An Inside Look at Sweat

This In-Depth Guide was prepared by Dramaturgs Kimberly King and Shelley Orr, edited by Literary Manager Danielle Ward.

In this edition:

We Are Excited About

Interesting Tidbits

10 Provocative Items Related to This Play:

A Brief History of Bar Culture

Get to Know Reading, PA

Opioid America

The Human Cost of the Opioid Crisis

Judge Me by the Color of My Collar

Profile of a Steelworker

Blue Collar Workers: Our Backbone

Reading, PA and Immigration

An Interview with the Playwright

Sweat: A Pathbreaking Play

Timeline of the History of Unions

Food For Thought Questions


San Diego Repertory Theatre would like to thank and acknowledge the following for their generous ongoing support: City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, San Diego County and The National Endowment for the Arts.




Showcasing the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Sweat on our stage. 
Playwright Lynn Nottage—who also wrote Ruined, Intimate Apparel and By the Way, Meet Vera Stark—is a two-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and also received the prestigious  MacArthur "Genius Grant." The Pulitzer Board called Sweat “a nuanced yet powerful drama that reminds audiences of the stacked deck still facing workers searching for the American dream." And The New York Times hailed the play as “SUPERB!” noting “Nottage is writing at the peak of her powers.” 
Set in 2000 and 2008, Sweat follows a group of close-knit friends who work together on the line at an industrial factory. They share drinks, secrets and laughs each night at the bar. But everything starts to unravel as two of the friends—Tracey and Cynthia—apply for the same management promotion, their company decides to send jobs to Mexico, the trade union goes on strike and factory workers are locked-out for months. The neighborhood bar turns into a battleground where race, class, family and friendship clash. Still, they struggle to reclaim what’s lost, find redemption and redefine themselves in a new century.
Our Artistic Team unanimously recommended this play for San Diego REP because we felt that, in Sweat, Nottage perfectly captures the voices of the working-class who feel betrayed after investing everything in the American dream, only to have the rug pulled out from under them. Race, class, gender and economics are all at play here. And San Diego REP is a theatre that seeks to engage our community in these critical issues of today. 
When asked what inspired her to write Sweat, Nottage said: “I wanted to understand what was happening to friends of mine around 2011, who suddenly found themselves struggling to make ends meet.” So she went to Reading, Pennsylvania—the poorest city in America—to understand first-hand, the impact of our country’s economic decline. 
Interestingly, Sweat opened Off-Broadway at the Public Theater just a few days before the 2016 presidential election.
Though the play is set two decades ago, it could not be more relevant to the state of our union today. 
We hope you enjoy this revealing play that is sure to become a modern classic.






It’s an instinct to draw together for safety; a pub is as good a place as any—actually better: there’s booze there. Our inclination to consume alcohol seems like human nature, and it is revealed in our history of drinking. 
Chemical analysis of 9,000-year-old Chinese ceramic jars from the Neolithic village of Jiahu, in the Henan province of northern China, revealed traces of alcohol that were absorbed and preserved. According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, chemical analysis of the residue confirmed that a fermented drink made of grapes, hawthorn berries, honey and rice was being produced.
This is a kylix (pictured at right). It’s main use was for drinking diluted wine at symposium, which was an ancient Greek, all-male drinking party—not quite the academic experience most of us have had at symposium! Or maybe I’ve been attending the wrong ones…?
It seems our species has always loved alcohol, and we will make it from anything. “All over the world, in fact, evidence for alcohol production from all kinds of crops is showing up, dating to near the dawn of civilization. University of Pennsylvania bio-molecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern believes that’s not an accident. From the rituals of the Stone Age on, he argues, the mind-altering properties of booze have fired our creativity and fostered the development of language, the arts, and religion. Look closely at great transitions in human history, from the origin of farming to the origin of writing, and you’ll find a possible link to alcohol. ‘There’s good evidence from all over the world that alcoholic beverages are important to human culture,’ McGovern says. ‘Thirty years ago, that fact wasn’t as recognized as it is now.’ Drinking is such an integral part of our humanity, according to McGovern, that he only half-jokingly suggests our species be called Homo imbibens” (
Regardless of the ingredients, alcoholic beverages have provided the liquid lubricant to loosen the tongues of rebels, upstarts and revolutionaries from The Sons of Liberty who made the decision to throw out tea (instead of rum) in staging the Boston Tea Party in Boston’s Green Dragon Tavern, to the LGBTQ community who, in 1969, fed up with institutionalized hostility and unchecked police brutality, rose up and spilled out of the then Mafia-owned Stonewall Inn— one of the only places gay people could openly congregate—to riot, and catalyze the gay liberation movement. 
Whatever your reason, when you do visit a bar, make sure you talk (and listen) to a stranger in between rounds. As a matter of fact, share a couple of rounds. You may decide to spearhead a movement, or mobilize an army of citizens for change! Or not. But there will be one fewer stranger in your world. 



Reading (pronounced “RED-ding”), Pennsylvania, was founded in 1748 at the direction of William Penn’s sons Thomas and Richard William Penn. Before his death in 1718, Penn recognized the claim of the Minsi Band of Indians (part of the nation of Lenni Lenape Indians) to the land in the area. In the words of a comprehensive report that was compiled in 1898 on the occasion of Reading’s sesquicentennial celebration, Penn contacted members of the Minsi Band and “obtained their release.” The town was laid out about forty years before Pennsylvania became a state, but nearly seventy after the establishment of Pennsylvania colony in 1681. The town’s location was advantageous because it was the point where two valleys intersected: the Schuylkill River Valley and the Penn-Lebanon Valley. The location is also mid-way between the port of Philadelphia and Harrisburg, which would become the state capital. It was also approximately mid-way between the growing towns of Allentown and Lancaster.
The name Reading was taken from the county seat in William Penn’s former home of Berkshire, England. The iron industry in the area was well established by the middle of the eighteenth century. By the time of the start of the Revolutionary War in 1776, the output of the iron works in Reading and its environs exceeded that of all of England. The ironworkers helped supply weapons to General Washington and his troops. 
In the nineteenth century, Reading grew into an important site of industry and trade. In 1825 and 1828, a pair of canals was completed to transport goods, especially the highly valued anthracite coal from fields about sixty miles north of Reading, to cities like the port of Philadelphia and the state capital of Harrisburg. When railroads replaced the canals, Reading was again a central node in the system. The famous Reading Railroad in Parker Brothers’ Monopoly game was inspired by the important role Reading played in rail.
Reading has long been a city of industry. In the Preface to the 1898 report compiled for the Sesquicentennial of Reading, the author highlighted “over five hundred shops, factories, foundries, and works at Reading which produce over two hundred kinds of articles.” Manufacturing continued to be a staple of the city’s pool of jobs well into the twenty-first century. While manufacturing jobs have decreased overall, many people in Reading were able to earn living wages for much of the twentieth century. Increased automation and globalization have both contributed to the loss of high-paying manufacturing jobs. For some families, working at a particular mill or factory for your entire working life was expected. Some families had three generations of workers spend their adult lives at one workplace, often working their way up the line. 
Few can count on such job security today. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, in their 2018 Report on Employee Tenure, found that the median tenure for U.S. workers was just over four years. And younger workers had significantly shorter tenure. For those 25-34 years of age, the median tenure was just 2.8 years. In many factories, seniority was the way to move up the ladder, but if you are changing jobs every two or three years, you can’t carry your seniority with you. Your past experience might get you a new job, but it won’t always be a better position with better pay. In Reading, many of the highly skilled, high-paying manufacturing jobs have been replaced by lower-skilled work, such as packing boxes.
While manufacturing is still an important sector in the Reading area (especially the battery maker, East Penn), government offices, schools and healthcare now employ more people than manufacturers. 
As of the 2010 census, Reading had 88,082 people. The highest population count was in the 1930 census, when Reading had more than 111,000 people. In 2010, the city was 48.4% White, 13.2% Black or African American, 0.9% Native American, 1.2% Asian, 0.1% Native Hawaiian, and 6.1% were two or more races. 58.2% of the population were of Hispanic or Latino ancestry. The majority of those with Latino ancestry are of Puerto Rican background.
As of the census of 2000, there were 30,113 households, out of which 33.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 34.4% were married couples living together, 20.2% had a female householder with no husband present and 38.8% were non-families. 31.7% of all households were made up of individuals, and 12.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.63 and the average family size was 3.33. 
In the city, the population was spread out in terms of age range, with 29.9% under the age of 18, 11.7% from 18 to 24, 28.9% from 25 to 44, 17.0% from 45 to 64 and 12.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 31 years. For every 100 females, there were 93.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.5 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $26,698, and the median income for a family was $31,067. Males had a median income of $28,114 versus $21,993 for females. The per capita income for the city was $13,086. 26.1% of the population and 22.3% of families were below the poverty line. 36.5% of those under the age of 18 and 15.6% of those 65 and older were living below the poverty line. 
According to the 2010 census, Reading has the highest proportion of its citizens living in poverty in the U.S. In 2011, The New York Times declared Reading to be America’s poorest city. The city has been working to reverse the trend, but progress is slow.
To read more about Reading, Pennsylvania, see: (New York Times: “Reading, PA, Knew it Was Poor…”) (Text of the report from the Sesquicentennial Celebration of Reading)


