Below the poverty line 

Show examines plight of working poor

Show examines plight of working poor

Every evening, Indianapolis’ offices empty and the workers go home. Then, the buildings quietly fill with a different, invisible workforce. These workers stay late, away from homes and families, to get the offices of others clean and ready for the next day. They often work for minimum wage with no health coverage.

Indianapolis writer Pat McGeever, along with the Faith and Labor Coalition, hopes to give these workers a voice with a new stage production dramatizing their plight. Fifteen Forty-Eight, which takes its name from the estimated hourly wage necessary to support a family of three in Indianapolis, will debut at the Wheeler Arts Community’s theater in Fountain Square Sunday, June 27 at 7 p.m. Admission is $5, and proceeds will benefit the Living Wage Campaign in Indianapolis.

The play combines original songs by local artists with dramatic scenes performed by the ACT-Out troupe of the American Cabaret Theater. McGeever hopes to bring attention to the plight of workers like Maria Flores and Timothy Williams — whose names have been changed to prevent them from being blacklisted by employers — who work for a local janitorial company for less than a living wage.

Flores, a Mexican immigrant who moved here three years ago with the hope of owning her own home, has worked for the same janitorial company for all three years. She has never received a raise or any bonuses. Flores earns only $6.50 an hour and can’t afford to take even a half-day off. She gets cut back to $5.50 for missing even one hour of work during an entire two-week pay period. Taking any more time off means having to re-apply and pay the $17 fee for security clearance.

Working five days a week, Flores takes home about $480 a month, hardly enough to cover rent and utilities, let alone groceries for herself and her four children — one in college back in Mexico. Her 19-year-old daughter works alongside her, for the same pay and same hours, just to keep the family above water. Health insurance for her family would cost more than she earns each month.

Williams, who cleans offices for a local health care company, has never been offered health care. Each week he brings home about $90 after taxes. After paying monthly rent — an expense he shares with two roommates — he has only about $110 to spend on groceries and transportation. He is unable to pay any kind of support for his two children by his estranged wife.

Stories like these are what drove McGeever to begin writing Fifteen Forty-Eight. Two years ago, at a planning meeting for Spirit & Place, a civic festival sponsored by IUPUI, McGeever was inspired to write an improvisational piece on the living wage issue.

After teaming up with the Living Wage Coalition — a group which hopes to pass an ordinance to ensure a living wage to all city workers — and local folksinger Jim Pennell, McGeever transformed this improvisational sketch into a full theatrical production.

While Pennell and McGeever consider the performance on the 27th to be a major dress rehearsal for November’s Spirit & Place festival, they also consider it a kind of educational outreach. They hope it will inspire the audience to get involved in the living wage campaign.

McGeever sees this performance as about transcending politics. “On both sides of this issue there is heated rhetoric,” McGeever said. “What we hope to do is go back to the simple reality of people who cannot provide the basic necessities of life for their families.”

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