At the end of June, actor Mark Rylance shared how he caught the Pittsburgh bug on his first visit more than a decade ago, fueling new projects steeped in our region’s labor history. Fresh from an exclusive visit to the Edgar Thomson works on June 30, Rylance drew the focus of guests at a meet-and-greet fundraiser at the historic Bost Building in Homestead on a date with significance to the 1892 Battle of Homestead and the foundation that takes that name. A preview of his script-in-progress with co-author Peter Reder and a cadre of regional actors captivated a full house at Homestead’s Carnegie Library Hall in early July.
Now, the series of events presented by the Battle of Homestead Foundation continues commemoration of the 125th anniversary of clash between steelworkers and mill owners, including Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie.
Mark Clayton Southers’ historical one-act play The Homestead Strike of 1892 brings stories of this conflict to life through his research of memoirs and documentation of the event. Southers’ fact-based dramatization is likely to be as mesmerizing as those accounts shared this summer, so audiences are in for a relevant and revealing historic journey. The September 15-23 performances take place in the historic Pump House where critical riverside events rolled out in Homestead.
The drama of the setting in which the earlier members of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers (forerunner to the United Steelworkers) worked is familiar territory for Southers.
“I was in the steelworkers’ union 18-plus years, and it wasn’t until I began to research the Battle of Homestead that I really understood the sacrifices those workers and their neighbors made for the cause of labor and fair wages,” says Southers, founder and artistic director of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company.
“They may have lost that battle in 1892,” he says of his profoundly moving research, “but they set the precedent for working people, including African Americans, to demand their piece of prosperity!”
Commissioned by the BOH Foundation to provide an original work at the Pump House, Southers set out to create a concise dramatic retelling that is likely to have a long life as an educational and theatrical piece in our region and beyond.
Southers has assembled some favorite regional actors for the project. Mel Packer portrays Andrew Carnegie and Michael Sullivan appears as Henry Clay Frick. The cast features: Kan Champion, David Crawford, Matt Henderson, Wali Jamal, Marcus Muzapoppa, Arjun Kumar, and Susan McGregor-Laine. Sarah FIsher plays the activist Emma Goldman who led a plot to assassinate Frick. Paul Guggenheimer is the Narrator.
The Foundation web site describes the events: “The Battle of Homestead began July 6, 1892, when thousands of locked-out steel workers and townspeople clashed with Pinkerton guards hired by Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie. It was a story reported around the world, as management fortified the steel mills and both sides fired guns and cannons at each other. The Pinkertons surrendered and townsfolk, including women and children, rained blows upon them and tore their clothes, then burned the barges they floated in on.”
The National Guard was summoned while the industry titans hired scab labor. Anarchist Alexander Berkman attempt to assassinate Frick. As labor lost the struggle, American unionism and collective bargained was damaged, with effects of this event felt into the 1930s.
The iconic conflict continues to inspire labor and management disputes as the future of unions is played around strikes, picket lines, and negotiations.
The Homestead Strike of 1892 plays Fridays and Saturdays, Sept. 15,16, 22, and 23 at 7:00 pm, with matinees Sept. 22 and 23 at 1:00 pm. The Pump House is located at 880 East Waterfront Drive, adjacent to the Waterfront complex in Munhall (15120).
Southers’ play is part of a yearlong series of offerings to honor the Homestead battle and related history. Visit battleofhomestead.org for details. Events are funded in part by The Waterfront, The Rivers of Steel Heritage Area, United Steelworkers, and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
About Mark Clayton Southers
Mark Clayton Southers is an award winning playwright, photographer, scenic designer, theatrical producer and stage director; founder and producing artistic director of the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company. Mr. Southers recently directed the jazz / R&B opera A Gathering of Sons for Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s 2017 season and toured his Miss Julie, Clarissa and John at the National Black Theater Festival in North Carolina and The Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland in August. From 2010 to 2013, Mr. Southers served as the Artistic Director of Theatre Initiatives for the 486 seat August Wilson Center for African American Culture. More at markclaytonsouthers.com