Last November, I had my second full knee replacement surgery. It’s considered a major surgery, and truthfully is pretty major to visualize.  Even in hindsight, thinking about being sliced open, violently disassembled, then reassembled with hammer-like tools and synthetic parts gives me the willies! But what gave me an even greater feeling of foreboding was the possibility of becoming hooked on whatever opioid the doctor planned to prescribe for the subsequent healing pain of recovery. I feel like I know myself. I like to believe I would know if I were becoming addicted to anything. One likes to think one is in control of oneself, but after all, we are but a mass of flesh and bone powered by electrical impulses and chemical reactions—lots of chemical reactions. What was going to prevent my chemical constitution from yielding to the seduction of artificial endorphins? These drugs are purposefully strong!
As fortune would have it, I didn’t need to complete the OxyContin prescription. When the intense part of the pain subsided, I was able to decide to stop the pills: that was that. However, this is not always the case for everyone. In fact, in certain demographics, it is becoming less the case, and we should not be comfortable with the troubling trajectory of the problem.
Opioids are a class of drug prescribed for the treatment of pain. The medical community’s original intention was to ease the intense suffering of those enduring chronic pain such as in the treatment of cancer. 
Somewhere along the way (in most allegorical reports, this appears to occur in the mid to late 1990s) doctors—assured by Big Pharma that these drugs did not have the capacity to become habit forming—found their way to prescribing strong pain medicine like oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine and methadone, for chronic, non-cancer pain, for instance back pain, pain caused by injury or osteoarthritis. When this practice took hold and became commonplace, without knowing it, we were suddenly teetering on the crumbling precipice of one of the most significantly destructive epidemics of our own making: the American opioid crisis.
With the 2017 national average hovering at 130 opioid overdose deaths per day, equating to a little over 47,000 annual overdose deaths, the losses are already staggering. And unfortunately, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), many indicators point to a continuing increase: 
Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them. 
Between 8 and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder. 
An estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin. 
About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids. 
Opioid overdoses increased 30 percent from July 2016 through September 2017 in 52 areas in 45 states. 
The Midwestern region saw opioid overdoses increase 70 percent from July 2016 through September 2017. 
Opioid overdoses in large cities increased by 54 percent in 16 states.
In the 1990s, when doctors began prescribing opioids to help control pain when someone incurred an injury, perhaps on-the-job, they did not yet have the research to warn them that someone experiencing stressful events such as financial hardship or job loss (often compounding issues accompanying on-the-job injuries), has an exponentially increased likelihood of misusing the opioid and becoming subsequently addicted. What started out as a means to alleviate pain, gave rise to collateral conditions like depression, loss of self-worth, fatigue, lethargy and isolation which greatly contribute to creating a perfect environment for addiction to take hold. 
Unfortunately, many of the symptoms and precipitating factors of opioid addiction are being discovered as the medical community works backwards to figure out how we ended up in a health crisis of such deadly proportion.
But even as health professionals search for solutions in the backstory of opioid abuse, illicit drug manufacturers are moving forward, enticing their clientele with the promise of a more intense high by lacing their heroin with fentanyl, a synthetic surgical anesthetic 100 times more powerful than morphine.  
According to the Washington Post, “America’s opioid epidemic has changed. And what changed it was fentanyl.

But by 2014, fentanyl was being manufactured in China and imported to Mexico, where it was mixed into the powder heroin distributed east of the Mississippi River. Inexpensive and easy to produce compared with the opium poppy, fentanyl arrived at the right moment for drug distributors seeking to stretch their inventory for the U.S. market. But it came with a drawback: Its extreme potency makes even slight miscalculations deadly when it is added to heroin.”  
Adding fuel to the fire is the growing number of people addicted to prescription opioids who turn to heroin, as it is cheaper and easier to acquire on the street.  
With the exceptions of Alaska, Utah and New Mexico, this heart-breaking health crisis is predominantly affecting populations in the eastern United States. West Virginia, New Hampshire, and Ohio top the NIH chart of opioid-related overdose deaths. Coming in a close fourth is Maryland. Citing Baltimore’s long-standing, infamous reputation as the “Heroin capital of the United States,” critics of the recent declaration of an opioid “epidemic” chide handwringers and charge policymakers with racism and classism. Had stakeholders been proactive in identifying social factors contributing to addiction, had they been concerned with the medical community’s complicity in the excessive prescription of pain killers in the African-American community, and focused more intensively on prevention and rehabilitation within the economically depressed and predominantly Black populations of Baltimore stricken with heroin addiction, we may have gotten in front of this crisis instead of running behind it, tripping over bodies trying to catch up.



Through the Eyes of a Seven Year Old 
When thinking of the opioid crisis in the United States, my mind fixates on a news story from a couple of years ago in which a seven-year-old girl living in McKeesport, Pennsylvania (outside Pittsburgh) got herself up and ready for school, went out to the bus stop on her own, and went to school for the day. On the way home, she told the bus driver that she could not wake her parents that morning. The bus driver contacted the authorities and the police found the girls’ parents had both overdosed and died overnight. The couple’s other three children, aged 5, 3, and 9 months were in the home at the time. In the article, it was noted that the authorities took the children, described as being “unharmed” to the hospital. Still, the story haunts me. 
When looking at a photo of the young parents or watching an interview with the sister of the mother of four who died, it becomes clear that the opioid crisis affects whole families, whole communities. And it disproportionately affects those in less affluent areas. It is related to an epidemic of overprescribing these medications that the drug makers and doctors must answer for, but it also accompanies a lack of opportunity for a generation of workers that are trying to earn a living wage. The high paying jobs in manufacturing have declined in Pennsylvania over the past two decades. Indeed, it could be an injury from one of those manufacturing jobs that introduced the couple to opioids in the first place. The lack of economic opportunity leaves a whole generation unable to buy a home, send their own children to college or save for retirement. 
It seems that many are not even making it to those milestones, because their addiction, fueled by despair, leads them to abuse opioids as a respite from their situation. This is a serious health crisis that affects many twenty and thirty-somethings. In Allegheny County, PA, where McKeesport and Pittsburgh are located, there were 422 opioid overdose deaths in 2015, which was the highest death toll in county history. In 2016, Cincinnati recorded 174 heroin overdoses in six days. As the previous article notes, this crisis is affecting wide swaths of the United States. 
I think of that seven-year-old girl and her siblings. This situation seriously sets them back as well, and they contributed in no way to this; they merely were born into this family. How we attempt to address both the lack of economic opportunity for lower-skilled workers and the serious problems that come with addiction will make a significant impact on many communities across the country.
And whatever your personal perspective on drug addiction, you must see that the children of parents affected by addiction are completely innocent parties who deserve consideration. These children must be at the top of the priority list when considering how to address this situation.  Picture that seven-year-old girl—a precocious second grader, mind you—picking out her clothes, putting on her socks and shoes, finding some sort of breakfast, getting her backpack and heading out to the bus stop. Does she even know how to tell time to know when her bus comes? Did she make some breakfast for her siblings? What did she think when she could not wake her mom and dad? Was this not the first time? Think of her, and the urgency of the opioid crisis becomes very clear.



A reflection on Struggles in Steel—A Story of African-American Steelworkers, a documentary by Raymond Henderson and Tony Buba.

The pride, accomplishment and independence for the worker who, with their hands and hard labor, earns a living and supports a family, has no quality of race attached to it and yet the opportunity to work was not an equally offered one.

In the 1996 documentary, Struggles in Steel—A Story of African-American Steelworkers, Ray Henderson and Tony Buba (at right) interview over 70 retired Black steelworkers from Pennsylvania to Alabama who tell a story of racism, swallowing your pride and fighting “for the right to work hard.”

Henderson recalls how the motivation for making Struggles in Steel hit him after viewing a documentary about all the economic and personal turmoil caused by the closing of steel mills: “We were 10% of the workforce…and not one Black person was in it [the documentary]. For them to say we played no significant role in the steel industry angered me. It hurt my heart, because Black people helped build this country.”

The history of African-Americans’ relationship to the steel industry is no love story. Rather, it is akin to a contentious, illicit affair with a fiery and unyielding mistress who would prefer an infatuated lover remain in an unhappy marriage in order to tease and torment them with passion and satisfaction on long, torrid weekends disguised as business trips.

White workers, immigrants and American-born alike, had realized their power in unity with the formation of the Sons of Vulcan labor union (1858), and later, the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers (1876), so when the skilled workers of the Pittsburgh Bolt Company were met with reluctance and dismissal by management authority as they demanded higher wages, better working conditions and general economic equity, workers simply mounted a strike and walked off the job. They had learned that the mill could not survive without them.

But, as workers were becoming savvier, so too were employers. Company owners were burned by the ¨Railroad War¨ of 1877, the Homestead Strike of 1892 and other strikes that had crippled production for weeks at a time. They also had discovered a way to fight back, the Black strikebreaker.

Using slaves in skilled and unskilled positions alike had become a norm for many 

Southern industries, including iron and steel. Southern factories like Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Virginia, had close to 1,000 enslaved Blacks working in skilled labor positions; by the time U.S. Steel took over the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company in 1907, 25-30 percent of that workforce was African-American. Companies like Pittsburgh Steel had been sending recruiters to the south and what they found was a substantial pool of capable, knowledgeable workers who were tired of being Black in the South and were more than willing to relocate north for work. But hard-scrabble work was all they would find.

Blacks in the North who had tried to break into the respectable world of the unionized blue-collar worker through the front door, found themselves turned away with hat in hand:

Seasoned, skilled black men could not obtain union cards and young black workers could not gain access to apprenticeship and training programs. According to one white steel unionist, compelling whites to work with black men “was itself cause sufficient to drive . . . [white workers] into open rebellion.”  (War, Politics and the Creation of the Black Community, University of Pittsburgh Press 2010)

As strikebreakers, the African-American worker gained access to a place at the blue-collar table. Once seated, they asserted their own economic power. Inside the factories, Blacks showed that they were not anti-union, and either joined the predominantly white unions, or started offshoot organizations of their own with tendrils reaching back to the southern lands from which they hailed, and this worked in favor of all workers. When the newly integrated workforce would strike or threaten to strike, bosses seeking fresh strikebreakers from southern Black communities found themselves blocked by the connections forged between northern and southern African-American forces.

Enduring discrimination and institutionalized racism, Blacks were constantly passed over for promotions and paid significantly less than their White counterparts for the same work. Yet, the steel mill offered opportunity for financial advancement and a new way of urban life over the agricultural subsistence many migrating Blacks experienced down south. They perceived the chance to show how well they could assimilate and prosper, but it was not a sweet or fulfilling victory. Even after serving in Europe during World War II, Black men returning from active duty were still relegated to what even steel mill supervisors referred to as “back-breaking, man-killing work” in the mills.

In Struggles in Steel, the interviewed retirees talk of the hurt still resonating in their souls as they reminisce on how they trained younger White workers who would soon become their new supervisors. Denied promotions, any type of improvement in their work conditions, and sometimes even denied recognition and support from unions, the men and women interviewed in Struggles in Steel recount the injustice of discrimination, humiliation and maltreatment in the steel mills of the 1930s up to 1974 when Civil Rights legislation negotiated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Justice Department, nine steel companies and the Steelworkers union mandated “equal opportunity” with the passing of a consent decree. On paper the decree promised to be the cure for what ailed people of color and women previously relegated to the more hazardous, low-paying “Negro jobs,” seemingly random demotions among the Blacks and equally random promotions among Whites. 

