In the Loop
Alumni News : Feb 19, 2015

Deborah Dickey premieres new work about the lives of women in the Panama Canal

By Leland Henry

Deborah Dickey (MFA Theatre ’79) will showcase a different side of the creation of the Panama Canal in her original play in honor of the canal’s 100th anniversary. The play will be performed as a staged reading followed by a reception and discussion with Dickey, UF faculty members and the actors on Feb. 20, 2015 at the Hippodrome Cinema in Gainesville, Florida.

Threads of Silver and Gold: Women of the Panama Canal details the lives of the women, both native and foreign, living in the Canal Zone during its construction and their struggles with race, class and gender. The title comes from the payment system involving gold given to the “skilled” workers and silver given to the “unskilled” workers, which led to a discriminatory system in Panama that endured for much of the 20th century.

Dickey used oral histories, letters and other documents from the Panama Canal Museum Collection to craft the script of the show.

“The most challenging part was deciding a focus of the play,” said Dickey. “The oral histories have very interesting material, but how do you make that into a play?”

Dickey answered this question by selecting a couple of representative voices, North American Woman and West Indian Woman, to dominate the first act and then narrowing it down to two families whose stories will be told in the second act.

“Everyone concentrates on how the canal was built and the wonders of engineering,” said Dickey. “But I was wondering about the women who came from all over the world to make a living or to bring their families; it was like an adventure of the complete unknown for them.”

Threads of Silver and Gold will be held in the Hippodrome’s cinema room at 7 p.m. February 20 and is free and open to the public.

“I hope the audience gets what I got from researching it,” said Dickey. “To understand what the world was like then.”

Sponsored by UF’s Center for the Humanities in the Public Sphere with support from the Rothman endowment, the play is presented by the George A. Smathers Libraries at UF with additional support from the university’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Program and the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations.