March 8th Rehearsal Update

Today was a run-through of the whole show.

I heard the single notes as the chorus walks slowly onto to the stage, and then an actor began to speak:

“Dec 14, 2010: A raging fire tore through the upper floors of a huge garment factory in Bangladesh on Tuesday. 25 people have been killed; 22 of them jumped to their deaths.”

It chilled me to remember that such an event could occur twice our very short history. I prepared myself to watch From the Fire’s significant story unfold. In fact, more than one story unfolds in this piece. It is multiple stories; telling tales of people’s lives and different passions. Sisters who adore each other, one has a love interest, one has ambitions to be a shirtwaist designer someday. A girl angers her father because she works on the sabbath, yet she finds solace in being a leader and someone who her peers look up to. A mother graciously accepts her husband’s cousin into their home although
they can not afford to feed another girl…

I am no longer observing bits and pieces of scenes, as I have for so many weeks; hearing the words not of actors, but of characters sharing their lives with us. The beings who brought the factory to life, those who we now remember for the sacrifice of their lives so that we can have safer work environments today.

by Deja Dobbins

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Article in the New Yorker

Hello All!  As we count down the last few weeks before we open, here is some news to be excited about!  An article in the New Yorker about From the Fire!

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March 7th Rehearsal Update

“Let the rhythm take you there,” said composer Elizabeth Swados, illustrating the
pace with the slow glide of her hand in the air. Swados emphasized a focus on the poetry of the images in each line of the play and for everyone to “make the words work” for
them, suggesting the cast search deeper for emotion as the play develops. “I’m the last one to say it, but sometimes it just can’t be beautiful,” remarked Swados.

With Musical Director Kris Kukul working out the technical kinks, stressing space for breathing, beats, and crescendos, Swados’ directed the cast to reexamine her
compositions. She mentioned that her work is usually very trying on singers, and presents the chance for those who have not worked with her previously to build vocal technique, and to strengthen their individual characters. Director Cecilia Rubino elaborated on this, telling the company that at this point in the rehearsals it was time to
“root” the characters and “get [them] out there.”

As Swados departed, a projector was set up (after some adjustments) and images
from New York City in the early 1900’s began to cover the wall. Bits of old New York, of Ellis Island immigrants and ships coming to dock filled the rehearsal room.

After the break, the show was run again, with some minor pauses. A vicious Fenster

with a sharp sense of pacing kept tensions high on the factory floor, and several roles were chivalrously taken on by understudy actors. At this point, the odd circular rehearsal space seemed crowded, with people on the outskirts watching, making notes, changing lenses, queuing projections, singing along… the whole room seemed a factory floor in itself.

by Dean Shtainhorn

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On My Interview With Dr. Jerome Charyn, Descendent of Several Triangle Fire Victims

On My Interview With Dr. Jerome Charyn, Descendent of Several Triangle Fire Victims

by Dean Shtainhorn

At the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition meeting on February 17,  I had the pleasure to meet with Dr. Jerome Charyn, a descendant of Rosie and Sarah Brenman, aged 23 and 17 respectively, whose family immigrated from Ukraine some years before the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and who died of asphyxiation in the fire. Their brother Joseph Brenman, an inside contractor at the Triangle Factory, survived the incident and passed down the story to his grandson, Dr. Charyn, more than fifty years ago.

A few months after the fire, Joseph Brenman’s testimony was recorded, through a Yiddish interpreter, for a lawsuit filed by the Triangle Factory workers against the owners of the factory. His testimony also appeared in a New York Times article that same year.

Dr. Charyn was also a safety advisor and fire safety consultant for much of his life, though he later turned to a profession in nutrition.  At our meeting, he pointed out a number of fire safety devices just within sight of where we were sitting, at the entrance to an office in a New York City high rise.  All, he said, were directly or indirectly the result of the Triangle Factory Fire. The doors were outward-opening with a panic hardware bar for easy use. Nearby were an exit sign, a smoke detector, a fire alarm, sprinkler and a flashing blinker alarm for the deaf. Beyond our view were also a fire extinguisher, a full-time fire safety warden (which every building above ten stories must have), monthly fire safety drills, compartmentalized rooms, and flame-retardant building materials.  This dizzying amount of gear made me consider just how many policies we take for granted that were consequences of the tragedy one hundred years ago. “Each time my grandfather spoke about it,” said Dr. Charyn, “he could not help crying.”

