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Reverse Gentrification of the Future Now: Essay by Rasheedah Phillips

Posted May 3rd, 2019

Commissioned in conversation with Moor Mother’s Circuit City, running this June 20–22, as part of the High Pressure Fire Service series.

The present realities of housing for low-income people living in Philadelphia are located temporally-spatially near the one in Circuit City. We are experiencing an affordable housing crisis, and this crisis is exacerbated by the average of 22,000 eviction filings each year and the unknown number of illegal evictions.  In my work as Managing Attorney of the Housing Unit at Community Legal Services, where we provide legal representation and advice to more than 3,000 low-income tenants a year, I hear countless stories of tenants who face racial, sex, gender, family, ethnicity, and disability discrimination from landlords; stories of tenants intimidated into not complaining about substandard housing conditions that exacerbate health and safety problems; or tenants who received eviction filings from disgruntled landlords that have resulted in virtual blacklisting from future homes and opportunities for stability. Growing displacement and mass evictions of entire buildings of often low-income residents is a particularly vicious form of eviction that has widespread health and economic impacts, and destroys economic, cultural, and racial diversity in neighborhoods. Mass evictions, often unexpected, further aggravate the city’s shortage of affordable housing—existing affordable housing units are often lost forever, putting pressure on resources and housing stock elsewhere in the City and concentrating poverty in particular neighborhoods.

Compounding these issues is pervasive housing discrimination –  single mothers and their children, seniors, Black people, LGBTQ people, immigrants, and people living with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by evictions and lack of access to safe, habitable, and affordable housing.  Tenants face systemic and individual discrimination at every stage of the process – they are barred from getting into a new home for discriminatory reasons, and often kicked out of their homes for those same reasons.1 The ACLU, for instance highlights how “women of color bear the burden of eviction,” noting that women of color made up 62% and 70% of the tenants facing in eviction in Chicago and Philadelphia respectively.2 These and other instances of structural inequity related to housing disproportionately impact the City’s poor, Black and Hispanic populations live in racially concentrated poverty.3 This loss of housing has a distinct racial impact, where 63% of African-Americans live in project-based housing compared with 44% of the city’s population, and where African-Americans are disproportionately more likely to carry severe housing cost burdens in the city.

These types of inequalities are often framed in terms of spatial inequality and displacement from location.  However, as Helga Nowotowny notes, “power, exercised by central authorities, establishes itself over space and over time.”4 (emphasis added). Hierarchies of time, inequitable time distribution, and uneven access to safe and healthy futures inform intergenerational poverty in marginalized communities the same ways that wealth passes between generations in traditionally privileged families. Sociologist Jeremy Rifkin says that “temporal deprivation is built into the time frame of every society,” where people living in poverty are temporally poor as well as materially poor.”5 For example, time poverty is routinely used to penalize marginalized people in the justice system, where being ten minutes late to court can mean losing your job, kids, home, and freedom. Time and temporal inequities show up at every step of the eviction process, for example, from the short or fully waivable notice requirements for termination of a lease agreement, to the time required for an evicted family to vacate a unit that is severely out of line with the time needed to secure new housing.  Inevitably, marginalized Black communities are disproportionately impacted by both material, spatial, and temporal inequalities in a linear progressive society, with many Black communities forced to occupy “temporal ghettos” as well as spatial ones.   

Circuit City considers both the implications of time and of space involved in privatization of public housing, gentrification, displacement, and redevelopment. There is no set year or place in the play, but instead a layering of multiple temporal spaces.  The residents of Circuit City  are integrating the time(s) of redevelopment, privatization,  and hyper-gentrification, into the pre-established temporal dynamics of the community, layered over and within the communal historical memory and the shared idea of the future(s) of that community. Nested within those layers are individual, subjective temporalities and the lived realities of the residents, at odds with the linear, mechanical model of time on which Circuit City and its external spatial-temporal constructs are etched.  It takes as its central provocation a practical strategy for achieving a Black flight, a reverse gentrification, and inverse displacement, and the conditions necessary for temporal autonomy and spatial agency.  Circuit City is presented using Black Quantum Futurism praxis as a critical framework, fusing Afrodiasporan philosophies and rituals with quantum physics, recovering artifacts of Black temporal consciousness, and dismantling oppressive social temporal constructs.

