A SHIRTWAIST TALE-The Klezmer Musical
     
 
     
 

New York City, 1909.  Under the auspices of the International Garment Workers' Union, 20,000 shirtwaist makers, principally young immigrant girls, marched out of the City's sweatshops, demanding better working conditions, including higher pay and a 52 hour work week.  For two months they demonstrated and picketed, all the time set upon by neighborhood thugs (Shtarkers) hired by the owners to protect strikebreakers and attack picketers.  Ultimately, the plight of these women was taken up by some of the wealthiest society ladies in New York City, who provided some financial support and pressured the City government to ease up on police interference with the strikers.  A Shirtwaist Tale interweaves the story of the strike with the stories of the strikers, with homage to the format of traditional Yiddish theater. 

A Shirtwaist Tale follows the lives of two of the young striking girls, Dvorah and Sadie.  Dvorah the sole support of her Talmud-scholar Papa, must choose between love and duty.  Sadie, with her two male friends (the Nachas Machers ("Fun Makers"), seeks to break away from the drudgery of shirtwaist work by finding success in Yiddish theater.  But this tells only part of the story; filled with glorious klezmer music is, as your bubbe would say, a freliche shpiel ("an entertaining show").