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This PhD student is using the stage to explore city's tumultuous labour history

Rich Duthie uses the 1958 and 1978-79 Inco strikes as backdrop to 'explore the past' as part of his dissertation

There's a lot of anniversaries intersecting right now when it comes to Greater Sudbury's mining labour history.

The 60th anniversary of the 87-day-long 1958 Mine Mill-Inco strike was last year. The 40th anniversary of the end of the nine-month-long 1978-79 USW-Inco strike is this month.

And coming up next month is the 10-year anniversary of the start of the historic, nearly-year-long 2009-2010 USW-Vale strike.

With the anniversaries of all of these historic Nickel City labour disputes as a backdrop, Sudbury native Rick Duthie has penned a 90-minute play called “One Day Stronger,” with three performances planned for this weekend.

The comedic drama — which takes its title from the union slogan “one day longer, one day stronger” — explores Sudbury’s labour history from the viewpoint of one family.

Laurie, played by Sudbury actress Miriam Cusson, relives her memories of growing up during the 1958 Inco strike, as she eavesdrops on the heated exchanges at her kitchen table.

She invokes the voices of her family and friends, played by Sudbury actor Matthew Heiti, moving forward through time to her present at the end of the 1978 Inco strike.

As she attempts to reconcile the trials of the past, her memories threaten to overwhelm her, with her father’s kitchen table as her only anchor.

“We have 50 chairs set up around a kitchen table, because the whole play takes place at a kitchen table, essentially,” Duthie said.

A trained actor and an alumni of Sudbury Secondary School's performing arts program, Duthie wrote the play as part of his PhD dissertation in public history at Carleton University.

He's specializing in Sudbury's labour history.

“Essentially I'm using theatre as a way to explore the past,” said Duthie, adding the play is a much better way to engage people than a PhD dissertation that sits on a shelf that's read by very few people.

In developing the piece, Duthie interviewed 20 people of all ages about the three Sudbury labour disputes.

Voice clips from the interviews will be included as part of the play, and images from the labour disputes will be projected onto the wall.

Duthie said he also took some of the things that people said in the interviews and put them in the mouths of his characters.

The performances will be followed by an open question and answer session.

“The play essentially is about how thematically and emotionally, people experience similar things at different intervals in time,” he said.

“Somebody in the '50s is faced with the same sort of economic and social pressures as they did in the '70s, and in 2009.”

Duthie said his play also originally included the 2009-2010 strike, but it ended up being four hours long.

“I don't know if audiences can sit that long anymore,” he said. “That's my personal opinion. We've kind of narrowed it down to 1958 and 1978.”

Mining strikes in Sudbury are something that have been experienced generationally, Duthie said, and the city's labour history will be relevant as long as resources continue to be extracted from the ground here.

The performances will take place at the Ukrainian National Federation Hall (130 Frood Rd.) Saturday, June 22 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday, June 23 at 2 p.m.

Advance tickets available are available for purchase in-person at the Sudbury Theatre Centre box office (cash only — $10 general admission, $5 seniors).


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