But it was to be a short-lived and empty victory. According to many of the Black steelworkers interviewed for the documentary, as they rejoiced, bosses on the mill floor found ways to subvert the decree. And in the 1980s, as steel manufacturing began to move overseas instigating the beginning of the industry's American decline, it seemed to African-American workers that the companies would rather close up shop and punish everyone rather than see them succeed.



Steelworker Alice Peurala was the daughter of Armenian immigrants. Born in 1928 in St. Louis, she grew up in a family that was pro-union and politically involved in trying to recover Armenian lands from Turkey, as had been promised by President Wilson after World War I. Like the children of most immigrant families, Peurala was well acquainted with hard work, taking her first job at 14. Later she moved to Chicago where she took a number of jobs and worked as a union organizer. A socialist, she had to contend with the red-baiting of the McCarthy period, and there were periods of unemployment when she was fired for union organizing.
When Peurala entered Chicago's South Works steel mill in 1953, there were few women employed there. Most of the women who had steel jobs during WWII had returned home when the men came back from the war. The women who remained faced gender discrimination in hiring and promotion. Still, Peurala found that most of the male steelworkers were pretty decent guys who taught her the tricks of the steelmaking trade.
Active in the civil rights movement, Alice knew that the 1964 Civil Rights Act covered gender as well as race. So in 1967, when she was denied a promotion from her job in the Metallurgical Division to a better position in a product testing lab, she decided to fight. The promotion would mean that Peurala, a single mom, could be with her daughter in the evenings. She was told that since the job required overtime and heavy lifting, she was ineligible as a woman. The union would not take her case so she went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC determined that the company had lied about the heavy lifting, the onerous overtime and the education requirements. They recommended that she sue.
Cases like those of Alice Peurala helped make the 1974 Consent Decree to end discrimination in the steel industry a reality. The Decree was signed by nine major steel companies, the steelworkers union and the EEOC.
Despite the 1974 Consent Decree, women were being forced to take sick leave for pregnancy and made ineligible for unemployment or medical insurance. There were reports of women feeling compelled to have abortions to survive economically. Women steelworkers suspected that the companies were using pregnancy to rid themselves of women they never wanted to hire in the first place. There were also problems with promotions. After she was elected as a grievance handler, Peurala came to believe that the company was hiring inexperienced women to do jobs they couldn't handle as a way to dismiss these new hires, instead of promoting experienced women from inside the plant. The new hires were being set up to fail. Alice's response: “We can't allow men to decide what women’s rights are. They aren’t the ones who will get hurt, we are. If those bastards try that trick again, tell them where to shove it. The men never put up with this shit.”
Peurala helped organize the Local 65 Women’s Caucus. Steelworker women activists plunged into a wide variety of campaigns from fighting for stronger affirmative action enforcement to improving the decrepit state of the women’s washrooms. They formed alliances with feminist groups across the region, refuting the right-wing smear that feminism was only a movement for privileged white women. They became active in the newly formed Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW). District 31 made a major push for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), sending hundreds of steelworkers, both men and women, to state legislatures to lobby for equal rights. While some local media tried to make a joke out of “burly male steelworkers” campaigning for women’s rights, steelworker women and men didn’t think that was funny at all. They understood the importance of working-class solidarity against social injustice. 
Once dubbed “Alice in Wonderland” by men who thought a woman could never lead a largely male steelworker local, Alice Peurala won the presidency of Local 65 in 1979 because of her solid record of achievement. She said, “I did not win because I’m a woman. I campaigned as a candidate who would do something about conditions in the plant that affect 7500 people—men and women. ... People in the plant looked on me as a fighter. I think it demonstrates that the men in the plant will vote for someone who is going to work for them, make the union work for them.” 
But Peurala’s victory came when the American steel industry was about to collapse in an atmosphere of fear caused by mass layoffs. She was narrowly defeated for re-election in 1982, but was re-elected in 1985. But by 1985, the local was down to 800 members and Alice Peurala faced a new enemy—cancer. On June 21, 1986, her steelworker's heart went silent and the working class lost one of its finest and most steadfast leaders. 
In 1974, the EEOC, the Department of Labor and the Department of Justice filed suit against the nation’s nine largest steel producers for discriminatory hiring, promotion, assignment and wage policies directed against women and minorities. These nine companies employed a total of 350,000 workers and produced 73 percent of the country’s steel. The government’s suit also named the major steelworkers’ union, the United Steelworkers of America, as a defendant. After five and a half months of negotiations, the government and the defendants resolved the dispute through a consent decree providing for approximately $31 million in back pay to be distributed to about 40,000 minority and women employees. The companies and the union also agreed to a set of goals which included hiring women and minority persons for half the openings in trade and craft jobs and for 25 percent of the vacancies in supervisory jobs. The decree also provided seniority would be determined on the basis of plant (rather than departmental) seniority permitting women and minority access to the better paying and more desirable jobs.


She works hard for the money, So hard for it, honey!
She works hard for the money, so you better treat her right! 
All right! —Donna Summer
German immigrant Levi Strauss began to make denim in the 1870s and the fabric quickly became popular with coal miners and other physical laborers, especially out West. Who knew that the color of a worker’s clothes would come to be a defining characteristic of his social class in the world of work? 
When the term “blue collar” came into use in the early 20th century, it was used to identify work that earned an hourly wage and was manual in nature. Though the wearing of a turned down collar of any color was not ubiquitously mandatory for the laborer, the use of the term “blue collar” to refer to the “working class” is suggested by etymologist Barry Popik to have been coined to contrast with the clean, starched, white collars of professionals and holders of office positions.
Blue collar workers were laborers, tradesmen and factory workers who required the durability of Mr. Strauss’ denim, as well as the dark blue, dirt-hiding hue.  But working hard for the money in a blue-collar job doesn’t necessarily mean your actual clothes are blue anymore. 
Plumber, trucker, pipefitter, bricklayer, pilot, inspector, construction worker, machinist, repair technician, blacksmith, foreman, boilermaker are but a few of the occupations our American society labels “blue collar” jobs requiring skilled or unskilled labor, but manual labor nonetheless. Workers in this category most likely wear a uniform, and the jobs they do are the vertebrae in the backbone of American economics. (And I mean that metaphor to be so literal.) 
Let’s consider what a backbone does. One of its major functions is to protect the spinal cord, the network of nerves that carries messages from your brain to the rest of your body. Blue collar workers are the builders of bridges, roads and highways as well as the tubing, wiring and hardware components of the digital highways; physically connecting us to our food, clothing, shelter, means of livelihood and to one another. In creating these formalized, concretized pathways, blue-collar workers insure that goods, services and ideas (our “messages”) get safely from point A to point Z, protecting business and family alike. Think about traveling to Los Angeles on a dirt road on foot to see a show! Not happening! Think about missing the births and deaths of family because the best communication you have is a tin can attached to a string! Consider the fact that a lack of proper roads and communication centers kept thousands of enslaved Americans in the dark about the end of slavery in 1863 by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation until 1865! 
The backbone is also responsible for providing structural support to keep us upright. As a nation, we stand upright when our economy can support its citizens at home while being competitive abroad, and it has been the blue-collar worker literally shoveling the coal into the furnace to keep the economic ship sailing, sometimes chugging, sometimes pulling, but rarely stopping.  When engineers carve out the roads for truckers, or build planes and ships for pilots and captains to load up and transport the goods we make, our economy is being uplifted so that we may stand on our own as a sovereign nation. 



Each year since 1949, the National Civic League bestows ten communities with the All-America City Award. To earn the award, cities must apply and demonstrate the ways that their community is meeting its challenges. On its website, the National Civic League notes that, “The All-America City Award recognizes communities that leverage civic engagement, collaboration, inclusiveness and innovation to successfully address local issues.” The words collaboration and inclusiveness stand out when thinking about questions of how communities address immigration.

Over the past seventy years, fourteen cities in Pennsylvania have won the award, some more than once. Reading was awarded the prize in 1955 and Hazleton was a recipient in 1964. This may surprise you, especially if you recognize the name of the town of Hazleton. In 2006, the small city came to the nation’s attention because of a series of laws enacted by the then-mayor Lou Barletta and its city council that included mandating an official language of the city (English) and a $1,000 fine for landlords who rented to undocumented immigrants. The laws were struck down as unconstitutional and the city was forced to pay a fine, but questions about how to address immigration remain. How did Hazleton go from being an inclusive, All-America City to the face of hardline anti-immigration?

It is not that Pennsylvania has not seen significant immigration in past eras. Indeed, the area has a long history of immigrants coming to find work and build their lives. In the mid- to late-19th and early 20th centuries, Hazleton and Reading were home to many new arrivals coming from Germany, Ireland, Italy and Poland. Indeed, many neighborhoods were set up along lines of former nationality, usually arranged around a home church.

But after more than a century of living side by side, there is more in common among these earlier immigrants from Europe and their descendants than there are differences. While family heritage is still referenced in surnames and holiday customs, relatively little separates people like Lou Barletta (the former Mayor of Hazleton and now a Congressman) and his wife Mary Grace. Although when Barletta, the son of Italian immigrants, married Mary Grace, a young Irish woman, more than forty years ago, Barletta’s mother considered it a “mixed marriage,” according to the profile of Barletta in the recent book, The Forgotten by Ben Bradlee, Jr.

The subtitle of Bradlee’s 2018 book is “How the People of One Pennsylvania County Elected Donald Trump and Changed America.” The book provides a contextual introduction on the area and then shares a series of profiles and interviews with ten citizens of Luzerne County, where Hazleton is located.

So what has changed? In cities like Reading and Hazleton, the population of people hailing from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic has increased dramatically in the past twenty years. In Hazleton, according to the 2000 census, those who identified as Hispanic made up just 4.9% of the population, by 2010 it was 37%, and this year it has passed into the majority. In Reading in 2018, the estimate of population numbers broke down this way: 56.3% of the population identified as Hispanic, 48.8% white, 14% African-American, 1.4% Asian, with 4.5% noting that they were from more than one racial background. Notably, 33.5% of people identified as being of Puerto Rican descent.

These demographic changes, in and of themselves, are not necessarily a problem. But the relatively rapid changes in the demographic of the area have presented challenges for some longtime residents. For some in families who have lived for generations in this same area, the influx of people from a cultural background that differs from their own, speaking a language that they don’t understand, has been disorienting.

