Interview with Ted Dewberry, Writer and Director or the Silent Room
[From the Open Publishing Newswire]
The Silent Room: A Workers' Musical is a play about the working class struggle against oppressive bosses, greedy CEOs, and workplace injustice, all set to music. It is part of this year's Fringe Festival, and the closing show is today at 2:30pm at the Gremlin Theatre in St. Paul.
I absolutely did not know that the Silent Room was to be a musical, in fact I thought it would be a dramatic film. I soon realized that this idea was not practical because of the expense and began to think of theater as a viable option.
Now I originally wrote this as a straight play, not a musical. I've never written lyrics to a song in my life. I honestly don't know how I did it...I just imagined the situation that I wanted to portray and began writing lyrics. I really could feel Joe Hill at my side during the process because I don't have enough talent to write a song about Direct Action...but somehow, it appeared on the page.
It has changed so drastically that it is unrecognizable from just a year ago, not to mention last year. There was a lot of back story about the personal problems of some of the workers and, while entertaining, it didn't move the union story forward enough. Also it was too self indulgent.
Actually it was 17 hour days. I would go to sleep at 11pm and wake up at 5am and feel like I wanted to die. It was one of the worst periods of my life and I felt that I all of my personal dreams were slipping away and I would just be another corporate drone with no life. I spent what time I could in the Quiet Room at IKEA thinking about my life and how shitty it was. I constantly felt like I was on the edge of a nervous breakdown. I saw many other workers that were worse off than me though.
The Quiet Room is a room that hangs over the IKEA warehouse so that no one can hear a worker cry or scream when they are in there. Many IKEA workers have cried tears in that room.
I actually had never thought of organizing and was scared of unions. I actually was on the fence about joining the union because I desperately needed the job and I was worried that I wasn't going to fit in with the younger members as I was 40 years old at the time. When Erik Forman was fired though, I began to see the injustice of the corporate world and for the first time, I could see how deep the "doublespeak" bs was. After witnessing post-firing intimidation, solicitation of grievances and a captive audience meeting, I made my decision to join the union and fight to get our fellow worker's job back. It was a decision I will never regret because it fundamentally changed me as a person in a positive way.
This is a good question because I believe that art, theater specifically is its own self-contained union campaign that can be extremely effective when done correctly. Though I think Brecht's plays were definitely plays about the worker, The Silent Room is specific to our times and it serves several functions...in one stroke it entertains, educates and recruits by being relevant to the huge population of retail workers. Also, in order for the art to connect and compel the audience, it must also have a foothold in REALITY. This is why, with all the millions of dollars at their disposal, the giant corporations could never find an audience for a play about how inspiring union busting is. We have the audiences innate compassion and love of justice on our side because they know what we are portraying is genuine (Many of them have experienced it themselves).
A play like this is really a seamless transition of IWW culture from the singing traditions that are, in essence, mini-plays themselves.
They were inspired by people that I heard about through social networking and some people that I knew personally.
Like I was saying, the play must educate and entertain. Once the audience sympathizes with the plight of the workers, they will follow them to the bitter end. I simply condensed the organizer trainings that I had into a two minute segment that included the characters that we had already seen and sympathized with (workers) or hated (the bosses) and this provided a familiar face and context to the scenes that demonstrated the union busting techniques. These are techniques that corporate America pays big bucks to learn from anti-union advisors. We as union members have seen them in action (against us) and it is our responsibility to inoculate those that are unfamiliar with this.
We'll see. I have poured so much of my own money and time into it, I am hoping plenty of people come so I can bounce back a bit. In any case, I hope that others who sympathize with what I'm trying to do with this play will consider putting on the play in their home towns. All they have to do is contact me and ask my permission. They have to be workers. I'll burn the manuscript before letting a boss use the play for any reason.
This play would not have been possible without the help of my co-producer Erik Forman, Deco Locomotive guitarist John Anthony Kult who wrote the score that brought my lyrics to life, my wonderful actors that endured so much to bring this story to the public and the Kickstarter contributors that helped us buy props and basic supplies (thanks so much to them!)