Plan-B Theatre’s world premiere of Debora Threedy’s ONE BIG UNION celebrates the impact and music of Joe Hill. The run is sold out (scroll to the bottom for wait list information).
Jeremy Harmon is Director of Photography for The Salt Lake Tribune and a walking JoRegistere Hill encyclopedia. He gave the ONE BIG UNION cast, director and playwright a 4-hour tour of historical sites related to the play, and is one of the folks behind the Joe Hill website hosted by the Tribune. Register for Jeremy’s free lecture on Joe Hill on Monday, November 14.
What drew you to Joe Hill?
I’m a music junkie and a history nerd. I had been aware of Joe Hill for quite some time because of his place in American folk music. That being said, my interest in Hill’s story really picked up when I read William Adler’s book “The Man Who Never Died.” I was amazed that all these dramatic events took place in Salt Lake City and that I hadn’t ever learned that much about them. After reading that book I bought the Folkways album of Hill’s songs that was produced by Lori Taylor. I also started looking for photos of Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) activities in Utah. Because of my job at The Salt Lake Tribune, I was curating a weekly gallery of historic images for the paper’s website and I thought it would be really interesting to do one on the IWW. Initially I was really surprised by how little information was available, and forget about finding photos. There just aren’t any. As I learned more about the history of the events, and particularly after I met John Morrison’s descendants, the story shifted from being a fascinating historical event to a story about real people that still effected real people’s lives. There is so much legend and misinformation and mystery about the story. I think it’s important to tell the story as accurately as possible because so much of it is relevant today. In many ways people are dealing with the same issues that existed at the beginning of the 20th century. At the end of it all, the story of Joe Hill is the story of civil rights and social justice. It’s the story of the Morrison family being thrust into a fight they had no part of.
How did the Joe Hill site on the larger website of The Salt Lake Tribune come to be?
So much work went into the site. So much. Speaking for myself, I didn’t realize how big the project was going to become when we started. I was definitely excited to work on it, more excited than I had been to work on anything in quite some time and my enthusiasm definitely impacted the scale of what we did. When the idea first came up I thought my colleague Tom Harvey would write a story recapping the trial and the controversy surrounding the execution and I would write something about Hill’s music. Then we met the Morrisons. Meeting them changed the scope of the whole project. Suddenly we were sitting on top of so much information that there was a real feeling, for me anyway, that we had to do it right or not do it at all. There was a whole team of us involved. Managing Editor Sheila McCann really championed what we were trying to pull off. My role was basically to be the crazy one who wouldn’t stop trying to find details to make the site the a valuable resource for people who want to know the story. We’ve joked that we should have started a year earlier than we did because there is so much more I want to put on the site, but there just isn’t time.
How did you settle on the five musicians/bands included on the site?
I knew Nick Passey of Folk Hogan, they do our version of “There Is Power in a Union,” and Alyeah Hansen, who does our version of “Rebel Girl.” I had heard Hansen sing before and I think she was the first person I asked to participate. I actually play guitar on that one. We met a couple of times to rehearse before we filmed it. Passey recommended Six Feet in the Pine. I went to see them at Urban Lounge one night and was really excited about the idea of them doing one of Hill’s songs. I asked them to do “We Will Sing One Song” and they did a great version [which is part of the preshow music for ONE BIG UNION]. It’s not one of Hill’s better known songs. Andrew Shaw was recommended by a friend. His take on “The Preacher and the Slave” stands out for me because of how unique it is. Finally, The Utah County Swillers were recommended by Elias Pate, who recorded the bands for us when we were on site. I’d say they were the most excited because they were already familiar with Hill’s legacy. It was fun to film the videos at locations around town where different parts of the story happened. I think it provided an interesting dimension to our story.