The inspiration for writing Hard Travelin' with Woody came when I saw a video of Woody's daughter, Nora Guthrie, singing Woody's song (with music by his son, Arlo Guthrie), "My Peace," at Banjo Jim's in NYC at a tribute concert of Woody's music. I was mysteriously moved. My friend Elena Skye had organized the tribute and showed me the video. She also kindly lent me her copy of Joe Klein's great biography, Woody Guthrie - A Life that day, until I could get a copy I could start underlining. This was 2011, the year that protestors for Occupy Wall Street set up camp at Zuccotti Park down near Wall Street.
I had been looking for a subject for a solo show to write for myself and Woody's views on income inequality, brutal police, the mistreatment of migrant workers, unfair wages and working conditions for laborors were so close to my own views, I wouldn't have to "act," but just express my own concerns, using Woody's words and songs. There is plenty of Woody-in-his-own-words available to choose from, thanks to his autobiographical novel, Bound for Glory, a collection of his articles for People's World magazine called Woody sez,, plus Library of Congress recordings of his interviews with Alan Lomax, and other collections of his writing.
I chose what I thought were his indespinsible songs and found a trajectory among them; some seemed obviously to belong to a beginning, some to a middle, and I always thought "This Land Is Your Land" would be the final song.
Once the context of a union meeting of striking mine workers was decided on, I began to find text that would bridge the songs with context, and follow Woody's journey toward discovering his life's work, his socio-political awakening, and his bottomless hope.
I wrote a first draft, began to have readings at Circle East and The Drilling Company in NYC. I busked portions of the show at Zuccotti Park for the Occupiers, and on the streets and subway platforms of New York. I submitted a draft to FringeNYC and was accepted; a first production was six months away. I hired the talented director, Richard Mover, to direct the first production, bought a good mic, some flags, learned to play the harmonica, and after a preview performance generously provided by Peg Denithorn, and critiqued by Marshall W. Mason, at NYSSSA (New York State Summer School of the Arts),we opened to unanimously favorable reviews (and small houses). The show was still an embryo, but it had legs to stumble around on before it really walked. And it was keeping me sane with a writing and performance project to work on when TV/film and theatre work eluded me.
After the FringeNYC production, I kept working on the script and putting it in front of any audience I could find. My friend Ron McIntyre Fender produced the first show for a real labor union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Chattanooga and also the first soup kitchen show for The Community Kitchen. Jude Schanzer, amazing artistic director of East Meadow Public Library, helped me market the show to other Long Island libraries.
I added projections of Woody's artworks in 2012 with the help of designer Caite Hevner, and now, after four years of tinkering, adding and subtracting songs and passages of text, the show is settling into a final draft. The work now is to market it, book it, tour it, and live the role of "poet-of-the-people" as truly as possible, with "no fake wigglin,'" as Woody would say, whenever I get the opportunity to play it.