by Frank Burd
Sometimes, we are fortunate enough to dream a future and make it happen. But in most cases, life gets in the way, and we must put those dreams on hold while we deal with the realities of work, of money, and of family. Heather Plank wanted to be an actor since junior high school. Growing up in New Jersey, Minnesota and Middleton, near Harrisburg, she loved to perform, entertain and make her mother laugh.
After her junior year in high school, she went to New York, where she studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. A year later, she was a freshman in NYU’s prestigious theater department. But it was too expensive, and she had to leave at the end of the year.
She continued studying acting techniques, particularly the Method approach, at the Lee Strasberg Institute, but after a few years working at all sorts of little jobs, she had to give up her dream in order to support herself. She worked at bookstores and libraries and at a variety of temp jobs. She married and divorced. She got her college degree. Fast forward; she still had to act. Four years ago, she started anew, auditioning again.
She performed in “Would You Still Love Me If?” with Underbite Theatre in center city. She was featured in the Old Academy Players’ production of “Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike” in East Falls. At Swarthmore Players, she was cast in “Sideman.” All were non-professional, non-paying gigs. After “Sideman,” she made the decision to only go after paying jobs. She was cast in productions at Act 2 Playhouse in Ambler and at Pegasus Theatre in Princeton, among others. She was not only earning a salary, but she was also earning equity points. She was becoming a pro.
Heather, who requested that her age not be mentioned, has done TV, film and commercials and is a member of the company at Liberty City Radio Theatre, where actors present old-time radio as well as new material, geared to today’s audiences. She is also a member of “Better than Bacon Improv,” an improvisational comedy troupe. She says her special skills include “singing, accents, impressions, running, playing the tambourine, playing three chords on the ukulele and straightening my naturally curly hair.”
When I asked her whether she prefers comedy or drama, she told me she loves both. On the one hand, she’d love to play Lady Macbeth, and on the other, she still likes to make people laugh.
Currently, she is playing Lucretia Mott in the Beacon Theatre Production of “Under the Bonnet.” She admitted that she’d never heard of the women’s rights activist, Mott, until she auditioned for the role. But she quickly fell in love with the Quaker woman, always seen in a bonnet. Mott (1793-1880), who is buried in Cheltenham Township, advocated giving former slaves who had been bound to slavery laws within the boundaries of the U.S., whether male or female, the right to vote, a revolutionary idea at the time. She remained a central figure in the abolition and suffrage movement until her death.
“She was fighting for equal rights for women and for African-Americans decades before the Civil War,” Heather said. “She was in Philadelphia where, days after it was completed, Pennsylvania Hall, which was to be a venue for women’s rights and abolition, was burned down by anti-abolitionists in 1838. It’s easy to forget how brave Lucretia Mott was.”
Mott was there at the Seneca Falls Convention with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, where in 1848, women first gathered to fight for equality for all and the right to vote. Women of the day had to be twice as strong as men to be noticed, and Mott was renowned for her speaking ability. She would die without having seen the vote given to women. That would take another 40 years, 1920, before the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote.
“It’s a special honor to portray this passionate advocate of equal rights in this, the bicentennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment,” she said.
“Under the Bonnet,” by Philadelphia playwright Shelli Pentimall Bookler, will play on Feb. 15, 2 p.m., at the La Mott Library in Elkins Park. The next day, it will be performed at 2 p.m. at The Second Baptist Church of Germantown, 6459 Germantown Ave. After that, it will move to a series of venues around Philadelphia.
For more information: beacontheatreproductions.org or 267-735-1071.
For more information about Plank, visit heather-plank.com