An Interview with Sarah Bockel, playing Babe in The Pajama Game

Sarah Bockel Sarah Bockel

Q: What drew you to the role of Babe in The Pajama Game?

Babe is the leader of the factory girls and a proud union member at the pajama factory. What I love about Babe is that she sticks to her guns, she won’t let anything come between her and a seven and a half cent raise.  Even after she falls in love with the factory’s superintendent Sid, she realizes that fair treatment and pay for her coworkers is most important, even if it comes between her and Sid.

Q: Rehearsals for The Pajama Game started on Monday. How has the process been thus far?

I just couldn’t be more excited! We have such smart and funny people working on this show. I couldn’t wait to get to work with everyone, especially our director, Jess McLeod. Her vision for The Pajama Game is so clear and focused. She’s making some less traditional musical choices that I think are going to make for a really fun, smart production. I can’t wait to see what we come up with.

Q: What about the production are you most looking forward to?

The music. I already can’t get the songs out of my head!

Q: How do you think the role of Babe compares to the women of today?

She’s a modern woman; she is ahead of her time. She deals with issues we all still struggle with – how to balance work and relationships. What happens when your work comes between you and your relationship and vice versa? How do you stand for what you believe in when your job is at risk? These are some of the big questions for Babe and I think women of today can definitely relate.

Q: Where do you hail from?

Chicago

Q: Where do you currently live?

Ravenswood

Q: What’s in your coffee?

Lots of cream and sugar.

Q: Do you wear pajamas?

Sometimes – I prefer the tops!

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An Interview with Jess McLeod, Director of The Pajama Game

Q: What drew you to directing The Pajama Game?

A: Reading the original 1954 libretto and realizing for the first time in my experience with the show, that it really is about a labor dispute and gender politics, in both professional and romantic relationships. 

Q: Why did you want to do The Pajama Game at TMTC?

A: I thought the intimate space could be the perfect magnifying glass for the challenge of factory work and the professional and personal conflicts between the men and women in the show.

Q: How will this production be different from others folks might have seen?

A: The versions I’ve seen always have a lot of cute girls in cute outfits having fun sewing pajamas and getting goosed, and I never remember who plays Hasler, even though it takes everyone else in the show to beat him. We’re trying to pay homage to the difficult daily life of a garment factory worker in a small Midwestern town who spends a hot, sticky summer in the 1950s fighting for a raise that all of the other local factory workers seem to have gotten. The work is repetitive and tiring, and the workers are constantly being pushed to intensify their pace and up the factory’s productivity without compensation. When they cut loose, it’s because they need the release.

Q: What is the beginning of your process when you start reading a script? Do you envision the characters? The setting? Both at once? What were the first steps you were inspired to take after reading The Pajama Game?

A: I spend a lot of time going over the libretto and listening to the score, trying to learn and absorb it so it can start to live inside me, like the alien from Alien. I work out the relationship between the form and content of the script in a notebook, where I also try to distill the characters. I do a lot of mental zooming in and out, working out interpersonal relationships between characters on the small scale and then trying to see how the arcs of those relationships connect to what the overall show is trying to articulate about how we live.

For The Pajama Game, Jessica Redish also snagged us a few copies of 7 1/2 Cents, the novel the musical is based on by an ex-garment factory superintendent name Richard Bissell. Reading it really illuminated the tone of the show — how it’s possible to make serious points about labor dispute and sexual politics through comedy — and the details of the world. It’s been invaluable.

Q: Can you describe your design process and tell our audiences a bit about some of the conversations we’ve been having with our designers?

A: I do a lot of work on my own, first, trying to suss out what function each design element is going to need to take on in this particular production. Then I meet with the designers, relay that information and we start to discuss the play. Everyone goes away and does research, which is shared with the group in another meeting, and as we stare at a messy tableful of historical source material as well as emotional and structural response to the text, certain images and ideas start to float to the top and the space starts to emerge. Everything that follows is about taking the design proposals through show over and over again until we’re sure hosts the show and tells the story clearly and correctly.

Q: What do you hope audiences take away from TMTC’s production?

A:I hope they walk out saying: “Wow. I didn’t know The Pajama Game was about that.” I also hope they leave bigger tips for at least a week, if not for life.

Q: What’s in your coffee?

A: If I’m only having one cup, cream and sugar.  If I’m having two, a little cream.  If I’m having more than that, I’ll take it black.


Q: Do you wear pajamas?

A: I am, in fact, currently wearing red flannel pajama pants that say “ZZZZZZZ….,” NIGHTY NITE!” and “DON’T SNORE!” on them. They were a gift.