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From Wharf Rats to Lords of the Docks

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Born in Melbourne, Australia in 1901, Harry Bridges, at 16 years old, became a merchant seaman and joined the Australian sailors' union. By the time of his death in 1990, Bridges had been a founder and leader of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). Because of his alleged membership in the Communist Party, Bridges was prosecuted by the government of the United States during the 1930s and into the 1950s. Nevertheless, Bridges was naturalized as an American citizen in 1945.

 

From Wharf Rats to Lords of the Docks,the searing saga of the life of Harry Bridges is now onstage. Dramatist and actor Ian Ruskin in the year 2000 created a one-man show conveying the life, the times, the troubles, and the contributions of labor leader extraordinaire Bridges. Though the monodrama has played hundreds of times in union halls and other nontraditional venues (and as a filmed presentation, directed by Haskell Wexler on PBS in 2009), it is now being staged at Venice’s Electric Lodge Theatre through June 27.

 

Directed by Shanga Parker, the taut sixty-five minute play begins with video projections (graphic designs by Daniel Castillo) and original recordings by Jackson Browne and Arlo Guthrie. Soon Ruskin appears on the minimally designed set and, in an impeccable Australian dialect, embodies the triumphs and tribulations of Bridges.

Struggling to earn a living, dock workers in the early 20th century were at the mercy of shipping tycoons and bay bosses, who chose day workers based on kickbacks and other corrupt practices (besides cash bribery, access to worker’s wives for carnal indulgence was sometimes the price paid to bosses for the blessing of a day’s work). Bridges found these conditions intolerable and began to successfully organize the dock workers around two central issues: a six-hour work day (to spread the work among more laborers) and worker control over hiring.

What’s more, Bridges was elected president of the San Francisco International Longshoreman’s Association local in 1935; in 1936 he became the leader of the Pacific Coast District of the ILA. It was at this point that the ILA began what became known as “the March Inland,” wherein the union organized warehouses, not only at port sites, but also at the more interior and landlocked warehouses. After much success in these labor actions, most of the Pacific Coast district seceded from the ILA, rebranding itself the International Longshoreman’s and Warehousemen’s Union. After Bridges’ election to the presidency of the new union, it soon affiliated itself with the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Bridges soon ascended to the position of West Coast Director of the CIO.

Ruskin, a stellar storyteller, revivifies Bridges in both appearance and sentiment. We learn of the so-called Big Strike of 1934, during which dozens of workers were wounded by police violence; two strikers were killed by police gunfire. Bridges was the primary spokesman for the union during this tumultuous ordeal. Moreover, Bridges’ womanizing and alcohol indulgence is touched upon in Ruskin’s portrayal, as well as his devotion to the U.S. Constitution (which became the template for the union’s constitution), democracy, and the American Ideals of liberty and justice for all.

With voice-over and narrative contributions by Elliot Gould and Ed Asner, Ruskin’s script is wonderfully didactic, and his presence is compelling. Not only do we see this master stage craftsman in a sterling performance, we also are informed of an important and rarely broached part of America’s sordid labor history. For anyone who works for a living, or is dependent on workers to live (and that’s all of us), From Wharf Rats to Lord of the Docks is a must-see show.

From Wharf Rats to Lord of the Docks continues at the Electric Lodge Theater through June 27. Show times are Thursdays at 8 p.m. For information call (800) 838-3006 or visit www.brownpapertickets.com/profile/63869. The show is also available for bookings. For details, visit the harrybridgesproject.org or go to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.