The Collected Plays: Musical Theater, Epic Theater, and American Presidents from Hoover to Bush

THE COLLECTED PLAYS features four full length stage plays on American politics and history in the Epic Theater and American Musical traditions. Included in the volume are 1934: THE MUSICAL, FIRE ON PIER 32, HOLD THE LIGHT, and the two-part, four hour multimedia play, OUR TIME.

‘1934: The Musical’

The play, "1934: The Musical" is a two act, two hour musical production in fifteen scenes, with an ensemble cast of thirteen, on the general theme of maritime workers—longshoremen, sailors, marine engineers, and others—on the San Francisco waterfront during the Great Maritime Strike of 1934.

Derived and expanded from the play above, the full-length musical "1934" features10 original new labor songs sung in various contemporary styles (rock, jazz-fusion, hip-hop, spoken word) as well as historic-traditional (sea shanty, folk, ballad, gospel). The play includes the extensive use of a chorus of 3 singers-dancers who sing counterpoint to the cast and perform the choreography in contemporary dance styles. "1934" also employs various visual arts and multimedia integrated into the dialogue and music of the play, such as extended photo and video montage employing historic archived photos and film clips of San Francisco, its waterfront, and the strike.

“1934″ is a musical that attempts to create a new form in American theater by melding three distinct traditions: first, the rich original traditions of American musical theater; second, Epic Theater with its focus on ideas and history; and third, integrating multi-media visual arts photo and live montage.

"1934" creates an American musical theater analogue to the musical, "Les Miserables," substituting the theme of ’solidarity’ for the eighteenth century idea of ‘liberte, egalite, fraternite.’ The play is a story of the maritime workers of that city, and their struggle to survive and maintain dignity during difficult times. "1934" is about the resiliency and determination of the American spirit, about men and women who, despite great hardship and resistance to their efforts to improve their condition, were able to rise above the insurmountable forces arrayed against them in 1934. It is about the discovery of the meaning of solidarity and how that discovery enabled maritime workers and their families to survive in the great personal test of their lives that was the great San Francisco maritime strike of 1934.

Our Time

Our Time is a play in two parts. Each part is a standalone two hour production which may be staged independently of the other, or together in a single four hour performance. Our Time is about how America has changed socially, culturally, and politically from the early 1930s to the present—as viewed through a series of scenes involving American Presidents from Herbert Hoover through George W. Bush. The play employs both naturalist and non-naturalist theatrical devices, depicts the evolution of American visual art over the last 70 years on projected-overhead screens, features selections of American popular music at appropriate junctures, and uses Narrator soliloquys to the audience about our changing understanding of the nature of Time.

Our Time begins with a prologue introducing three tragic masked and robed figures who represent three un-named forces responsible for driving the changes over the period in question. All speak in verse, dance, and appear thereafter periodically throughout the play as a kid of collective Mephistofelean character. The fourteen scenes of the play are based on fourteen real occurrences that historically happened involving American Presidents from Hoover to Bush, save for one such experience that occurs in 2012. While each occurrence happened, the details of dialogue are historically unknown; Our Time revisits each occurrence and re-creates the missing or unknown dialogue.

Scenes include, for example, Roosevelt’s meeting with Joe Kennedy in the early fall of 1940. Truman meeting with General MacArthur in early 1951. A meeting between Robert and John Kennedy in November 1963. A private meeting between Lyndon Johnson and reporters in the summer of 1965. A dialogue between Nixon and John Dean in the spring of 1973. An exchange between Reagan and Gorbachev in Reykavik, Iceland. George W. Bush and his advisers in November 2000, and again in 2012.

Our Time is an unorthodox dramatic look at America: how it was, is becoming, and may well be after 70 plus years of war, crisis, and the drive for empire.

‘Fire on Pier 32′

"Fire" represents an attempt to begin to create a new form in theater—one that melds the best traditions of American musical theater with the somewhat lost traditions of Epic theater—and integrates both with new visual arts and multimedia montage.

The play, "Fire on Pier 32," is a three act story about longshore workers in San Francisco from 1933 to the present. It is about several generations of dockworkers and their confrontation with successive employer offensives against them over the decades.

In Act I, the main protagonists of the play, two young dockworkers, Joe and Frank, experience together the great Maritime and San Francisco General Strike of 1934 in the first act of the play. They then in act two participate in a series of subsequent scenes representing major events in the history of their union, the ILWU. The concluding act three tells the story of the historic port employer lockout of workers on the west coast in 2002 and joint efforts by employers and the Bush administration to control and tame them. The Epilogue scene following act three brings events full circle in the actual burning of the old company union contracts, the ‘blue books’ on pier 32 in late fall 1933—from which the play takes its title.

The story of "Fire on Pier 32" at the most obvious level may be about the two young dockworker-protagonists, Frank and Joe, but it is also about their union, the ILWU, and about some of its most noted leaders like Harry Bridges and Henry Schmidt who also have major roles in the story. Yet, at its most fundamental level the play is a story about the meaning of Solidarity itself. Solidarity at a personal, emotional level. At the level of feeling and individual meaning. And in that sense, the play is representational of all workers in America over the past decades as they tried, not always successfully, to defend and preserve solidarity in the face of the many political, organizational, legal, cultural and technological forces at work undermining it since the high water decades of the thirties and forties.

‘Hold the Light’

‘Hold the Light’ is a play in 3 acts and story about a group of young communications industry workers forced out on a strike that lasts six months. The play focuses on the dynamic interaction of three sets of characters on the union side. The first is the young workers themselves, men and women all in their early twenties and many from minority backgrounds. The second is the older white Anglo leadership of their local union. The third is the International union’s representatives assigned to the local during the strike, initially to disburse strike funds but eventually to force and end to the conflict by various means.

The main protagonists of the play are the local’s President, the two stewards’ rank and file bargaining committee members, and the International Union’s representative. All three sets of characters interact and conflict in various ways throughout the play as their interests diverge and simultaneously conflict as bargaining negotiations and the strike persist. The play is about the nature of that multi-level conflict, latent initially, but which is sharpened and brought to ahead by the strike.

The First Act of ‘Hold the Light’ focuses on scenes revealing collective bargaining negotiation between the company, their lawyers, and their corporate headquarters on the one hand, and the bargaining committee, their local union’s president, and their International Union on the other. Negotiations collapse with the close of Act One, and the Second Act moves on to a series of scenes that depict the respective strategies and tactics of the company, and the workers, as each tries to get the upper hand. In the final, Third Act, the International Union breaks ranks with the local and the workers after the local’s president is mysteriously attacked by unknown assailants and hospitalized. The company and the International bring an end to the strike. The young workers lose the strike in terms of immediate economic gains, but in the process learn what a union truly is, maintain their organization, and gain an understanding far more valuable in the end.

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