Steel Hammer

Julia Wolfe / SITI Company / Bang on a Can All-Stars

The legend of John Henry, deeply rooted in Appalachian folklore surrounding the construction of the American railroad, has existed in many variations and forms – from illustration to tall tale, political polemic to popular song. Steel Hammer, the latest collaboration from composer Julia Wolfe, SITI Company, and Bang on a Can All-Stars, creatively explores the subject of human vs. machine and the cost of hard labor on the human body and soul. Based on hearsay and recollection, and culling from vibrant American oral traditions, Steel Hammer incorporates lyrics and music by Julia Wolfe and text from four remarkable American playwrights—Kia Corthron, Will Power, Carl Hancock Rux, and Regina Taylor. Directed by Anne Bogart, performers take on wooden bones, mountain dulcimer, step dancing, and more as they explore the human impulse to tell stories and this quintessential American tale.


Read the review in the Los Angeles Times (10/25/15)


The CD Steel Hammer is available on Cantaloupe Music, and can be streamed here.

Booking and Technical Info

More info


Directed by Anne Bogart
Music & Lyrics by Julia Wolfe
Original text by Kia Corthron, Will Power, Carl Hancock Rux, and Regina Taylor
music performed by Bang on a Can All-Stars with 3 singers
play performed and created by SITI Company
Lighting Design by Brian H Scott
Scenic & Costume Design by James Schuette
Choreography by Barney O’Hanlon
Sound Design by Andrew Cotton and Christian Frederickson

Steel Hammer the score was commissioned by Bang on a Can with generous support from Maria and Robert A. Skirnick and Carnegie Hall. The play Steel Hammer premiered at Actors Theatre of Louisville in the 2014 Humana Festival of New American Plays with support from the National Endowment for the Arts. The dramatized stage production of Steel Hammer featuring SITI Company and the Bang on a Can All-Stars was developed and premiered at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts/University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and was commissioned by the Krannert Center and by BAM for the 2015 Next Wave Festival.

Photos by Richard Termine