Go Deeper

Philly Fringe Venue Profile: Power Plant Productions

Posted August 18th, 2011

Under the Ben Franklin Bridge sits a stout brick building whose smokestack, now defunct, reads “poggenpohl,” the name of a high-end kitchen design shop that occupies the ground floor. But behind that, in faded white letters, reads WILBUR. Years ago, this was the power plant for the Wilbur chocolate factory, which in turn is the namesake of its owners, Power Plant Productions.

Chris Meck, a documentary photographer who co-owns Power Plant with her husband, Jim Graham, said the whole building was raw space when they took it over in 1997. They aded walls, and created separate rental spaces. Today, tenants also include the photographer Steve Belkowitz and Sherik Project Management, among others. And once it was clear the building was active again, artists started tracking them down.

“They started finding us,” Chris said. “We’ve never really advertised.”

After the jump: interior pics, the floor plan, and chocolates!

Power Plant serves primarily as a photo studio, although it hosts other productions on occasion. In the basement, artists have access to the entire western section.

“It’s been interesting to see all of the shows because they transform the space in interesting ways,” Chris said.

Pointing out a wide circular mark on the floor, Chris said that Bright Light Theater recently laid down cork on that spot, which served as a circular stage in a recent production.

“It became an apocalyptic scenario where people are left after a catastrophe,” she said. The cavernous basement space, with its concrete floors and intact but often partially-eroded pillars, seems an ideal space for such a show.

At last year’s Philly Fringe, Lawrence-Herchenroether Dance Company rented space for their production. At the 2011 Philly Fringe, Power Plant will host Branded, a production from Hyphen-Nation Arts that investigates corporate culture, corporate ideology, and the branding of, well, everything.

PowerPlant also rents its space for private functions, like weddings, 40th birthdays, and once for the MTV show “My Super Sweet Sixteen,” at the end of which, the young male debutante vomited after drinking too many Red Bulls, according to Chris. Downstairs, they do video shoots. Once it was set up as a vampire night club for a rap video, and the Black Madam of alleged illegal-silicone-injections-to-the-buttocks fame, shot a now-infamous video there.

In a niche by a stair case on our way back up is a safe from the Acme Piano Company, a former Queen Village-based manufacturer.

“They threw away ten dumpsters of pianos,” Chris said. She documented the last days of Acme.

On my way out, Chris hands me a couple of small candies that look like Hershey’s kisses. But they predate those, and on the underside, between the swirls, are the letters W I L B U R. Wilbur still makes their candies, but over in Lititz.