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1911 factory fire remembered in student play

by Carson Werner | sports editor
Tue, Oct 2nd 2018 02:00 pm

The College at Brockport’s Department of Theater and Music Studies is known for producing four exceptional performances on an annual basis. This year’s fall production is a piece revolving around one of the worst American workplace tragedies. Brockport will be presenting The Triangle Factory Fire Project, written by Christopher Piehler and Scott Alan Evans. 

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that occurred in 1911, was the deadliest industrial disaster New York City had ever experienced, killing 146 and injuring 71. The victims were mostly young women from Europe who had traveled to America in pursuit of prosperity, but were forced into unsafe working conditions because of their status as immigrants. The unregulated corporation building only had one fire escape and many of the managers had locked the doors to prevent theft. Since the fire had consumed the eigth, nineth and 10th floors of the Asch Building, fire trucks and firemen’s ladders were unable to reach the top floors, leaving the people inside helpless. 

The gruesome event led to several reforms and changes in regards to the United States labor movement. It forced the development of occupational safety, health standards and the improvement of the NYC Fire Department. Play director and professor in the Department of Theater and Music Studies, Frank Kuhn, believes that this piece reflects more of modern day society than what most would expect. 

“I think that the play doesn’t preach but it certainly touches on issues having to do with immigration, industrial safety, government relationship to corporations and unregulated corporations,” Kuhn said. “It’s very interesting that this type of tragedy [Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire] doesn’t happen in the United States anymore. It happens in places like Bopal, as if we exported our industrial tragedies to other countries.”

The cast is made up of nine actors and actresses, each having multiple different parts throughout the play. To keep the audience from being confused during performances, the crew is relying on costumes and vocal ranges to differentiate characters played by the same person. 

“There are nine actors, most of whom play four different roles. But not one at a time, they jump back and forth between them. For some, it doesn’t matter if the audience doesn’t know who they are. For the important characters, they all have a slightly different costume and a different personality; a different physical life, maybe slightly different vocal life, maybe more high pitched or low pitched.” 

The darker spirited play portrays the historic event the way it  happened. Language authenticity was sewn into the production as the team hired a dialect coach who helped the specific characters acquire Russian accents for their roles. The writers also included actual names and phrases that were present at the fire. Jaden Adams, a freshman at the college, plays the role of William Shepherd, a reporter from the early 1900s.

“This isn’t some dinner-and-a-show murder mystery party, nor some fairy tale,” Adams said. “It’s a vivid retelling of a real-life tragedy that happened a mere five hours away from here at Brockport. The play takes extra care to keep victim’s names and words so we immortalize this event and its victims so they’re never forgotten.”

The Triangle Factory Fire Project will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 5, 6, 7, 18, 19 and 20 at The Tower Fine Arts Center. A 2 p.m. matinee will be held on Sunday, Oct. 7, which will be American Sign Laguage (ASL) interpreted. Tickets can be purchased at the Tower Fine Arts Center Box Office or online. 

 

stylus.sports@gmail.com | @carsonwerner1