A new play about Joe Hill by Giles Hayworth
At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, a great International Exposition of Arts and Industry is held in Gävle, Sweden, to celebrate the prosperity which progress will bring in the years ahead. The play provides scope to facsimilate this as a pre-show, drawing on the talents of local schools or arts groups, Joe Hill taking the opportunity to involve himself in a variety of the musical contributions.
Gävle is, however, an impoverished area of Sweden, so, like hundreds of thousands from all over Europe, Joe and his brother leave, believing that they will find a more prosperous life in America. They find terrible pay and working conditions, even while a few employers are making themselves multi-millionaires.
Joe comes to believe in the power of unions to transform this situation but, after supporting a long-drawn-out and inconclusive strike by machinists in Chicago, he is converted to the ideals of One Big Union, being initiated by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which seeks to use the power of solidarity not only to improve workers’ conditions but to completely overthrow the capitalist order which oppresses them.
As he travels round the country seeking work, Joe finds that the great contribution he can make is to compose songs that will unite the workers. However, after the IWW has had various major successes, it comes to be seen as such a danger by employers that they seek to use any means to crush it. When Joe’s membership is discovered, after he has been arrested in a round-up following a shooting in Salt Lake City, the police cease any search for more likely suspects, a case is constructed against him, and he is executed, despite nation-wide protest. The outrage this causes leads a massive crowd, singing his songs, to accompany his body to the crematorium, whence his ashes will be distributed throughout the world, making him a symbol to inspire workers’ solidarity ever since.
Although most sequences are scripted, there is also scope in the play for a company to devise full scenes.
This play is conceived as for performance by a Youth/Community Theatre, with professional support. Therefore, although there is scope for multiple doubling and more, no attempt has been made to limit the number of characters; – if anything, the reverse. For info: