This past weekend, a cast of eight students performed the musical “Working” at Wellesley. This musical is unusual in that it has no plot — it’s simply a series of vignettes in which people tell the stories of their jobs and their working lives. The cast of “Working,” which was originally produced in 1978 and then updated in 2012, originally included six people who play more than one role, totalling about 20 characters. Wellesley’s production includes eight students.
Cast member Kristen Chang ‘20 says the fact that each actor plays multiple characters “kind of plays into the idea of how versatile people can be and how people play multiple roles.” Chang herself played a project manager, a teacher, a flight attendant, a publicist and a caretaker.
About two-thirds of the way through the musical, the actors on stage stopped singing and they began to speak the words of Wellesley employees. This was director Nora Hussey’s idea. She, along with some of the cast members, interviewed Wellesley workers about the musical’s themes: are they happy at their jobs? Do they feel their work is recognized?
“That’s important,” said Chang. “Because we do live in a bubble, and even though we’re surrounded by very wonderful people who want to learn, we also come from privilege, very much so. If not from our home backgrounds, then definitely when you’re at Wellesley, when you have these wonderful service people making this campus run. And it’s interesting because I think some people have trouble navigating their privilege in that way, their guilt.”
Hussey agrees. She chose this show last spring because, she said, “I felt the mood of the country was so difficult for so many people in every walk of life, for many different reasons. And I thought one of the reasons is that we don’t see each other, that we lock ourselves into little boxes and that’s the right way to do things and that’s how we approach people. And so I thought, what if we looked back? I’ve done this show, 20 years ago, and it was a different world back then. And things have not gotten better for many of the people that are portrayed in this production. And I thought that it was really important to revisit that.” Now, in her last year at Wellesley, she tried to make the show more specifically relevant to the community than it has ever been before.
Aside from the section of the show where actors recited the testimony of Wellesley workers, the show tried to acknowledge the people who keep this school going in another way: they created a photo exhibit featuring Wellesley staff going about their jobs. Located in the ground-floor basement of Alumnae Hall, right outside the theatre, the exhibit provides a parallel view to the photos of award-winning Wellesley alumnae which hang in the same place on the wall one floor above them.
“It seemed to me that we couldn’t address this show and this production without thinking about what it is to work at Wellesley,” Hussey said. “I’ve been here a long time, I’ve been here 27 years, which was never in my wildest dreams something that was going to happen. But I’ve seen a lot of changes, and I’ve seen people come here and work for longer or shorter periods of time, and I’ve seen their experiences. So I thought we should just touch on that and let our own hearts be open, and let our own words be said.”
Many of those workers featured in the photo exhibit and in the production itself were able to go see the show, according to Hussey, but they may not have had a chance to look closely at the photos. In order to allow them to do so, Hussey and the theatre department will be hosting a reception on Dec. 7.
Chang hopes that the production and the photo exhibit, which is still up, will encourage students to be more aware of how they interact with others in this community.
“I think this musical is really interesting — when we were creating it, and also when we were performing it — because it holds a mirror up to everyone. And we can type all the things that we want, we can say and share whatever articles that we believe in — but in your day to day life, are you asking people how their day is going? Are you being the best person that you can be?” she asked.
Hussey also hopes the photos will help people consider more carefully how they’re interacting with each other here. “We’re all so busy, we don’t see other people the way we would like to or like to think we do,” she said. “I think sometimes, we take all of ourselves for granted.”