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Dark Comedy 'The Proletariat' to Debut at PACA

March 7th, 2019, 12:00 AM

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Telemarketing employees plan and scheme in the latest production by Ernest Hemmings.

Local performer Kelly Pryke Rodland both acts and directs in the upcoming production of "The Proletariat," premiering at PACA starting this weekend. It's an apt division of labor for this dark comedy about workers' rights, scheming managers, demanding corporations and employees forced to choose between solidarity or going it alone.

The play, created by Erie native Ernest Hemmings of the performance group TSTMRKT, focuses on three telemarketing employees. John (Aaron Pacy) wants Harold (Ken Falkenhagen) to succeed him as boss. But they have to figure out how to deal with lowly staffer Susan (Rodland).

"It's always a challenge to juggle two roles, but that's made so much easier knowing that the other two actors are professionals, hardworking and we're all good friends," Rodland said. "My friend, Vicky Zmarsley, offered to help (as assistant director) so I can just kind of yell notes out and she keeps track."

The cast may be friends, but the characters are ruthless.

"The term 'bourgeoisie,' as I understand it, doesn't only mean someone is a member of the middle class, but that they will take advantage of others in order to stay there — in this case, the working class or the proletariat," Rodland explained.

"Look what's happening in our country today — people rallying against increases to the minimum wage out of fear that it will affect their middle-class life. We continue to fight against each other while the aristocracy enjoys their cake."

So how does Rodland blend the humorous takes with the thought-provoking material?

"Get good actors who will experiment and know how to straddle that line to find both the funny and the serious," she said. "Pay attention to the heartbeat of the script and know where it needs to go and work with the rhythm, not against it."

Rodland said the play's telemarketing setting is "much more intense" than what workers face at Erie call centers.

"The stakes are higher and there's more money to be made and lost," she said. "Aaron has a background in sales and I think he'd be the first to tell you the business is cutthroat. And it's hard to encourage people to 'do the right thing' when their livelihoods depend on the sale."

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