Saturday at CSPS Hall: One-man play tells the story of labor hero Joe Hill

Joe Hill’s Last Will

CSPS Hall — Saturday, Nov. 21 at 8 p.m.

On Nov 19, 1915, after a questionable trial over a trumped-up murder charge, labor activist and songwriter Joe Hill was executed by firing squad in Utah. Since his death, he has become a legend, memorialized in poetry, prose, song and the play Joe Hill’s Last Will, a 2011 piece by folk songwriter and musical theatre composer-lyricist Si Kahn. Storyteller and multi-instrumentalist John McCutcheon begins a five-city tour of this one-man play on the 100th anniversary of Joe Hill’s death, landing at Legion Arts’ CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids on Sat., Nov 21.

Photo by Doug Oines
Photo by Doug Oines

Joe Hill’s Last Will marries Hill’s own songs with a script by Kahn. McCutcheon originated the role of the Swedish-born agitator back in 2011 in the play’s first production. Kahn and McCutcheon are, in true folk music tradition, both activists in their own rights as well as musicians; they are fitting partners to bring Hill’s story to the stage. Born Joel Hägglund in 1879, Joe Hill emigrated to the U.S. in 1902. He traveled the country as a migrant worker and was well known as a member of and organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World (or “Wobblies”).

The play is an exploration of the night before Joe Hill’s execution, as he sits in a Salt Lake City prison cell. It takes its title from the note titled “My Last Will,” written by Hill in poem form, beginning: “My will is easy to decide / For there is nothing to divide.” A CD of McCutcheon’s performances of the music from the play was successfully funded through Kickstarter and released in May. Joe Hill’s Last Will begins at 8 p.m. at CSPS Hall on Saturday, Nov. 21. Tickets are still available.

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