Pray for the Dead-a Musical Tale

$16,032 of $25,000 goal

Raised by 157 people in 38 months

Support theater for the 90% by funding:

Pray for the Dead-A Musical Tale of Morgues, Moguls and Mutiny
                  By Gene Bruskin

                  Music by Gene Bruskin and Tom Smerling

Who is Gene Bruskin?

I grew up in a dysfunctional working class Jewish family in Philadelphia after WWII listening to ever-present recordings of Broadway musicals.  After getting out of college in the turbulent 60s I collaborated on a couple original plays about community issues in Boston in the 70s, one about desegregation bussing, and spent a summer apprenticing with the SF Mime Troupe.  But when I took a job as a Boston school bus driver in 1977, it led to a union drive, strikes, arrests and the beginning of my 37 year career as a union organizer.  My creative work took a back seat.   I retired in 2012 and took another stab at some creative writing. What resulted to my delight, was a two-act dark musical comedy for and about workers: Pray for the Dead.

     “This play can best be described as Norma Rae     meets Sweeney Todd meets Bertolt Brecht,”  
       (A friend of Pray for the Dead.)

Theater for the 90%

Pray for the Dead is written for and about workers and working  class communities at a time when much of mainstream theater is seen as unaffordable, irrelevant or inaccessible to large numbers of bus drivers, janitors, steelworkers and other wage earners.  But US history is filled with inspiring examples of theater of, for and/or by workers, much of which died out after WWII.    Pray for the Dead is a small attempt to remedy this situation. With humor, music, drama and a message of hope Pray speaks to the international crisis of growing inequality that results from corporate and political corruption.

An Allegory of heroes emerging from the morgue

The story is a provocative musical allegory of an unlikely worker uprising narrated by a mysterious and nameless cleaning woman known only as the Old Lady.  It evolves from despairing morgue workers and is set in an unknown country amidst a severe recession. Their employer, the Dug and Philup Graves Funeral Home ("Your Death is Our Life") is threatening to close. Union shop steward Harmon struggles to convince Graves to keep the business open while morgue worker Benita leads an underground effort to do away with corrupt members of the nearby parliament in hopes of generating big funerals for the failing business.  As politicians flee and the One Percent’s secret society ‘The Vault’ seeks to intervene, things get out of hand.

The workers defy all odds, mysterious forces intervene and the true identity of the Old Lady is revealed.

Raising the urgent questions of our time, with a song.

With all the immediacy and intimacy of live theater, Pray for the Dead asks questions that are central to public debate today regarding low wages, disempowerment of workers and an oppressive political system by and for the 1%.  Pray is created for working class audiences at union meetings or in communities. The play literally sets the stage for a thoughtful discussion about social and economic injustice and the role of unions and other forms of workers’ self-organizing in challenging the status quo and making life better for the 99%.

Getting the play to the people

Pray for the Dead has received substantial assistance in getting the play ready for production from First Draft , a DC Area theater organization that supports new plays and playwrights and seeks new audiences.  Skilled musicians, with valuable support from Glenn Pearson, pitched in to strengthen the music. 

How your contributions will be used

We will need $25,000 in seed money to:

Pay an artistic director a producer and a musical director, the cast and a company manager (stage manager)
Begin producing costumes/masks and props
Identify venues
Producing outreach materials to publicize and promote the play

Thank you for your support and solidarity

Let’s make Pray for the Dead come alive!

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Dear friends and supporters of Pray for the Dead
I am writing to let you know that the August 4-6 performances of Pray for the Dead have been cancelled. After difficult struggles to assemble a cast and a month worth of rehearsals we have lost two lead roles due to job/scheduling changes that prevent them from being available for rehearsals and/or performances.
The director, Eric Trumbull, has determined that we cannot recover at this point.
I want to thank you all for your support and I hope this cancellation doesn't inconvenience anyone's plans this summer
Pray will continue to live as I navigate the world of theater.
Stay tuned for future developments
Much love and solidarity
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Greetings friends and supporters of Pray for the Dead:
2017 has unfolded in ways that none of us have ever imagined. Amidst the oppressive insanity of the current administration there has been a massively encouraging uprising for justice and decency. I have been fortunate to play a small role in that effort through continued work in the labor movement.
But my passion for Pray for the Dead continues, most appropriately, since it models a successful uprising of workers against corporate and political corruption and greed.
The big news is that retired professor, historian and theater director Eric Trumbull has decided to direct a fully staged version of Pray on August 4-6 in Clifton, VA. Clifton is in Fairfax County in Northern, VA. Rehearsals and preparation are beginning and needless to say I am excited. Tix aren’t on sale yet but will be soon. A temporary website is set up at

