Rosie the Riveter takes to the stage
on October 14, 2010
About 60 World War II aficionados got to see what wartime life was like in the Kaiser Richmond shipyards, during a performance of the musical RIVETS earlier this month.
The play, written and directed by Kathryn G. McCarty, follows the lives of a group of no-nonsense women shipyard workers—collectively known as “Rosie the Riveter.” While men fought in Europe and the Pacific, Rosies were hired stateside to build ships and aircraft.
This is the fifth time the show has been performed in Contra Costa County: once each at Contra Costa College and Lesher Center for the Arts, and three times on the SS Red Oak Victory.
“The script has been revised heavily in the last five productions—this show has three new songs,” McCarty said. “Our aim is to get to a position where we can take the message of the Richmond shipyards to theaters across America and to Broadway.”
That message, she says, is one of unity: “You look at the people of that generation and they all worked together in ways that we could really learn from now.”
McCarty, a native of southern Illinois, is the founder and artistic director of Galatean Players Ensemble. In the past 12 years she has written more than 15 plays that have been produced all over the Bay Area, as well as in Chicago and Los Angeles.
McCarty’s interest in Rosie the Riveter began in college. Her friends wallpapered their rooms with images of Rosie flexing her bicep, hair covered by a red-and-white polka dot bandana. Once McCarty began working on the play, she says, it took her 10 years to research and understand the culture and mentality of the Rosie years.
The play follows the lives of several Rosies as they struggle to adjust to the demands of overbearing shipyard managers, while simultaneously trying to love and be loved by soldiers, some of whom drink too much. Racial tensions sometimes flare, and all the emotions are heightened by the ever-present possibility of losing a loved one.
Betty E. Wright, 85, of Albuquerque, N.M., and her son, Ken, flew all the way from New Mexico to attend the play. She worked as a riveter on Kellet aircrafts in Drexel Hill, Penn., from 1943 to 1945.
“She really wanted to come to the Home Front Festival to see the play,” said Ken. “It was important for her.”
Actress Shawn Creighton, of Bay Point, plays the fictional Rosie the Riveter character Martha Mitchell. Mitchell has three other sisters who work in the shipyards and they all rely on her for emotional strength. She takes her job very seriously and will not succumb to the advances of her male counterparts.
“The most awesome experience is when the original Rosies come on board and see the show,” said Creighton. “One time this lady came up to me with tears in her eyes and said, ‘You look so much like me when I was your age’—I started crying.”
Audience member Graciela Galindo of San Francisco says that when she thinks of Rosie the Riveter she thinks of strong women—trailblazers and leaders.
“You really don’t hear a lot about them—it’s not something that is commonly known especially for children,” said Galindo. “It’s good to expose them so that they know there are strong women in their history.”
Another attendee, Anita Abeyta of Redwood City, says World War II gave the Rosies was a sense of empowerment that they could do a man’s job and get paid well for it.
“What I find interesting is that when the women were doing their job they were lauded for doing it,” said Abeyta. “But when the men came back the women lost their jobs.” Abeyta added that if she were a Rosie she would have been very upset at losing her job.
Although 65 years have passed since Richmond’s last overall-clad Rosie strode through the shipyards, at least one audience member found the lessons from that time relevant to the here and now.
“Racism is a big deal,” said Sam Anderson, 16, of Novato. “Although you really can’t change the past, you can change the future and how we can help each other to unite as one.”
October 1-24, 2010
Friday and Saturdays 8 p.m.
Saturday and Sundays 3 p.m.
General Admission $30
SS Red Oak Victory
1337 Canal Blvd.
Richmond, Calif. 94804
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