Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/6/2019 (392 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Fourteen years after its world premiere and 100 years after the labour uprising it’s based on, Strike! The Musical returns to Winnipeg this month.
The show, written by Winnipeggers Danny Schur and Rick Chafe, is based on the real-life events of the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919. It debuted on Rainbow Stage as an independent production in 2005 and is being reimagined for the centennial of the strike.
Director Sharon Bajer was a cast member in the original production.
"I had a really good grasp on the initial story and all of these years in between to see all these other productions and think about the story," said Bajer, who lives in Wolseley. "I love that we get to re-approach the play 14 years later with all the perspective that we have and there’s been so much new information, especially recently, that’s come to light."
While the script, characters and songs will be familiar there have been some important updates to the story. All of the music has been re-orchestrated and the characters diversified to better reflect Winnipeg at the time of the strike.
"I played the maid, who was a silent white maid and now she is an African American immigrant from Oklahoma and she has a couple of great songs," Bajer said.
There is also an Indigenous character and the addition of three young newsies will help move the action along by reading headlines from the day.
The musical explores themes of unity, passion and racial tension. This time around, Bajer expects audiences to have a better understanding of the strike that saw 30,000 workers walk off the job for six weeks to protest wages and working conditions.
"When we did it 14 years ago, a lot of the people in the play and the people that saw the play, it was a new story for them," she said. "But now, because of the centennial… I think people are going to be coming to the play with a context of the strike that they didn’t have before."
Elena Howard-Scott also lives in Wolseley and plays the role of Rebecca Almazoff — a pro-strike Jewish suffragette and love interest of Ukrainian immigrant Stefan Sokolowski.
"I want Rebecca to be strong more than anything and to be resilient and intelligent," Howard-Scott said. "This passion that she has is so deep, but it comes from really wanting to care for other people and be a voice for other people who don’t have one."
The local actor admits she didn’t know much a lot about the Winnipeg General Strike when she was cast in the production, but sees a lot of parallels with the current state of the world.
"We can see this reflected in today’s society with racism and misogyny happening everywhere and there still being such a political divide," Howard-Scott said. "Even though this isn’t the division that’s happening today, it’s still very relevant in that our similarities are stronger than our differences if we’re able to look past what seems to be dividing us."
She also believes sharing the story of the strike in musical form is a good way to educate the public.
"The strike is very interesting historically, but setting it on a stage and setting it with dance numbers and fun music is a great way to make people more aware of what really happened in this city of ours," Howard-Scott said.
Strike! premieres runs June 18 to 28 and July 2 to 5 at Rainbow Stage in Kildonan Park. Visit rainbowstage.ca/strike tickets and for more information.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
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