The coffers are empty from the shows you generously contributed to last summer and if you were so moved please feel free to make another contribution.

ALSO-Interest in the radio show continues after more than a dozen shows already aired:

PLUS-PRAY FOR THE DEAD hits the airwaves on Memorial Day
Pray will play on Pittsburgh’s The Union Edge (“the premier radio labor outlet”) on Memorial Day, May 29th and in up to thirty other cities,

MAY 29TH AT 2:05 PM
How to listen in:
• Listen live online at:
• In Pittsburgh listen in at 770AM WKFB
• For listings of other cities where the show will air go to
NOTE: We are still interested in putting Pray on in other cities and on more radio stations—let me know if you connect with any folks who might be interested (Pray website is

As the “Old Lady” (secret revolutionary) says near the conclusion of the play:…
“Rise like lions after slumber, in unvanquishable numbers Shake your chains to earth like dew. We are many - they are few.” Percy Shelley

Love and Solidarity,

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Greetings Friends and Comrades:
As the year closes I wanted to update you on the considerable progress of Pray for the Dead. Sadly recent events have made the extreme class divide even more dramatic than Pray could imagine. But Pray provides a contradiction to the hopelessness. It shows the most unlikely morgue workers spurring a national revolt with humor and song against The Vault/Vaultures (elite).

Since the summer students put on a revised version of Pray at Cornell University in Ithaca in connection to the Cornell Institute for Labor Relations. The student performers and audience loved it.
The Pray radio show continues to air in a variety of cities, including this month in Philadelphia and Vancouver Canada on December 21st and Kansas City on December 29th at 6pm central time (listen live or download after at:
Contact me at and connect me to someone you know who has a radio show or connect who might be interested
Lastly, I have applied to the National Association of Musical Theaters festival in NYC. If accepted (quite a long shot) they put on the play in NYC for the theater world in the Fall.
So-Pray for the Dead keeps on moving and is more relevant than ever. We are looking for local theater groups who want to put it on or unions who want to promote it.
Much Love and Solidarity in 2017. Thanks for all your support. Stay close to your friends and family, have a good holiday season and, as Jesse Jackson still says, Keep Hope Alive
Gene Bruskin
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Hello Friends and Comrades
Pray for the Dead did our final show of the summer season on September 27 as a benefit for the Plymouth Congregational Church of the Reverend Graylan Hagler, who generously lent us church space for our many rehearsals.
On September 21st we did a rousing show for the Delegates from 1199/SEIU Baltimore to a full house. It was an enthusiastic and engaged crowd who virtually turned the event into church, “amening” every time the boss got wacked. It was every bit in the long tradition of 1199s Bread and Roses cultural program.
We have a radio show, a CD a video of a full performance, soundtracks, photos, complete scripts and scores etc.-a pretty full documentation of the summer’s work.
With the generous contributions for you and others, including the unions, we were able to cover much of our expenses. So we now move on to the challenge of figuring out how to fund and stage a full production of the play.
We have several irons in the fire, including a production by the Labor Studies and theater students of Cornell in Ithaca in conjunction with a November 17th Labor Roundtable. Any and all suggestions are welcome.
All I can say is I love you all and your faith and me and this project are worth many millions of dollars to me. Stay in touch with and share our our facebook page ( and have a great Fall.
Much Love and Solidarity

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$16,032 of $25,000 goal

Raised by 157 people in 38 months
Created October 17, 2015
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