On Stage

Ginger's Ballad

Workers of the world, unite!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

It’s been nearly a century since Albert “Ginger” Goodwin was shot and killed in the Cumberland bush on Canada’s Vancouver Island, but thanks to people such as playwright Elaine Avila, the legacy of the workers’ rights activist won’t soon be forgotten.

The Ballad of Ginger Goodwin, the play Avila penned after visiting Vancouver Island and realizing Goodwin’s story had been quelled in the decades since his death, tells the story of the titular character who, through a strike at a Canadian zinc smelter, helped to bring the World War I British war machine to a grinding halt.

“When I was in Cumberland, I noticed that Goodwin’s story was being suppressed,” Avila says. “For example, the government took down street signs honoring him in 2001. And even though people come from as far away as Chile to lay wreaths on his grave, most Canadians have no idea who he is!

“Goodwin’s assassination led to Vancouver’s first general strike, to Canada’s first general strike. It seems like pretty important history, right? But after he was assassinated, the Vancouver Sun newspaper wrote, ‘Let his friends remember him if they may, but let no honest man mention his name henceforth.’ In the 99 years since his death, people have been fighting to keep his story out of the public eye.”

When The Ballad of Ginger Goodwin opens Thurs., Feb. 4 at Western Washington University’s DUG Theatre, it’ll be crystal clear Goodwin will no longer be simply a footnote in history. The migrant coal worker from England who took a stand against deplorable working conditions and promoted the proliferation of trade unions will once again be a living, breathing human intent on telling his story.

Along the way, Goodwin and a host of other characters—among them an idealistic industrialist, a pro-war matron, an Italian laundress, a chorus girl, an Italian soldier, coal miners, smelter workers, a military doctor, a mediator, a union organizer and immigrants with dreams—will turn his tale about the battle for workers’ rights into prime-time viewing.

“The students—actors, designers and stage managers—are doing amazing, committed work,” Avila says of her collaboration with guest director Kathleen Weiss. “I hope audiences enjoy this as much as I do.”

Also worth noting, Avila says, is a “beautiful and rousing” original ballad by musician and activist Earle Peach she commissioned from her writer’s fee. Additionally, labor music scholar Gary Cristall provided invaluable advice when it came to the play’s soundtrack, helping her find the music her characters would’ve sung, such as Yorkshire ballads and songs written by Italian immigrants.

Ultimately, Avila is hoping that reliving Goodwin’s actions and the events leading up to his death will help people come to the same conclusion she did after finding out more about his life—namely, that his is a story that should never be forgotten.

“Why is it that we aren’t supposed to know certain histories?” she asks. “They must be threatening in some way. Or they might be seen as very, very empowering.

“My play is about the battle for workers’ rights—the eight-hour day, worker’s compensation. Many lost their lives in this fight. It’s a vital part of our history in Canada and the United States. Our current generation has our own battles and struggles ahead of us, and we can draw inspiration and knowledge from Ginger Goodwin’s story. He had a rare courage, hope and strength although I believe, inside, he may have been as scared as any of us.”

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