"Threads" Play Discussion

Threads of Silver and Gold–a few cast photos from the performance

Actors reading from Threads of Silver and Gold: Women of the Panama Canal
(left to right) Amanda Edwards, Jamey Wright and Carol Velasques-Richardson at the staged reading of Threads of Silver and Gold: Women of the Panama Canal. All photos by Lee Herring. 

After a terrific debut of the new play, Threads of Silver and Gold: Women of the Panama Canal, written and directed by Deborah B. Dickey, it seems appropriate to kick things off for a post-performance online discussion with just a few images of the actors at work. Their sensitive portrayals of the characters really brought life and energy to a story already rich in history, triumph, and profoundly meditative moments.

Carol Velasques-Richardson reading the part of a West Indian woman in Act I:

Carol Velasques-Richardson
Carol Velasques-Richardson — at Staged Reading: “Threads of Silver and Gold: Women of the Panama Canal”.

Carolyne Salt reading the part of Kay during Act I:

Carolyne Salt and Steven H. Butler
Carolyne Salt and Steven H. Butler — at Staged Reading: “Threads of Silver and Gold: Women of the Panama Canal”.

Carol Velasques-Richardson (left) reacting to Kathy Byrne during one of her British woman monologues from Act I:

Carol Velasques-Richardson (left) and Kathy Byrne
Carol Velasques-Richardson (left) and Kathy Byrne — at Staged Reading: “Threads of Silver and Gold: Women of the Panama Canal”. 

The performance opened on Friday night at the Hippodrome Cinema to an over-capacity crowd, many of whom voiced nuanced and perceptive reflections and asked insightful questions during the post-performance talk-back. This dialog was an engaging part of the evening, made truly special by the combination of reflections from the audience and from panelists Deborah Dickey, Dr. Leah Rosenberg, Dr. Ryan Morini, and Dr. Anju Kaduvettoor.

In the next few related posts we would like to invite all of our wonderful online community members to add their reflections. We will use images and snippets from the play to spur this discussion, but the complex and varied experiences that reflect Canal Zone history certainly invite reflections far beyond the pages of the script. We look forward to hearing from you.

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  • Robert Dryja

    It was common for Panamanian women to be hired as maids or housekeepers in the 1950’s and 1960’s in the Canal Zone. This was a considerable improvement compared to living in Colon or Panama City for many of them. Rosita had her own bedroom and bath when she worked with us. She said it was always Sunday morning because everyday was so peaceful. Still, my Mother noted life was difficult
    for many women. The following is from an article she wrote a number of years ago.

    A Woman’s Lot In Panama – Carmen and Rosita

    “When I arrived in Panama in 1948 I was startled to observe so many unmarried women with children living in the cities of Panama. After a while I learned to admire these women. They managed to survive in most terrible conditions. Their alliances with men ended with the men departing and leaving the women to care for their children, often with the help of a grandmother. The women worked desperately hard for the meagerest of wages, less than $1.00 per day, while their unattended children roamed the streets. The children could be seen going through garbage cans looking for food. Panama had no food stamp or other welfare program to care for them. (The increase in single parent families in the U.S. and teen-age births should be of great concern to us.)

    “Two women worked for me while I was there. The first one, Rosita, was born in St.Lucia, one of the Leeward Islands. She migrated to Costa Rica and went to work at a hotel at the age of 14. Germans who owned the hotel were interned at the beginning of World War II. With no job nor family available she sneaked across the border from Costa Rica to Panama and did housework for American families. She made her way to Panama City and lived in a slum. This life she never deserved. She told me of a neighbor woman who cried at night because she was so hungry.

    “Fate is cruel to many, as was the case with Rosita. She understood and could speak some French, German, Spanish and English. With an education she could have an asset to a business concern. We appreciated her quiet demeanor and the special care she gave our children, especially Anne. Her departure was rather sudden. After 12 years she developed a sense of impending doom, that she would die soon, and had to return to St. Lucia and be buried by her family.

    “It was a sad farewell. Annie cried because Rosita was leaving. Walter drove her and her belongings across the Isthmus to Cristobal where a launch transported her to a waiting cargo ship. We gave a parting monetary gift to help her start a new life. An occasional letter was received. She bemoaned the fact that life was much harder on the island and that she lived in a shack. She wished she could come back to Panama and come work for us. By United States law and treaty with Panama it was impossible for us to help her in this. Over the years she wrote of having part time work, carrying 60-75 pound banana stalks on her head for loading aboard ship.

    “Carmen replaced Rosita. She was a native of Panama of Indian, African, and Spanish descent. She spoke only in Spanish. She said she left a rural and limited agriculture hamlet. As she told me, she `never married her husband’, and he died, leaving her with two children and no money. She was very witty, gossiped about her neighbors, an excellent cook (she learned to cook at a Chinese restaurant), and was plenty independent. It was nice to return home from work to one of her delicious dinners.

    “Because Carmen spoke no English I was her `Meeese’ and my husband her `patron’ or `el senor’. Walter would create much laughter when he mispronounced or erroneously used the wrong word. In one instance when he came home Walter announced he was pregnant. Neither Carmen nor I could contain our laughter.

    “Carmen was a good a influence on Anne. They spoke in Spanish to each other and Anne learned a vocabulary not found in school textbooks. During one period of illness we bought a television set for Anne to while away her time. When I came home to check how things were going I would find Carmen and Anne watching Spanish soap operas laughing and discussing what had happened and what would happen.

    “The situation of these Panamanian women is being repeated in all countries of the world, including the United States. There are greater masses of uneducated, poverty stricken, single girls with children who are either unable or unwilling to earn a living.

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