From the perspective of those who have recently moved into Reading (often not directly from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, but from more costly places to live like New York City), the driving reason was that Reading offered jobs, relative safety and the chance to own a home.

There are also some longtime Hazleton residents who are looking to help. Another native son, Joe Maddon, who is the manager of the Chicago Cubs, has used his celebrity and wealth to co-found the Hazleton Integration Project, a community center on the west side that provides classes and services to adults and children in need. Maddon and others like him recognize that all people deserve community and an opportunity to build a life.



Excerpt from, 4 May 2017
The interviewer spoke with playwright Lynn Nottage about her play, Sweat, after being awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize and a Broadway production. 
MarketWatch: Given the 2016 election, and how the result was driven by many white, blue-collar Americans, this play arrives on Broadway at a particularly prescient moment in time, even though it starts in 2000.
Lynn Nottage: There was a seismic shift then. A lot of jobs left. What we are feeling now is what began in the late 1990s and 2000s. At the end of the show a man came up and said thank you for humanizing some of these stories and he wanted to hold my hand for five minutes.
MW: How did that make you feel?
LN: It was an emotional moment, but it made me feel good that the story is resonating today in ways that I hadn’t even anticipated when I wrote it.
MW: Why Reading?
LN: It was an industrial powerhouse of textile and steel and agriculture and candy factories, and for many years it thrived and then it hit hard times. They embraced the notion of being middle class and how they were faring and the industrial base was removed.
MW: You’ve been back to Reading and even had a showing of Sweat there. How did they react to this play?
LN: It’s really, really hard for them. Things have gotten harder in the last month. They don’t feel as optimistic as they felt three or four weeks ago. The vast majority of the people I spoke to leaned very union and were either supporters of Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump. If Bernie had won the primary, they probably would have leaned toward Bernie, at least in this city.  Bernie was very in touch with what was happening on the ground. Trump is probably less in touch, but gave the illusion of being in touch. Bernie held rallies in Reading. People respond to candidates that come to them and have their eyes open to what’s happening and that’s why he’s still popular in that section of the country.
MW: People who work in factories are more prone to injury and likely to take pain medication. You address the epidemic of prescription medication addiction among working class Americans in the play.
LN: Reading is one of the heroin capitals of the country. When people can no longer afford pain killers they go to cheaper solutions. People who are working physically have more kinds of pain. I do believe that pharmaceutical companies recognize it. You can almost track new markets and addiction. This is one reason heroin moved from being an urban phenomenon to a rural phenomenon. [Editor’s note: The American Pharmacists Association and American Medical Association did not immediately respond to request for comment.]
MW: I’m conscious that New Yorkers are probably seeing how a community was devastated by globalization up close for the first time in a play that’s set in 2000. And how one character in your play says she doesn’t read newspapers, suggesting perhaps she doesn’t trust the news media. These two Americas seem a world apart.
LN: People aren’t as aware of international news as people are in urban centers where there is much more multiculturalism. I have two mottos: Replace judgment with curiosity and sustain the complexity. Why are these people feeling pain? Why are they so angry? It works both ways. We often retreat into our individual silos without asking the complicated questions. We have to take better care of each other. And in order to thrive we have to acknowledge each other. If we don’t participate in that social contract, our nation is going to fail.
MW: There’s a character, Oscar, who works in the local bar who breaks the picket line. He had long wanted to work at the factory, but was effectively told by Tracey that the jobs were for people who grew up in Reading. And the power dynamic shifts when Tracey’s African-American friend Cynthia is promoted to management.
LN: There’s a certain population of the white working class that become threatened by certain aspirational people of color. Oscar is on the stage almost the entire play, but invisible. The working class Latino is part of the bedrock of this culture that goes under-acknowledged. There’s a great deal of resentment directed at him. I think it is misplaced anger. Some of that was played out when we had an African American president who, by and large, did a very decent job, and represented himself beautifully and left the White House scandal free. A person of color finally has an opportunity to move upstairs, and step across an invisible line that you are not supposed to cross.
MW: Was that your experience in Reading?
LN: By and large, all my encounters in Reading were very good. Even people I found myself in opposition with politically and intellectually, there was a still a willingness to engage with me and share their stories. They just want to go on record regardless of who is asking.
MW: Cynthia’s son has aspirations of going to college and getting away, and he comes so close.
LN: There are people who want to leave, but don’t have the financial means to leave. Their poverty becomes a prison. They can’t find work, but can’t get enough money to move to a city where they can. That’s one of the true tragedies. Everyone I spoke to while I was in Reading, without exception, wanted to be working. Being poor is one of the hardest jobs in the world anyone can have. To survive from day to day is an epic struggle to find a way to feed yourself, clothe yourself, put a roof over your head. It is the most Herculean path when you have nothing. They’re seen by some people as lazy. But it’s the opposite. It’s an epic struggle to survive.


Playwright Lynn Nottage began doing research for Sweat in 2011. Her research involved visiting the city and seeing first-hand what struggles the city’s residents were facing. She met people from all backgrounds, asking about their experiences. Reading had just been named the city with the highest proportion of its citizens living below the poverty line. This fact drew Nottage to dig deeper.
After a few months of visits that were supported by a co-commission from D.C.’s Arena stage and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s American Revolutions initiative, Nottage brought along her longtime collaborator/director Kate Whoriskey. The two had worked together previously on Nottage’s award-winning plays Ruined and Intimate Apparel.  In Reading, they interviewed people in settings as varied as factories, local government offices and even homeless shelters.
Work on the play continued, culminating in a first production at OSF in 2015, which was followed by a run at Arena Stage. Then, in 2016, New York’s Public Theater produced Sweat. Only after years of such significant vetting was it deemed ready for Broadway. It opened on March 26, 2017 and closed on June 25, after 105 performances.
The play won an Obie Award in 2017 for the run at the Public Theater. It won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Drama and, with that honor, Lynn Nottage became the first woman to win more than one Pulitzer in Drama. (She also won a Pulitzer in 2009 for her play Ruined.) Sweat was also nominated for three Tony Awards (including Best Play). Sweat played in London at the Donmar Warehouse earlier this year and is transferring to the West End where it will soon open on June 7, 2019.
When Sweat opened on Broadway, a play by Paula Vogel, Indecent (also nominated for the 2017 Tony for Best Play) was also on Broadway. The fact that two plays by women were on Broadway at the same time was a milestone.  The article in the New York Times reporting on the phenomenon bore the title “Two Female Playwrights Arrive on Broadway. What Took So Long?” As reporter Michael Paulson observed, Indecent and Sweat are the only new plays by women this Broadway season; by contrast, there are eight new plays by men (none of whom has credentials comparable to those of Ms. Vogel and Ms. Nottage). The disparity is sometimes worse; in 2013-14 there were no new plays by women. Such imbalance remains a striking incongruity for Broadway, where an estimated 67 percent of the audience is women.
In the words of Marsha Norman, who was quoted in that same Times piece about the milestone of more than one play by a woman running on Broadway, “It’s about damn time.” Indeed, it is. 




1.  As globalization has increased and companies prize being “nimble,” should employees expect longevity? How important is loyalty in employer/employee relationships in the 21st century?
2. An anonymous saying goes, “Be inspired to work and fulfilled by the work that you do.” On a scale of 1-10, how inspired are you? And how fulfilled are you with your work?
3. Is your identity intertwined with the work that you do? Or do you see yourself and your career as separate?
4. How do you view San Diego from 2000 to now? What changes did you notice since the economic downturn?
5.  Steve Jobs once asked: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” How would you answer the question?


Archived Curious Reports


An Inside Look at Hershey Felder, Beethoven

This In Depth Guide was prepared by Joel Castellaw, edited by Literary Manager Danielle Ward.  To view in PDF format click here.

In this edition:

We Are Excited About

Interesting Tidbits

10 Provocative Items About This Piece:

1 The Classical Period

2 Classically Romantic

3 “More Sound!”

4 Speak Louder

5 Beethoven and Napoleon

6 Locks of Love

7 From Prodigy to Progeny

8 A Grave Situation

9 An Evening with

10 The Artistry of Hershey Felder

Beethoven Timeline


Food For Thought Questions


San Diego Repertory Theatre would like to thank and acknowledge the following for their generous ongoing support: City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, San Diego County and The National Endowment for the Arts.





have the incomparable Hershey Felder performing again on our stage, this time with the music of Beethoven. We are honored to continue our work with Hershey Felder’s production company, Hershey Felder Presents, along with director Joel Zwick and a host of talented designers.

Hershey Felder has mesmerized our audiences as Leonard Bernstein as well as Irving Berlin. He premiered Our Great Tchaikovsky in our 42nd season to great success. He adapted The Children of Willesden Lane—written by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen—directing the award-winning concert pianist, Golabek, in her one-woman show. Each unique piece offered a magnificent theatrical experience, and we can’t wait to experience Hershey Felder, Beethoven.

Beethoven has been quoted as saying, “Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine.” It’s as if this statement was written with Hershey Felder in mind. His way of getting inside of the music and laying bare its creator is astounding. He has created an art-form all his own. And, if you read about his process on pages 21-22 of this Curious Report, you will see just how precisely he crafts story and song into its own symphony. You will see that Felder doesn’t just practice his art, he perfects it. His has an incredible dedication and work ethic. Quality is paramount; every element, every note, every line is finely tuned towards a fully realized story that transports the audience through music that strikes deep in our soul.

“I suppose you could call me an auteur,” Felder says, summing up. “But I create and produce my own shows because the only thing I care about is quality. It’s not about ego—it’s about responsibility. I have to keep my promise to the audience.”


We promise you are in for a treat!








by Sasha Foo

For musicians in late 18th and early 19th century Europe, there was no greater city for artistic expression than Vienna. The Austrian city became the creative epicenter for some of the most renowned composers of the classical era: Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert and Ludwig van Beethoven. While composers and musicians had traditionally relied on support from the aristocracy and the church, public concerts became a new phenomenon at this time as an appreciation of music spread to a rising bourgeoisie, opening the doors to new opportunities for composers. Although Italian musicians still dominated in the performance of opera, Vienna and the surrounding Austrian empire gave rise to a new school called the “Viennese Classical Style.”

