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Butcher, baker, candlestick maker

Fort Wayne Civic Theater’s Working: the Musical

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


It’s probably a lot easier to tell you what Working: the Musical is not than to attempt to describe what it is. You’d probably get the wrong impression.

It’s a musical, but it’s not a musical like, say, Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

And it features a series of loosely connected characters telling you their stories through monologues and songs, but it’s not a musical revue.

And though these characters are all talking about work, it’s hardly a litany of misery and drudgery. In fact, some of the stories are uplifting, and the characters are funny and engaging, if not always likeable.

Based on Stud Terkel’s 1974 bestseller of the same name, Working features people from all strata of society talking about the activity that takes up the bulk of our waking hours — their jobs, and how they feel about what they do to make a living. Renae Butler, who is directing the Fort Wayne Civic Theater’s production of Working, says it’s about man’s search for meaning told largely through the work place, and cites a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

“So if a woman has three children that she loves, she can survive a dismal job,” Butler continues. “So in the play, you’ve got people holding on to their ‘whys’ to make it through the day. You’ve got people working a job that perhaps was not their dream, but are doing it to have their kids get ahead. You’ve got people who are disappointed in their work, but have found satisfaction in making their job a work of art.”

All of which may make Working: the Musical sound pretty heavy, but it’s not. Some of the characters we meet absolutely love their jobs, while others don’t seem to feel defined at all by what they do for a living.

And we do meet a lot of characters — a waitress, a fireman, a UPS delivery man… Terkel’s book featured something like 135 interviews, and while the musical doesn’t take on that many, it does offer a pretty good sampling. We meet office workers whose main objective is to do as little work as possible; a stone mason who takes pride in building things that last; a cleaning woman doing it all for her kids… Though there’s not a straightforward narrative, the scenes segue smoothly from one character to another as they interact in various ways throughout the working day.

In the Civic’s production, a cast of 16 actors play about five roles each. “I think it’s a really interesting and fun challenge,” Butler says. “Some theater companies will do this show with as few as six people, which is cool, but we didn’t feel that in this very large space that six people would give us the sort of heft and weight we needed.”

But the biggest challenge, Butler says, is making the characters multi-dimensional and honoring the integrity of each individual. “Really, not all the characters are necessarily likeable,” she says. “But knowing that you are actually telling somebody’s real story, that you’re using their words to tell their story about a life that they’ve created… that’s a big responsibility.”

“And to do that without making it a musical theater thing: ‘ooo, I’m a dancing fireman’,” she laughs. “You have to let the play be what it is, which is a thoughtful look into other people’s lives.”

The Fort Wayne Civic Theater presents Working
Rated PG

Friday, May 7 at 8:00 PM
Saturday, May 8 at 8:00 PM
Sunday, May 9 at 2:00 PM

Thursday May 13 at 8:00 PM
Friday May 14 at 8:00 PM
Saturday, May 15 at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM
Sunday May 16 at 2:00 PM

Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Tickets: $24/adults; $16/age 23 and under; $20/Sunday Senior Matinee

Box Office: 424-5220_www.fwcivic.org

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