The fire’s devastation, witnessed in shockingly plain view by New York City residents, soon shook the world. The subsequent campaigning for human rights and worker’s rights paved the way for the development of a number of industries. It gave birth to the safety, home security, wayfinding (the organization of space) industries, and to policies on architectural design as well.

Although large numbers of poor immigrants came to the United States in search of opportunity, many found themselves in oppressive work environments with long hours with no breaks, unsafe working conditions, constant stress caused by company threats that their jobs were in jeopardy, and other hardships that made the newly-immigrated working class feel as though their lives hung by a string and opportunity was just out of reach. Dr. Charyn said that the response to the fire was not just about “sub-optimal working conditions” but that it raised concerns about the general quality of life, “challenging the notion that people were thought to be interchangeable.” Today the same issues are still being raised across the globe as workers in developing countries continue to work in sweatshops with dangerous conditions, as they struggle for their basic rights.

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Timeline: The Day of the Fire

This post is timeline of the day of the Triangle Shirftwaist Factory fire, on Saturday March 25, 1911.  Compiled by dramaturg Deja Dobbins.

12 pm: Because Saturday shifts generally ended earlier than weekday shifts, many workers in other parts of the building at The Triangle Company  left work early.

4:30-4:45pm             The end of the work day at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

4:40pm    The cry of “Fire”! was heard on the eighth floor.  The fire began in a scrap bin under a sewing table.

The Fire Marshal’s report blamed a match or cigarette tossed onto flammable scraps. The New York Times suggested that sparks from a faulty sewing machine engine might have been the cause. An insurance industry publication noted that there had been rash of fires in shirtwaist factories, and said that these workplaces were “fairly saturated with moral hazard.”

4:40-4:46pm Workers threw water on the fire, but it quickly grew out of control. Workers then tried to use the fire hoses that were available on each floor, but the valves were not functional and no water came out.

A bookkeeper on the eighth floor called the ninth and tenth floors on the telephone with a warning to evacuate, but could only reach the tenth floor.

The fire spread to the ninth floor. With no working telephone and no alarm, workers on the ninth floor learned about the fire below them only when their floor was in flames.

Pandemonium ensued as flames began to take over the building and spread to the ninth and tenth floors.

As soon as the flames reached them, workers tried to flee by way of the two freight elevators, the fire escape, or the stairways down to Greene Street and Washington Square. Many eighth floor workers fled down stairs and tenth floor workers fled up, but the ninth floor workers, latest to hear the alarm and caught in the middle, were trapped.

Flames made it impossible to go down the Greene Street stairway, but many survivors from the escaped by taking that stairway up to the roof and then using a ladder placed by occupants of the neighboring building to climb to safety.

Within three minutes, though, the fire made the Greene Street stairway impassable going up as well as down.

Victims were found pressed against the ninth floor door to the Washington Square stairway, which owners kept locked.

The one fire escape on the building which did not reach below the second floor in any case, crumpled and tore away from the building as workers crowded onto it, dropping about 25 workers to their deaths over 100 feet below.

Other survivors were able to jam themselves into the elevators while they continued to operate. Joseph Zito and Gaspar Mortillalo ran the freight elevators up to the burning ninth floor three times to bring down as many workers as possible. Though built for a maximum of 15 passengers, more than twice that squeezed in on each trip.The rails of Mortillalo’s elevator buckled in the heat of the fire and that elevator stopped working.

Trapped workers pried the doors to the elevator shaft open to ride on top of Zito’s elevator after it was full, and others leapt down the shaft to escape the fire. The weight of these bodies blocked that elevator and put it too out of service.

4:45 pm:              The fire alarm is called in. Fire trucks race to the scene.

People from all over the neighborhood follow the sound of the sirens to see what’s happening. A large crowd stands on the street below the factory, and sees 62 people jump or fall to their death from the ninth floor.

4:46pm             The first firefighters, NYFD Company 72, reaches the Asch Building. The fire is raging on the building’s eighth, ninth and tenth floors. Neither the firemen’s ladders nor hoses reach above the 6th floor. Their nets rip under the force of the people jumping and falling from the high floors.

4:47pm             The last body drops to the sidewalk from the ninth floor.