Aside from opera and church music, the most popular forms of music in the period around 1760 were the symphony, the string quartet, the string trio, the piano trio and the piano concerto. The Viennese became particularly enamored with the piano, and ahead of other cities in Europe, the newer fortepiano soon eclipsed the harpsichord in popularity.

Beginning with Haydn, the Viennese Classical composers began to experiment with contrapuntal patterns and strong opening themes, striving to create an overall impression of balance and proportion. The emphasis on formal structure and clarity produced a more compact sound and a departure from the ornamentation and vocal frills of the earlier Baroque era.

Although Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven each called Vienna home, they were brought together in just a few instances. Schubert and Beethoven had friends in common, and Beethoven in his last days was especially pleased to receive a gift of Schubert’s songs, yet it is believed the two never met. Following Beethoven’s death, Schubert joined the musicians who walked beside Beethoven’s coffin as it was carried through the streets. Regardless of their differences in temperament and approach to their work, these Viennese Classical composers brought profound changes to instrumental music through their innovations and the search for new avenues of expression.

The music scholar, H.C. Robbins Landon writes, “It is no accident that many of us look back upon the Viennese Classical Era with the same nostalgia which the Renaissance man felt for the glories of ancient Greece - when art could flourish and reach an apex of perfection that it has scarcely ever approached since."




by Joel Castellaw

The term “Classical Music” is commonly used to refer to virtually all music written in the European tradition from as early as the 1400s, all the way through 1800s, as well as 20th and 21st century music that uses orchestral forces and/or the instruments of the orchestra. In truth, however, what we tend to regard as classical music encompasses a large number of different forms and styles – including Renaissance music, polyphony, Baroque music, Romantic music, chromaticism, serialism, minimalism and more. Musicologists, however, use the term “Classical” to refer to a distinct and relatively narrow era.

Beginning around 1750, the music of the Classical Period was characterized by an emphasis on melody, advancements in the development of instruments, the expansion of the size of the orchestra, and the emergence of the string quartet. Haydn and Mozart are two of the most important figures of the Classical Period. Musicologists generally place the end of the Classical Period around 1830, when it yielded to the Romantic Period, which places greater emphasis on expressivity and inventiveness.

Although Beethoven’s life and career as a composer sit squarely within the years of the Classical Period, he is sometimes viewed as a transitional figure – both late-Classical and early-Romantic. His musical style and innovations included:

-The development of more complex and extended structures within works such as the concerto, symphony and sonata.

-A greater use of the juxtaposition of different keys and notes, which lends a sense of vastness and drama to his music.

-The expansion of the development section of a movement in a sonata, symphony, or concerto so that this section became the heart of any given work. This is in contrast to Haydn, for example, who gave the exposition, or initial establishment of a work’s theme, the most weight.

-Continued expansion of the size of the orchestra, especially giving greater weight to violas and cellos. These changes lowered the tonal center of his music, resulting in a heavier and darker feel.


Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which premiered in 1808, is perhaps the work that best exemplifies Beethoven’s status as the transitional figure from the Classical to the Romantic. The characteristics and innovations noted above are all present in this work, particularly the use of cyclic form. But it’s the overall impact of these various innovations working together to create an expressive effect that truly makes this symphony, to some, the first great Romantic composition. As Tom Service noted in The Guardian, “Beethoven's contemporary ETA Hoffmann wrote in 1813 that the Fifth incarnated the romantic axiom that orchestral music, untethered to words or otherworldly concepts, could glimpse ‘the realm of the infinite.’ This symphony, Hoffman wrote, ‘sets in motion the machinery of awe, of fear, of terror, of pain, and awakens that infinite yearning which is the essence of romanticism.’”




One of the most lasting legacies of Beethoven’s work is the influence it had on the development of his primary instrument – the piano. Today we listen to Beethoven’s piano concerti and his sonatas, as well as those of his predecessors such as Mozart, on modern concert grand pianos, not often realizing that the instrument that Beethoven composed and played on was strikingly different from the one we are used to listening to today.
The piano evolved from the harpsichord, which was the queen of instruments in Europe throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. The action of a harpsichord is a plucking mechanism, and the sound produced by the harpsichord’s strings is similar to that of the harp and the lute. The harpsichord produces dazzling articulation of individual notes, but the musician playing this instrument has no control over volume or the duration of the notes. Responding to a desire for more control, Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the fortepiano – the precursor to the modern piano—around 1700, while under the patronage of the Medici family in Florence. Unlike the plucked string of the harpsichord, the hammered string of the fortepiano allows the performer to express subtle variations in volume. Its name, ‘fortepiano,’ means ‘loud-soft.’ Today, only three Cristofori fortepianos survive. Although it was a significant advancement from the harpsichord, Cristofori’s fortepiano had only a four-octave range and a much smaller voice than our modern pianos. The fortepiano evolved slowly throughout most of the 18th century, and then changed much more rapidly from the 1790s to the mid-19th century. Much of this rapid evolution coincided with Beethoven’s career as a performer and composer. Jan Swafford, writing in The Guardian in 2003, argued that Beethoven’s performance and compositional demands exerted a great deal of influence on how piano makers improved the instrument.
We don't entirely know what sort of pianos Beethoven played in his teenage years as a theatre and court pianist in Bonn in the 1780s. The range had increased by now to five octaves, but the instrument still looked much more like a harpsichord than the modern piano. The tone was lighter and clearer than today's pianos, but they had a more noticeable “thunk “when hammer met string.
In his years as Vienna's hot young virtuoso, Beethoven was impatient with the local piano-makers. To one of them, Streicher, he wrote: ‘The pianoforte is still the least studied and developed of all instruments; often one thinks that one is merely listening to a harp.’ In a period of rapid evolution, Beethoven nudged the makers: More sound! More durability! More high notes! At times he would write his music right up to the available top note, then with a kind of audible disgust fall back. By 1800, the range of new instruments had increased to six octaves—perhaps due to the demands Beethoven made on the instrument through his compositions.
What Beethoven wanted from his own instrument was a huge range of volume and a range of attack, from a flowing legato to incisive staccatos. On the page he used a profusion of performance indications: directions for both pedals including half-pedal effects, several kinds of staccato, a variety of volume and note-attack indications that often serve, in practice, to juxtapose tenderness and violence. He wanted comedy, tragedy, and everything between. He played so fiercely that he once cracked a pianoforte in half with his power chords.
After 1803, Beethoven used a French piano by Erard. He wanted a more robust-sounding instrument than the Viennese ones, he wanted the piano with the biggest range, and he liked the Erard's pedals. But by 1813 Beethoven had had it with the Erard: ‘My French piano is... quite useless,’ he wrote. And by the mid-1810s, as deafness encroached. . . visitors found his pianos had strings shredded by his frantic pounding in a desperation to hear.
In 1818, he received a new piano as a gift from the Broadwood company, the leading piano manufacturer in England. On hearing of Broadwood’s gift, Beethoven wrote:
My dearest friend Broadwood, I have never felt a greater pleasure than that given me by the anticipation of the arrival of this piano, with which you are honoring me as a present. I shall regard it as an altar on which I shall place my spirit’s most beautiful offerings to the divine Apollo.
The piano (serial #7362) features the English grand action, and has a six octave keyboard. Broadwood pianos were much stronger than Viennese instruments and consequently allowed a much greater string tension. This gave them the distinct and more powerful sound demanded by [Beethoven and other pianists] of the time.
To generate as much volume as possible, he played the piano with great force. . . Beethoven cherished the [Broadwood] piano, and he used it to write many of his later works including the sonata ‘Hammerklavier’ (op.106). He showed it off to his friends and continued to use it even after he received a more modern Viennese piano from Conrad Graf in 1826, the year before his death.
Although Beethoven’s Broadwood piano was perhaps the most advanced of its day, it would still take another three decades or so after Beethoven’s death for the piano to develop fully into the instrument that we know today.
This article was excerpted from Jan Swafford’s article, “More Sound!” published in The Guardian, 14 March 2003, with supplementary material from Nicholas Giordano’s “The Invention and Evolution of the Piano,” (Acoustics Today, Jan. 2016), David Crombie’s “Beethoven’s Broadwood Bicentenary: 1818-2018” World Piano News, 10 May 2018), and information from the Schubert Club Museum. Excerpt prepared by Joel Castellaw.


by Joel Castellaw

One of the most tragic aspects of Beethoven’s history is his deafness. Today we understand that deafness doesn’t have to be a tragedy, but Beethoven certainly experienced it as one. He began showing the first signs of deafness—difficulty hearing high-pitched tones—in 1796 when he was just twenty-five years old. Four years later, he composed his First Symphony and the piano sonata “Pathétique” (Op. 13 in C minor). The following year he began complaining of buzzing in his ears, and it is estimated that he had lost 60% of this hearing by this time. The next year, in 1802 at the age of thirty-one, he wrote a letter to his brothers Carl and Johann, which has come to be referred to as the Heiligenstadt Testament. In this letter, which was kept secret until after his death, he lamented his loss of hearing and the impact it had not only on his life as a musician, but also on his life in society. The letter is heart wrenching in its despair, but it also affirms that, in spite of his deafness, Beethoven felt compelled to continue composing and to bring forth all that he felt was within him.

In the years after this letter, Beethoven composed seven of his nine symphonies, two of his five piano concerti, his opera Fidelio and such piano sonatas as the “Appassionata” (Op. 57 in F minor) and the “Hammerklavier” (Op. 106 in B flat). He made his last public appearance as a pianist in 1814, twelve years after the Heiligenstadt Testament. Two years later he began using ear trumpets, the best technology available at the time to assist the deaf and hard-of-hearing. In 1818 he began using Conversation Books to have written conversations with friends. By 1823 he reported that he was totally deaf, although there is some evidence that he was completely deaf earlier than this, perhaps as early as 1816. Yet his output as a composer continued, and some of his greatest accomplishments were achieved after 1823, including the Diabelli Variations, the Ninth Symphony, the Missa Solemnis and the Late String Quartets (Op. 127, 130, 131, 132, 133, and 135).

