Orange County Artist Premieres New Musical Theatre Work in Los Angeles
“Singing Jailbirds” was originally written by Sinclair after his experiences witnessing the strikes in San Pedro in 1923, and his own arrest, for peacefully demonstrating by reading the Bill of Rights at Liberty Hill near the Los Angeles Harbor.
“I wanted to take Upton’s work, which was written as a pre-Broadway four act play with music, and turn it into a Broadway musical. I collaborated with an extremely talented composer, Robert Gross, and together we wrote new songs, and created new arrangements of period union songs and popular music of the roaring 20’s”, states Buffer.
The story of Upton Sinclair’s Singing Jailbirds: The Musical is about a fictional character names Red Adams, a sort of amalgam of real worker’s movement activists like Joe Hill, Bill Hayward and Ralph Chaplin. Adams is thrown into jail for “criminal syndicalism” a charge that no longer exists in California law, but at the time was used by corrupt police officials to keep activists off of the streets and suppress 1st amendment rights. Red Adams begins to hallucinate in solitary confinement and it is through his delusions that we learn about his secret past and the worker’s movement.
“I enjoyed learning about the Wobblies – the name for labor activists, and about the Industrial Workers of the World and their goal of achieving a One Big Union”, says Buffer who adds, “One of my objectives is to remind people of the forgotten history of the labor movement, and the value of the sacrifices made by men and women in the early 1900’s – the grandparents and great grandparents of today’s union members”.
The cast of Upton Sinclair’s Singing Jailbirds: The Musical contains over 30 performers, 15 of whom are men who reside at Beacon House Association of San Pedro. Buffer explains, “The reason the show is called ‘Singing Jailbirds” is that singing was the peaceful way in which workers would demonstrate. They took existing tunes from hymns and folksongs and put new lyrics to them that contained pro-union messages.
The Battle Hymn of the Republic’s ‘Glory, Glory, Halleluiah’ became ‘Solidarity Forever’. By creating these songs and giving song books to workers in various languages they turned pain into power. When arrested, these jailbirds would sing their songs so that they could be heard through the walls of the prison and out on the streets”.
The Beacon House was founded in 1974 as a private non-profit California corporation, with the purpose of providing a peer-oriented, residential recovery program for men whose lives had become unmanageable due to alcoholism or addiction. “It’s been a pleasure working with these men, many of whom have never performed before, but who have worked very hard and learned many skills that they bring powerfully to the stage.” remarks Buffer.
“It is a privilege to stage this production in San Pedro, the town where Upton Sinclair’s experience led to the story’s creation and where our story is set.” Buffer concludes.
Learn more about the show at http://therelevantstage.com. Upton Sinclair’s Singing Jailbirds: The Musical opens May 22 and closes May 31, 2009. Tickets are $20 and may be purchased online. Performances will be at the 1500 seat, newly renovated, Warner Grand Theatre at 478 W. 6th Street in San Pedro, CA 90731. Info Line: (310) 929-8129
The Relevant Stage is a non-profit, 501(c) 3, public benefit corporation. EIN# 71-1-32382. TRS’ primary objectives and purposes are to promote the artistic necessity of theatre to the public; to foster theatre appreciation to youth, and to present plays, operas, musicals and mixed media performances that reflect current social issues, to the regional community.
The Relevant Stage
600 S. Pacific Avenue #220
San Pedro, CA 90731
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