5:05pm                          The fire is declared under control.

5:15pm                        The fire is declared over.

6:20pm                        Firefighters enter the burnt top floors and discover dozens of badly burned bodies.

6:45pm             Mourners break through police barriers to get to the Asch Building.

8:00pm             The morgue wagon taking away the dead returns for a second load. 60 bodies have been brought down from the building.

8:15pm             Firefighters rescue a survivor from the bottom of the elevator shaft.

9:05pm             Electric lights strung around the building are turned on to allow emergency workers to continue their efforts into the night.

11:15pm             The last body is removed from the building.

Only twenty short minutes after the fire’s ignition, 116 women and 30 men had passed away due to burns, suffocation, and falls from the fire escape, elevator shafts, and jumping from the ninth floor. These workers suffered a tragic death, and though they did not live beyond their young years, their lives will never go in vain. In memory, we pay tribute to them.

Compiled by Deja Dobbins

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Timeline: Events Surrounding the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

This post is a timeline of events leading up to and resulting from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.  These dates have been compiled by dramaturg Deja Dobbins.

1900 Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) is founded in New York City.

1900 Blanck and Isaac Harris found the Triangle Waist Company on Wooster Street in New York City.

July 13, 1900 Asch’s plans for a new building at Greene St. and Washington Place are approved by the city.

January 15, 1901 The Asch Building is constructed.

1901The Triangle Shirtwaist Company moves into the eighth floor of the Asch Building

1908 – The Triangle Shirtwaist Company has expanded to include the ninth and tenth floors of the Asch building as well as the eighth.

June 1909A fire prevention expert writes to the Triangle Shirtwaist Company asking for a meeting about improving safety measures. The meeting does not take place.

September 1909 Citing heinous working conditions, twelve hour shifts with only a half-hour lunch break and no overtime pay, dangerous machinery, and poor ventilation in the workplace, The ILGWU Local 25 calls for a strike against the Triangle Shirtwaist Company.

November 1909-Dec 1909 The spirit of the strike spreads to other shirtwaist manufactures throughout the city.  Up to 30,000 women workers participated in the strike demanding safer working conditions.

February 1910Strikers agree to a settlement that would result in a slight wage increase for the strikers. However, no changes to better working conditions were made. The union’s demands to improve fire safety were never met.

October 15, 1910 – The Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory at the Asch Building passes a routine fire inspection.

November 25, 1910 – After many garment factory fires, one in Newark kills 25 workers, raising more calls for improved fire prevention in the industry.

January 15, 1911 – More than a ton of fabric scraps is picked up from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. It is the last time that such scraps are removed from the building, and the accumulation of fabrics cuttings over the next two months would provide fuel for the fire.

March 16, 1911 – A fire safety report warns that many New York City buildings lack “even the most indispensable precautions necessary.”

March 25, 1911Day of the Fire

March 26-April 2, 1911 –  The bodies of those who died in the fire were taken to a pier on 26th Street and the East River. Thousands of people lined up to identify the bodies of loved ones. After a week, all but seven were identified.

April 2, 1911The National Women’s Trade Union League organizes a meeting at the Metropolitan Opera House at which thousands of women vote to press the New York State legislature for new labor and fire safety laws.

April 5, 1911A funeral procession for the victims is held, organized by the ILGWU

April 11, 1911 – Triangle Factory owners Max Blanck and Isaac Harris are indicted on six counts of manslaughter for the deaths of two of the 146 workers who died in the fire.

June 30, 1911 Inspired by the tragedy, the New York State legislature establishes the Factory Investigating Commission to investigate working conditions statewide.

December 4, 1911The trial of Blanck and Harris trial begins.

December 27, 1911 Blanck and Harris are found not guilty

1912 – The New York State Legislature passes eight of the fifteen bills on working conditions that the Factory Investigating Commission founded in the wake of the fire recommends. The other seven, along with new protections, pass in later years.

August 20, 1913 – Blanck and Harris are found guilty of locking fire exit doors against workers in their new factory. Blanck is fined $25 and the chief justice apologizes for having to enforce the fine.

December 23, 1913 – Blanck shows off a lock to prevent employees from stealing goods, resulting in a warning from Chief Inspector John Kennedy about numerous safety violations in the factory.

