Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Bloody Haymarket

Interview with Bloody Haymarket Play Director Eric Coleman
By Jim Vail
Special to Mychinews.com

On May 4, 1886, Chicago was rocked by the first dynamite bomb thrown in America. This year marks the 130th anniversary of the Haymarket Affair. The play Bloody Haymarket is showing at the Irish American Heritage Center at 4626 N. Knox Ave. each Saturday of this month at 8pm (May 14th, May 21st and May 28th). Chicago News spoke with the director Eric Coleman about this epic period piece that deals with everything from the struggle for the eight-hour workday, the plight of the immigrant, interracial marriage, a corrupt justice system, police brutality, the origin of May Day, the concentration of wealth in a few hands, and an utter disregard of the Constitution of this land. 

Bloody Haymarket play director Eric Coleman. The play runs every Sat. this month at the Irish American Cultural Center.

Can you tell us a little about your background? Are you from Chicago?

My background is in all things creative and political. My friends and I ran a Cable Access Show in Hermosa Beach California for many years (I grew up in the city just south: Redondo Beach) Between 2004 and 2005 I went to Film School in Vancouver, British Columbia. Moving to Chicago in August of 2008, I returned to Redondo Beach in 2013 to run for Mayor of my hometown, receiving 1,275 votes (10.3%) in a four-way race. This experience was primarily to make a documentary film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjyPRv_e1rw

Immediately after the election I returned to Chicago to take on a 2nd season as a tour guide on Double Decker buses where I began reading about the Haymarket Affair and wrote the first draft of the play that summer; soon after a friend of mine, David McGrath, came on to collaborate on the script.

How long have you been involved in the theater? Where did you study and work before?

I've done everything from door to door sales, E.S.L. teaching, erotic arcade game sales, liquidation, graphic design, to delivery driving currently (as the hours are flexible to allow me to do this). My first introduction to live theater was playing Ron Paul in Ron Paul the Musical, a Cameron Ford Production. We did three shows to a sold-out crowd and I was in love. Better than sex. That was in 2012, a year later Jamie Quinones, myself, and David McGrath wrote Shift-Faced about a 3 dollar Thrift Shop I used to manage. We were hooked.

What plays have you produced before? What is theater like in Chicago?

Shift-Faced and Bloody Haymarket, the Executive Producer on this project for this run is Ben David Garza who I know from doing Stand-Up Comedy in Chicago. Theater in Chicago is a fantastic proving ground; however, we are running into problems with the cronyism inherent therein. It seems you have to be connected to get listed in a lot of publications.

How did you decide to produce a play about the Haymarket riot?

First I read Death in the Haymarket by James Green and thought why the hell hasn't anyone made a production about it? The play was written in 3 weeks and it seemed I was being driven by something outside myself; like the Haymarket Martyrs were speaking to me from beyond the grave. In my research I've found there are a few other productions about the Haymarket, but it's obvious their writers were amateurs who cut corners. For instance, there's a play called Haymarket Eight and it all takes place in the courtroom and deals with backstory through flashback. That's just sloppy writing when dealing with a story of this magnitude. Bloody Haymarket has a cast of 23 people, many of whom are playing multiple roles, captures 10 years of history, and has 19 scene changes. It's the only way to tell this story and probably why it hasn't been told accurately before.

Do you see any connection to today?

Oh, it's insane how timely it is and how many connections there are to what's going on right now. Aldous Huxley wrote, "The greatest lesson that history has to teach is that men do not learn very much from the lessons of history." And my friends we are there; the struggle to dignified work, hatred of immigrants, a corrupt justice system, police brutality, the rich getting richer, money in politics, disregard of the Constitution ... sound familiar? What's different today and what's mentioned in the play is that people have been bought off by technology, made timid and docile. I attributed that line to August Spies because he was the most forward thinking of the bunch. For the past year (and this play has been three years in the making, going through countless revisions) my mind has been in the 1880's and there was no such thing as a passive experience (outside of reading a book). Now nearly every form of entertainment is a passive experience, which is why we had to do something different with this play. Bloody Haymarket invites the audience to be an active participant.

Are people in Chicago familiar with the Haymarket riot?

Some are familiar with the event but very few with the details. And there's a reason for that. This is one of the most important events in American History and it's barely taught in schools if at all. You're not supposed to know about four innocent people being hanged in 1887 for speaking their minds and exercising their first-amendment rights.

What kind of research did you do to make this play?

I've read everything I could get my hands on for this play, right down to the Haymarket Anarchists Autobiographies and the Trial Transcripts.

I understand you met some relatives of people involved in the Haymarket affair? What did you learn from them if so?

Yes, we had Edward Docekal the great-great-great-great-grandson of Mathius Deagan, the police officer killed by the bomb in the Square, at the first performance and he was the first person I talked to after curtain call. He loved it. His one request was that his grandfather's name be mentioned in the play. As I play the Prosecutor in the play, I added it.

How did you choose the actors for the play? What is it important in choosing who plays what role?

It's interesting because we ended up choosing mostly younger people to play the Anarchists and mostly older to play the Capitalists, it just worked out that way.

Have you gotten much publicity? Are people coming to see this play?

Yes, every crowd is getting larger and larger. However, we could use more publicity.

Have you had many students come to see it? 

Not yet. We reached out to scores of college teachers, but I suppose with the timing as it is, they are getting ready for final exams about now.

What are your future plans?

To start a Theater Company: Suppressed History Theater - REAL History They Don't Want You To Know About!

Please add anything we may not have covered?

Come see the play!

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