bridge the access gap to theater. We bring stories for, about, and with working people to the professional stage in NYC. Working with our community, we aim to remove barriers such as relevance and affordability so that working people can experience and engage with theater in their everyday lives.
Working Theater is the only not-for-profit off-Broadway theater company dedicated exclusively to creating and producing new American plays for, about, and with working people. This particular population is comprised of those working in the industrial, service, and transportation industries—a community that makes up the majority of the overall metropolitan workforce. They are the executive assistants, postal workers, domestic workers, building service workers, restaurant workers, and transport workers who make New York run. We believe great theater should not be a privilege or a luxury and aim to make our productions relevant, accessible, and affordable to all individuals regardless of geography or socioeconomic status. We want working people who may be unable to afford commercial theater or feel that it does not resonate with them, to make play-going a regular part of their cultural lives. Through ticket subsidies, an active commissioning program, a successful grassroots audience development program, and a pioneering arts-in-education program, our audience reflects the full diversity of New York. In recent years, the Company has expanded its reach by touring its professional productions into the NYC neighborhoods working people call home, through its ambitious Five Boroughs/One City.
*In our mission statement we say that we commission and produce plays about “working people for working people.” What are we talking about? Who are the “working people” of 21st century America? While it is truly difficult to define “working people” in a way that will satisfy everyone, here is what we think. To begin with, it is easy to see that the phrase has its roots in the term “working class” used by Marx and Engels and many other 19th century social critics. For them, class was about an individual’s relation to the means of production. Either you owned the factories and the land and the tools or you didn’t. If you didn’t, and you worked for a wage paid by someone who did, you were a member of the working class. Over time, they believed, as the industrial economy matured, conditions for the working class would inevitably grow more dire until, collectively, workers had “nothing to lose but their chains.” Ultimately, they would revolt, seize the means of production, and assume their rightful role as the leaders of a more just society. Clearly, much has happened since then that Marx and Engels, for all their brilliance, did not anticipate. Financiers, managers and others who do not technically own the means of production have become vastly wealthy. Conditions for the working class, however defined, have in most respects gotten better, not worse, over the last century, and the revolutions made in their name have largely failed the test of producing a freer and better society. So, scholars and social activists have struggled to redefine their terms in a manner that reflects today’s realities. Not surprisingly, in a society so much more complex than the simple class definitions of the 19th century can encompass, that has proved to be difficult, and the definition of class, and of “working people,” remains a much-debated topic. We at the Working Theater use the term “working people” to refer to the wage and salaried workers of modest means who work in factories, stores, offices, classrooms and every other type of workplace throughout America. Among them are skilled professionals such as teachers and nurses, and the skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled workers who account for the vast majority. Some eight percent are in unions, but the rest are not. What unites this broad and diverse group is that they work every day for a living, they struggle to house and educate their families, to obtain adequate healthcare, and to provide for a decent retirement. The Working Theater welcomes and indeed depends on the interest and support of all kinds of people – lawyers, managers, doctors, bankers, as well as those we think of when we use the term “working people.” But we believe that it is this latter group that is underserved in the theater, and we are proud of our mission to produce plays about working people, in all the richness of their varied experience, that will appeal to working people and encourage them to experience the theater. –Dorothy Fennell Director of Special Projects for Unions, Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations