I Walked the Line brings real-life labour drama to Firehall Theatre stage

Veteran actor Allan Morgan draws upon personal experience to demonstrate what solidarity feels like in a lengthy dispute between two unions

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      Like many aging stage actors, Allan Morgan reached a point where he needed to supplement his income because there weren’t enough gigs to pay the bills.

      Fortunately, his brother helped get him a job as a mail clerk at the headquarters of a union based in the Vancouver suburbs. And for more than a year, Morgan enjoyed walking through the building with his cart, distributing packages and letters to clerical staff.

      But it all came to a sudden halt in 2016 when contract talks stalled and the employer locked out him and fellow members of his union, MoveUP.

      “So there I was on the picket line, for 132 days,” Morgan recalled in a phone interview with the Straight.

      “I posted on social media quite frequently because my understanding is all’s fair in love and war at that point," he continued. "I called it as I saw it, and I was assured that everything was okay.”

      Moreover, he emphasized that he wasn’t being “overly mean” in his social-media posts. But when the labour dispute ended and he returned to work, he was fired.

      “My position was made redundant,” Morgan said. “It was like being eliminated.”

      Morgan added that he didn’t know who the hell he was anymore after being in limbo again.

      “I had been an actor. I had been a mail clerk,” he declared.

      Fortunately, The Other Guys Theatre Company came to the rescue, offering him money to write a play about whatever interested him. And that gave birth to I Walked the Line, Morgan’s one-act and one-actor production telling the poignant story of staff at one union fighting for justice against another union.

      He doesn’t identify the employer, only referring to it as a “union of professionals almost as well liked as firefighters”.

      But he’s more than happy to credit MoveUP for standing behind the workers, mostly “longtime unionistas”. And these colleagues shattered any misconceptions that he had—as a gay, urban male—about working women from the suburbs.

      “They did that through their humour and their fucking decency,” Morgan said. “I became close with those women. I really felt that their story was not being told.”

      Actor and playwright Allan Morgan developed close ties with his colleagues on a picket line.

      Union leader loved the play

      During the labour dispute, Morgan applied his imagination—forged through three decades in theatre—to help advance their cause.

      To cite one example, on Halloween they placed gravestones, representing union values, along a highway to embarrass the employer.

      “It was absolutely Brechtian,” Morgan said with a laugh. “Those are the sort of skills I brought to the line.”

      He also helped organize a food drive as well as a large banquet along the highway, attracting sympathetic union leaders and politicians.

      MoveUP picket signs and a mail cart are important props in I Walked the Line, which is directed by Ross Desprez.

      When the 70-minute show debuted last year at New Westminster’s Anvil Theatre, MoveUP president David Black was in the audience.

      In a phone interview with the Straight, Black heaped praise on Morgan for capturing the emotional angst of labour disputes.

      In particular, Black credited Morgan for depicting how workers don't always get everything they're seeking despite all their sacrifices—and what a bitter pill that can be, notwithstanding very real gains achieved at the bargaining table.

      “I certainly recommend the play for anyone who has ever been on a picket line or has family members on a picket line or has wondered what it’s like to be in that situation,” Black said. “It’s incredibly funny; it’s incredibly sad; it’s incredibly powerful. I would certainly go see it again.”

      Morgan said that some of his most satisfying moments during the New Westminster run came while standing in the lobby afterward, taking questions from people in the audience.

      "Women would come up to me—and they had been secretaries—and they were so moved that their story was on stage. And I loved that."