Audiologist Robert Traynor explored the manifestations and causes of Beethoven’s deafness, as well as the evidence regarding how Beethoven managed to continue to compose while deaf, in a pair of articles in the journal Hearing: Health & Technology Matters in 2011. According to Traynor, Beethoven suffered from tinnitus (ringing in the ears), difficulty recognizing words, trouble hearing high frequency sounds and buzzing sounds in the ears. Traynor summarized several sources on the potential causes of Beethoven’s deafness, including the conclusions of Dr. Johann Wagner, who conducted Beethoven’s autopsy in 1827, as well as studies by the Conference of the French Academy of Sciences in 1928 and the Royal College of Surgeons in 2006. Traynor summed up these and other studies this way:

[The] cause of Beethoven’s deafness is essentially unknown, as is the case with many instances of deafness today. Lack of knowledge has not prevented the growth of an extensive literature in which various causes of Beethoven’s condition have been advanced with varying degrees of certitude. Putative diagnoses have ranged from syphilis, otosclerosis, neuronal atrophy, proliferative meningitis, labyrinthitis, chronic adhesive middle ear catarrh, Paget’s disease of bone, otitis media, neuritis acoustica, and hyperparathyroidism. On autopsy, his Eustachian tube was narrowed and the auditory nerves were atrophied. The latter finding confirms that he had nerve deafness, but does not indicate what caused it. Although the arteries to the ear were narrowed, vascular insufficiency would have produced middle ear deafness rather than nerve deafness (high tone loss).

Traynor also suggests that, whatever the cause might have been, Beethoven would have been a difficult patient. Traynor notes that musicians who face hearing loss “respond to a different beat and still are among the toughest clinical patients.”

So how is it that Beethoven was able to continue to compose, even as his hearing loss worsened from the age of twenty-five on? In an 1801 letter to his friend Karl Amenda, Beethoven had lamented his hearing loss, sharing that “my noblest faculty, my hearing, has greatly deteriorated.” But then he wrote, “Of course, I am resolved to rise above every obstacle, but how will it be possible?” Traynor explains how: the skills necessary—the ability to read music and to “hear” within what appeared on the page—were firmly established by the time Beethoven’s descent into deafness began. There is even speculation that, because he wasn’t able to listen to the music being written by other composers, he was at a particular advantage for the maintenance and development of a unique, distinct compositional style. Nonetheless, Beethoven was frustrated, depressed, at times manic over the impact of his condition. He yearned so desperately to hear his compositions that he tried a variety of methods to connect physically with his instruments. He sawed the legs off of pianos so that he could feel the resonances more fully through the wooden floors that the amputated pianos rested on. He tried holding a stick in his teeth and resting the stick against the keyboard of his piano, hoping to stimulate vibrations in his ears. There are stories of him writing strange compositions made entirely of low-range notes when he first began losing his ability to hear tones at the top of the register.


Not only was he unable to hear his music, he was also unable to hear the response of his audiences. When his Ninth Symphony premiered in 1824, he was onstage for the first time in twelve years. Although he did not conduct the symphony himself, he was present to give directions to the conductor, Michael Umlauf. Still facing the orchestra and soloists at the conclusion of the performance, he was oblivious to the response of the crowd. Alto soloist Caroline Unger reportedly took Beethoven’s arm and turned him to face the audience. Though he could not hear their thunderous applause, he could see their faces and their wild clapping. The composer bowed deeply to the concertgoers, and then he began to cry.




This report is excerpted from Alexander Lee’s article, “Beethoven and Napoleon” published in History Today, 3 Mar. 2018, with supplementary material from Christopher Gibbs’s “Notes on Beethoven’s Third Symphony,” (NPR, 7 June 2006). Excerpt prepared by Joel Castellaw.

In April 1802, Ludwig van Beethoven left Vienna for Heiligenstadt, a village about five miles to the north. In the preceding weeks, he had been deeply depressed by the realization that he was going deaf; but there, surrounded by nature, he recovered his spirits and found a new sense of musical purpose. Wandering through the countryside, sketchbook in hand, he began toying with a theme in E flat major. Before long, he had the outlines of a completely new symphony—his third—clear in his mind. Though inspired by some of his earlier works, especially the so-called Eroica Variations (Op. 35,) it was unlike anything he had written before. Vast in scope and strikingly original in style, it was bold, daring, even triumphalist.

While Beethoven was laboring over the score, he decided to name the symphony after Napoleon Bonaparte, then First Consul of France. Beethoven had the highest esteem for Napoleon and compared him to the greatest consuls of ancient Rome. Beethoven’s enthusiasm for Bonaparte was unflinching. As soon as the score was finished, in early 1804, he wrote the Italian words “Sinfonia intitolata Bonaparte” (“Symphony entitled Bonaparte”) on the cover and left the manuscript on a table so that all his friends could see.

But Beethoven was in for a nasty surprise. Not long after Beethoven put the final touches to his symphony, on May 18th, 1804, Napoleon had declared himself Emperor of France. This infuriated Beethoven, and he immediately changed the dedication. Thenceforth, the work would be known simply as the Sinfonia Eroica (the “Heroic” Symphony.)

This episode has become the stuff of legend, giving rise to an abiding image of Beethoven as a lover of liberty, an admirer of the French Revolution and–above all–a republican. It is often thought that, having once admired Napoleon as the apotheosis of revolutionary principles, the composer, true to his republican beliefs, later reviled him for sacrificing them to his own ambition and, after removing the Third Symphony’s original title, held the name Bonaparte in contempt ever after.

But it would be dangerous to accept this unquestioningly. On closer examination, Beethoven’s relationship with Napoleon appears to have been more subtle than some suggest. As a young man, he was, admittedly, attracted by the ideals of the French Revolution. At the age of 19, he subscribed to a book of Jacobin poetry by Eulogius Schneider and, in the years that followed, peppered his writings with revolutionary sentiments. He often expressed his disdain for organized religion and rarely missed an opportunity to mock the superstitious nonsense peddled by “parsons.”

When Beethoven moved to Vienna to study with Haydn, he carried these views with him. On May 22nd, 1793 he wrote in his Albumblatt that he still loved liberty above all things. As he began to forge a career as a composer in his own right, however, his democratic fervor started to abate. Welcomed into the salons of the Viennese nobility, he adapted himself to the tastes of his patrons. He put on aristocratic airs, claimed descent from an old baronial family and—for a time—even adopted the nobiliary particle “von.” He also became more conserva-tive in his outlook. Though he remained a passionate defender of liberty and of secularism, he now came to believe that the French Revolution may have gone too far. Like so many of his noble friends, he looked back on the Reign of Terror with horror. He was still not a monarchist; but he was no longer a militant republican either.

It was thus that Beethoven came to admire Napoleon. He was under no illusions; he knew perfectly well that, as First Consul, Napoleon was already trampling on revolutionary principles and he was still enough of a Romantic idealist to grumble about it. On April 8th, 1802, for example, Beethoven wrote to his publisher, Franz Anton Hofmeister, to express his disappointment that Napoleon had concluded a concordat with the pope and thereby shattered his hopes for the separation of Church and state. But Beethoven nevertheless saw Napoleon as a necessary corrective for the excesses of the Revolution. In keeping with his new-found conservatism, he lavished praise on the Consul for producing political order out of chaos and for safeguarding the people from themselves. It was for this reason that Beethoven had Napoleon in mind when he was writing his Third Symphony.

It was only after Napoleon crushed Austria in the War of the Fifth Coalition (1809) that Beethoven’s enthusiasm began to cool noticeably. Shaken by the French bombardment of Vienna and fearful of being professionally compromised by his association with the Bonapartes, he felt obliged to repudiate Napoleon for the first time. There was no looking back. As the emperor ranged across Europe, it became difficult for Beethoven to regard him with anything but contempt. No friend to liberty or to order, he was now little more than a conqueror. Though Austria was forced to ally with France for a time, opinion in Vienna remained firmly against him.

Napoleon’s defeat in the Peninsular War set the seal on the composer’s change of heart. Shortly before the emperor sailed away into exile on Elba, Beethoven—who now identified liberty with Germanic patriotism—professed himself to be on the side of the allies and even penned a short orchestral work in celebration of Wellington’s victory at the Battle of Vitoria. The breach was complete.

The music of the Eroica Symphony is perhaps the most revolutionary composition Beethoven had written up to this time. The first movement is characterized by considerable shifts in themes, tempo, and harmony, and the length of this movement was unprecedented in its day. The second movement is a funeral march. The third movement scherzo shifts the tone to something more mirthful—which confused commentators at the premiere. Most innovative of all is the finale, in which the theme emerges slowly through an unusual set of variations. Beethoven based this theme on his ballet music for The Creatures of Prometheus. Lewis Lockwood has observed that the finale was conceived of first, and the rest of the composition flowed from this conception. As Christopher Gibbs writes:


“It seems natural that Beethoven would be attracted to, or perhaps we should say, identify with, Prometheus, the rebellious Greek Titan who incurred the wrath of the gods of Mount Olympus by stealing their sacred fire. Prometheus resisted, took risks, and suffered in order to help humanity. The hero's music provides a fitting conclusion for this "Heroic" Symphony.”




by Joel Castellaw


Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe, as well as here in the United States, it was common for people to keep locks of hair from loved ones as mementos and keepsakes. These locks could commemorate someone’s life, be given as a token of friendship or love, or serve as a tangible reminder of someone who has died. Hair does not decompose. So for some, the locks symbolized the aspiration for eternal life. These locks of hair were sometimes pressed between the pages of family papers. They were fashioned into jewelry, some of which was quite elaborate. A common method of preservation was to place the hair into a locket.

Upon his death, a strand of Beethoven’s hair came into the possession of composer Ferdinand Hiller. The Beethoven Center at San Jose State University currently houses this lock of Beethoven’s hair. Known as the “Guevara Lock” because most of the money paid for it at auction came from Dr. Alfredo Guevara, it comprises 582 strands of hair, three to six inches in length. Some of the strands are brown, some are white, and some are grey. The Beethoven Center website describes the provenance of the lock and locket that contains it:

“The original provenance of the lock of hair is clear from an inscription written on the back of the frame of the locket: ‘This hair was cut off of Beethoven's corpse by my father, Dr. Ferdinand V. Hiller, on the day after Ludwig van Beethoven's death, that is, on 27 March 1827, and was given to me as a birthday present in Cologne on May 1, 1883. Paul Hiller’ [English translation].