These images overlay cosmic time with slaveships with microchips, circuit boards, and public housing layouts, attempting to catch a psychic space that transcends times, or co-mingles with past, present, future.

1A recent study by the Urban Institute shows that two-thirds of landlords in Philadelphia refuse to accept tenants with Housing Choice (Section 8) vouchers,  A Pilot Study of Landlord Acceptance of Housing Choice Vouchers, The Urban Institute, (August 2018) https://www.urban.org/research/publication/pilot-study-landlord-acceptance-housing-choice-vouchers.

2Sandra Park, Unfair Eviction Screening Policies Are Disproportionately Blacklisting Black Women (August 19, 2017). https://www.aclu.org/blog/womens-rights/violence-against-women/unfair-eviction-screening-policies-are-disproportionately

3Philadelphia’s Poor Who they are, where they live, and how that has changed, Pew Charitable Trusts, (November 2017) https://www.pewtrusts.org/-/media/assets/2017/11/pri_philadelphias_poor.pdf; City of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Housing Authority Assessment of Fair Housing (December 12, 2017) http://fairhousingrights.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/afh-2016-for-web.pdf

4Helga Nowotny, Time: The Modern and Postmodern Experience, p. 148 (1994)

5Jeremy Rifkin, Time Wars, p. 192 (1989).

Who’s Who in High Pressure Fire Service, part one

Posted February 13th, 2019
by Raina Searles, Marketing Manager

Opening this March, High Pressure Fire Service (or more colloquially, HPFS, pronounced “hip-fizz”) brings an incredible lineup of Philadelphia artists to the FringeArts stage for a series dedicated to highlighting the creativity and innovation that runs rampant in our city. The artists include an exhilarating mix of familiar and new faces to the FringeArts stage, from longtime collaborator Pig Iron Theatre Company’s newest work to prolific poet and noise musician Moor Mother’s first play. Some performers even appear in multiple HPFS shows. To get you ready for this new series, we’re breaking down Who’s Who in High Pressure Fire Service…part one.

Kicking off High Pressure Fire Service, is A Fierce Kind of Love written by Suli Holum, directed by David Bradley, and produced by the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University.

Wandering Alice, 2008

Many people may recognize the name Suli Holum as a staple in the Philadelphia arts community. Holum is one of the co-founders of Pig Iron Theatre Company, an award-winning director, performer, choreographer and playwright, and recently, Mrs. Capulet in the Wilma Theater’s production of Romeo and Juliet. She has been involved with numerous productions that have crossed Fringe’s stage, including Wandering Alice, written and co-directed with Nichole Canuso Dance Company and presented in the 2008 Curated Fringe Festival, and Cafeteria by Pig Iron Theatre Company in the 2003 Curated Fringe Festival, which earned her a Barrymore Award in choreography.

David Bradley is a director, producer and teaching artist who work has touched a variety of stages and collaborations across Philly. Bradley is the Founding Director of LiveConnections, in partnership with World Cafe Live, has performed in over 30 productions at People’s Light, is the Artistic Director of Living News at the National Constitution Center, has collaborated with Philadelphia Young Playwrights, and has traveled the world co-creating theater that addresses public health and social issues with Outside the Wire.

Bradley and Holum teamed up with Temple University College of Education’s Institute on Disabilities, which addresses disability as a valued aspect of diversity throughout civic life. In addition to producing the first iteration of this work in 2016 and its expanded remount here at FringeArts, the Institute is committed to innovation in pre-professional training, community training and technical assistance, research and information dissemination.

Other familiar faces in the A Fierce Kind of Love cast include Erin McNulty, most recently on the

FringeArts stage in Jerome Bel’s GALA in 2016 and 2018, as well as Cathy Simpson, a prolific and long-time Philly actress who has performed on a plethora of stages (InterAct, Wilma, and the Arden, to name a few) and was recently seen in the 2018 Independent Fringe Festival show, Day of Absence. Read bios for the full cast of A Fierce Kind of Love on the event page.

