Posted September 28, 2011

Risk professor’s Fringe production illuminates art-business connection

Stephen Bonnell
Gallagher, center in red, poses with the cast of von Brockman at Bridgid’s at the real Bridgid’s in Fairmount.

The way Patrick Gallagher sees it, if you’re not being creative in business, you’re a commodity.

That’s why the assistant professor of risk management and insurance doesn’t find it the least bit unusual that an expert in employee health benefits, workers’ compensation and disability management would also write a play that recently ended a three-show run at the Philly Fringe Festival.

Inspired by Bridgid’s, a bar and restaurant two blocks from Gallagher’s home in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia, von Brockman at Bridgid’s follows a group of acquaintances at happy hour who are enticed by a new beer from Guam. The bartender, Dawn, descends into a trapdoor in the middle of the horseshoe-shaped bar to retrieve the craft beer. She emerges having traveled to Guam but with only one bottle.

The group creates a storytelling competition for the lone brew. Throughout their contest, the characters encounter guests from the trapdoor, including Gallagher’s granddaughter, Mai Mantzur, a seventh grader who takes the wrong shortcut to the school supply room.

Dawn the bartender — played by Temple journalism graduate Brooke Honeyford — selects blogger Marcus von Brockman, who isn’t even in the contest, as the winner because of his positive comments throughout. He offers everyone a taste of the beer, but just as Dawn is pouring, the crew roars off to another pub.

Gallagher sees the infusion of arts and creativity as essential to success in the business world.

“What’s your value added? How are you different? You’re always trying to make the differentiation,” Gallagher said. “If you’re not, then you’re a commodity. Having extensive creativity, I don’t think it hurts a bit in business. Even if you are crunching a lot of numbers, you have to know what the numbers mean.”

Gallagher’s play benefited from another lesson in Business 101: networking. Temple’s Department of Theater provided template contracts he used to hire seven professional actors. Another Temple connection led him to the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, where he saw live auditions. And students from the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management earned credit by collecting tickets and distributing programs during show nights.

Chris Ryan, who has owned Bridgid’s (named for his daughter) for 23 years, volunteered his band to play a song during each show. “It exceeded my expectations,” Ryan said. “I asked Patrick the first night how it went from his standpoint. He said, ‘I’ve died and gone to heaven.’”

But for Gallagher, who also moonlights as a novelist and has an English degree from Penn, the greatest satisfaction was not seeing his work brought to life before his eyes. It’s that his actors were paid for their work and played relatively equal roles.

“Helping out these young kids. Respecting them. It’s like I’ve made a contribution to them,” Gallagher said. “It’s like three parties I’m throwing. It’s been a beautiful thing.”

But in a play about stories and friendship and music and laughter, there’s still space for free enterprise, if only for a line. The storytelling contest isn’t to win the exotic beer — it’s for the right to buy it.

“We have to buy the beer?” one character asks. “Yes,” the bartender responds. “Business is business.”