When playwright Ain Gordon gets a grant to create a play, he travels to the city of the granting institution and wanders the streets for a while, in search of a “personal sense of the place.”
It didn’t take long in Philadelphia. Just blocks from the Painted Bride Art Center sits the Arch Street Friends Meeting House, an early hub of the abolitionist movement.
Gordon’s latest piece – “If She Stood” – will debut at the Painted Bride this week. It’s based loosely on historical documents and journals from women in the 19th-century Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society.
“I got very interested in the fact that it was an interracial body and all women and that, at the same time they were fighting slavery, they were inventing the women’s movement,” says Gordon.
Many of these women either were Quakers or attended meetings regularly, leading Gordon to re-imagine the Painted Bride’s theater as a Quaker Meeting house, with the audience arranged on three sides of the stage.
With Quaker-esque simplicity, the women will rise from the past and address the audience directly.
“I went to some Quaker meetings, and I was very taken with that notion of not standing to speak until truth compels you to,” says Gordon. “That’s what these women practiced in their political work. And that’s exactly what an actor is supposed to do: Truth is what propels an actor to say their lines.”