The second show in the HPFS lineup is The Appointment by Lightning Rod Special. No stranger to the FringeArts stage, Lightning Rod Special is an experimental performance company dedicated to exploring complex questions through an ensemble creation process and a lead artist for each show. Lightning Rod Special premiered their Obie Award-winning production Underground Railroad Game in Philadelphia at FringeArts in 2015, and they also performed their co-production with Strange Attractor Theatre Company Sans Everything here in 2017. They got their start, however, producing in the Independent Fringe Festival: Hackles in 2012 and Go Long Big Softie in 2013.

Sans Everything, 2017, Photo by Johanna Austin

For The Appointment (some may have seen the early draft performance titled Unformed Consent), Lightning Rod Special has assembled a stellar cast of Philly artists, and this new work is led by Alice Yorke. Yorke is a Co-Director of Lightning Rod Special, with whom she created and performed in Hackles, Let the Dog See the Rabbit, and Sans Everything. She has also collaborated on works with Pig Iron Theatre Company, InterAct Theatre, Theatre Exile, the Bearded Ladies Cabaret, Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret, and the Fringe favorite band Red 40 and the Last Groovement. Yorke also graduated from the Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training.

In April, we see the launch of the next HPFS show, Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House! by The Berserker Residents. Founded in 2007, The Berserker Residents are an ensemble dedicated to creating original works of alternative comedy with a focus on parody, absurdism, and subverting theatrical conventions. The Berserker Residents were last seen on the FringeArts stage in their March 2017 production of It’s So Learning, and they collaborated with the University of the Arts to create These Terrible Things as a 2017 Independent Fringe Festival show.

It’s So Learning, 2017, Photo by Kate Raines

They have also produced the works The Jersey Devil, The Giant Squid, The Annihilation Point, and The Post Show as part of Independent Fringe Festivals past. The imaginative co-creators—Justin Jain, David Johnson, and Bradley K. Wrenn—have brought their work to a variety of other Philadelphia stages (The Annenberg Center, Theatre Horizon, White Pines Productions, and more) as well as national and international stages like Ars Nova NYC, The San Francisco Mime Troupe, and The Assembly in Edinburgh, Scotland as part of the Edinburgh Fringe.

Individually, you may recognize these performers from their work all over the city. Justin Jain is a member of the Wilma Theatre HotHouse, has been a part of the Shakespeare in Clark Park education team, and is a teaching artist for Philadelphia Young Playwrights, Arden Theatre Company, the University of the Arts, and People’s Light, in addition to performing at a number of regional theaters. David Johnson has performed with Theatre Exile, Enchantment Theatre, Mum Puppet Theatre, People’s Light, Commonwealth Classic Theatre, Theatre Horizon, and the Wilma Theatre, as well as the Baltimore Theatre Project and The Blue Ridge Theatre Festival. Bradley Wrenn has performed with Shakespeare in Clark Park, Lantern Theatre, Enchantment Theatre Company, BRAT Productions, and Mauckingbird Theatre Company, and is an accomplished puppeteer, “wiggling the dollies” for numerous Mum Puppet Theatre productions including the Barrymore nominated ensemble of Animal Farm. He also co-created the acclaimed 2013 Curated Fringe Festival work The Ballad of Joe Hill with Adrienne Mackey.

We’re excited for such a talented cohort of creators and performers to be joining us at FringeArts this March and April. Click below for more information on each show, and check out “Who’s Who in High Pressure Fire Service, part two” on the FringeArts Blog!

A Fierce Kind of Love
Suli Holum, David Bradley, Institute on Disabilities, Temple University
March 1–3, 2019

The Appointment
Lightning Rod Special
March 20–31

Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House!
The Berserker Residents
April 12–14

HPFS Subscriptions:
$150 Six-Show Package / $120 for members
15% off tickets to 3-5 performances / 30% off for members

Single Tickets:
$31 general / $21.70 members
$15 students and 25-and-under
$2 FringeACCESS members

An Antihero Returns

Posted September 12th, 2016
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Peter Smith and Kyle Yackoski (photo by Plate 3 Photography)

Pow! Blam! Zip! Bang! These are just a few of the terms found emblazoned on comic book panels, and sometimes, across our movie screens. They represent and highlight the violence that takes place in these fictional stories of heroes versus villains, but the Earth-shattering showdowns and the impending doom our heroes are trying to upend can be aggressively severe. Recent, mainstream silver screen adaptations have indulged fans with a chance to revel in the chaos of cities crumbling, bullets flying, and punches landing as our defenders in tights attempt to save the day. These films and colorful comics have arguably painted violence in an inconsequential light. Audiences have become all too unfazed and that’s a serious problem according to the Tribe of Fools, a Philly based physical theatre company, and the architects behind Antihero.

