Updated on September 8, 2017:
A re-mix of “Then, and Now Again, a Workers’ Opera" will be performed on Sunday, September 10 at 1:00 p.m. at the Missouri History Museum in memory of Agnes Wilcox who passed away on August 28. The production will be directed by Freeman Word and is free and open to the public.
Original story from September 21, 2016
Agnes Wilcox and Freeman Word are the co-directors of a new performance opening this weekend titled “Then, and Now Again, a Worker’s Opera.” The performance is more of a “labor cabaret,” according to Wilcox, and it explores St. Louis’ labor history, connecting workers’ rights and civil rights.
“We’re looking at labor history in St. Louis, which is rich, and we’re approaching it with music and sketches and all sorts of approaches so that we can talk about the history of St. Louis without being boring,” said Wilcox, the former artistic director of Prison Performing Arts.
The performance is produced by Bread and Roses Missouri, a non-profit which helps organize arts and humanities projects about workers, and has a cast and crew made up entirely of workers. They have been training for over a month to participate in the spoken word and musical production.
Word was drawn to the project after reading through history about the labor movement and finding it be rather homogenously focused on white people in the movement. “Labor is about the people,” Word, also a writer and performance poet, said. “I wanted to make sure we made a show about the people.”
Many of the performers did not have formal theatrical training before participating in the play, but Word said that does not matter.
“Your heartbeat has a rhythm,” he said. “Your breath has a rhythm. You walk with a rhythm, you talk with a rhythm. The amount that you blink has a certain cadence. Everything you do in your human body has a rhythm. All we do is set that rhythm to music and voice.”
Wilcox called the group “bold” and said that the workers took great risks putting themselves forward.
“That’s the charm: they’re real people and you know they’re real people,” Wilcox said. “They aren’t movie stars or stage stars. They are using theater to communicate with you.”
One of the most impactful moments in the production for Wilcox was learning about one participant’s experience working the night shift.
“This production is about making the invisible visible,” Wilcox said. “People who clean, being with them has made me realize that every time I walk into a very clean ladies’ room, I have someone to thank because they did their job beautifully.”
What: Bread and Roses Presents “Then, and Now Again, a Worker’s Opera”
When: September 23 and 24 at 7:00 p.m. and September 25 at 3:00 p.m.
Where: First Unitarian Church, 5700 Waterman Ave., St. Louis, MO 63108
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