by Rita Charleston
In the beginning, Wyncote resident Michael Hollinger’s play, “Under the Skin,” seems to be a work about forgiveness. But on closer inspection it’s also about scars, be they the emotional or physical kind. The play, directed by Germantown resident Colleen Bracken, is being presented by The Drama Group through Nov. 24 in Pilling Hall at the First Methodist Church of Germantown. It revolves around Lou, a man estranged from his daughter Raina for years who suddenly arrives at her doorstep explaining that without a kidney transplant he won’t live much longer. He is hoping that she will agree to be the donor. Now Raina must decide if she can forgive her father long enough to save his life.
According to Bracken, the “fourth wall” is broken as the play’s four actors — who assume multiple roles — turn to address the audience, telling them, “This story is not about kidneys but about the human heart, the boundaries of the body and the limits of love.”
The director adds that the production could also be about the strength and dedication of the actors as after weeks of rehearsals, illness began to permeate the production, “so much so that we even had to cancel our opening weekend. At the last minute we needed to hire others to complete the cast, which had already grown comfortable with one another. And that’s one of the jobs of the director. No matter what, it’s my job to draw upon all my leadership skills to keep everything together and create the best show possible for the audience to enjoy.”
Many of those leadership skills Bracken has successfully developed over the years have come from her off-stage duties as founder and head of Bracken Leadership, an organized consulting firm founded in 2003 and headquartered in her home in Germantown.
“Much of what I do in business translates to much of what I’m require to do as a director,” Bracken said. “The director’s job in community theater is to create a really great and creative process. The people who are involved here aren’t getting paid. Many of them have full-time jobs but show up and give us everything they’ve got.
“And my job is to pull all that out of them, which is similar to what I do in my business life,” she continued. “In business I coach and consult across many market sectors and industries, including Fortune 500 corporations, higher education, healthcare, non-profit organizations and government agencies, which are all run like a business. And our job is to help them keep things running smoothly.”
Born in Nyack, New York, 54-year-old Bracken studied political science at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton and then went on to obtain her master’s degree in organizational dynamics and executive coaching at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Throughout much of my life, I dabbled in theater, but I always had many other interests as well,” Bracken said. “It wasn’t until my new husband, Ken, and I moved to Philly in 2000 that I began studying acting and improvisation. In 2004 we decided to move to Germantown, and I’m so glad we did.”
Building on her theatrical skills, Bracken was tapped by the Drama Group to join them. Today, in addition to being a Drama Group Board member, she has participated in almost every capacity with the group, from stage manager to actor and director, even working with the tech crew. Not only does she admit she finds all that fulfilling, but she’s also fallen in love with the whole area.
“Germantown reminds me of where I grew up,” Bracken explained. “Nyack is a small town right on the Hudson River about 20 miles north of Manhattan.And both areas share quite a bit in common. There’s a certain artiness to them, a kind of grittiness and a diversity about them. They also share a lot of remarkably beautiful, old and gorgeous homes.”
And, she adds, the warmth and friendliness of the people here are remarkable.
“In the last decade or so many people have been moving in,” Bracken said. “You meet all kinds of people here from the very wealthy to the not so wealthy and everyone in between. There are so many dimensions that I thoroughly enjoy. I also enjoy working with The Drama Group. When I get my theater itch, I’m able to scratch it there.”
Tickets to “Under the Skin” are available at Pilling Hall, 6001 Germantown Ave. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. All shows begin at 8 p.m.