Today we have a guest-blog from Ryan Gilliam, Artistic/Executive Director, Downtown Art.
Many New Yorkers are familiar with the history of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. It was a devastating event and launched a determined and ultimately successful campaign to improve factory working conditions early in the last century.
I’m a playwright and theater director who has chosen to work with teens for the past twenty years. I admire young people and have long sought to be a champion for their capacities and talents. A year or so ago, I began my own journey to discover who the young seamstresses of the Triangle Factory had been before they became victims of that terrible fire. I found their story to be remarkable.
These young women, most of whom were immigrants and only a handful of whom had any experience with the labor movement, managed to sustain one of the first major strikes by women, a general strike which sought a 52 hour work week, a 20% pay increase, and union recognition.
The strike, which lasted through a cold and bitter winter, was controversial, and the girls found themselves facing intimidation and violence on the picket lines as well as harsh treatment from the police and the courts. Their plight galvanized middle and upper class women to join them on the picket line, which became front page news.
The courage and perseverance of these young women in the strike of 1909/10, often called the "Uprising of the 20,000" inspired me to write The Waistmaker’s Opera. The opera premiered last May, and the heartfelt responses from our audiences were deeply moving.
We had the pleasure of performing an excerpt of the opera last week at the Tenement Museum's Tenement Talks series, as part of a program featuring author Philip Dray, whose new book, There is Power in a Union, has just been released.
-- Ryan Gilliam
For information on performances of The Waistmaker’s Opera, please visit our website at http://www.downtownart.org/