Go Deeper

Shubin Turns 25

Posted April 17th, 2012

As someone preparing to celebrate 25 years on Earth, I imagine dinner with close friends and few not-so-close friends (who cares, they’re paying) followed by drinks. However, speaking with Denise Shubin has made my plans seem underwhelming. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Shubin Theatre, Denise Shubin (founding and managing director) and Ken Bingham (co-producer) have planned Shubin April Fest 2012: 25th Anniversary Celebration! A festival aimed at celebrating not only 25 years of existence, but the diversity of talent that has kept the Shubin going for 25 years. The festival began April 12 and continues on through the 29th.

Denise Shubin and husband Don Martinelli moved to 407 Bainbridge Street in 1986. Denise desperately wanted a space to perform, but didn’t want to struggle with paying bills. So she decided to merge her living and playing space, building a theater on the base level and living quarters above. Shubin explains, “I didn’t want my life to be about fundraising.” That’s why in 1987 she opened her home, and The Shubin Theatre to the public. She made it her mission to provide affordable space for artists, so “People can make their dreams come true.”

When I visited her home I learned what “dreams coming true” sounds like as the noise from a rehearsal escape the ceiling of the theater and emerged through the floor of her second floor sitting room. The festival opened on April 12 with an epic poem performance by Woodcarver’s Band. Philly Primary Stages had a fully staged “best of” show from its staged reading series this past weekend. Upcoming performances include: A MAGICAL EVENING: Master magicians, Francis Menotti & Fred Siegel (Friday, April 20 at 8pm), Men and Their Place in The World (Short Plays by Men)* (Sunday, April 22 at 7pm), William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Monday, April 23 at 7pm), and many others. Click here for a full list of performances.

“I traipsed back into the Shubin a couple years ago and it immediately reminded me of what theater is all about. It had become work for me. The larger my projects became, the more it became about feeding a monster and trying to keep the beast alive. Money and headaches, unions and headaches . . .” says co-producer and close friend to Shubin, Ken Bingham. “But Denise, even after 25 years, shines as brightly as ever before. And I remember why I got into theater to begin with.”

In preparation for the festival Denise Shubin has also been, “reflecting on why I want to do this in the first place.” Many artists face distractions and obstacles in their art form that seem to take priority over the art itself. But, Shubin April Fest 2012 is about forgetting those troubles and celebrating the art of theater in its purest form.

When asked why she never decided to go bigger, Shubin replied, “This is exactly what I wanted to be.” She never dreamed of becoming a 450-seat theater with a $2 million budget and a marketing team. She simply wants to perform and offer others the same opportunity. “This is who I am, this is what I do.”

The festival serves a fundraiser for upgrades and repairs the theater needs in order to keep running. Shubin April Fest continues to April 29th. “For me, and for many people in Philadelphia,” says Ken Bingham, “Denise is the reason why we got involved in theater to begin with, she’s the reason why we love the theater, and she’s a guiding light that reminds us of why we continue to remain.”

–Sebastian Cummings

Shubin April Fest 2012 at The Shubin Theatre, 407 Bainbridge, Philadelphia. Though April 29.

*Your erstwhile editor has a short play called The Basement written expressly for Men and Their Place in The World (Short Plays by Men) in response to a challenge (from the evening’s producer Mark Knight) to write a play set in a basement and some other stipulations some of which I followed.