Although a strike by members of Yale’s two largest union ended a month ago, members of the Yale theater community are attempting to bridge the gap between students and workers by staging a play that focuses on a union struggle in a meat packing plant.
The Yale Dramat seeks to promote greater understanding between students and union members this weekend through the production of “Slaughter City” by Naomi Wallace. Combining themes of love, friendship and labor issues, the play attempts to speak of past and present political issues in society while retaining an artistic flair.
“Slaughter City” represents an opportunity to create a productive dialogue between Yale students and members of Yale’s unions, said Emma Hellman-Mass ’04, the play’s director. Hellman-Mass, who proposed the idea of performing the play at Yale, added that the play provides a “safe space” for people to think and question, and allows students and workers to interact beyond the confines of the dining hall or entryway.
“I hope it opens up a discourse that can continue outside of the context of the recent strikes so that we can look at the long-standing issues at the root of this history, at the root of this struggle,” Hellman-Mass said.
Increasing political activity and working with the non-theatre community is a new approach for the Dramat, said Lauren Stripling ’05, the club’s marketing director. Stripling said the play represents an effort to perform a wider variety of shows, market to new members of the local community and give students and workers a chance to talk more to each other while enjoying a piece of art.
“I think in some ways the strike separated [students] from [workers] psychologically, and definitely put students in the middle between the administration and the unions,” Stripling said.
Members of locals 34 and 35 — who had been on strike since the start of the school year — recently returned to work after reaching an unprecedented eight-year contract with the Yale administration offering larger pensions. The high-profile labor dispute attracted national attention and brought prominent political figures such as Jesse Jackson and Howard Dean ’71.
“Union workers are a previously untapped audience for us, and we’re really excited to be pushing for them to come, offering $2 tickets,” Stripling said.
Local 35 President Bob Proto said he was unaware of the play but wanted to find out more from his staff. Local 34 president Laura Smith is on vacation and could not be reached for comment.
Lucy Kaufman ’04, the play’s producer, said what she likes about the play is its display of the labor struggle in very human terms.
“It avoids boring didacticism and is a piece of art rather than a piece of propaganda,” she said. “I hope that the production shows that one can address important issues of labor, race and gender while retaining a sense of humor and a deep artistic purpose.”
Kaufman added that in choosing “Slaughter City,” the Dramat was making more of an artistic statement than a political one.
“They are embracing the fact that theater can be an important arena for addressing real and important issues in today’s society,” Kaufman said.
Although the play has achieved international status — it opened for the Royal Shakespeare Company in London’s National Theatre and made its American premier in Boston’s prestigious A.R.T. theatre — there have not been many productions of it, Kaufman said.
Jaclyn Opritza ’07 — who said she felt trapped in the middle of the labor dispute — said she appreciated the play’s intention of fostering greater communication between students and workers.
“I think it’s a better, more innovative way to get to students,” Opritza said.
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