From the November 2015 issue

We Can Do It! Wild Swan Theater Performs 'Rosie the Riveter'

On the homefront in WWII, Michigan women held down the fort – and factories. Now, they’re returning to enlighten and inspire kids Nov. 11-14 in a new show.

That’s when Wild Swan Theater in Ann Arbor debuts Rosie the Riveter, an original musical for tweens and teens focused on Ypsilanti’s Willow Run Plant, where many of the original “Rosies,” as they were called, filled soldiers’ vacant positions.

“They were building these huge B-24 bombers, big planes – they were building one of these every hour,” says producer Hilary Cohen. “Nobody believed they could do that. They set a huge example of what women could be.”

The factory – also a first to employ women, including minorities, and pay them the same rate as men (a whopping $1/hour) – sparked Michigan native playwright Jeff Duncan’s script. He talked to several real Rosies to create four key characters ready to live out the hardships of the era on stage, 70 years later. Those Rosies are “in their 90s now,” says Cohen. “We won’t have them with us for very much longer,” so the time felt ripe to record and honor their history. It packs a powerful message.

“No matter who you are, or where you come from, you can make a difference,” says actress Sarah Briggs, who plays a Rosie who gives up teaching for riveting. Adds fellow stage Rosie Aynsley Martindale, kids see “how far women have come in the last 50 to 75 years.” And the “racial tension that starts off in the show – young people will get the chance to see how that can be worked through.”

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These Rosies chip at the glass ceiling and gender codes with grit, all set to ’40s-style jazzy blues and big-band tunes. Their legacy is a “part of women’s history that a lot of these girls don’t know,” Cohen says. This show is a great gateway.

Rosie the Riveter

  • What: Musical for ages 9-plus about Michigan’s female factory workers of WWII
  • Shows: 10 a.m. Nov. 11-12, 10 a.m. and noon Nov. 13, 2 p.m. Nov. 14
  • Costs: $10/kids, $15/ages 18-plus
  • Venue: Towsley Auditorium, Morris Lawrence Building, Washtenaw Community College, 4800 E. Huron Rive Drive, Ann Arbor
  • More: 734-995-0530, wildswantheater.org
  • Special: Two sign-language interpreters are on stage for the hearing impaired

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