Antihero uses dynamic fight-movement comedy to explore the depths of society’s fascination with violence and vigilantes, and how it ties into violence as entertainment in superhero films and comic books. Tribe of Fools aims to shine a light on this polarizing topic once again by bringing Antihero back to Fringe, after 3 years. “This show looks at how easy violence can become and the permanence of its consequences,” explains Tyler Brennan, the show’s director.

Brennan’s interest in the subject arose from looking at his own personal life. “What really got me interested in the subject was how often I would find myself thinking of my daily struggles in life in similar terms as the entertainment I was consuming. I would always envision myself destroying whatever problem I encountered. When you’re dealing with an insurance company or some sort of technology problem, it’s really no big deal, in some ways it helps. When I was dealing with people though, it became a huge problem. Everything was an argument and I always needed to win. It never escalated to violence in my personal life, but I would find myself enraged all the time.”

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Rapid Oscillations Between the Sacred and the Profane: an interview with Bhob Rainey

Posted April 25th, 2016
Rainey at a rehearsal of O Monsters First Draft (courtesy of New Paradise Laboratories).

Rainey at a rehearsal of O Monsters First Draft (photo by Kate Raines, plate3.com).

This week sees the premiere of New Paradise Laboratories’ O Monsters First Draft (tickets/info), marking the company’s second collaboration with award-winning composer, saxophonist, sound designer Bhob Rainey.

Rainey’s career is marked by a tireless push against preconceived notions of what music is and how it can affect listeners, and he has over 30 record releases to show for it. After earning a master’s degree in music composition from New England Conservatory (where he studied with musical luminaries Joe Maneri, Paul Bley, Ran Blake, and Pozzi Escot) he founded Nmperign with trumpeter Greg Kelley in 1998. The highly influential non-idiomatic improvisation duo have been integral to the development of the lowercase and electroacoustic improvisation genres and have to date collaborated with a veritable who’s-who of twenty-first century music innovators. In 2000 he founded The BSC, an octet of acoustic and electronic improvisers, as a means of exploring the dynamics of large group improvisation. Throughout his career he has sought interdisciplinary collaborations.

Though it is often the case that a composer’s work is done merely in service of a production, Rainey’s work on O Monsters First Draft has played an integral role in crafting this new work. “We’re treating Bhob’s music like spontaneous expressions of something in-the-world that can be used to craft out-of-this-world stage action,” Whit MacLaughlin, NPL’s artistic director, told FringeArts back in February. “Ultimately, we are exploring something we haven’t quite found a name for yet. Symphonic theater might be a good name for it.”

We caught up with Rainey to learn more about his background and his work on O Monsters First Draft.

FringeArts: Were you raised in a musical household?

Bhob Rainey: Not really. My dad is something of an aficionado of certain music, mostly blues and jazz, but I don’t recall him sharing a lot of that when I was young. My mom would often play one side of a Barbara Streisand record followed by a side of Barry Manilow. No one in the family really knew what it was like to be a musician. It is very much to their credit that they didn’t disown me when I decided to go the music route. I got to know a lot of music through endangered species like radio, record stores, and libraries. I was usually attracted to things that seemed to push boundaries, though it took a while for my idea of boundaries to grow large enough to be interesting. In truth, so much of the richness of my musical experience as a kid came from going to a public school with a good music program. It’s unforgivable how much of that has been taken away.

bhob-non-event

Rainey at work.

FringeArts: Growing up in Philadelphia, were you involved with any of the city’s music scenes?

