Ron McClelland on the set of the play “Sweat.” Photo: Meg Whalen/UNC Charlotte

In the 1980s, Ron McClelland was a college student and remembers bus stations shutting down due to airline travel becoming more affordable.

At the time, his father was a baggage handler at a Greyhound Bus Station in Connecticut when he was given an ultimatum: take a pay cut or become unemployed. 

McClelland’s father chose decreased wages and moved his family to North Carolina.

It was then, McClelland told Livin’ Charlotte, that he witnessed the disintegration of peoples’ lives due to job loss. 

He is now using his experiences as inspiration to direct “Sweat,” a play written in 2015 by Pulitzer-prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage. 

“Sweat” is based on the financial devastation that former factory workers experienced from 2000-2008 in Reading, Pa. 

The play portrays a group of factory workers whose relationships begin to crumble due to downsizing, outsourcing and decreased wages. 

Although the piece is based on a true story, McClelland said, the characters are fictional.

“Sweat” will be performed March 16-19 at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

QCity Metro spoke with McClelland before the play’s opening night to explore his personal ties to “Sweat,” his theatrical background and what he hopes to accomplish through the production.

Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Tell me about your educational background.

I graduated from Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama and received the New York Alumni Award of Excellence in Acting. I am currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Acting at UNCC. I teach acting classes and have worked professionally as an actor and director at the Pittsburgh Public Theater, the Intiman Theatre in Seattle and a few other places.

Were you familiar with Nottage’s work prior to directing Sweat? 

Mostly, I’ve just read about her, so “Sweat” was my first deep dive into her work. This production, however, is my third opportunity to direct “Sweat.” I started leading the play for the Warehouse Performing Arts Center in Cornelius, N.C., but we had to pause because of COVID. About a year later, instead of directing “Sweat,” I was a part of the cast, so I have become well acquainted with her work. 

Are the characters fictional? 

Yes, the characters are fictional, but she drew inspiration from many of the people she interviewed. Some of the interviewees’ stories are portrayed with some creative license, but it’s not biographical stories in the literal sense.

Are the characters people of color?

They are primarily Black and white, and a Latino immigrant is a part of the cast.

What is your personal connection to this play?

I lived through a similar experience with my dad when I was a teenager. When I read this play, even though the time of our experience is different than the time of this play, I have a visceral reaction deeply rooted in the pain and hardships that my family experienced. Many workers were given an ultimatum; receive less pay and move elsewhere or fight for what they have. My family had to move, and my dad took a less-paying job to avoid losing his pension.

Have you met Lynn Nottage? 

I’ve never met her, but I hope to someday. 

What does it mean to you to be able to direct this play at UNC Charlotte?

UNC Charlotte is a diverse campus which means people from different demographics who live different lifestyles will come to the play. Lynn Nottage wondered how a working middle-class city became invisible, so I will have an opportunity to make the people who lived during that time visible again. If the audience listens well, they will understand that “Sweat” is not a story about “those people,” but it’s a story about us. My hope is that people will leave with increased curiosity, understanding and empathy toward themselves and others. 

If you go

When: March 16-19

Where: Anne R. Belk Theater at UNC Charlotte

Cost: $8-$18

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