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Lynn Nottage on the origins of SWEAT | The Public Theater


SWEAT really, for me, began with a
friend of mine who was a single mom of two, who wrote me an email, explaining her situation. She found herself after working most of her life and being
solidly middle class, without a job and for six months without re, any
really, any real resources. And it really broke my heart because she’s someone who
I was very close to and I engaged with on a regular basis, but I really had no
idea that she was in such incredible dire straits. So I really set about to
figure out how poverty and economic stagnation was really shifting the
American narrative, and this was in 2011. And I began doing research with my
assistant at the time, and we came across a city called Reading, Pennsylvania. The
very first time that I went to Reading, Pennsylvania was in, I believe, December
of 2011. And in that moment, at least in Reading and in many places like that a
lot of factories were shutting down, and steel workers and, and textile workers
were finding themselves locked out, which is very different than previous
generations where, you know, if you had labor issues, you were able to strike and,
and sit down at the barden [sic], bargaining table and use collective
bargaining to really affect change. But what was happening in Reading and a lot
of places is that factories were pre-empting strikes and locking workers
out. And so that’s very much the, the environment that I entered Reading in.
We first reached out to the mayor’s office. We reached out to United Way. We
reached out to some homeless shelters. We reached out to some businesses and
really had this multi-pronged approach, and our expectation is that people were
not going to speak to us. Our expectation is that people were going to be like why
are these interlopers coming, but what we found was quite the opposite. We found
that people were really eager to engage because they felt very invisible. They
felt like they were suffering in isolation, and the minute I would sit
down with someone, suddenly there was just this outpouring of information. And so my assumption is that I was going to be in Reading maybe for two
weeks max, and it ended up being a two and a half-year journey. I went in very
much as an outsider, as, as an artist. And as an artist, I know a great deal about
economic insecurity, because that’s the place where I live. And so, I realized
that there was a lot more that I had in common with folks, then I initially
suspected. You know, I thought, oh, these folks are not going to be much like me,
we’re not going to find ways to dialogue. But I realized there were so many
commonalities in our experience. And once we were able to sort of lean into each
other and have that dialogue, I think that the experience may, became deeper
and more profound. One of the reasons that I wanted to write SWEAT is that I
really wanted to put this very fractured city, a city in which everyone was
hurting, in isolation, I wanted to put those people into dialogue, so they all
recognized that they shared this one central narrative. SWEAT I really feel
is, is the American story. It tells the story of Reading, Pennsylvania, but it
could be any place. It could be any post-industrial city across the
landscape. My real real hope is that after the audience sees the play that
they want to sit down and talk to someone who they’ve never had a
conversation with before. I hope that they will ask really tough conversations
not just of themselves, but of the legislators and the people who are in
power, you know. I also hope that they will understand the power of art and be
more willing to engage with storytelling.

2 Comments

  1. William Bronston Author

    powerful and wrenching testimonial. Nottage asks us to wake up and seek engagement that matters. We are all in transformation like it or not, find a place for justice or not, We must invent our new citizenship and assert that with passion, sacrifice and conviction…

    Reply

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