Nothing is quite as engaging as live theatre, even bad live theatre has something about it that grabs you in a way film cannot. It is immediate and real- no need for artificial 3D,
yet it allows the imagination to play a part. Friday, I had the chance to see The Triangle Factory Fire Project. The story is true and horrifying. In 1911, a fire broke out on the 8th and 9th floors of The Triangle Factory in New York where immigrant and poor women laboured over sewing machines to produce shirtwaists, the latest fashion craze. They were paid a pittance and could be fired at the whim of the managers.
On March 25, 1911, 146 women died because of the fire. Some of them perished in the flames, others leaped to their deaths on the sidewalk below. They had been trapped. The elevator didn’t work, and one door to the staircases was locked. In the ensuing panic, some of the women didn’t get to the second door to escape.
The Walterdale production of the The Triangle Factory Fire Project, a play first produced off-Broadway, was professional in every way and the theatre itself provides an intimate venue for its presentation. In act one, it introduces the facts of the fire through headlines and characters announcing them. Then the scene switches to a re-enactment of the fire which captures the chaos and terror of the 27 moments of the blaze.
Act Two features the trial of Max Blanck and Issac Harris, factory owners. It is 1911, women can’t vote, have few rights, and the jury is all male. The defense lawyer is arrogant; he sneers as he bullies and questions the female witnesses and the fire chief. Blanck and Harris are acquitted, even though they had ordered one of two doors locked so women had to leave by a single route and their purses could be searched for stolen shirtwaists.
Three years after the fire, on March 11, 1914, twenty-three individual civil suits against the owner of the Asch Building, where the Triangle Factory was located, were settled. The average recovery was $75 per life lost. The owner received $475/per woman from insurance.
The Triangle Factory Fire Project brings this dramatic story to life. The 146 lost lives did energize the suffragette and labour movements. Women got the vote in 1920 and the tragic deaths of the Triangle women had aided in the struggle to achieve the franchise. The strengthening unions also made advances in safety guarantees for workers and helped increase their pay because of this evil and preventable tragedy.
Live theatre, whether is be community theatre or a production by a professional group gives you great value for your entertainment dollar.