“Ferdinand Hiller was a German conductor and teacher who traveled to Vienna in 1827 at the age of fifteen to visit the dying Beethoven. Hiller later wrote down details of two of his visits (March 13 and 20), including the fact that during the March 20 visit Beethoven whispered, ‘I rather think I shall soon be setting out on the upward journey.’ The lock of hair stayed in the Hiller family until sometime in the 20th century. It next surfaced in 1943 when it was given to a Danish doctor named Kay Alexander Fremming as payment for providing medical treatment for Jews trying to escape from the Nazis. The lock of hair stayed in the Fremming family until it was sold at auction at Sotheby's in December 1994.

“When the frame was opened in 1995, a fragment of paper with writing on one side, backed by a French newspaper, was discovered. We believe this to be a piece of the original authentication document, possibly in the hand of Ferdinand Hiller. Although not much of the text remains, you can make out the words ‘Beethovens’ and ‘abgeschnitten’ (‘cut off’).

“Also found inside was a statement by Hermann Grosshennig, a restorer of art objects in Cologne, who in 1911 examined and reframed the hair. He notes that the hair was newly sealed to keep it dust free (‘neu beklebt damit staubfrei’) and maintained in its original state (‘Urzustand erhalten’). On the back of his document is a pencil drawing of how the hair was to be coiled inside the frame.”

Here is a timeline of the provenance of the lock of hair:

  • March 27, 1827 Cut from Beethoven's head by Ferdinand Hiller the day after Beethoven's death.
  • May 1, 1883 Given to Hiller's son Paul as a birthday gift.
  • 1911 Examined by a conservator in Cologne and resealed in a locket with a wooden frame, with Paul Hiller's inscription placed underneath the glass backing.
  • ? - Oct. 1943 Property of an unknown Jew, possibly a member of the Hiller family.
  • Oct. 1943 Given to Dr. Kay Alexander Fremming, a doctor living in Gilleleje, Denmark, as payment or as a gift for his assistance to Danish Jews escaping to safety in Sweden during World War II.
  • Dec. 1, 1994 Sold by the Fremming family at a Sotheby's auction in London to four members of the American Beethoven Society (Ira F. Brilliant, Caroline Crummey, Alfredo Guevara, and Thomas Wendel) for £3,600 (about $7,300).
  • Dec. 1995 Under laboratory conditions, the locket is opened and 160 of the 582 hairs are extracted for Guevara to keep. Also found inside the locket is a fragment of the original authentication document and the conservator's statement from 1911.
  • 1996 The remaining 422 strands, along with the frame and documents from inside the locket, go to the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies. Scientific testing begins on a few strands from Guevara's share of the hair.
  • October 17, 2000 The book Beethoven's Hair by Russell Martin is published by Broadway Books. Results of scientific testing are announced.
  • 2005 A film version of the book Beethoven's Hair, by Thomas Wallner and Larry Weinstein, is released by Rhombus Media.
  • 2007 The Guevara Lock of Hair is placed on permanent exhibit at the Beethoven Center.
  • 2015 Strands sent for testing in the Beethoven Genome project. Testing of the lock of hair reveals high levels of lead and contributes to speculation that the cause of Beethoven’s death was chronic lead poisoning.




This report is excerpted from The American Beethoven Society’s online exhibit, “Prodigy to Progeny: Beethoven as Pupil, Teacher, and Paradigm,” curated by Patricia Stroh. Excerpt prepared by Joel Castellaw.

We do not know exactly when Beethoven started his musical training, but by the age of six his instruction had progressed rapidly under the strict guidance of his father Johann, who made his living as a court singer and private music tutor. Family friends recounted seeing little Ludwig practicing for long hours, sometimes standing on a footstool in front of the keyboard instrument. Despite the severity of his early train-ing, Beethoven’s natural talent and inclination for music shined through the drudgery. By the age of seven he was performing in public on the “clavier,” a word used to describe either the clavichord, harpsichord, or fortepiano.

Beethoven’s father took him out of school before he turned eleven and made the path to a professional musical career his son’s full-time pursuit. He engaged several other teachers to instruct Ludwig. The court organist Gilles van der Eeden gave him lessons on the fortepiano as well as the organ and thoroughbass (a method of improvising harmony from a figured bass line). For lessons in composition and music theory, Beethoven turned to Christian Gottlob Neefe, who succeeded van der Eeden as the court organist. Young Ludwig was appointed Neefe’s assistant in 1784, just before he turned 14.

Beethoven’s duties as a court musician were considerable. He played organ at the court and assisted Neefe at the Minorite Church. Whenever Neefe was away for an extended period, Beethoven also served as the rehearsal fortepianist at the theater and sometimes played viola in the orchestra. He did find some time to exercise his creative energy by composing music. By the age of twelve he had composed a set of variations and three sonatas for fortepiano. With these compositions, Beethoven transferred his skill on the keyboard to the printed page. He also composed two small pieces published in the collection, Anthology for Keyboard Lovers, intended for the amateur musician.

The first published notice of Beethoven, written by his teacher Neefe, appeared in a German music magazine when Beethoven was twelve:

“He [Beethoven] plays the keyboard skillfully and powerfully, sight-reads very well, and plays The Well-Tempered Clavier of Sebastian Bach. Whoever knows this collection of preludes and fugues in all keys (which one could call the non plus ultra) will know what that means. This young genius deserves the support to enable him to travel. He would certainly become a second Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart if he were to continue to progress as he has begun.”

According to reminiscences, Beethoven did visit Mozart in 1787, and Mozart requested that the forte-pianist play something for him. Mozart, assuming that what Beethoven had played was a carefully prepared show-piece, praised it in a somewhat cool manner. Beethoven, observing Mozart’s tone, begged Mozart for a theme on which to improvise, one of Beethoven’s greatest musical gifts. Beethoven improvised in such a style that Mozart, who paid more and more attention and interest as Beethoven proceeded, finally went to some friends in the adjoining room and excitedly exclaimed, “Keep your eyes on him. Some day he will give the world something to talk about.”

In 1790 in Bonn, Beethoven met Joseph Haydn for the first time and showed him the manuscript for his latest composition, a funeral cantata for Joseph II. Haydn was sufficiently impressed and encouraged Beethoven to continue his studies in Vienna. After Beethoven’s arrival there in 1792, he worked not only with Haydn but with several others including Johann Baptist Schenk, Emanuel Aloys Förster, Anton Salieri, and Johann Albrechtsberger.

You may recognize Salieri’s name from the play (and mov-ie) Amadeus, in which he is the bitter rival of Mozart and instrument of Mozart’s untimely death. In truth, Salieri was a prominent and respected court musician, teacher, and composer of numerous operas whom Beethoven turned to for instruction in vocal composition. Salieri was also a leader of the Tonkünstler-Society and conducted the orchestra for Beethoven’s first public appearance in Vienna, in which Beethoven performed as a soloist for one of his own concertos. Beethoven expressed his respect for Salieri by dedicating his first three Sonatas for Violin and Fortepiano, Opus 12, to this teacher.

Beethoven’s most famous pupil, Carl Czerny, is perhaps best known today to piano students the world over as the composer of keyboard studies designed to develop advanced skills. By the time he was ten, Czerny had already made his public debut and could play many of the works of Mozart and Clementi from memory. Beethoven heard him play his own “Pathétique” Sonata and immediately offered to give him lessons. Carl later described these lessons in detail, recalling how Beethoven had him practice scales in all keys and exercises from the keyboard method book by C.P.E. Bach. Although the lessons did not continue regularly or for an extended period, Czerny became a lifelong friend and a champion of Beethoven’s music. He transcribed many of Beethoven’s orchestral works (including all nine of the symphonies) for fortepiano duet. His commentary on the interpretation of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, was published in his Complete Theoretical and Practical Piano School in 1839.


Czerny transmitted his knowledge and appreciation of Beethoven’s music to his pupil Franz Liszt, who studied fortepiano with him after the family moved to Vienna in 1822, when Liszt was 10. Czerny took his pupil to meet Beethoven, and the “little Liszt” wrote in Beethoven’s conversation book inviting him to attend his concert on April 13, 1823. Many years later, Liszt recounted that after the concert Beethoven praised his excellent performance by bestowing a “consecration kiss.” Scholars still argue about whether the story is true. However, there is no doubt that Liszt held a special reverence for Beethoven’s music and was a major influence in making it better known to nineteenth-century audiences. His edition of Beethoven’s sonatas was first published in 1857, and he transcribed all of Beethoven’s symphonies and several other works for solo fortepiano. Among his many philanthropic activities was his very generous financial support and fund-raising for the Beethoven monuments in Bonn (erected in 1845) and Vienna (erected in 1880). He was also responsible for the initial preservation of Beethoven’s Broadwood piano after Beethoven’s death, eventually gifting it to the Hungarian National Museum, where it resides to this day.




by Joel Castellaw


In one sense, Felder’s piece is about ghosts, which of course conjures images of grave-yards. Beethoven is buried in the Weiner Zentralfreidhof, or Central Vienna Cemetery. At 2.5 million square meters, or about 620 acres, and with over 300,000 graves and crypts containing the remains of more than 3 million persons, it is one of the largest cemeteries in the world. It is so large that it has its own railway station, as well as a bus service inside the cemetery.


It is a working cemetery, not a tourist attraction, but it does have a special section called the Ehrengräber (Honorary Graves) devoted to famous personages. It is in this section of the cemetery that Beethoven’s grave can be found.

Among the other notable composers buried there are Franz Schubert (died 1828), Johannes Brahms (died 1897), Johann Strauss, Jr. (died 1899) and Arnold Schoenberg (died 1951).

The Ehrengräber contains a memorial to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (died 1791), although his actual grave is in another Vienna cemetery—the St. Marx Cemetery. Antonio Salieri (died 1825), a contemporary of Mozart’s and teacher of Beethoven’s, is buried in the Zentralfreidhof, but not in the section of honorary graves.

The grave of Johann Strauss, Jr., is as elaborate as his music.

A memorial to Mozart is flanked by the graves of Beethoven and Schubert. Even if Beethoven was somewhat antisocial in life (perhaps due in part to his deafness, but also a result of his temperament), in death it seems as though he’s keeping good company.

The grave of Johannes Brahms has appropriate majesty.

