“Put yourself in my place”--written 11/2/12
By Ellen Wilson Dilks
That phrase gets repeated three times in Thomas Gibbons play PERMENANT COLLECTION, which hits the PCS Mainstage on January 4, 2013. My cast and I have adopted it as our mantra as we explore the story.
The play is challenging for the actors—and me, the director. It has meat to it, it engenders interesting conversations. But it has its funny moments too. [Greg Tigani is a hoot as the ghost of the irascible museum founder] And the cast is doing a great job of creating real and interesting people out of Mr. Gibbons’ wonderful words. We’re still in the early stages of rehearsal. Scripts are still in hand, we’re figuring out entrances, exits and where each person will be in each scene. But the fun part is digging into what makes these people tick. We ask each other a lot of questions…
Loosely based on the events at The Barnes Foundation when Richard Glanton was named director, PERMENANT COLLECTION deals with racial politics in the workplace. The new director of this fictional arts foundation (played by E. Scott Jones) is a black man who feels more of the priceless African art that has been languishing in the basement storage area should be on display—that there should be artistic equality. The foundation’s Director of Education (played by John Harvey, (Harvey in the Morning to long-time Philly radio listeners), who’s been there for 25 years (and is white), wants to maintain the conditions of the founder’s will: nothing is to be changed or moved. The fact that the last piece of artwork was placed just after the foundation opened fifty years ago—and the world has gone through many changes since then—is irrelevant to him. The founder’s vision must be preserved.
Both have valid points—there should be more equality and fair representation; but it is the right of a private collector to determine what works get put on display in the art institution he paid for. Even after his death. Local reporter Gillian Crane (Natasha Kelly) is there to reveal all the in-fighting to the public. And the director’s young black assistant (played by Rachel Simpson) gets caught in the crossfire.
As we work through the scenes, we find that we're continually putting ourselves in each character’s place. Seeing things from all perspectives. And, of course, these viewpoints carryover into the rest of life as well. We’ve had lots of discussions about the many racial and gender gaps found in Corporate America—and elsewhere. Things have improved some, but we still have a lot to learn. Why can’t we all at least try to see things from all perspectives? It isn’t always easy, but it sure helps you grow as a human being if you “walk a mile in the other guy’s shoes.” Maybe that's the appeal of acting—we get to do that through the characters.
PERMENANT COLLECTION will be an exciting evening of live theatre—we hope you join us. January 4—19, 2013. Visit www.pcstheater.org for all the details.