1914 – 23 individual lawsuits that were filed in 1911 against Harris and Blanck are settled, with the owners agreeing to pay $75 per worker who died.

1991 – The site of the fire is declared a national landmark

February 22, 2001 – The last survivor of the Triangle Fire, Rose Freedman, dies at 107.

2010 – The final six previously unidentified victims of the Triangle Factory Fire are identified by researcher Michael Hirsch. They are:

  • Josephine Cammarata, 17, who was engaged to be married on Easter Sunday;
  • Dora Evans, 18, a Russian immigrant;
  • Max Florin, 23, a Russian immigrant said to be engaged to a cousin of Triangle owner Max Blanck;
  • Maria Lauletti, 33, who was survived by five children;
  • Concetta Prestifilippo, 22, said to have been a cousin of Josephine Cammarata; and
  • Fannie Rosen, 21, a Russian immigrant who had been in the country for six months and had worked at the Triangle factory for only two days.


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Review in the Jewish Daily Forward

From the Fire has been reviewed by the Jewish Daily Forward.

Check out the article here!

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February 28 Rehearsal Update

One could hear the veritable tightening of screws as today’s rehearsal sharply examined the first half of From The Fire, with the  cast and creative team working hard to make sure they had all of the scenes “locked in.” With Musical Director Kris Kukul constantly on the lookout for subtle changes of each song or set transition, the company worked to round out the pacing of the play.

Ben Van Buren, the assistant to the choreographer as well as a cast member, coordinated transitions through several of the scenes, organizing the placement of off-stage set pieces and tweaking the movement through several of the sequences set in the factory. With a large cast and bulky set pieces, choreographer Eric Jackson Bradley and director Cecilia Rubino work hard to guide the flow of “traffic.”

Armed with her pen and notebook, Rubino paced frequently, as usual, occasionally pausing a song to remark on a character trait or discuss a movement. She stressed that the actors should use the day’s rehearsal as an “Opportunity to explore your characters… and take them further.” The cast responded with a short applause. Later, Rubino added that it was every actor’s job to be “storytellers.” A sassy Rosita worked her attitude on a playful Joey Zito, and a vehement Rose Schneiderman belted out the rights of the worker girls. Beginning with a description of the horrors of the recent fires at a factory in Bangladesh, From the Fire lends us the opportunity to see the events of the Triangle Factory Fire from the inside, and as 20th century theater artist Bertolt Brecht advocated, to get the audience to examine the similarities and consider its effect on their own conditions.

Close to the end of the third hour, the rehearsal began to take its toll on the cast and crew. As I watched the third hour pass closer to the fourth I expected a dip in gusto or a drop in alertness. The repetition of songs for fine-tuning, with the cast actively lifting and shifting tables and running while singing made more than a few break out in a light sweat. But the enthusiasm generated by the company for this play continues to engender new life at every rehearsal.

From my seat on the outskirts of the rehearsal space, I watch each week as From the Fire gradually accumulates power.  At the end of the day, after some notes from the director and choreographer, a makeshift card was passed around for the birthday of cast member Anina Denove, who plays Alta, followed by one of the largest “happy birthday” sing alongs I have ever been a part. It’s clear that the cast and creative team have become a very strong unit.

by Dean Shtainhorn

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February 25th and 26th Rehearsal Updates

On February 25, Choreographer Eric Jackson Bradley brought in very challenging and intricate choreography for the song “One Hundred Years From Now.” There will be many movements to memorize, but if each cast member puts in the work, it will look fantastic. Rehearsal also included a review of the work from the previous rehearsal.

On February 26, rehearsal focused on From the Fire’s climactic Fire Sequence. Ben Van Buren, a student at Eugene Lang and member of the choral and physical companies in the production, used his knowledge of dance and movement to contribute to the choreography of the fire sequence. The fire scene’s physical movement calls on iconographic images and the company’s acting skills to created scattered, chaotic sequences. There are many small scenes being acted out within this sequence so every audience member will experience something different, depending on where they are sitting. I have overheard other cast members remark that they wish they could see the play, and as a fellow cast member, I agree!

by Yahaira Hernandez

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Check Out Our New Tumblr!

If you want to see even more photos from From the Fire rehearsals, please take a look at our brand-new tumblr, where there are currently many great photos from our two photographers, Andrew Smrz and Erica Min.

Coming soon: video clips!

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