Bread & Roses Missouri delivers stunning performance with new Workers’ Opera

THE POWER OF UNIONS: Volunteer actors Rachel Sacks, Sonja Gholston-Byrd, Mike Paplanus, Shannon Duffy, Georgia Brown and the rest of the Bread & Roses Missouri cast show the power a group has when it organizes during the Sept 10 performance of “Then & Now, Again (Remix): ‘A Workers’ Opera.’” – Labor Tribune photo



St. Louis – This year’s performance of Bread & Roses Missouri’s “Then & Now, Again (Remix): ‘A Workers’ Opera’” resulted in a standing ovation from a packed house at the Missouri History Museum Sept. 10.

The event commemorated the rich history of the St. Louis Labor Movement and shared the struggles workers faced then and the troubles they continue to fight for today. It featured live music, poems, historical reenactments and stories on current worker issues, including so-called “right-to-work.”


The first skit called “Right-to-work: Exposed” set the stage for the entire performance. It focused on Vance Muse, a Texas businessman who is credited with inventing the “right-to-work” movement in the 1940s and who helped pass the first anti-union laws in Texas.

During the presentation, Muse (played by Shannon Duffy, board chairman for Bread & Roses Missouri and a business representative for the United Media Guild, TNG-CWA) used harsh words, racial stereotypes and slurs to gain support for spreading “right-to-work” throughout several states.

His words and actions led to a lot of pushback from the other cast members representing the resilience of the men and women of Labor. The conclusion was that then and now, union members’ votes are their weapon in the fight against “right-to-work.”

Doug Swanson, coordinator of the Labor Studies Program at the University of Missouri-St. Louis called the entire presentation fantastic. He first saw “Right-to-Work Exposed” last March at the Women’s History Brunch sponsored by the St. Louis Chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women.

“RIGHT-TO-WORK” IS TRICKERY: Cast member Sonja Gholston-Byrd (representing the resilience of the men and women of Labor) gives “right-to-work” villain Vance Muse (played by Shannon Duffy wearing a hat) a piece of her mind during the Sept. 10 performance of “Then & Now, Again (Remix): ‘A Workers’ Opera.’” Georgia Brown (left) and Rachel Sacks (right) also had an earful for Muse. – Labor Tribune photo


“Each performance was pulled straight out of the history books, and sometimes our history is quite ugly,” said Swanson, who also serves on the Bread & Roses board of directors. “But it’s important to understand it so we don’t repeat some of the same mistakes and so we can move forward.”

Mary Barber, a University City marketing consultant, said the performance translated political concepts in a meaningful way.

“The music and words brought out the emotional part and carried the message in an engaging and educational manner,” she said.


This year’s performance was dedicated to the late Agnes Wilcox, who served as Bread & Roses artistic director. “Then & Now, Again (Remix)” was written by Ms. Wilcox, who died unexpectedly Aug. 28, and poet Freeman Word.

Word directed the performance and starred in it alongside 10 actors who were workers, members of the Labor Movement and students. This year’s cast included: Georgia Brown-Moore, Shannon Duffy, Carolyn Dunn, Sally Eaton, Sonja Gholston-Byrd, Kevin Fitzgerald, Shannon Haubrich, Colin McLaughlin, Mike Paplanus and Rachel Sacks.

Musicians included: Shane Devine, Kristina Deyong, Noah Lancaster and Colin McLaughlin.

For more information about Bread & Roses Missouri, visit its Facebook page at, call 314-422-7389 or email


Bread & Roses Missouri is an independent non-profit arts organization that seeks to celebrate the lives of working people and their families in arts and humanities events, exhibits and workshops that address the root causes of poverty and inequality. It began in 2003 as a project of Jobs With Justice.

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