Steel Hammer

Steel Hammer

Sponsored by:
  • The Humana Foundation

March 19 - April 6, 2014

Run Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes
There will be no intermission.

directed by Anne Bogart
music and lyrics by Julia Wolfe
original text by Kia Corthron, Will Power, Carl Hancock Rux, and Regina Taylor
recorded music performed by Bang on a Can All-Stars and Trio Mediaeval
performed and created by SITI Company

An exploration of the rich legends surrounding the American folk hero John Henry.

The legend of John Henry, deeply rooted in Appalachian folklore surrounding the construction of the American railroad, has existed in many variations and forms—from illustration to tall tale, political polemic to popular song.  With music from Bang on a Can’s Julia Wolfe, and incorporating text from four remarkable playwrights, Anne Bogart and SITI Company explore the human impulse to tell stories through the rich tales surrounding this American folk hero.


Anne Bogart is the Artistic Director of SITI Company, which she founded with Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki in 1992. She is a Professor at Columbia University where she runs the Graduate Directing Program. Works with SITI include A Rite, Café Variations, Trojan Women (After Euripides), American Document, Antigone, Under Construction, Freshwater, Who Do You Think You Are, Radio Macbeth, Hotel Cassiopeia, Death and the Ploughman, La Dispute, Score, bobrauschenbergamerica, Room, War of the Worlds–the Radio Play, Cabin Pressure, Alice’s Adventures, Culture of Desire, Bob, Going, Going, Gone, Small Lives/Big Dreams, The Medium, Noel Coward’s Hay Fever and Private Lives, August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, and Charles Mee’s Orestes. She is the author of five books: A Director Prepares; The Viewpoints Book; And Then, You Act; Conversations with Anne and upcoming, What’s the Story. 

SITI Company is an ensemble-based theatre company whose three ongoing components are the creation of new work, the training of young theatre artists, and a commitment to international collaboration. SITI was founded in 1992 by Anne Bogart and Tadashi Suzuki to redefine and revitalize contemporary theatre in the United States through an emphasis on international cultural exchange and collaboration. Originally envisioned as a summer institute in Saratoga Springs, New York, SITI has expanded to encompass a year-round program based in New York City with a summer season in Saratoga. SITI believes that contemporary American theatre must necessarily incorporate artists from around the world and learn from the resulting cross-cultural exchange of dance, music, art and performance experiences.

Kia Corthron’s previous Humana Festival productions include Moot the Messenger, Slide Glide the Slippery Slope and The Open Road Anthology. Regionally, her work includes Snapshot Silhouette (Children’s Theatre Company), Slide Glide the Slippery Slope (Mark Taper Forum), The Venus de Milo Is Armed (Alabama Shakespeare Festival), Breath, Boom (Huntington Theatre Company, Yale Repertory Theatre), Splash Hatch on the E Going Down (Yale Repertory Theatre, Center Stage, New York Stage & Film), Digging Eleven (Hartford Stage) and Seeking the Genesis (Goodman Theatre). Other production credits include: A Cool Dip in the Barren Saharan Crick (Playwrights Horizons/Play Company/Culture Project), Trickle (Ensemble Studio Theatre), Light Raise the Roof (New York Theatre Workshop), Breath, Boom (Playwrights Horizons), Force Continuum (Atlantic Theater Company) and Seeking the Genesis (Manhattan Theatre Club and the Royal Court, Donmar Warehouse in London.) Corthron is the recipient of a McKnight National Residency and The Callaway and Fadiman Awards and aNational Endowment of the Arts/TCG Residency. She has also received the Writers Guild and Edgar Allan Poe awards for The Wire. She is an alumnus of New Dramatists and serves on the Dramatists Guild Council.

Carl Hancock Rux’s work has been presented at McCarter Theatre, Walker Arts Center, Penumbra Theatre and Off-Broadway at Lincoln Center Theater, The Public Theater, Playwrights Horizons, 651 Arts and BAM’s Next Wave Festival. Rux’s work has also been produced at Maison des arts de Créteil; Montclair State College; Hong Kong Arts Festival; Esplanade Theatre of Singapore; Scuola di Danza Mimma Testa in Trastevere and Teatro de natal infantil Raffaelly Beligni. Rux has received an Obie Award, an Alpert Award in the Arts, a New York Press Club Journalism Award for Entertainment News, is a NYFA Gregory Millard Fellow, the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts Prize and a CINE Golden Eagle Film and Video Award. Published works include: Pagan Operetta (SemioText), Talk (TCG) and Asphalt (Simon & Schuster).

Regina Taylor’s musical Crowns is one of the country’s most performed musicals.  Her plays have premiered at the Goodman Theatre, the Dallas Theater Center, Broadway’s Biltmore Theater, Ensemble Studio Theatre, and Signature Theatre Company. As an actress, Taylor was the first Black woman to play William Shakespeare’s Juliet in Broadway’s Romeo and Juliet.   Most recently, she wrote and directed stop. reset. at Signature Theatre, where she is a resident playwright. TV audiences know Taylor as Lilly Harper in I’ll Fly Away and Molly Blane in CBS’s hit drama The Unit. Taylor is also an Artistic Associate at the Goodman Theatre. She has received a Golden Globe Award, a Peabody Award, a NAACP Image Award, and two Emmy nominations.

Julia Wolfe’s music draws inspiration from folk, classical, and rock genres, bringing a modern sensibility to each while simultaneously tearing down the walls between them. Wolfe’s music is distinguished by an intense physicality and a relentless power that pushes performers to extremes and demands attention from the audience.  In the words of The Wall Street Journal, Wolfe has “long inhabited a terrain of [her] own, a place where classical forms are recharged by the repetitive patterns of minimalism and the driving energy of rock.” Her music has been heard in venues worldwide including BAM, the Sydney Olympic Arts Festival, Theatre de la Ville, Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, and has been recorded on Cantaloupe, Teldec, Point/Universal, Sony Classical, and Argo/Decca.

Will Power’s work regionally includes The Seven (La Jolla Playhouse), Flow (Children’s Theatre Company, Studio Theatre) and Five Fingers of Funk (Children’s Theatre Company). Off-Broadway credits include: Fetch Clay Make Man, The Seven, Flow (New York Theatre Workshop) and The Gathering (PS 122). Power’s numerous film and television appearances include: Drylongso (Sundance), Bill Moyers on Faith and ReasonTheatre Talk and The Colbert Report.  His awards include a Lucille Lortel Award for Best Musical and the TCG Peter Zeisler Memorial Award, and he is a U.S.A Fellow. As a guest of the State Department, Power traveled to South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. Power is on the faculty at Southern Methodist University and is the Andrew W. Mellon Playwright in Residence at the Dallas Theater Center.


  • Audience Advisory: Adult Language
  • Age Recommendation: Ages 16+ (Grades 10+)
The original musical score of Steel Hammer was commissioned by Bang on a Can with generous support from Maria and Robert A. Skirnick and Carnegie Hall.

*Age appropriateness and advisories subject to change due to artistic development


What the critics are saying about Steel Hammer

“The performances in “Steel Hammer” are tour de force-level feats of physical mastery and dramatic control.” – Erin Keane, WFPL



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Louisville, KY 40202
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