike that occurred in the late 80s or early 90s in Louisville, Kentucky. 

MacBird! – Barbara Garson, a 1960s play that starred Stacey Keach, Bill Devane, Cleavon Little, and sold over half a million copies as a book. 

Security , -- Barbara Garson, a recession comedy.  

Barbara Garson also has a play about an office being automated when computers were first coming in in the 1980s, written a group called Women's Office Workers. 

Pain in the USPS2 – musical by Tim Hall, 1990s, based on the actual situation at the job at the main postal processing plant in detroit.  Tim would want to be involved and possibly revise a few things, since it was written a while ago.


Staged Action by L. Papa

Staging Strikes by Collette Hyman

Here is an article (in French) from a group in Lyon (France) on the question of plays about labor/ work. Some of these plays might be translated or multilingual in various versions : http://www.bm-lyon.fr/artsvivants/spip.php?article259

Two books from Cornell University Press may be of interest

http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/?GCOI=80140100703160  (Staged Action: Six Plays from the American Workers Theatre, edited by Lee Papa)

http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/?GCOI=80140100029380(Bedside Manners: Play and Workbook, by Suzanne Gordon et al.)

Programming Suggestions
From Themester Committee, IUB

Richard Bissell, Pajama Game                      

Marc Blitzstein, Cradle Will Rock      

Bertolt Brecht, The Good Person of Szechwan: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/30/theater/reviews/brechts-good-person-of-szechwan-opens-at-public-theater.html?pagewanted=all

Bertolt Brecht, Drums in the Night

Karel Capek, R.U.R.

Mike Daisy, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/18/theater/reviews/the-agony-and-the-ecstasy-of-steve-jobs-review.html?pagewanted=all

Dario Fo, either Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! or Accidental Death of  an Anarchist

Joan Holden, Steeltown (A historical action-drama film set in 1890s Pittsburgh about a violent clash between steelworkers and the millionaires who hire them.)

Joan Holden, Nickel and Dimed (based on Barbara Ehrenreich’s book)

Langston Hughes, Harvest     

Tony Kushner, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism: http://variety.com/2009/legit/reviews/the-intelligent-homosexual-s-guide-to-capitalism-and-socialism-with-a-key-to-the-scriptures-2-1200474673/

Frank Loesser, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Richard Montoya, American Night, or the Ballad of Juan José: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/07/nyregion/a-review-of-american-night-the-ballad-of-juan-jose-in-new-haven.html

Mayokovsky, Mystery-Bouffe: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mystery-Bouffe

Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

Lynn Nottage, Intimate Apparel [performed two years ago]

Clifford Odets, Waiting for Lefty       

Clifford Odets, Awake and Sing         

San Francisco Mime Troup: Posibilidad, or Death of the Worker: http://www.sfmt.org/company/archives/posibilidad/2010.php

Sylvia Regan, The Morning Star (about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire)

Patricia Resnick [?], 9 to 5

Elmer Rice, The Adding Machine

Sophie Treadwell, Machinal

Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie: http://www.woodysez.com