Calumet Theatre’s ‘Red Jacket 1913’

CALUMET – In the early 1990s a script was written about the miners strike by Charles Solomon, an intern at The Calumet Theatre. Until just a few years ago, it wasn’t known that this script even existed, but it was discovered in The Calumet Theatre archives and then re-written. The final product is called “Red Jacket 1913” and will premiere at The Calumet Theatre August 14 with an additional performance August 15.

According to director Patricia Helsel, this may be the first original play The Calumet Theatre has produced from beginning to end.

“I really wanted to be a part of that,” Helsel said. “I wanted to part of this unique experience of producing a show, but also in having this opportunity to do a commemorative piece that I hope will resonate with the community.”

“Red Jacket 1913” tells the story of a family at odds because of the strike. The patriarch of the family continues to work while the son does not. But what makes this story different, according to Helsel, is that it doesn’t just focus on one perspective of the strike but attempts to tell a well-rounded story.

“It’s pretty poignant … I believe the script treats the story in a way that somehow all sides are covered,” Helsel said. “It’s through the actions of one family and so it’s very personal. I think it’s very different from other portrayals we’ve seen of the strike.”

But the play doesn’t just cover the strike, the Italian Hall tragedy is also included, but isn’t one of the main focal points of the play.

“It was one of the major events during the strike, but it isn’t what drives the play,” Helsel said.

In putting on a play that had never been produced, Helsel said that she actually felt more freedom and had fewer challenges because you don’t have to stick to the script.

“You’re a part of the creation of the story. The actors have a certain amount of freedom in not ad-libbing, but interpreting the lines. We had three girls show up for auditions to fill the role of two girls and they were all equally good so we e-mailed the playwright and asked if a third role could be created and he did,” Helsel said.

Ultimately Helsel wants people to be able to take away from the show a richer understanding of the time period and the history it contains.

“The play isn’t about the strike, it’s about the people that were caught in the middle of it,” Helsel said.

Rewritting the script was JB Harris who said the original draft, which was titled “No More Games,” was very good, but a young person’s first attempt at writing a script.

“The plot was strong and the premise was interesting, but the dialogue was a little stilted and not the way people really talked,” Harris said. “The main thing I did was rewrite the dialogue. I haven’t changed the intent. They still say what the original author wanted them to say but in different words and different grammar”

Another change that was made was the play’s third act. Both Harris, Solomon and Calumet Theatre Executive Director Laura Miller felt that part of the play didn’t work.

Harris started working on the script after having made a few trips up to the area to do research on Michigan opera houses and got to know the people there well. He had also known about the theater from his days of working the Keweenaw Playhouse in the ’60s, a name that was given to the theater during the summer, Harris said.

“When they decided to do the project Laura Miller talked to me and asked me to read the script and if it had potential. …I worked on the first act and sent it to them. They thought what I was doing was appropriate.”

Even now the script is still being tweaked and worked upon.

“Every time I read it I see something that can be improved or I find a better word. I want to leave them with the best script possible, Harris said, alluding to future performances outside of The Calumet Theatre.

This production has been made possible thanks to a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council, supplemented by funding from the Keweenaw National Historical Park Advisory Commission.

It will premiere at 7:30 p.m. August 14 with an additional performance August 15. Tickets are $16 for adults and $11 for children 3 to 18 years old.