The union meeting is Randy Noojin’s soapbox, but he lets Woody Guthrie do all the talking.
“I believe in everything Woody stood for,” Noojin says. “He stood up for the 99 percent against the 1 percent, and that inspired me. But I let him say everything I want to say.”
Noojin lets Guthrie sing about it, too, in his one-man play, “Hard Travelin’ with Woody,” which opens Baton Rouge Community College’s 2015-16 theater season Thursday, Oct. 15. The show runs for four performances in the Magnolia Theatre.
Born in 1912, Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie is probably best remembered for his folk song, “This Land is Your Land,” but his political activism is legendary. He was called “saint of the working man” and “poet of the people.”
Guthrie moved to New York in the 1940s, where he was embraced by the leftist folk music community, and made his first recordings. It’s where a future folk legend, Bob Dylan, would seek him out.
“He’s what made Bob Dylan leave Minnesota,” Noojin says. “Woody was in the hospital when Dylan met him. Woody suffered from Huntington’s Disease, which had him in and out of the hospital for the last 15 years of his life.”
Guthrie passed away in 1967, but Noojin doesn’t examine the circumstances surrounding Guthrie’s death. He’s written a play focusing on Guthrie at his best, when he was singing about and standing up for the American laborer. In “This Land is Your Land,” he protests against class inequality in the fourth and sixth verses.
“I wrote this play during the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York in 2011,” Noojin says. “I’m all about the 99 percent, and Occupy Wall Street inspired me. I captured what Woody was doing when he was standing up for the 99 percent against the bosses and corporate entities, and setting it in a union meeting keeps it focused.”
Noojin learned to play the harmonica for this show, and he does all the singing and guitar-playing. He first performed “Hard Travelin’ with Woody” at the 2011 New York Fringe Festival, and has since performed it around the world, focusing mostly on college campuses.
“I work as an actor and playwright in New York City, but I’d rather do this play than a play on Off-Off-Broadway,” he says. “So, I do my own booking, and I contact friends I know in the academic community.”
That community includes Tony Medlin, an assistant professor of theater arts at BRCC, who has worked on projects with Noojin for almost three decades.
“He’s the best actor I’ve had the privilege to share the stage with,” Medlin says. “This is a remarkable show, and it was a chance to share what he does with the students and Baton Rouge community.”
And it’s a chance for Noojin to share his beliefs without being preachy.
“I’m working on a one-man play about Pete Seeger now,” he says. “I’m learning to play the banjo for this one, but it’s the same situation as with Woody Guthrie — I believe in what Pete Seeger stood for. And I’m so fortunate to be able to play these great men who were so compassionate for those who were less fortunate. I just let them do all the talking.”