While that of Arnold Schoenberg is suitably austere.



by Danielle Ward, with assistance from Bernardo Mazon

It takes a tremendous amount of skill to keep an audience interested—especially if you’re the only one performing. You have to be funny, compelling, creative, exciting enough to keep people watching and more. In order to craft a rousing one-person performance, the performer has to be more than themselves. They have to be several people, or at least several versions of a person. They’ve got to be all over the place—literally and figuratively—because in theater we crave movement, progression, change, action. So, why do we choose to watch a one-person show instead of watching a Netflix original series with a cast of our favorite actors or go to a big production musical?

-The performer is empowering to their viewers, reminding us of what just one person can do.

-They’re impressive. In a monodrama, for example, to see an actor who’s memorized an entire hour or two of text—along with the capacity of being able to play 30 different characters—is simply amazing. It’s not something the average person, even the average actor, can easily do.

-They’re immersive. The audience agrees to invest in the performer and nothing else. We promise to hear them out and support them from the beginning to the end. Somewhere along the way we, as people in the audience, grow. Our commitment to this person has brought us to become smarter, more virtuous or somehow just better people.

Some History on the One-Person Show sampled from Paula T. Alekson’s, “A Cast of One”

The American one-person show found its roots in the “platform performances” of the late nineteenth century, in which authors, public speakers, and actors “masquerading” as professional elocutionists gave readings or recitations from published works of literature to polite audiences for their cultivation and edification. These events were purposely held in non-theatrical venues as a way to distinguish them from theater entertainments (such as vaude-ville), which, were still regarded as immoral amusements created by sinful and degenerate individuals. The lecture, Lyceum, and Chautauqua circuits featured American platform personalities such as Edgar Allen Poe, Henry David Thoreau, Alexander Graham Bell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Daniel Webster, Anna Cora Mowatt and Charlotte Cushman. When Charles Dickens toured both Great Britain and America reading excerpts from his various works, he caused a sensation by embodying his numerous and diverse characters as he read. Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens) spent much of his non-writing career appearing on the platform as lecturer and humorist, and he perfected a presentational technique which transformed his literature into performance texts. Lectures and readings eventually metamorphosed into one-person performances on the platform circuit as the focus of the performative material turned from literature to character sketches and monologues written expressly for performance. Eventually one-person showpieces began to appear on both the vaudeville and the legitimate stages, and sketches and monologues gave way to monodramas, or one-character plays. A surge in the number of one-person shows occurred in the American theater in the 1950s and has never really decreased, owing not only to the popularity of the form, but also to its economical nature—a cast of one and, quite often, no set!


DID YOU KNOW? Whoopi Goldberg first began to work on her one-woman show material with the founders of The REP at the Sixth Ave Playhouse, later returning to do one- woman fundraisers for us on the Lyceum Stage.



by Joel Castellaw

Hedy Weiss, writing in American Theatre, introduced her article on Hershey Felder this way:

When President John F. Kennedy welcomed an audience of Nobel laureates to the White House in 1962, he famously remarked that it was the most extraordinary collec-tion of talent that had ever gathered there, “with the possible exception of when Thom-as Jefferson dined alone.”

That quip easily could be reworked to apply to Hershey Felder: actor, pianist, writer, director, composer, conductor, mentor, producer and conjurer of the spirits of George Gershwin, Frédéric Chopin, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Liszt, Leonard Bernstein and Irving Berlin.

Weiss goes on to credit Felder with having “devised a type of performance that feeds on his unique gifts as a seductive portraitist, compelling storyteller and superb concert pianist. Musical biographies? That doesn’t come close to suggesting what it is Felder does.” If our production of Beethoven is your first encounter with Felder’s artistry, you’re in for an amazing experience unlike any other theatre piece you have ever attended. As director Randall Arney puts it, “Hershey does something that no one else does—he has the ability to forge an astonishingly personal, deeply connected relationship with his audience. He can hold an audience at attention, teach them things, bring such nuance to many different characters, then sustain the incredible focus required for playing the most technically demanding music. He is prolific, indefat-igable.”

If you have seen Felder’s performances before, it’s likely you’re coming to this one because you have fallen under his spell. You may wonder, with awe, how he manages to conjure the spirits of these composers so completely. How can he create characters, act, perform piano masterworks and engage directly with the audience, doing all of these things simultaneously?

In a talk at Google in 2017 during the run of Beethoven at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, Felder describes his process. He explains the difficulty of playing the piano while simultaneously delivering lines, sometimes playing several characters at the same time, and getting the rhythms of the music and the speech rhythms to line up correctly, while also maintaining the distinct vocal characterizations he has created for each of the historical persons being depicted. Referring specifically to a segment of Beethoven that centers around the “Moonlight” Sonata, Hershey shares, “The amount that’s going on – the voices going, three different characters are going, words are going, and playing the Beethoven is quite complicated. The evenness and the color [of the music], and then the voices, so all of that is going on while I’m busy yacking at you, and – worse – I’m looking at you!” 

Hershey then illustrates his process by way of analogy. He plays a little bit of music from Bach in which there are multiple keyboard lines, or voices, being played simultaneous-ly, and then extends that technique to what he does onstage in a performance like Beetho-ven. He tells that he first learns the piano part completely, “You must know the treble, you must know the bass, you must know everything inside the piano part. Then you learn your text. Then you take the text and it needs to be placed exactly as another voice [within the music] – just like Bach, where you have all these voices going in counterpoint. So the voice that I’m speaking actually becomes another voice in the score, and it’s placed exactly at the right place. Then, I have to give you complete, natural inflection, so that even though now I’m acting and talking to you as an actor, the moment I go to the instrument, I have to somehow give the illusion that the actor is still talking or the character is still talking when, in effect, I have turned a completely different system on. I’m talking to you. I look at the keys only when I absolutely need to. So the sound is going on. The story is related to the color of the sound. In my eye, as I am looking at you, I am seeing the score of Beethoven’s page, and the words right exactly where they need to be. But, the craft I have developed to such a degree whereby I am giving you the illusion that that person is actually talking off the fly, right then and there, about those notes. It has taken me twenty-five years to figure out how to do it, and everybody who comes says, ‘Oh, I play the piano and I talk to the audience, I’m going to do this. It’s easy, it’s fun.’ I say, ‘Yeah, give it a shot.’ Because it looks so simple.”


Hershey acknowledges that he is regarded as having invented a new form in creating his theatre pieces about composers, and then he shares, “If I did, that’s great. I hope people follow along and do it and tell these kinds of stories, because they’re important, and audiences want to hear them. And if I’ve learned anything over all these years it’s that what engages people above all is the story as it relates to the human. It’s the story. It’s the human story. Because ultimately what interconnects us are our stories, and if we don’t have that, then we’re simply not human.”







1. When you think of Beethoven’s music, what is the first song or set of notes that comes to mind?

2. Beethoven wrote some of his most memorable music after his hearing started to fail —a feat that may seem impossible to some, yet he prevailed. What would you attempt to do if you knew you could pull off a seemingly impossible feat?

3. Beethoven suffered from a variety of chronic illnesses - colitis, rheumatism, typhus, abscesses, jaundice and chronic hepatitis, just to name a few - which likely contributed to his being ill-tempered and antisocial. How do you think you would respond to living with chronic illness?

4. Was there someone that you looked up to in your youth that was inspirational to you? If so, who and why?

5. If you could sit down and talk with one person from music history who is no longer living, who would you choose and why?


An Inside Look at Aubergine by Julia Cho

This in-depth guide was prepared by Desiree Fernandez and Jazmine Reynoso, edited by Literary Manager Danielle Ward. To view in PDF format click here.

In this edition:

We Are Excited About

Interesting Tidbits

10 Provocative Items Related To This Play:

1. An Interview With The Playwright

2. Learn About The Korean Language

3. Duties Of A Hospice Nurse

4. Why All The Bible References?

5. History Of The Eggplant

 6. Comfort Food

7. Food’s Role In Memory And Trauma

8. Korean Family Dynamics

9. American Economics And Eating

10. Top 10 Chefs In The World

The Birth Of A Playwright And Her Play

Food For Thought Questions


San Diego Repertory Theatre would like to thank and acknowledge the following for their generous ongoing support: City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, San Diego County and The National Endowment for the Arts.


We are excited about...

Showcasing a new playwright on our stages. Julia Cho’s work has not been seen in San Diego since La Jolla Playhouse’s production of Bay and the Spectacles of Doom in 2003. Yet she has done a prolific amount of creative work since then (if you want to know more about her history as a playwright, check out our timeline on her growth at the end of this Curious REPort.) We are thrilled that our Associate Artistic Director Todd Salovey has named Cho his new favorite playwright and we hope to see more of her on our stages in the future.
This particular play is also a very personal one—for many reasons. While Aubergine is not directly autobiographical, Cho incorporated her own experience of caring for a dying parent (her father), including her familiarity with Ensure or how to choose a mattress for an immobile body. “I really tried to tell the truth about what it is like when somebody dies,” Cho said in an interview with American Theatre, “because I felt like I came to it with such ignorance,” she explained. “As it was happening, when my father was in hospice, it was such a revelation to me that this is just the way people die. I wanted, in some weird way, to be able to invite people—in hopefully a non-threatening way—to just see what it’s like. Because we’re all going to die; we’re also all going to see a loved one die.”
Add to that director Todd Salovey’s own grieving process after having lost his mother a year ago, and then his father late last year. Of that he noted, “I don’t really know what the connection of that event is to my directing this beautiful play, but it does seem very mysterious and powerful.” He noted being drawn to the vulnerable and authentic emotions presented in this piece and how much Cho’s poetry resonated with him. 
Plus, the death of a loved one is bound to strike a personal chord with many of you in our audience. It is a piece that is not afraid to evoke the feelings that come with loss. Yet, it does so in an uplifting way. As Cho noted: “I think as humans we are trained to think of death as an end. But the play, I think — I hope — treats it more like a transition. There is one way in which a story exists with a beginning, middle, end. But I don’t think that’s the only kind of story. There is another story where even death can still be the beginning of something. Instead of a linear story, the play to me feels more like a series of concentric circles, stories that are nested in each other. And as the play progresses, each of these stories reaches its own conclusion, in a way that doesn’t cone down into a tight point. Instead, the circles widen, ripple outwards. At least that’s what I hope.”
Just some food for thought: the word for Korea in Korean is Han-Kook. “Han” is a unique feeling of endurance, yearning, sorrow and regret. Kook means country. On some level, all the characters in Aubergine experience han.
Which brings us around to the language of this play. It is rare to have a piece of theater that is presen


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