PCT shares story of newsies, historic strike through the musical "Newsies"

PITTSBURG — Pittsburg Community Theatre will perform “Newsies” which tells a story of a real-life historic strike involving the newspaper business and thousands of newspaper delivery boys in the era of “publishing giants” Pulitzer and Hearst.

The performance also happens to also coincide with the 120th anniversary of a historic strike in the newspaper publishing business. 

Newsies are people who sell or deliver newspapers. In the year 1899 newsies were usually children. It was not until the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 that for the first time there was a set minimum wage and maximum hour standards and also limitations on child labor. Over time the workforce became more regulated. 

The musical “Newsies” “brings to life the story of Jack Kelly, a charismatic newsboy and leader of a band of teenaged ‘newsies’,” a release from PCT said. “The year is 1899 and the setting is New York City. 

“When titans of publishing raise distribution prices at the newsboys’ expense, Kelly rallies newsies from across the city to strike against the unfair conditions and fight for what's right.”

The strike started in 1889 and lasted two weeks. 

“In real life, the leader of the strike is thought to have been Louis ‘Kid Blink’ Baletti,” the release said.  “The strikers demonstrated on Brooklyn Bridge for several days, effectively bringing traffic to a standstill, along with news distribution. 

“The strike lasted two weeks, causing Pulitzer’s New York World to decrease its circulation from 360,000 papers per day to 125,000.”

Tanner Munson, of Joplin, plays Davey Jacobs a 17-year-old newsie. His father got hurt on the job, so Davey and his little brother Les left school to help provide for their family. 

“I couldn’t imagine supporting an entire family for pennies a day,” Munson said. “I feel like he has a large sense of responsibility and duty to his family, to himself.

“It’s overwhelming, he’s thrown into this, his family is starving, and then all of a sudden we are going on strike.”

In the show, Davey is considered the brains behind the strike because he’s been to school, unlike many of the other newsies who are mostly orphans. 

“People look to Jack to leadership, and I feel like people look to Davey for answers,” Munson said. 

Jack Kelly on the other hand, played by Dale Clark, has been on the streets for most of his life unlike Davey. He’s 17 and is an orphan. 

“He’s the leader of the newsies mainly because he’s the loudest,” Clark said. 

He takes Davey’s suggestion of striking and runs with it. 

“Deep down he sort of just wants to run away because of exactly what we were talking about, being overwhelmed having deal with the consequences that comes with striking,” Clark said adding that Davey fights through it and eventually gets through with the rest of the newsies.

“But the journey through that exposes a lot of insecurities.”

Clark said he pulls his character from his own experience. Although he thankfully is not an orphan or has to work in poor conditions for pay, he does know one thing Davey is going through, having to grow up and work to take care of yourself.  As a teenager, Clark participated in sports but suddenly had to go to work after one of his parents lost their jobs. 

“I draw on those emotions of not getting to do what you want to do because you have to work,  you don’t get to have fun, you don’t get to be a kid, you have to grow up, you have to work and you have to take care of yourself,” he said. 

Bringing the character to life feels like a responsibility, with the history behind newsies according to Stacey Struble, of Webb City, Missouri. 

“There’s a sense of responsibility that comes with it when you know it’s historical, to try to bring some kind of honesty or tribute to that situation,” she said. “Those kids really did work with no shoes on at eight years old and for pennies a day, because there was no one regulating conditions for that or saying ‘hey, that’s not okay kids need to be in school.” 

In “Newsies” a theatre owner Medda Larkin, played by Struble, is a newsie advocate who allows them to congregate and share their message in her theatre. 

“They were kids, they needed access, they needed resources and my character has a resource — a place for everyone to meet, to congregate and get their ideas out there,” Struble said. 

People like Medda were few and far in between during the real strike, Struble speculated. 

Tammy Warford, of Franklin, plays reporter Katherine Plummer, a reporter for "The New York Sun".

“This is a time where women were not reporting hard news,” Warford said. “They were strictly doing the social pages, entertainment and she does not want that. She wants to be out there on the front page. 

“She’s kinda gotta a little feminist vibe going on.” 

At first she’s hunting for the story that is going to land on the front page, with her byline. 

“I’m looking for what’s going to be my big story and then I hear them talking and I’m like this is going to be it, it’s going to be a big deal,” Warford said. “Then I see — we are all about the same age — I see their struggles and I had never had that, so I don’t completely understand what they are going through but I feel for them and I want them to have a better life.” 

Alex Chesney, of Pittsburg, plays Race, a “ornery” newsie who is also an orphan who likes the spotlight. 

Although he craves being in the spotlight, Race is also at first apprehensive to change, “he’s not too sure about the strike, but he gets there,” Chesney said.  

Once he makes the “papes” it’s immediately all about the fame that comes with it. 

“A king for the day,” Chesney said. “There’s always that one person that is a little unsure, yes you are striking for different things but you are also losing out, what happens if that’s your only pay and you drop everything to go on strike?” 

According to the release from PCT, the story of “newsies” will be shared through a high-energy, highly-choreographed dance numbers, powerful vocals, period looking costumes and a complicated set that is the largest to be built on the Memorial Auditorium stage — it’s three stories high. The show is directed by Kaye Lewis, of Galena, who is also the owner of Midwest Regional Ballet, and the vocal director is Breana Clark of Joplin, Missouri.

Want to go? 

“Newsies” opens on July 18 at Memorial Auditorium 503 N. Pine, Pittsburg, and runs through July 21. The cast includes 45 youth and adult performers from cities across the Four State Area, including Webb City, Joplin, Carl Junction, Carthage, Parsons, Baxter Springs, Ft. Scott, Franklin, Girard and Pittsburg.

People can learn more about show times and ticket prices at the auditorium’s page on the city’s website at www.pittks.org