TDPS presents a new and timely staging of “Woody Guthrie’s American Song”

Woody Guthrie’s American Song, the second production in UC Berkeley’s Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies Main Stage 2012/13 season, opens November 9 in the Durham Studio Theater on the UC Berkeley campus. The work will enjoy not only a timely production (2012 is Woody’s 100th birthday year), but a unique and expanded production under the direction of Peter Glazer, the musical’s original creator and director, who’s eager to see the show open up questions of class difference, labor, immigrant rights, and equity for our audiences.  The musical premiered in 1988.

“Whenever I see this play, people tell me ‘this is so timely.’” Glazer says. “I think the reason is that Woody sang about such powerful topics that haven’t gone away. The 20s and 30s were one of the most complicated and challenging times in American history. But the issues he dealt with keep recurring. He sang about migrant workers – many now derogatorily called ‘illegal aliens’ – as well as a lack of employment. Those songs and sentiments are still relevant today because we still have not solved those issues.”

In addition, Glazer notes class as a particular issue that has resurfaced in today’s US. “The recent 99% / 1% conflict that we saw during the Occupy movement is immediately reminiscent of the struggles Americans were dealing with in the late 20s through the 40s,” he says. “They were coming out of a depression, with a constant threat of war, and dealing with a wealth distribution and work conditions that had given rise to the labor movement. Seventy years later, we’re coming out of two wars, a banking scandal and economic collapse, and what many make at their jobs just isn’t enough.”

When asked about what will be different about staging the production at a university, Glazer’s eyes brighten. “For starters, staging the play outside of the traditional regional theater system allows me to more than double the size of the cast, from eight actor/singer/musicians to fifteen. The sheer sound is much larger, and it allows me to reassign Woody’s words in a new way.” In fact, Glazer notes, he’s rewriting a significant portion of the play to reallocate those words, and to restage the piece to accommodate the expanded company, making the show much different from its recent local incarnations at the Marin Theater Company and the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse. “It’s great to go through this process with the students because we’re discovering the show together – them for the first time, and myself as a rediscovery. They are learning about why Woody sang about what he did, and they’re reading about the period to understand the sentiment behind events like the sinking of the Reuben James or the Ludlow Massacre, the subjects of two of Guthrie’s songs. And for me as a director, with this many company members the old staging is out the window; I have to completely reimagine and rearticulate the world of the play.”

Not that Glazer is complaining. “The songs are such a great way to bring people into complex historical and social subjects, and to get them to think about what they can do to help,” Glazer finishes. “Being able to do it here, with such energetic and idealistic minds… I’m already blown away by the strength of the performances. It’s going to be a fantastic show.”


Woody Guthrie’s American Song
Songs and Writings by Woody Guthrie
Conceived, Adapted and Directed by Peter Glazer
Orchestrations and Vocal Arrangements by Jeff Waxman

Woody Guthrie’s American Song opens on Friday, November 9 at the UC Berkeley’s Durham Studio Theater (at the rear entrance of Dwinelle Hall) and runs through Sunday, November 18.

Presented Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm
Friday, November 9 – 8pm
Saturday, November 10 – 8pm
Sunday, November 11 – 2pm (post-show discussion with Peter Glazer and cast members to follow)
Thursday, November 15 – 8pm
Friday, November 16 – 8pm
Saturday, November 17 – 8pm
Sunday, November 18 – 2pm

Tickets: $15.00 General Admission, $10.00 Students, Seniors, UC Faculty/Staff

Group rates for groups of 10 or more: $10 – general admission, $7 – students/seniors. Simply order ten or more tickets online during a single transaction for a single performance and the discount will be given at check out.