1) It is legendary.
Hmm… Why are the actors sitting in our seats? Why am I sitting next to the pianist on the stage?
Even in this day, with experimental and immersive theatre a regular event, the legend of the opening night of The Cradle Will Rock (TCWR) still baffles me.
History Lesson: During the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Works Progress Administration (WPA), an organization that hoped to create jobs for artists, among other things. The WPA agrees to put on Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock. TCRW’s story was anti-capitalist, pro-union, and pro-uprising. Due to WPA criticism and a desire to cool the fires of real-world labor riots, the government halts the show and the theatre is padlocked. To avoid union rules and the government’s demands, the Equity cast finds a loop-hole: a non-union theater, move the audience to the stage, and the actors recite their lines from the house.
2) It doesn’t want you to believe in it.
Wait. Why is the actress playing Moll wearing a lavish gown? She’s supposed to be a poor prostitute?
TCWR is a unique style of show. Its creator was inspired by the theatre innovator Bertold Brecht, whose theatre philosophy simply was “Think, don’t just feel!” Brecht's pieces constantly reminded the audience that they were not watching reality and broke the “fourth wall”. TCWR achieves this by giving the characters titles instead of names, such as “Mr. Mister”, and they often rhyme! And, think about that opening night show: no costumes, no set, no lighting! (very Brechtian)
3) It is relevant.
I know exactly what they are going through! It isn’t fair that Junior Mister got a job just because his dad is the boss. That happens where I work all the time.
Think about America when TCRW first opened and what it depicted: families struggling to make ends-meet, unfair labor practices were the norm, immigrants were abused and struggled for employment, and wealth was concentrated in the hands of a few. Sound familiar? Though the faces may be different, in 2013 the USA still deals with many of these injustices that TCRW’s revival shows. Events like Occupy Wall Street of 2011 or the Bangladesh factory collapse of 2013 continue to make TCRW important.
- Erin K.