Time and time again, when people are asked how they developed a love of theatre, the answer often is that it began in childhood or as a tween or teen, when their parents took them to see a show. For Penny Bank, a treasured member of our board of directors, things happened in reverse: her son, Jarrett, fell in love with theatre, and she soon found herself falling as well.
Jarrett got involved in theatre at his Baltimore middle school, and continued to perform in high school. “When your child is doing theatre, you go to see their shows,” Penny says. She was soon taking him to Baltimore Center Stage and to Broadway. “It was easy to hop on a train on a Friday and do a marathon theatre weekend in New York. And that’s when I got interested; I really hadn’t gone to much theatre before. But it became part of my life.”
By the time Jarrett was in college, Penny was on the board at Center Stage, where she remains to this day. Now a resident of Palm Beach who spends part of the year in Baltimore, she joined PBD’s board in 2016 and the Kravis Center board a year later. Her particular passions are education and new plays: at PBD, she is a founding producer of The Dramaworkshop and a generous supporter of new works. At Kravis, she chairs the education committee.
“I taught third and fourth grade and I’ve always been interested in education, especially for children,” says Penny. “And I’ve always taken classes myself. That’s something I got from my mother; you take classes so you’re always improving your brain. There’s so much to learn and to appreciate in life. I’ve been going to the Chautauqua Institution for over 40 years; this summer, I took their virtual programs. And I learn so much at Dramaworks, beginning with the plays. They call it ‘Theatre to Think About,’ and I always leave the theatre thinking about and discussing the play. That’s because Bill [Producing Artistic Director William Hayes] makes great choices.
“But I also learn from the wonderful work done by Gary [Cadwallader, director of education and community engagement] with Dramawise, and the new plays selected by Bruce [Linser, manager of The Dramaworkshop] for Drama(in the)works. One of the reasons I’m such a strong supporter of The Dramaworkshop is because there’s always a chance for discovery. You know what they say: at one point, Tennessee Williams was a new playwright.”
Penny, who is President of the Helen S. and Merrill L. Bank Foundation, Inc., recently gave a substantial donation to PBD for three different projects, including The Dramaworkshop. “I’m a firm believer in putting my money where my mouth is,” she says. “I feel that if you want something, you have to support it. You can’t count on anyone else. If you want theatre to thrive, you need to step up to the plate. I know that people around the country are concerned about the survival of theatre right now. Everybody shut down, and no one knows when theatre will return. But the one thing I know for sure is that Dramaworks will open its doors again when this is all over. I look at my financial support as an investment, because I know it’s secure. And right now, it’s helping with the virtual programming. People might not realize it because tickets for performances on Zoom are free, but there are still costs to the theatre. The actors are paid, the staff is paid. It’s wonderful that Dramaworks is doing this, and I’ve really grown accustomed to watching things on Zoom.”
In case you’re wondering – and to bring this full circle – Jarrett did not wind up pursuing a career in theatre. He is a tenured college professor and a marine ecologist, and in a nice bit of symmetry, it seems that one of his mother’s other activities might have sparked his interest. “I was special projects coordinator for the volunteer department at the National Aquarium for over 30 years,” says Penny. “I’m a certified diver, and my son was certified when he was 12. Anyway, when Jarrett was little and I would go to the aquarium to work, I’d bring him along. So, I introduced him to the underwater world and he introduced me to theatre.” And he still has a connection to theatre: he married a playwright.
Speaking of playwrights, the next Drama(in the)works reading on August 31 was written by Padraic Lillis, whose Remember Me When You Come Into Your Kingdom was part of January’s New Year/New Plays Festival. In this new play, Lights Up On The Fade Out, Steven, a 40-year-old filmmaker, at long last achieves the romance and fantasy he has been searching for. But when forced to care for his father, who is in the throes of dementia, Steven comes to realize the tenuousness of human connection and the true nature of love. The live, virtual performance begins at 7pm and is a one-night only event. Mark and Diane Perlberg are the underwriters of Drama(in the)works.
The next Dramalogue, on Friday, August 28, features actor extraordinaire Rob Donohoe, who will also be featured in Monday’s reading. The program starts at 7:30pm and will be recorded for viewing on PBD’s YouTube channel. Marlene and Martin Silver are the sponsors of Dramalogue.
Tickets to both events are free, but reservations are required. Go to www.palmbeachdramaworks.org or call the box office at 561.514.4042, x2. And donations to PBD are always welcome!