KU Theatre production to examine community-building, conflicts between blue-collar workers

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An upcoming University of Kansas Theatre production will narrate conflicts amid community-building in the American working class.

Playwright Lynn Nottage created “SWEAT” based on research she conducted while embedding herself within working-class communities in Reading, Pennsylvania, according to a news release for the KU production. She explored the ways marginalized people build community in struggle and how they respond when that community faces inner conflict and begins to unravel.

“For the blue-collar workers in ‘SWEAT,’ any joys and dreams — even the most basic, like job security and having a safe space where they can cut loose — must squeeze through the capitalistic machine,” according to the release.

In the play, a Black woman named Cynthia is promoted from the factory floor to middle management at her job. But not everybody is happy for her — especially her friend Tracey, who applied for the same promotion. Racism in the working class is confronted, and relationships are built between people with varying identities, too.

Eventually, rumors about layoffs and replacements begin circulating, and tensions increase. 

“A meeting in a parole office sets up the narrative, and a boisterous bar sustains it until its violent end,” the news release says of the plot.

KU Theatre’s production of “SWEAT” is being directed by Darren Canady, playwright and KU English professor. In a video on the KU Department of Theatre & Dance’s YouTube channel, Canady discusses the production and footage from early in the rehearsal process is featured. He said cast members have combined Nottage’s work and inspiration from their personal stories to embody their characters.

“If you are willing to just come in and sit down and sit down and let these characters live and speak to you, you will be transformed,” Canady said in the video.

KU student and alumni cast members include Alex Haynes, Caleb Jonathan Parish, ShonMichael Anderson, Casey Schenk, Sergio L. Alicea Román, Nicole Piekalkiewicz, Jordan Nevels, Katelyn Arnold, and Myles Hollie. Creative team members include Rana Esfandiary, Elliot Bowman, Jane Barnette and Connor L. Maloney. The creative team and other guests share more insight into the production in a podcast series on Soundcloud.

Opening weekend shows are set for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 22 and 23 as well as 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 24. Additional showtimes are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, March 26, 27 and 28. All shows will take place at William Inge Memorial Theatre, which is in Murphy Hall on KU’s campus, 1530 Naismith Drive.

Additionally, a pre-show talk is set for 5 p.m. Saturday, March 23 in Murphy Studio 354 on KU’s campus. It will feature Jocelyn L. Buckner, editor of “A Critical Companion to Lynn Nottage,” the first scholarly collection of Nottage’s work. Buckner is a KU alum and currently works as an associate professor of theatre history and dramaturgy at Chapman University.

The news release includes a content warning that the production is not appropriate for all audiences as violent imagery and adult language and themes, including racial slurs.

Tickets cost $20 for adults, $10 for children, $15 for senior citizens, $15 for KU faculty and staff, and $10 for KU students. They can be purchased online on KU Theatre’s website; in person at the University Theatre Box Office, which is located in Murphy Hall and open noon to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; or by calling the box office at 785-864-3982.

Seating is general admission, and there will be no late seating allowed. Patrons who use wheelchairs or require other seating accommodations can contact the box office to make specific arrangements.

Learn more about the production and KU Theatre at kutheatre.com.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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