Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Diana Trotter on *The Cradle Will Rock* at Whitworth

(photo: Marc Blitzstein at the piano; undated, possibly from c. 1937)
at Cowles Auditorium
Thursday, Oct. 9 (dress rehearsal), Fridays-Saturdays, Oct. 10-11 and 17-18, at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, Oct. 12, at 2 pm
$7; $5, students
Call 777-3707

from Wikipedia:
*The Cradle Will Rock* is a 1937 musical by Marc Blitzstein. Originally a part of the Federal Theatre Project, it was directed by Orson Welles, and produced by John Houseman.
The musical is a Brechtian allegory of corruption and corporate greed. Set in "Steeltown, USA", it follows the efforts of Larry Foreman to unionize and otherwise combat wicked businessman Mr. Mister. Blitzstein portrays a whole panoply of societal figures: Mr. Mister's vicious, outwardly genteel philanthropic wife and spoiled children, sell-out artists, poor shopkeepers, immigrant families, a faithless priest, and an endearing prostitute named Moll. The piece is almost entirely sung-through, giving it many operatic qualities, although Blitzstein (as he often did, even in his full-blown operas) included popular song styles of the time.

See the Oct. 9 Inlander, p. 40, for Tammy Marshall's article on the show

** Bobo: Honestly, were you attracted to doing the show even before Tim Robbins’ ’99 movie?
Diana Trotter, professor of theater arts, Whitworth University: I was always interested in the show because I of course had read about it, and was very curious about what it looked and sounded like. When I saw the movie and saw the re-enactment of some of the scenes and heard the music, I fell in love with it. It’s been on my short list of “must-do” plays for a few years now. I love that big presentation style, I love the music, and of course I love the political and social commentary.

** Musically, what’s the most complex moment in the show, the most difficult to stage?
Trotter: A lot of the music is very challenging — one of the most complex aspects is that even the dialogue is underscored and thus has to be in rhythm with the music, and some of those places are really tricky. In the final scene, there is a montage of overlapping singing and dialogue that was a bear to put together — both musically and in terms of staging.

[ Bobo sez: There's a kind of surprise ending to Trotter's staging of *Cradle* -- He wishes he could give it away, but has been sworn to secrecy. Let's just say that Blitzstein's power-to-the-people theme will be embodied by the staging at one point. ]

** Whitworth students tend to be upper-middle-class (and not working class) and conservative (not liberal). Doesn’t that affect the students’ receptiveness to a show like this? And hasn’t this wealthy/conservative bias only GROWN in the 15 years you’ve been there?
Trotter: I think the bias has grown, although in just these past couple of years I have seen a shift in the other direction among the students. There is a lot more concern about the environment and other social causes on campus then there used to be. I think the Murdock grant (five years, $5 million) really changed the climate here — a lot more intentional emphasis on social justice, civic engagement, community-based programming. It’s made a difference. I also think that the very fact that our students come from a particular social and economic background makes this play very important from an educational standpoint, because they don’t know about the history of labor or of unions. They don’t know much about the Federal Theatre Project (until they take Theatre History). But because they’ve been involved with this show, they know more about those issues than they used to. And we’ve talked a lot about how these issues are once again becoming critical as we move in to this global economy with job outsourcing and endless reductions in the very benefits they were fighting for in the 1930s. As the market has crashed and we witness this incredible economic catastrophe, the issues raised in the play become even more interesting to them. As for students NOT in the play, many freshman seminar sections are requiring attendance. And we have a high school audience of more than 700 coming next Thursday morning for our reduced-rate school production.

** You have smart students there, but I bet there were jaw-dropping things that they DIDN’T know about the Depression (setting aside Welles, Houseman, the WPA, unions, etc.) Any examples you care to share?
Trotter: They didn’t realize that most of the benefits we take for granted didn’t exist in those days: worker’s comp, minimum wage, 40-hour work week, anti-discrimination, at-will firings, etc. They also didn’t know about the violence perpetrated by the companies and the government on the workers. I sent them news articles about some of the strikes back in the 1930s, and they were stunned by what they read. At this age, they have an innate sense of fairness and are easily outraged by what they see as injustice once they know about it.

** And as Trotter notes, the 1937 production of *The Cradle Will Rock* represents the only time in American history when the government sent armed guards to keep a play from being performed.

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