Month 4: Song and Dance and Paid Leave


A playbill opened to the feature page of Sondheim's "Into the Woods." On the left, a drawing of a woman facing to the right wrapped in a red, white, and black blanket. There's a pine tree on the left and birch trees around here, as well as snow. On the right are all the credits for the Kennedy Center and the Fiasco Theater Production of "Into the Woods".Cultural Event: Into the Woods

In December, I ventured a couple hundred feet away from my chair in the Kennedy Center Opera House to a neighboring venue in the building. I saw Stephen Sondheim’s beloved Into the Woods, and it was presented in a completely unique way.

First off, there was no orchestra. Rather, the actors played instruments during scenes that they otherwise would have been offstage. This admittedly made me skeptical and of course disappointed to think of musicians being put on the chopping block. But I opened up to the idea once I learned that a key element of this production was to create an experience in which the actors, whenever possible, break the “Fourth Wall”, or the barrier between the stage and the audience.

A pianist, who was the “meat and potatoes” of the music, was in costume and only delivered a few lines. Everyone else played a handful of roles, which meant that all were onstage throughout the entire performance. Aside from lighting and sound, they controlled all the technical aspects, namely special effects and changes of scenery, which like the music was purposefully make-shift and often minimalistic.

You wouldn’t be satisfied with the production as a replacement for the original, large-scale Into the Woods, but you’d probably love it if you were looking to experience something intimate and a bit abstract. Here’s a trailer for a better idea.

For those in the audience who knew Into the Woods inside and out, it was like eating a deconstructed version of a favorite dish.

Ten Christmas Carolers in an office posing smiled in front of a Christmas Tree. All are wearing festive attire, a few are wearing t-shirts that say "DC Paid Family Leave".

Labor Event: Christmas Caroling for Paid Family Leave

As I mentioned in a post earlier this month, a group of us from various DC labor organizations gathered at the the Wilson Building, which houses the District of Columbia’s legislative offices and chambers, to advocate for the DC Paid Family Leave Campaign. As things stand right now in DC, when a worker has medical needs–and/or has a family member with a medical needs–the worker must take time off without pay if s/he decides to tend to these needs during working time.  In a place with a cost of living as high as DC’s, this can create a serious dilemma.

Just before Christmas, the 13 Councilmembers of Washington, DC voted on a bill that would provide weeks of annual paid medical leave for many DC workers. Specifically, 8 weeks to new parents for a birth or adoption, 6 weeks to care for a sick loved one, and 2 weeks for workers in need of personal medical leave.

The week before the vote, we visited the offices of DC Councilmembers with Christmas Carols. The lyrics were tweaked. For example, instead “We wish you a Merry Christmas…”, we sang “We hope you’ll vote ‘yes’ on Tuesday…”. Or instead of “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way,” we sang “Family leave, family leave, family and medical leave…” Most of the staff members were delighted, and the music even got a couple of the Councilmembers out of their private offices to see what was going on.

The bill passed 9 to 4, and now it sits on DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s desk. If she signs the legislation, or allows it without signature, it will become a law.

(Actually, that’s not entirely true. We would then have to wait 30 days for both houses of the U.S. Congress to express approval, or at least give tacit approval. DC is under “Home Rule” of Congress. Give us Statehood now, please….)

But I digress. It was wonderful connecting with these people, who came from organizations such as Jews United for Justice, the AFL-CIO, and the Labor Heritage Foundation. Fingers crossed for DC Paid Family Leave!

About Doug Rosenthal

No one told Douglas Rosenthal to give up playing music. Not even his patient siblings, who endured many early-morning practice sessions; even they encouraged their brother to follow his passion. As the years passed, that passion evolved from simply playing music to advocating for music, musicians, and music-lovers. Douglas is based in Washington, DC. He is the Assistant Principal Trombonist of the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra/Washington National Opera Orchestra. He currently makes his home on Capitol Hill in DC with a pug named Jake, who serves as a constant reminder to relax, eat well, and sleep plentifully.

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