Now showing at TimeLine Theatre is playwright Lee Hall’s Chicago premiere of The Pitmen Painters. Based on a true story and the book Pitmen Painters: 1934-1984, written by William Feaver, the play is set in the northern England village of Ashington in the mid-1930s and tells the story of a group of hardworking union miners, the surprising response to their first-ever interaction with art, and how it ends up changing their lives.
Young Lad (Jordan Brown), Jimmy Floyd (Steven Pringle), Oliver Kilbourn (Dan Waller), Harry Wilson (James Houton) and George Brown (William Dick) are THE PITMEN PAINTERS in TimeLine’s Chicago premiere of Lee Hall’s play, inspired by a book by William Feaver, directed by BJ Jones. For more information, visit timelinetheatre.com. Photo by Lara Goetsch.
The audience is introduced to a group of five straight-laced and undeniably charming middle-aged miners, anxious to start their new art history course through the Worker’s Educations Association (WEA). Shortly after the instructor begins his first lecture - complete with slide projector and images of some of the most famous works of art history - without sparking common interest or recognition, the miners admit they are at a loss. They’ve never actually seen a painting, they're unaware of the trajectory of art history, and confess that they arranged the class in hopes for a quick answer to what art means. When told by the polished instructor that art has no singular secret meaning, and that it holds different meanings for each viewer based on how it makes them feel, he decides the best way to introduce the group to art is to have them create it themselves.
Art instructor Robert Lyon (Andrew Carter, foreground) talks about his students Jimmy Floyd, George Brown, Oliver Kilbourn and Harry Wilson (background from left: Steven Pringle, William Dick, Dan Waller and James Houton) at an exhibit of their work. Photo by Lara Goetsch.
The miners are hesitant at first, but after a few comical critiques and experiments with different assignments and field trips, they gain confidence and start to warm up to the act of expressing themselves through art. The miners depict scenes from their daily work underground in the pits they’ve worked in their entire lives; scenes of their neighborhood; still life setups in their homes. Touching and revealing, the artwork addresses the working-class lifestyle and the dangerous mining conditions these men experience daily, while also highlighting different social classes, their sensitivity to the material they’re working with, and their sense of humor.
Oliver Kilbourn (Dan Waller, left) quizzes his fellow art student Harry Wilson (James Houton) about the meaning of Harry’s latest work. Photo by Lara Goetsch.
As their body of work grows, so too does their reputation. Soon their instructor introduces the group to collectors, and coordinates exhibitions. Artistic opportunities arise that conflict with the hardworking lifestyle these men are so accustomed to, raising questions about the meaning and purpose of art, socioeconomical classes and access to art, privileges, greed, and how art can affect people.
Oliver Kilbourn (Dan Waller, right), a miner who isn’t sure how he feels about becoming a painter, with his fellow art class student George Brown (William Dick). Photo by Lara Goetsch.
The Pitman Painters tells an inspiring, poignant story loaded with issues that anyone can relate to on some level. With a good amount of comic relief mixed in between some more somber points, the stirring and passionate performances by this knockout cast tell a powerful story any art enthusiast would surely appreciate. But the story extends beyond art-specific concepts to broader themes of personal potentials and limitations, family, history, acceptance, growth, and the ability to change your own life.
Running now through December 4, 2011
TimeLine Theatre | 615 W. Wellington, Chicago (60657)
Click here for more details and to reserve tickets.
Theater patrons will also enjoy a companion exhibition of contemporary artwork created by current members of various Chicago-based unions, in addition to a display of reproductions of work done by the original Pitmen Painters, and photographs of the Pitmen group in their heyday. More work is also on display at nearby Art De Triumph & Artful Framer Studios, located at 2938 N. Clark, just around the corner from TimeLine Theatre. Stay tuned for additional information on upcoming programming including a "meet the artists" event at nearby Art De Triumph.