Rosemount resident's play brings union hero's story to lifeKeith Reed heard the song “I dreamed I saw Joe Hill” years ago and thought nothing of it. The song has been sung by many including Woody Guthrie and Joan Baez. Yet the song didn’t resonate with Reed until a few years ago. After hearing the song again, Reed decided to learn more about the man who had inspired it. Turns out, Joe Hill was a pretty interesting fellow worth a few lyrics.
By: Emily Zimmer, Rosemount Town Pages
Keith Reed heard the song “I dreamed I saw Joe Hill” years ago and thought nothing of it. The song has been sung by many including Woody Guthrie and Joan Baez. Yet the song didn’t resonate with Reed until a few years ago.
After hearing the song again, Reed decided to learn more about the man who had inspired it. Turns out, Joe Hill was a pretty interesting fellow worth a few lyrics.
Hill, a Swedish immigrant, was a songwriter and avid union supporter for the Industrial Workers of the World. He wrote songs like Casey Jones-The Union Scab to inspire workers to fight for their rights. At the time many could not read, so Hill came up with songs that could spread the message.
In 1915 he was convicted of murdering John Morrison and his son Arling despite evidence and witness testimony suggesting otherwise. John Morrison’s other son, Merlin, was there when the murder occurred and said Hill was not the killer.
On Nov. 19, 1915, Hill was executed by the state of Utah by firing squad.
“The defense was never allowed to ask questions… People will find it hard to believe that a trial could have gone that way,” said Reed.
Amazed by Hill’s story, Reed, a playwright and director, decided it needed to be dramatized. For the last three years, he has worked on writing a play based on Hill’s story. It’s been a slow process, but now Reed is ready to put all the pieces together. “The Murdered Minstrel of Toil: The Joe Hill Story” will premiere June 15 at the Historic Mounds Theater under the direction of Reed.
Reed said writing the play was different than anything he has done before. Reed owns Mr. Mystery Productions, which puts on mystery dinner theater performances. He has written a number of improvisational plays for the company.
“I’m used to doing improv theater. This is a totally different thing. The timing of it all is pretty critical,” said Reed.
After examining several theaters, Reed decided to premiere his play at the Historic Mounds Theater in St. Paul. The Rosemount Players, an arm of the Rosemount Area Arts Council, provided support for the production. Reed is a Rosemount resident and member of RAAC.
The play starts with Hill’s funeral and then goes into his story. It includes Hill’s original songs and delves into the story of the unions and Hill’s influence.
After contacting various unions about the play, Reed said he has received support from local unions to put on the production. Reed said he feels like the subject is timely.
“I feel like it’s really important to get this message out there. We’re moving backwards,” Reed said, making reference to recent attempts to weaken unions.
There will be six performances of The Murdered Minstrel of Toil at the Mounds Theater. Performance will be as follows: 7:30 p.m. June 15; 7:30 p.m. June 16; 2 p.m. June 17; 7:30 p.m. June 22; 7:30 p.m. June 23 and 2 p.m. June 24. The June 23 performance is a pay-as-you-are-able show.
Tickets are available at the door or at www.mrmysteryplays.com. Requests for tickets can also be made to email@example.com or make a check payable to RAAC and mail it to RAAC, P.O. Box 409, Rosemount, Minn., 55068.