Speaking up about wage theft

A lot can happen in 20 minutes.

Such a small pocket of time could allow a losing team to make a comeback, or it could find a character from your favorite show dead. With her 20 minutes, Janet Schlapkohl plans to entertain and inform.

At 4:30 p.m. today, Schlapkohl’s short play “Voice Lessons” will be performed at the IMU. It covers topics such as social inequality in the work-place and wage theft.

A panel following the event will allow audience members to ask questions about the issues the play puts forward.

“In America, we want to believe work has value, we like to think people get treated fairly,” said Robyn Calhoun, the play’s lead. “But people in situations like this have no voice. It’s infuriating.”

Calhoun’s character, Gloria, is a mother working to support herself and her daughter (played by Calhoun’s real life daughter).

To write the play, Schlapkohl researched topics relating to the themes of the play and interviewed numerous people living in situations like those of her characters.

“It’s no one’s individual personal story but everyone’s partial story,” she said.

This performance marks the first time the show will have been staged on campus. Previously, it was put on at labor venues.

“I’m less [surprised] by the play itself and more the workers’ reaction,” said Christina Sullivan, one of the play’s three actors. “A lot of the time we’d be performing this while they were on their break or at the end of the day, and there’d still be a great reaction.”

Part of that reaction is likely from the relatability of the play’s characters and the problems they face — situations such as Sullivan’s character, Martina.

“[She’s] in her early 20s, she moved to the United States from Mexico after her dad got injured, so she has to work to support her family,” Sullivan said. “She has a different journey from your typical middle-class, late-teen, early 20-year-old in that she does have to work to survive.”

Still, as Sullivan points out, with student loans getting steeper, “there’s a struggle with the middle class.” Yet, even with aspects of this class divide bleeding together, there’s still clear separations in other areas.

“I didn’t grow up rich, but I certainly had advantages,” Calhoun said. “If there was something about a situation I was in that bothered me, I felt I could speak up about it. In Gloria’s situation, she can’t speak up.”

Schlapkohl doesn’t like using the term “raising awareness” for what she feels the play does, but it is what she hopes happens.

“In this play, I feel the problem is specific enough,” she said. “With wage theft, we’re all in a position to do something about it.”

It’s through the play’s human characters and their true-to-life problems that the cast and crew plan to inform and win people over.

“We hope you’re drawn in and totally on these people’s side,” Calhoun said, “[The play] puts a human face — three human faces — on this social issue of wage theft.”

THEATER

“Voice Lessons,” a short play

When: 4:30 p.m. Monday

Where: IMU

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