Musical sings of the American workforce experience
THE SANTA CLARA
November 6, 2014
Fridays often end with people swapping war stories from their work week. This Friday, the Santa Clara Department of Theatre and Dance will debut “Working,” a musical about those stories.
From an out-of-touch third grade teacher to a CEO who resembles Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Working” paints a vivid picture of the entire spectrum of employed Americans.
“Above all, the people in ‘Working’ are living out the choices they make in their lives,” said Jeff Bracco, director of the show. “Some are pleased with where they are in life and some are not, but they all are trying to make things better for themselves and their families — something with which everyone can identify.”
Despite its relatable theme, “Working” is not a typical musical. Instead of furniture, the stage will be clothed with three versatile structures made of industrial steel. Forgoing an elaborate set, there will be a stage-wide screen which will feature projections. Replacing frenetic action, the majority of the show consists of one “worker” onstage delivering a monologue.
Monologues test an actor’s ability to single-handedly captivate an audience’s attention for relatively long amounts of time.
“They have one shining moment to say what they want and you have to figure out why they say what they say,” said junior actor Aaron Johnson.
The burgeoning actors command attention on stage with professional presence and most take on multiple roles in the production. In addition to juggling characters, the cast had to find a way to convincingly portray real people.
“Since this script is based on interviews that were done with real working people, finding that balance between real people and theatrical characters was a challenge, but one that this talented cast has embraced,” said Bracco. “They have created very real, complex people on stage, who are also funny and entertaining to watch and listen to.”
Most of the monologues culminate with a song performed with the live orchestra but, instead of dancing, the ensemble members join the lead singer as fellow workers performing mimed labor, such as truck driving or hotel cleaning. The substitution of pantomimed menial labor for the ornate dancing typical of musicals emphasizes the importance of the work few people think about.
In addition to examining overlooked American labor, audience members will witness the unseen work behind a theatrical performance. “Working” opens with a narration of the technical cues for lights, music and stage pieces. Usually, these cues are only heard by stagehands, but they are read aloud so the audience can follow the organized chaos that precedes a performance.
“It’s very transparent what we’re doing,” said stage manager Bryce Webster, who will be orchestrating the exposed behind-the-scenes work. “You get to see the backstage happen onstage.”
“Working” is based on a book by Studs Terkel named “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.” The songs were written by prolific showtune savant Stephen Schwartz and folk legend James Taylor, among others.
The musicalization of non-fiction may seem strange, but the tunes enhance the reality of the stories.
“(The characters) open themselves up even more to the audience through the music so we can better see who they are and feel what they are feeling,” said Bracco. “Ultimately, through the music we get closer to these people and can see more of ourselves in them.”
Contact John Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4854.