Go Deeper Taking to the Streets: Mike Durkin on (Kensington) Streetplay

Taking to the Streets: Mike Durkin on (Kensington) Streetplay

Posted July 26th, 2018

The Renegade Company’s Fringe offerings have been among the most popular and much-discussed of recent Festivals. Drawing on sources from classical literature and film, artistic director Mike Durkin has transported audiences into non-traditional spaces with unexpected takes on well-known texts (Bathtub Moby Dick, 2013; The Hunchback of Notre Dame…A Mute Play, 2014; Damned Dirty Apes, 2015; Animal Farm to Table, 2016).

For the 2018 Fringe Festival, the company sets out on an enticing new path with (Kensington) Streetplay, an ambulatory exploration of Philadelphia’s iconic neighborhood and the stories of its residents. Mike talked to FringeArts about his interest in the area and the new process he used to develop this intriguing Fringe piece.

FringeArts: What interests you about Kensington and the Riverwards? What was your introduction to the area?

Mike Durkin: My father was a construction worker as well as an alcoholic and I grew up in a household fueled by alcohol. I was drawn to the Port Richmond neighborhood; going to the bars in the area reminded me of my father. Through conversations with some of the residents I became invested in hearing their stories and experiences and kept getting directed to Kensington.

FringeArts: How did you get to know the neighborhood?

Mike Durkin: I spent some time going to civic association meetings in Kensington and the Riverwards and wanted to learn more. I kept seeing a community struggling with identity and narrative. Steeped in the past (“I wish Kensington looked like it did in the 60s or 70s”), and the future (“In ten years the whole neighborhood is going to be completely different, so I want to buy property now”). There didn’t seem to be as much attention to the present day-to-day life of the individuals in the neighborhood.

I spent almost two and a half years working on this project and became deeply invested in the lives of the community members and stakeholders in the neighborhood from those encountering substance abuse, addiction, or homelessness to community leaders, new residents, developers, community organization members, and all in between. I am driven by the level of perseverance in the neighborhood to focus on the positive and combat the stigma surrounding the neighborhood.

FringeArts: What inspired (Kensington) Streetplay?

Mike Durkin: Originally, I combined the spirit of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea with the neighborhood and the piece was going to be a repurposing of the story to the Riverwards communities. Focusing on age, perseverance, death, and dying. The piece steered away from incorporating the text, but the themes of perseverance are still relevant in stories we created.

FringeArts: How has the piece evolved over the process?

Mike Durkin: As originally conceived, the show was titled “The Olde Man and the Delaware River” and was going to follow the blueprint of Renegade’s last fringe show Animal Farm to Table and have professional performers in the production present stories sourced from the community members. Now, we have veered away from Hemingway and the residents are the creators and performers of the project.

FringeArts: Why was it important to have the work stand alone from outside texts?

Mike Durkin: In early workshops it became clear that the novel (and literature in general) alienated the population we were working with and provided barriers to creating something authentic. It was a great learning moment and has impacted Renegade’s future work. We plan on steering away from classic works to focus on creating site-responsive community-based work in which the residents are creators and performers of the work.

FringeArts: How did this process differ from other projects you’ve undertaken?

Mike Durkin: This project is made and performed almost exclusively by non-traditional performers. We have migrated away from using a source material and focused on creating work in response to the conversations, observations, and workshops held in the neighborhood. I have elongated the process of development from 1 to 2.5 years. This extra time was to give space to learn, earn trust, and explore the needs of the Kensington neighborhood.

FringeArts: How will this project affect Renegade’s future work?

Mike Durkin: This project that will be the launch of a new direction for Renegade where we explore how art and performance intersect with other industries and services. For this project, we are exploring the relationship between performance and human service. How can both groups aid in each other’s work? We are partnering with Impact Services (a community group providing services for jobs, homes, and community development) to create a manual on the partnership and how the production intersects with community building and human services. We have also partnered with the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disabilities Services to explore and try to rewrite stigma on substance abuse and addiction through collaborative artmaking and performance.

FringeArts: How has your view of Kensington and Port Richmond changed over the last year or two? What vision of the neighborhood do you hope the audience takes away?

Mike Durkin: There are many disagreements in the neighborhood and there is a lot of one group against another group. Instead of arguing, what can we agree upon? Tensions are very high in Kensington with the ongoing issues surrounding homelessness, encampments, safe injection sites, addiction, violence, drug dealings, gentrification, housing developments, and the list goes on; yet there is still lots of positive work being done in the neighborhood from the many civic associations, community associations, religious associations and artists in the neighborhood. (Kensington) Streetplay is a performance about finding common ground and what it means to be present and co-exist with one another. My hope is that audiences come in with an open mind and an open heart and that they find connection with someone they would have never found connection with before.

FringeArts: Thanks Mike!

—Christopher Munden

What: (Kensington) Streetplay
When: September 6–9 + 13–16, 2018
Where: Starts at Allegheny El Stop, 3200 Kensington Avenue 
Cost: FREE
Created by The Renegade Company

Photos by Daniel Kontz