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UBC Play Focuses on Confluence of Business, Labour and Religion

Upcoming UBC Department of Theatre and Film performance Saint Joan of the Stockyards explores themes of capitalism, philanthropy, and “the struggle for solidarity.”

A newsboy shouts, “Chicago Tribune, noon edition, P. Mauler, meat king and philanthropist, will attend the opening of the P. Mauler hospitals, largest and costliest in the world.”

Another news boy cries out: “Meat king Lennox forced to shut down his plants! 70,000 workers without food or shelter! M.L. Lennox a victim of the fierce competitive struggle with Pierpont Mauler, well-known meat king and philanthropist”

These news items describe one of the main characters in Bertolt Brecht’s play, Saint Joan of the Stockyards, to be presented April 3–13 at UBC’s Frederic Wood Theatre.

Today’s news agencies often add the words philanthropist to the names of business leaders, listing the many charities, hospitals, and universities they support. However, this philanthropic list doesn’t often include labour associations or religious bodies. In Brecht’s play, an appeal for Mauler’s philanthropy and his soul, comes from Joan Dark, a member of the Straw Hats, a religious organization that resembles the Salvation Army.

To complete his master’s degree in fine arts, Jacob Zimmer, a seasoned artistic director, has adapted Brecht’s 1930 play so that it connects with our current reality. In that regard, he suggests the example of striking Uber drivers or charity fundraisers in North Vancouver relating to the impoverished dwellers in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side.

In preparation for this play, Zimmer read, as did Brecht, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. It’s a story about workers, Lithuanian immigrants, who either starved to death in the stockyards of Chicago or as writer Frederic Grab’s puts it, “were known to have slipped once and emerged from the plant in lard cans.”

Despite the dangers, working in these plants was their only means of survival. Conditions become desperate when plants closed. In the words of Theatre UBC’s online summary of the play, a “struggle for solidarity” among workers ensues.

The plant closings also tested the ministry of the Straw Hats. To understand the character of that ministry, Brecht, according to Grab, drew on his own experience of the Salvation Army as he walked the streets of Berlin with leader Elizabeth Hauptmann, visiting soup kitchens and talking with the souls they tried to save.

As Grab explains, “during the economic crisis of the late 1920s, one group [the Salvation Army] tried to combine goodness with practicality doling out soup, music and Christian love.”

It was assumed that the Straw Hats ministry stood “above the battle” between monied moguls and plant workers. They were, as Joan Dark says, “Soldiers of the Lord” who marched with drums beating and flags flying,” handing out their “Battle Cry” leaflets. But, as the play unfolds, we learn that Joan begins to question that assumption.

As director Zimmer explained, the drum beating, flag waving, and singing of the Straw Hats will be a feature of the play. Among the songs, he listed The Battle Hymn of the Republic and All Things Bright and Beautiful.

The play involves 3rd and 4th year bachelor of fine arts students: 22 cast members and 19 crew members in charge of such things as sound, lighting and stage management.

Preparations such as modelling the set began in January with a full cast established in February.

There are two staff members who, with help of students, are building the set. Director Zimmer expressed appreciation for the theatre’s revolving stage.

Three plays are produced every year by the department of theatre and film. In addition to the Frederic Wood Theatre, plays are also presented at the Telus Studio Theatre in the Chan Centre.

Linda Pitt, the communications specialist for the department, advises that tickets can be purchased online at For further details, visit

For those planning to attend, Tony Koelwyn, the events and programming coordinator of audience services, reminds campus residents (members of the University Neighbourhoods Association) that they are eligible for two-for-one tickets.


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