Karl Marx—(born in 1818) German philosopher and revolutionary socialist—lived in authoritarian empires like Prussia, France, and Belgium—countries which monitored anything that was published. Their rulers pressured even their neighboring countries to expel any citizen who was openly criticizing their regime.
After his and Friedrich Engels’ publication of The Communist Manifesto in 1848, Marx was forced to leave his homeland and flee to Paris, then to Brussels. When he tried to return to Prussia, the government refused to re-naturalize him, so Marx settled in London’s Soho, where he spent the rest of his life, even though the British denied him citizenship.
Bob Weick, Philadelphia actor, Barrymore nominee, and Iron Age Theatre ensemble member, has taken Howard Zinn’s drama, Marx in Soho, on the road all over the US. The one-man show continues to receive wildly divergent responses from his audiences at universities and theaters.
This year, Weick will bring to life Marx, his family, and fellow revolutionaries in Marx in Soho in both London’s Soho and New York’s Soho—and many other places—in honor of Marx’s bicentennial birthday. In this interview, Weick gives us insights into his life and that of Karl Marx, playwright Howard Zinn, and his much talked about play.
Discovering oneself in Philadelphia
Eger: You were born and raised in the Kensington section of Philadelphia into a working class, German-Irish Catholic family and came of age during the Vietnam War and the civil rights era. How did your surroundings and the societal upheavals during those days contribute to your growth as an activist actor?
Weick: With all those injustices, I developed a distrust of so-called experts and figures of authority. My Catholicism, colored by the anti-war Catholic left, also played a role. All this—in stark contrast to the racism, sexism, and pro-military stance of my father and peers—served to create an inner conflict and a sense of anger in my younger self, until I discovered the work of Howard Zinn, and found my voice and a way to act—not only in the theater, but everywhere.
Eger: Before you became an actor, you chose to become a farrier, working with horses. How did an inner-city Philadelphian take on that profession?
Weick: Well, fortunately for this inner city kid, I could play soccer with some skill. It earned me a scholarship to attend Lehigh University where I met my former wife. She had a horse. Watching the farrier shoe her horse one day, I became intrigued, served an apprenticeship, and two years later started my own business, owning my own “tools of production.” Not a slave to any man, I found satisfying, fulfilling, non-alienating work—something Marx would wish for all of us.
Eger: If you are still shoeing horses, do some of the colts resist you initially the way some dogmatic students in Texas appear to give you a hard time when performing Marx in Soho?
Weick: [He laughs.] Yes, I still shoe horses, now on a part time basis. Like a young colt, some audiences are initially resistant and hostile. Over the course of the play, just as over time working with a fractious and frightened young colt, they learn to relax, listen, and trust me. In the end, audiences feel a connection and understanding they didn’t walk in with. To their surprise, they feel like they’ve met Marx—and they like him. However, although the owners are grateful, I’ve yet to receive applause from a horse.
Discovering Howard Zinn, Karl Marx, and the theater
Eger: How did Zinn’s work shape your way of thinking and reaching out through theater?
Weick: His influence is hard to measure. It may be an understatement to say I view the world through “Zinnian” eyes. His message of hope, founded in a conviction of the basic goodness and common sense of people and their capacity to rebel and change society for the better, is one I share. Furthermore, his point of view aligns with a more realistic presentation of US history.
And, yes, he understood that drama, like allart forms, speaks to a different part of our humanity. It’s a powerful way to communicate and engage people.
Eger: Having worked with Zinn, how would you describe him?
Weick: Howard was warm, generous, with a great sense of humor, almost belying his lionhearted and steely determination against the injustice we see all around us. He was great to be around. I’m honored to have been his friend and doubly honored to have been commissioned by him to perform his work.
Eger: Bob, what gives you the courage to transform yourself into Marx—with all his strengths and flaws?
Weick: Attempting to right the wrongs, personal and professional, is a powerful emotional experience. Imagine you had the opportunity to come back to life, fully aware of the damage to your legacy as the result of those who used your name and distorted your life’s work. To reminisce and look back on one’s life is bound to be full of both joy and pain. I do experience all of that onstage.
As a husband and father, I know the pain of watching my children struggle and hurt. The pain of letting my partner down. All these real life emotions—fear, regret, inadequacy—inform my performance. It’s as though I see and feel the presence of real people from my life on stage with me.
Eger: The pain of awareness apparently changed your life dramatically.
Weick: Events in recent history, and in large part fatherhood, compelled me to find a way to act. I could no longer justify my own complacency and dis-engagement. I needed to do something to get involved, to play my part as a concerned citizen.
My children were coming of age on the heels of the debacle known as the 2000 U.S. presidential election. Then 9/11 and the illegal pre-emptive war with Iraq. My daughters, as with children all across the globe, did not deserve to live in a world with such massive, fruitless violence.
Eger: You became a popular actor and Barrymore nominee who performed Marx in Soho all over the US, now even in Britain. Not too long ago, you gave standing-room only performances at the Interact Theatre at the Drake—for the 295th time. What’s it like for you to laugh and cry and represent the many different facets of Marx’s life and philosophy for a whole evening—nonstop—and still have me convinced that you have performed it for the first time?
Weick: I have been in a few other productions over the years where I was glad the show was done—I would feel ready to move on. However, that’s not the case with Marx in Soho. When I think about why the play never feels stale or rote, I attribute it to two factors: the audience is my scene partner, and I am passionate about this play. To find meaningful, stimulating work is a gift.
Latest U.S. Tour Dates:
July 13-23, Capital Fringe, Washington D.C.
July 30-August 4, Providence Fringe Festival, Rhode Island
September, dates TBD, Chicago Fringe Festival
September, dates TBD, Philadelphia Fringe Festival
September, dates TBD, San Francisco Fringe Festival
Latest UK tour dates:
June 2, Chatham Library, Manchester, UK
June 6, Bury, the Met, Manchester, UK
June 9, 10, Kings Arms, Manchester UK
June 20-22 Gatehouse Theatre, London, UK
For more information, contact Bob Weick at MarxInSoho@gmail.com or Iron Age artistic director John Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org