By RICK BROWN, Yard Light Media
KEARNEY — The musical “Working,” based on Studs Terkel’s book, takes a step back to look at how we do our jobs.
Director Judy Rozema noted that the production celebrates the complexity of our crafts.
“It’s about finding dignity in even the most seemingly mundane job – and the reward of taking pride in your work, no matter how humble,” she said. “And he finds his dignity in continuing to work, even when this work lacks meaning. I think everyone can relate to it. There’s even a song about someone who’s retired.
The show features a book by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso, as well as music by Schwartz, Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Mary Rodgers and James Taylor. Schwartz, Carnelia, Grant, Taylor, and Susan Birkenhead contributed lyrics to the musical.
“I think it’s a very poignant, but also fun show,” Rozema said. “Audiences are going to really enjoy it because it’s very different and very relatable.”
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The Kearney Community Theater presents “Working” today until March 13. Tickets for the musical cost between $16 and $20.
Terkel interviewed over 150 workers for his book.
“He asked them how they felt about their work and how it felt to be identified solely by their work,” Rozema said. “Some great songwriters, including Stephen Schwartz of ‘Wicked’ fame and Nina Faso, turned the book into a spectacle by choosing about 30 of these professions. The show has gone through a few revisions, including this one from 2012 We make the localized version.
This version allows theater groups to subtract professions that might not be typical of the region.
“You can really adapt it to people who might come to see it,” the director said. “The interesting thing we did is we added local interviews of people who work in the Kearney community. We have an ER nurse from Good Sam, a few public school teachers from Kearney, someone who owns a roofing company, and a few high school students. They all give insight into how they feel about their work – and life.
The interviews, recorded on video, are projected on large screens on stage between the live scenes.
“In addition to this unique part of the show, people can come and expect to hear great singing, see great dancing, and then enjoy the acting that is so crucial to a production like this” , said Rozema.
The non-fictional character of this musical gives more strength to the message of the show.
“The songwriters that Schwartz and Faso employed took the actual words of these people,” Rozema said. “There is no story per se, it’s more of a musical review. Each scene spotlights a different worker in a different profession and how they feel about their job. What you see and hear are the words of the real people Terkel interviewed in 1974.”
Terkel’s book, “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do”, featured mostly stories from ordinary individuals as well as pieces from Steve Hamilton, a famous baseball player and actor Rip Torn.
“I think it’s an interesting show because it’s not just for people who love the arts,” Rozema said. “We’re talking about school teachers, waitresses, truck drivers, bricklayers, housewives, fathers and sons – all sorts of different backgrounds. I think everyone who comes will be able to see themselves in one of these positions, if not more.
Due to the nature of the show, Rozema said she approached directing differently than producing a fictional show with a more traditional story arc.
“The people who are in the show are absolutely an ensemble bunch,” she said. “There is no lead actor or actress. Everyone works together to create this real-life image. In one scene, a company member might play a waitress. In another, she could be playing a housewife. Or an actor could be an office manager and then in another scene he could be a trucker. So it’s a different process to get the actors to a place where they can pass very easily in five to six minutes, from one character to another.
On a personal level, the making of “Working” has affected how Rozema views her work.
“When people meet you, they always want to know what you ‘do’,” she said. “They identify you by what you do, rather than who you are. Like everyone else, I want to be identified by my personality and character rather than my job title.
She spoke of the desire “to be heard”. The opening monologue features a steel worker talking about being “just a steel worker”. Rozema notes that at this point people want to change the perception of identification.
“I think everyone in the cast kind of looked at themselves, in retrospect, from what they learned from these real people that they represent,” she said.