New School News

The Fire That Changed New York

From the Fire in rehearsal. Photo by Andrew Smrz

How can we engage with the horrors of the past to promote justice in the future? A group of students and faculty at Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts hope to find out this month when they debut From the Fire, an original oratorio commemorating the centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire. The single greatest workplace tragedy in New York City before 9/11, the fire claimed the lives of 146 immigrant garment workers, mostly young girls, and initiated a movement for workplace safety in New York City and across the country.

Debuting at Judson Memorial Church on March 23, From the Fire is a new work created by the Tony-nominated composer Elizabeth Swados, Lang’s fall 2010 visiting artist; writer and director Cecilia Rubino, assistant professor of theater at Lang; the poet Paula Finn, associate director of the City University of New York’s Center for Labor, Community and Policy Studies; and designer Bonnie Roche-Bronfman.

The oratorio, which dramatizes the history of the fire and explores its contemporary legacy, was developed with the help of Lang students, who learned about and responded to the story through workshops with Swados and Rubino over the past year. It’s very challenging and exciting to be collaborating with both students and professionals as we create this new work,, Rubino said.

The resulting piece, which combines dance, music, and theater, will be presented in five performances at Judson, a historic church on Washington Square just two blocks from the location of the fire. Although the casting process was open to performers from across the city, From the Fire is truly a Lang event. In addition to the nine professional singers there are 23 Lang students in the cast, and an additional 20 Lang students and former students working behind the scenes.

Because it is an underappreciated and pivotal moment in New York City history, Rubino felt the story was guaranteed to inspire the empathy and creativity of The New School community. It’s an essential New York story and a seminal event in our city’s history,, said Rubino. It is important to tell and retell the story.,

Tickets for From the Fire, which cost $15 for the general public and $5 for students, are available by emailing or calling 212.229.5488. For more information, visit

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