The show follows three young friends, each with different jobs – Jody works as an apprentice welder, Carmela works in a movie theatre and Simone as a barista. They each encounter specific problems ranging from poisonous chemicals to sexual harassment, and the show explores their options for response. The numerous teaching points are balanced by strong character development and the conclusions are, realistically, somewhat ambiguous, yet empowering. WORK PLAYS is intended to emphasize audience engagement and to trigger post-performance questioning and discussion which is guided by a facilitator.
In 2002 Don Bouzek was approached by Kevin Flaherty of the non-profit Alberta Workers’ Health Centre [AWHC] to collaborate on the creation of a show for secondary students about workplace health and safety and other employment issues. Don asked Jane Heather to write the show. The three collaborators wanted the show to be worker-focused, include a wide variety of workplace issues and to reflect the excitement and confusion that young workers often face when new to the job.
Jane’s background fit the task perfectly and her extensive research included reviews of worker complaint files from the AWHC, discussions with health and safety activists and brave excursions into a number of high schools, talking with students about where they worked, and the conditions in their workplaces. From this she created a draft script which was presented in two Edmonton schools on the 2003 International Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job [April 28th].
Later that year the AWHC generated enough funds to support a pilot tour which began in February 2004 under the direction of Jared Matsunaga-Turnbull. Despite being offered free to schools WORK PLAYS was breaking new ground and it took huge efforts to find schools willing and able to take the program. The response of teachers and students was overwhelming positive and word of mouth led to the original 3 week tour to be stretched to 4. The initial tour included delivery to schools in Edmonton and Calgary for one week each and at various smaller centres for the other two weeks.
Based on this initial success the WORK PLAYS collaboration continued for 3 years (four tours) with GZP doing the hands-on production work and the AWHC contributing financial resources, tour promotion, school scheduling and post-performance facilitation and teacher support. Schools across the province, in small and large communities were reached.
In 2006, the two organizations agreed that AWHC would take over sole production of WORK PLAYS. The Centre hired Jared directly to co-ordinate the project and continue to direct the play.
The show continues to tour (over 500 performances as of summer 2010) and to grow. The AWHC has taken this experience and developed a second show (That’s Danger!) aimed at younger audiences. GZP continues to work with the AWHC on other projects, most recently video adaptations of That’s Danger!
WORK PLAYS remains an example of how GZP has collaborated with other organizations to produce work that stands on its own but also strengthens that organization’s capacity to use worker-centred art for social change.
2003-2006 Production of Workplays
Script: Jane Heather
Music: Jan Randall
Director: Jared Matsunaga-Turnbull
Designer: Marissa Kochanski
Performing Artists: George Szalagi (sp) Ryan Parker, Jimmy Hodges, Julie Golosky, Sylvia Wong, Anne-Marie Felicitas, Kristi Gunther-Hansen, Melissa MacPherson, Chris Bullough, Farren Timoteo, Mark Jenkins,
Stage Managers: Cheryl Millikin, Susanna Murphy, Terry Beth Grieve, Gina Puntil
Producer: Don Bouzek,
Administrative Support: Vi Olinek, Joanne Jenkins