UMass Amherst SWEAT audience booklet, 2019

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By Lynn Nottage Directed by Gilbert McCauley


“What Happened?” T

he regulars at the bar in Lynn Nottage’s Sweat ask this again and again and again (11 times, to be precise) — of each other, of themselves, of their country, of their world.

Nearly two decades after the year 2000, when Sweat begins its story, this question seems to underscore every news article, social media post, and late-night recap as we scroll through our daily feeds. “How did we get here?” “What went wrong?” “Did no one see this coming?” “What happened?” The very origin of Sweat, in fact, is rooted in questions: Nottage spent two years interviewing residents of Reading, PA after The New York Times reported in 2011 that the town was officially the poorest of its size in the United States. As Nottage and her team of researchers conversed with Berks County locals and explored the once-thriving manufacturing town, they uncovered the human stories behind the front-page headlines. The fictional residents of Nottage’s play are radically impacted by world and national events, but they aren’t personally concerned with stock market numbers or presidential debates; rather, their lives revolve around weekly paychecks, keeping up with the mortgage, nursing injuries, looking after family members and friends. In rehearsal, as we reflected on the worlds of 2000 and 2008, we were struck by how quickly events slip from our consciousness, at how difficult it is to be a citizen of our country and world when our lives are so overwhelmed with the need to simply survive.

With this booklet, we invite you to revisit the early years of the millennium through the lens of Berks County, southeastern Pennsylvania. Each article is printed with permission from The Reading Eagle (the newspaper from which Nottage selected the news headlines featured in the play) and prompts us to consider the micro stories embedded within the macro headlines. As you navigate these pages, we invite you to ask yourself the following: • What are your “I remember where I was” moments? What memories do they spark? • How do the macro events along the timeline relate to the micro newspaper stories? • How did these events directly impact me? My family? My community? • How have these events repeated themselves in the years since?

• How are these headlines specific to a community and universal to a larger narrative? • How do each of these years (and in turn, 2019) fit into the broader scope of history?

A news article inspired Lynn Nottage to explore individual stories within the context of a national narrative — we invite you to do the same.

— Maegan Clearwood, Dramaturg

“I find that I am rescuing voices from history.”


ynn Nottage was born in 1964 in Brooklyn, New York. She received her BA from Brown University and her Playwriting MFA from Yale University. After graduating, she worked in the press office of Amnesty International for four years. Selected plays include Sweat (Pulitzer Prize, Obie Award, Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, Tony Nomination, Drama Desk Nomination), By The Way, Meet Vera Stark (Drama Desk Nomination), Ruined (Pulitzer Prize, OBIE, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle Award), Intimate Apparel (American Theatre Critics and New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards), Fabulation, or The ReEducation of Undine (OBIE Award), Crumbs from the Table of Joy, and POOF!. She developed This is Reading, a performance installation based on two years of interviews, at the Franklin Street, Reading Railroad Station in Reading, PA in 2017. She is cofounder of Market Road Films and writer/producer on the Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It, directed by Spike Lee.

Jan. 2, 2000

Mar. 10, 2000 Dot-Com bubble peaks

July 4, 2000

Nov. 7, 2000 Hillary Clinton is elected senator of New York

Dec. 9, 2000

Dec. 12, 2000 Supreme Court ruling ensures George W. Bush’s electoral victory

Jan. 15, 2001 Wikipedia launches

March 1, 2001 The Netherlands becomes first country to legalize same-sex marriage

Mar. 15, 2001

Sept. 12, 2001

Sept. 16, 2001

Oct. 7, 2007 U.S. invades Afghanistan

Nov. 20, 2001 Former Beatle George Harrison dies

Feb. 8, 2002 Winter Olympics begin in Salt Lake City

Mar. 4, 2002

Apr. 17, 2002

Oct. 11, 2002 Former president Jimmy Carter wins Nobel Peace Prize

Nov. 25, 2002 Bush signs the Homeland Security Act into law

Dec. 20, 2002

Feb. 1, 2003 Columbia Shuttle explodes, killing 7 crew members

Mar. 23, 2003

Apr. 14, 2003 Human Genome Project mapping completed

May 21, 2003

June 20, 2003

Oct. 7, 2003 Californians elect Arnold Schwarzenegger governor

Feb. 4, 2004 Facebook launches

Mar. 4, 2004

May 17, 2004

June 5, 2004 Former president Ronald Reagan dies

Oct. 27, 2004

Nov. 2, 2004 George W. Bush re-elected president

Apr. 2, 2005 Pope John Paul II dies

May 25, 2005

July 7, 2005 Terrorist attacks on the London Underground kill 56

Aug. 31, 2005

Oct. 24, 2005 Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks dies

Sept. 7, 2005

Mar. 9, 2006

Apr. 11, 2006

June 16, 2006

July 15, 2006 Twitter launches

Sept. 4, 2006 TV wildlife celebrity Steve Irwin dies

Dec. 30, 2006 Saddam Hussein executed at Iraqi army base in Baghdad

Jan. 4, 2007 Congress elects Nancy Pelosi as first female Speaker of the House

June 29, 2007 Apple releases first iPhone

Aug. 18, 2007

Oct. 12, 2007

Nov. 4, 2007

Dec. 27, 2007 Former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto is assassinated

Jan. 22, 2008 Actor Heath Ledger dies

Feb. 28, 2008 A series of tornados kills 58 in Southern



Aug. 8, 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics begin

Sept. 30, 2008

Nov. 5, 2008

Content by: Maegan Clearwood and Katie Radspinner Articles by: Staff of The Reading Eagle Design by: Maegan Clearwood

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