Civic Players to offer drama of historic New York blaze

Colleen Lovett still feels a little bit out of her element, but after a few weeks of rehearsal for t

Colleen Lovett still feels a little bit out of her element, but after a few weeks of rehearsal for the Schenectady Civic Players production of “The Triangle Factory Fire Project,” the actress is confident that director Richard Michael Roe and the cast and crew he’s assembled know exactly what they’re doing.

“I’ve done mostly independent film work — so this is a brand new experience for me,” said Lovett, who like the rest of the eight actors in the cast will play multiple characters in Christopher Piehler’s 2004 play about one of the worst disasters in New York history. “No second or third takes. It’s been very interesting watching Richard and everyone else and their reaction. It’s all new to me, but they all obviously feel like we’re going to pull this off. So I guess we will.”

The play, which opens tonight at 8 and runs through March 16, is the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of March 25, 1911, and its aftermath.

The fire was the largest industrial disaster in New York history, killing 148 garment workers, some who jumped to their death to avoid the flames. The company occupied the top three floors of the 10-story Asch building and had nearly 500 employees, many of them young immigrant women from Germany, Italy and Eastern Europe. The incident sparked the growth of the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union and generally brought to light numerous abuses by big business throughout New York and the entire country.

History as Drama

For Roe, it’s a wonderful opportunity to once again take riveting history and turn it into enthralling entertainment. His previous production at the Schenectady Civic Playhouse was “The Laramie Project” in March of 2004. Like that play — about an openly gay student who is brutally murdered — this work is also based on a true story and uses eyewitness accounts and court transcripts.

“It’s a little bit History Channel and a little bit ‘Law & Order,’ ” said Roe. “There’s a fire and a funeral, and then the second half is mostly a courtroom drama. From a history perspective, it’s fascinating, and it’s also great theater. When you see a tragedy of that scope, and then learn the horrible comedy of errors that led up to it, it’s an amazing story.”

It’s also a play that requires plenty of hard work for the actors. The nine people on stage for this production play nearly 40 characters, and for someone making the transition from film to the stage like Lovett, it was a bit daunting.

“It was a little bit scary but I got exactly what I asked for,” she said. “But not only did I get a role, I got three roles, and it’s been a wonderful experience. I had to memorize an entire play. So there is some anxiety involved. But I love acting, so the whole process of rehearsal has made me very happy. I’m acting four nights a week, which means I’m not standing around waiting to shoot a two-minute scene for a movie. Of course, I’ll be a little bit nervous, but it’s all been very gratifying.”

Lovett isn’t only enjoying the acting. She’s also appreciating the history. One of the characters she plays is Rose Schneiderman, a labor leader and socialist of the early 20th century.

“She had a very holistic view of what women’s rights and the labor movement were, and during the play I get the chance to give an excerpt from one of her speeches,” said Lovett. “She felt that women needed to work because they needed to earn bread. During one speech she said, ‘give us bread, but also give us roses,’ and then some poet laureate wrote a poem with it. This play is about women’s rights, and it’s a turning point in New York labor history that she had a lot to do with. I love her character.”

Another significant historical person in the play is New York socialite Mrs. August Belmont Jr., one of three characters performed by Carissa Lopresti.

“She comes across as a very positive person who was all for the women’s movement,” said Lopresti. “It’s so interesting to see how these women had to fight for their basic rights, and unfortunately it took this horrible incident to move women’s rights forward. It’s a great story that’s also great to look at because of our wonderful costumes, but it was material that I think is important for us to learn.

“I had never heard of the play before I heard about this audition,” said Lopresti. “There were men who were victims as well, but this play is about women’s rights.”

Greg Borucki, who also worked with Roe in “The Laramie Project,” plays one of the factory owners in this production, as well as a reporter who does much of the narration throughout the play.

“I’m one of the bad guys, and originally I just signed on for the opportunity to work with Richard again,” said Borucki. “But it’s a great play, and it’s a great challenge to be performing as three different characters. I wanted a challenge and I got one. The costume changes we go through are minimal. It’s mostly the physical and vocal characterizations that make the characters different.”

Lopresti also had worked with Roe on “The Laramie Project,” and like Borucki was anxious to work with him again.

“Thinking back about ‘The Laramie Project,’ it’s a play that seems very similar to this,” said Lopresti. “That was a wonderful experience, and we played a number of different characters like we’re doing in this play. Even though I wasn’t familiar with this play, I knew if Richard was doing it, it was something worth doing.”

“I like to have a core group of people that I’ve worked with before who know me and understand me,” said Roe. “I like actors with versatility, because this isn’t your typical acting job. But I thoroughly enjoy working with my core group, and the new people we’ve brought in for this play are working out very well.”

‘The Triangle Factory

Fire Project’

WHERE: Schenectady Civic Playhouse, 12 South Church St., Schenectady

WHEN: Through March 16. Performances at 8 tonight and Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday; 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, March 15; 2:30 p.m. March 16

HOW MUCH: $15 and $13

MORE INFO: 382-2081

Categories: Life and Arts

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