At first rehearsal of Sweat,'. Photo by John Moore.

First rehearsal of ‘Sweat’: Talking about a De-Industrial Revolution

At first rehearsal of Sweat,'. Photo by John Moore.

Some cast members gets an up-close view of the designers’ visions for ‘Sweat,’ running April 26 through May 26 in The Space Theatre. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

What a black female playwright found she has in common with 52 unemployed male steelworkers

Rehearsals began Tuesday for the DCPA Theatre Company’s upcoming production of Sweat, Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play that looks at the decline of working-class America through a series of interviews she conducted with residents of Reading, Pennsylvania, from 2011-13. Research Dramaturg Mary Blair used the occasion to introduce the origins of the play to Denver Center cast, crew, staff and guests. In Blair’s words:

“Lynn Nottage got a group email one day from a very close friend, and it said: ‘I just need you all to know I am broke and I am desperate, and I need your support.’ And Lynn thought to herself: ‘This is a single mother of two who lives two doors down from me, she’s a happy-go-lucky person, and we spent so much time together … and I had no idea.’ That made her wonder: ‘What else don’t I have an idea about in this country?’

Director Rose Riordan and Research Dramaturg Mary Balair at the first rehearsal for 'Sweat.' Photo by John Moore.

Director Rose Riordan and Research Dramaturg Mary Blair at the first rehearsal for ‘Sweat.’ Photo by John Moore.

“The Occupy Wall Street movement was just beginning around this time, and so to cheer her friend up, Lynn said: ‘Let’s go down and check out what that is all about.’ And afterward her friend said: ‘It  just makes me feel better to know that there are other people out there like me.’

“And then a couple days later, an article in The New York Times came out that talked about Reading, Pennsylvania, as the poorest city in America. It said 41.3 percent of its residents were living below the poverty level. Lynn thought: ‘This is crazy. When I think of poor, I think of the Deep South. Reading is 2 1/2 hours from New York City. What is going on? I have to investigate this.’

“Lynn happened to have a commission from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where she was being asked to look at revolutions in America. And she decided this was going to be her revolution: The De-Industrial Revolution. As one of her characters in the play says: ‘How in the [bleep] did this happen?’

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“So Lynn and her longtime collaborator Kate Whoriskey drove to Reading and stopped at a gas station, where they were asked: ‘You’re not from around here, are you?’ And they got some advice: ‘Get out of here before sundown.’ As it turned out, the police force in Reading had been cut by half that very day. And so, of course, they were intrigued. For the next 2 1/2 years, they drove back and forth interviewing people.

“Lynn considers herself a playwright, not a journalist. She doesn’t go in with a story in mind – she wants the story to come to her. She wants people to tell their stories and then decide what to do with it. Her manta is this: ‘Replace judgment with curiosity.’ That is how she approached interviewing people for the play.

Take a deeper dive into Lynn Nottage’s Sweat

“About a year and a half into her research, Lynn had her eureka moment. She was introduced to a group of 52 male steelworkers who had been locked out of their steel-tubing plant for 92 weeks. Lynn said: ‘For the first time in my life as a black woman, I was sitting with a group of middle-aged white men who I never in a million years thought that I had something in common with. I realized we had a shared narrative. When they told their stories, some with tears in their eyes, they told me they didn’t feel seen.’ Lynn said to herself: ‘This is something I hear from young black men. This is not something I hear from middle-aged white men.’

“The genesis of the play begins there.

“Some people say the play is about unions. Others say it is about race. But Lynn will say it is a play about class. Her hope is that when we see Sweat, we will see these strong, working-class folks whose stories don’t get told that often on the stage. She hopes that we can feel empathy. That we can feel invested in their journey. And then when we read a news story, or we sit across from someone on a bus, that we will look into their eyes and understand something about who they are.”


  • Cycerli Ash (“Skinned”) as Cynthia
  • Jordan Bellow (A Raisin in the Sun, IRT/Syracuse Stage) as Chris
  • Derek Jack Chariton (Eccentricities of a Nightingale, Pacific Resident Theater) as Jason
  • Tara Falk (Metamorphoses on Broadway) as Tracey
  • Sam Gregory (48 productions at DCPA including A Christmas Carol as Ebenezer Scrooge) as Stan
  • Leslie Kalarchian (Celebrity Row, Portland Center Stage) as Jessie
  • Gustavo Márquez (Native Gardens, DCPA) as Oscar
  • Timothy D. Stickney (Shakespeare in Love, Chicago Shakespeare Theater) as Brucie
  • William Oliver Watkins (Jackie & Me, As You Like It, DCPA) as Evan

Creative team:

  • Rose Riordan, Director
  • Tony Cisek, Scenic Designer
  • Kevin Copenhaver, Costume Designer
  • Charles MacLeod, Lighting Designer
  • Elisheba Ittoop, Sound Designer
  • Geoffrey Kent, Fight Director
  • Christine Menzies, Voice and Dialect
  • Mary Blair, Research Dramaturg
  • Harriet Bass, CSA, and Grady Soapes, CSA (Casting)
  • Kurt Van Raden (Stage Manager)
  • Michael G. Morales (Assistant Stage Manager)
  • Molly Bibeau (Apprentice Stage Manager)

SweatSweat: Ticket information

  • The play at a glance: For the people of poverty-stricken Reading, Pa., work is much more than a paycheck – it’s the glue that has held the town together for generations. The floor of their central factory is where lifelong friendships are made, where love blossoms and where family members work side-by-side. But as layoffs become the new norm and a cheaper workforce threatens the viability of the local union, the threads that once kept the community together begin to fray. Using warm humor and deep empathy, Nottage paints a moving portrait of today’s working-class America in decline.
  • Written by: Lynn Nottage
  • Director: Rose Riordan
  • Dates: April 26-May 26, 2019 (Opens May 3)
  • Where: Space Theatre
  • Genre: Working-class drama
  • Tickets: Start at $30 and can be purchased at 303-893-4100 or in person in the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex at 14th and Curtis streets or online by clicking here:

Photo gallery: First rehearsal of Sweat

Sweat cast and creatives. Photo by John Moore.

Cast, creatives and staff gathered for the first rehearsal of ‘Sweat.’ Photo by John Moore.

Go to our complete gallery of Sweat rehearsal photos