Essential workers of our city tell their own stories in Working at the Alliance Theatre
In this version of Working by Stephen Schwartz, the Broadway writer has collaborated with director/co-adaptor Tamilla Woodard to tailor this production specifically to Atlanta. In the hands of Woodard, this specificity was inevitable.
“When we first started talking about Working,” shares the co-adaptor/director. “One of the things that I thought would be really magnificent was to go ahead and really transform the piece to be site-specific, which is the kind of work that I normally do. I create work that literally is specific to a site, specific to a community, built out of the community and in conversations with the community.”
The legacy of Working has the fingerprints of multiple writers, including Schwartz, Mary Rogers, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, who have contributed to revisions over the years. So continuing the tradition of revising it for each new edition, Woodard has added her fingerprints to the legacy.
“As we were snooping through the play, figuring out what the material could be, as we put stuff in, some stuff had to come out because we’ve got a 55-minute show. As I sent [Schwartz] my first version of the script, which took away like, 45% of his text and replaced it, I was like, ‘Insert here, Atlanta UPS driver,’ ‘insert here an Uber driver,’ and ‘insert here Atlanta teachers’ voices.’”
Woodard not only got Schwartz’s blessing for her Atlanta-based revisions, but he said “Yes” to a commission request.
“He’s been amazing and such a great advisor in terms of how to maintain the integrity of the original piece and also make sure that it feels hyper-local,” she says. “We’ve got a brand new song that’s been created for Atlanta. I’m very excited!”
She says in a show that is already about the people who make big cities like Atlanta run, it was important to her to bring out the unique journeys our Atlanta workers have been going on as Atlantans.
“So then we’re not just thinking about a construction worker or a waitress,” she shares. “But we’re thinking about the people who call Atlanta home and who are the laborers who keep the city going, and especially who have kept the city going when we’ve been through this particular crisis. They’re the ones that have no choices about whether they go to work or not.”
Woodard says basing this production on the community involved looking at not just what the writers know about Atlanta workers, but what Atlanta workers say about themselves.
“[Schwartz’s new song is] about Atlanta rockstars- people who are community advocates, from unionizing to voters’ rights to Latino alliances, to battered women, to all the people who are literally making change happen inside of their 15 mile radius. That’s significant for the people that they represent.”
The Alliance Theatre put out a call to Atlantans, asking teachers, community organizers, and more to contribute stories about their experiences working in the city. From there, they also recorded themselves singing lines from the show which can be heard in today’s performance.
“It is truly all hands on deck. I mean, all of Atlanta is part of the storytelling. As many people as we can get onstage- you know, we can’t get them physically on stage, but we can get their voices on stage. That’s really what we’re after.”
Throughout this process, Woodard has deeply appreciated getting to be immersed in musical theatre again.
“There’s no greater joy. I always feel so freaking lucky to be in a room where they’re singing all day long. Oh my God! It’s so lovely to go home to rehearsal.”
This piece appears in the Alliance Theatre’s “Under the Tent” issue of Encore Atlanta