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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Play retells history of labor strikes, brutality at Canadian mine

Bellingham was built upon a series of coal mines, each one circuited throughout the landscape and wired in with the city’s rich early history.

Like the mines themselves, the history of the coal miners has been kept mostly in the dark.

But award-winning playwright Elaine Avila has shed light on the story of Albert “Ginger” Goodwin, an advocate for coal miners’ rights in 1917, in her latest play at Western.

“The Ballad of Ginger Goodwin” is the fourth show in the department of theatre and dance’s 2015-2016 season. The play is an adaptation of the history of labor strikes in the Pacific Northwest, specifically one at a Canadian zinc smelter, and the story of Goodwin, who led said strike.

“There’s a whole bunch of history of labor martyrs all through the Pacific Northwest— Seattle, Tacoma, Bellingham,” Avila said. “It was so similar that I said, ‘Oh, this is the perfect play for Western.’”

She said the inspiration for the play came during a bus ride to Western’s campus in a conversation with other faculty members about local coal mining.

”They said, ‘Imagine if we were coal miners, taking the bus in the winter— we’d never see the light of day!’ They were talking about going down into coal mines and they said that all of Bellingham is on a coal mine,” Avila said.

Along with guest director Kathleen Weiss, on sabbatical from her role as chair of the department of drama at the University of Alberta, Avila’s play was brought to life by Western theatre students, who only had four weeks to rehearse.

Bailey Ellis, who plays Goodwin, said the character is someone who experienced struggle and hardship throughout his life, making him sympathetic to workers’ rights.

“He gains his confidence and what charisma he has through the workers and eventually through Anna,” Ellis said.

Marlena McHenry plays Anna Petroni, the lead female role.  Anna is a fictional Italian laundress who Avila created as a love interest to Ginger Goodwin, McHenry said.

“[Anna] is very impulsive, and you see that when she jumps into my arms for a spinning hug, or a kiss on my cheek after dancing. It’s just perfect for Ginger,” Ellis said.

Griffin Harwood, the stage manager for the show, described Goodwin as a conscientious objector —  a person who objects to service for religious, moral or ethical reasons — resulting in his dodging of the draft during World War I. Harwood also said Goodwin never wanted to kill another worker.

Nevertheless, he was hunted down by Canadian police, who claimed to have killed him in self-defense, though evidence showed this might not have been the case, Harwood said.

“The autopsy on his body showed that a bullet went through his hand and then pierced his neck, indicating that he had his hands up in surrender,” Ellis said.

Avila wanted to showcase the parallels between Goodwin’s death and recent police shootings in the U.S.

“I think that all kinds of brutality are used to keep people down. That’s why I wanted to do the play now because I think we have our own struggles,” Avila said. “I think it’s really interesting to look at the struggles of our ancestors. [Ginger] died for the eight-hour day.”

Avila has been instructing students on playwriting at Western since the fall quarter. She is a visiting professor substituting for Kamarie Chapman, while Chapman is on maternity leave

The play will be at the Douglas Underground Theatre in the Performing Arts Center with performances through Saturday Feb. 13. Showtimes and tickets are available on the department of theatre and dance’s website.

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