[Marxism] Mothers of Ludlow

Tom Cod tomcod3 at gmail.com
Mon Jul 26 18:04:55 MDT 2010

[SF Chronicle, Arts Section, 7/25/10]

The massacre of striking Colorado coal miners in 1914 may seem an unlikely
musical theater piece for middle class kids in Berkeley to take on, but
Berkeley's Youth Musical Theater Company (featuring kids from seventh grade
through college), based at the Julia Morgan Theater, is used to taking on
serious challenges. And staging the world premiere of "The Mothers of
Ludlow," which opened last weekend, also dovetailed nicely with San
Francisco's annual, monthlong Labor Fest.

Another advantage to mounting this epic production with a cast of 30 and a
15-piece orchestra was having playwright Martha Boesing and composer Paul
Boesing on site throughout rehearsal to collaborate with the students and
YMTC Artistic Director Jennifer Boesing, who happens to be their daughter.
Divorced 30 years ago, Paul and Martha Boesing are best friends, and he
still writes the music for her plays. She lives in Oakland, he lives in
Omaha, Neb., but both were available to be in Berkeley for "Mothers," which
they workshopped in 1999, but it had never been produced.

Q: How did this collaboration come about?

Jennifer Boesing: About a year and a half ago I said, "Hey, you guys aren't
getting that done, what do you think about YMTC doing it?"

Q: What's it like working with your parents?

Jennifer Boesing: It feels very familiar in a way, because I grew up in the
theater. I was a kid on the stage with them, my mother has written roles
with me in mind and directed me a lot, and I worked with my dad as a voice
teacher. I grew up as an actor and later studied singing and got my master's
in music and voice at the San Francisco Conservatory. In YMTC, I'm at the
helm, so it's definitely a flip.

Q: What's it like seeing your work performed by youngsters?

Martha Boesing: I wondered if they'd be able to handle this, and they've
been wonderful. There's something interesting about young people doing this
work. There's a kind of innocence and freshness that I think a lot of the
strikers probably had, because they didn't know what they were getting into.
They certainly didn't know that they were going to be on strike for nine
months and that there would be this horrible massacre at the end of it. They
thought they were moving to the tent colony in September for a month or two,
and then they had to go through this terribly difficult winter, then the
massacre in April.

It's horrible how labor history in this country is suppressed and forgotten
and censored. The massacre at Ludlow is a huge event and one of the great
labor stories in the history of America. And because of the fury about this
in the United States, they did get better hours and pay and living

Q: It's interesting that the miners were all immigrants.

Martha Boesing: You couldn't get past Ellis Island if you didn't have a job,
so you were met at the boat by the Rockefeller gang and offered jobs in the
mines. So the cast is made up of Italians, Greeks, Welsh, Serbs, Croatians.
Paul, who is also a dialect coach, has been working with the actors on that.

Paul Boesing: We're doing three: Greek, Croatian/Czechoslovakian and
Italian. Tikas, the leader of the strike and the one real biographical
character in the play, was Greek. Many of the scabs were African American.
The love story subplot is an interracial romance.

Q: How do you help kids understand the labor struggle?

Jennifer Boesing: They couldn't possibly know the poverty and the feeling of
being old before your time, so that's just acting. But the piece about
justice and the labor movement, the kids can really get behind it - the
passionate injustice and righteousness. Kids really get that.

Martha Boesing: I'm really impressed, and I'm a curmudgeon. You work in the
theater for 60 years and you don't like anything you see anymore. But I've
seen shows here that are as good as anything at ACT or Berkeley Rep, and I'm
not just saying that because I'm Jenny's mom.

The Mothers of Ludlow: 7:30 p.m. Fri. through Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Julia Morgan
Center for the Arts, 2640 College Ave., Berkeley. $12-$22. (800) 838-3006.


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