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Stitch by stitch Brockport cast brings tragedy to light

by Carson Werner | sports editor
Tue, Oct 9th 2018 01:00 pm

Last weekend, beginning Friday, Oct. 5, the College at Brockport Department of Theatre & Music Studies held three performances of The Triangle Factory Fire Project. Created by Christopher Piehler and Scott Alan Evans. Brockport professor Francis Kuhn is directing the piece for the department’s fall production. The story covers the incident from the time before the fire, to the final court rulings and the factory owners’ fates.  

In a play consisting of 29 characters and three smaller roles, the nine person cast had its hands busy with the two-part production. Despite the possible confusion between role switching, the play was fashioned to be informative and captivating, drawing in personal scenarios from the American tragedy. 

Margaret Schwartz, a Jewish machine operator at the factory was one of the 146 that perished in the fire. The play revolves around her story until her death and finishes through the invoking of her mother’s grief. Played by Ali Henderson, Schwartz was a 24-year-old immigrant from Hungary. 

“I like Margaret because she’s a powerful character. She really leads the whole strike and speaks up for herself,” Henderson said. “She is actually a combination of two real-life women. There was a woman who was Max’s sister and there was another woman who actually pushed the strike going forward. For the sake of the show, I think they wanted the audience to have a connection with Margaret. They wanted her to have the brother.”

The documentary-style piece also features facts and phrases commonly used by people and newspapers in 1909-1911 involved with the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Piehler and Evans designed the production to be historically accurate, reminding the audience that the event has occurred over 100 years ago.

“There are some things that were condensed, obviously for the stage,” Henderson said. “I’m sure the other actors have other condensed parts as well, but the trial for example, is taken almost verbatim from the transcripts. Most of the play overall is factual.”

Freshman Steve Kurdziolek plays the roles of William Bernstein, a factory cutter, Frank Sommer, a New York University law professor, and his main role Charles Bostwick, a New York City district attorney. Working for the side of the factory women and Schwartz in particular, Bostwick played a big part in standing against industrial safety regulations and for earning the justice the workers deserved. 

“He’s got such an interesting role and is one of the biggest characters in the show,” Kurdziolek said. “It’s fun because he gets to interact with every other character.” 

Despite losing the case to wealthy factory owners and a biased jury, Bostwick was the controversial information conveyor from the play to the audience. The play finishes with the loss of the case and the induction of fire drills. 

“We’ve always felt that the play pushes for the idea that there are a lot of bigger issues that caused the fire and the play doesn’t offer much of a solution for it,” Kurdziolek said. “It leaves it out for the audience to decide with ‘here’s how things are; take it your own way.’”

Before entering the theater, a screen was setup for a brief overview of labor and safety laws from the early 1900s to present day. The three final slides included industrial catastrophes that happened within the past 30 years. Bangladesh had a textile factory collapse, killing 1,134 in 2013. Pakistan’s Baldia Textile Factory had a fire breakout in 2012, killing 289 – mostly young women. In 1993 a toy factory in Thailand erupted in flames and killed 188 workers behind locked doors. 

The play holds content of an event that happened over 100 years ago, yet there is still eerily similar events going on worldwide today. Regulations have improved nationally and in most industrialized countries as well. Kuhn had said it first. 

“It’s as if we exported our industrial tragedies to other countries,” Kuhn said.

Performances will continue following mid-semester break on Oct. 18, 19, and 20 at 7:30 p.m. Contact the Tower Fine Arts Series Box office for more information at (585) 395-2787.

 

stylus.sports@gmail.com | @carsonwerner1

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