Business school takes to the stage

Submitted by Carolyn Arnold on December 10, 2012

A new production of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play, Glengarry Glen Ross, was staged in October at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts. Plays held at Fairfield are not out of the ordinary, but this one had a special twist: The Dolan School helped sponsor the play, and Drs. David Schmidt, director of the applied ethics program and associate professor of ethics, and Dr. Donald Gibson, dean of the Dolan School and professor of management, had starring roles in it.

Dr. Don Gibson (L) as John Williamson

The Dolan School and the College of Arts and Sciences, with funding from the Humanities Institute, collaborated in sponsoring the play. Faculty, staff, and community members produced, directed, and starred in it. Last year the same group staged another play, Perpetual Peace, by Spanish playwright Juan Mayorga, and Dr. Gibson played a character in it. Following the play’s success he and Alistair Highet, director of communications at Fairfield and director of the play, came up with the idea for this year’s production.

“Don and I came up with the idea [for Glengarry Glen Ross] spontaneously,” said Highet. “We thought, ‘wouldn’t it be a great idea to do a play that brought the business school more directly into this experience?’” Glengarry Glen Ross was ideal for Dolan students to witness as a case study because of its business themes and stark focus on aggressive competiveness among four desperate real estate agents.

Dr. Gibson said, “We emphasize an integrated core at the Dolan School and one of the things that makes our students different — part of their competitive advantage –is the rich liberal arts core that they get as part of their education.” The production’s goal was to create a theatre that is a locus for interdisciplinary study where many themes, such as philosophy and business, can be integrated and used as teaching tool for students of any discipline.

The play can be seen as an indictment of business practices, which Dr. Gibson, who played John Williamson, addressed. “Given the play’s focus on the modern workplace, there is a logic to having a business school sponsor it, and a certain kind of serendipity in having a professor who studies anger in the workplace portraying Williamson, who perhaps most deeply represents the dehumanizing effects of the sales model on human feelings and identity.”

Dr. Gibson acknowledged that the play’s negative perspective on the workplace could be seen as risky and paradoxical for a business school to support. “It is incumbent on us, as business educators, to provide students with a vision of what the workplace can be like,” Dr. Gibson explained. “Glengarry Glen Ross is one such haunting view. It is a cautionary tale for managers to think about the work environment they create, and it helps our students by encouraging them to think deeply about their job and professional choices.” 

Students also got to see their professors in a whole new light – the limelight. Dr. Schmidt, who discussed the themes of the play in both his undergraduate and graduate business ethics course, and portrayed Blake, said, “Theater stimulates the moral imagination, prompting deeper questions about our own work experiences and our workplace roles.  While theater may give us some useful information about the world of work, what it really does is to inspire us to learn more about ourselves.” He also said that while he wasn’t nervous to have his students watch him perform during the play, he did admit that coming back to class the next day “felt a bit different!”

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