Bhob Rainey: I didn’t get involved with any significant music scene in Philadelphia until the mid-90s. This was the jazz scene in ’94–’95. The scene was generationally and racially diverse, so there was a lot of sacred knowledge being passed around. I grew a lot from the experience and am deeply appreciative of the musicians I played with. You had a few downtown clubs like Zanzibar Blue and the Blue Moon, plus the old Ortlieb’s and some more neighborhood-y clubs like Natalie’s in West Philly. I played with Orrin Evans, Edgar Bateman, Mike Boone, Byron Landham, Duane Eubanks, Mickey Roker, and some other scene heavyweights like Bootsy Barnes and Larry McKenna. Byard Lancaster was helpful to me early on, introducing me to other players like Lucky Thompson and being generally—and somewhat aggressively—supportive. I don’t think I ever thanked him to the degree I would have liked, and I regret that now. I was playing out most nights of the week, and I loved it. But it ultimately wasn’t my voice. It was a voice I had learned and enjoyed using. It was a tradition for which I had and still have a deep respect. But I had something else that I needed to do, and that’s when I left for Boston.

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WetLand crosses the Delaware

Posted July 22nd, 2014

Photo by Josh McIlvain IMG_3818
July 22, 2014, in the morning: The main structural component of WetLand by Mary Mattingly, a houseboat, turns towards its destination–the dock at the Independence Seaport Museum–as it is towed into the harbor. Commissioned for the 2014 Fringe Festival, WetLand will be open August 15 to September 21, daily, and is free to the public.

Illadelph or Portlandia?

Posted September 18th, 2012

Ellen Freeman is a freelance writer and former Festival Blog intern who is based in Oregon.

We’re iller than thou. Portland’s still pretty awesome, though.

Remember the segment Adam Carolla used to do on the radio show Loveline called “Germany or Florida?” Oh, you had better things to do at 11:00 pm on weekdays than listen to ecstasy-addled sexually-active teens discuss their problems with Dr. Drew? Well the concept was simple: listeners would call in with bizarre news headlines like “Woman wearing sausage earrings is mauled by pack of toy poodles” and the hosts would try to guess whether the event took place in Germany or Florida.

Here at the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe, we’ve come up with an even better game called “Philadelphia or Portland?” The two cities have been duking it out for supremacy in the categories of foodie snobbery, beer-lovers-per-capita, and rapidity of gentrification for years, but they’ve got something else in common—both are currently hosting some of the world’s finest performing arts festivals: the Time Based Art Festival in Portland and the Live Arts/Fringe Fest here, of course. We’ve compiled a list of highlights from both festivals, leaving it up to you to guess which city you can catch each event in. And before you say “That’s so ___________ (fill in city here),” remember that the answers may surprise you.

1) Shakespeare’s classic Antony and Cleopatra is transported through time and space to modern-day Egypt, as represented by the Nefertiti busts and sarcophagi of the Ancient Egyptian wing of the host city’s art museum.

2) Fat-livered audience members shotgun beers in time with the cast of a drinking-game-cum-sketch-comedy-show performed in a pub.

3) One of the creators of those wacky Old Spice commercials pulls audience members onstage for a live life-coaching session.

4) Audiences downward-dog and open their heart chakras to live acoustic music in a nirvana-inducing musical yoga journey.

5) More than 150 amateur dancers celebrate the joy of community in a performance that’s part flash-mob, part line dance extravaganza.

6) A genderqueer chanteuse belts out her R&B condemnation of societal evils like the gender binary and capitalism while making ample use of butt plugs and onstage golden showers.

7) An experimental American pop band plays auto-tuned covers of Tuareg desert jams.

8) A choreographer who suffers from Tourette’s syndrome crafts a dance inspired by her own tics.

9) Audiences will recognize the harsh fluorescent lighting and excruciating/hilarious mundanity of these gesture-driven vignettes depicting office life, performed in Japanese with projected English subtitles.

After the jump: Answers!

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Love Museums? Hate Walls? This Is for You

Posted August 27th, 2012

Julius Ferraro is a freelance writer in Philadelphia, a former Festival Guide intern, and regular blog contributor.

“Let your eyes wander . . . Really look at it, closely . . . Look at it where it’s all rough, hacked and gouged crevices . . . Have a look underneath. Look at the tapering points and get in the crevices. Get on your knees and look underneath . . .”

This is what my audio tour tells me to do, so I do it. I’m in the middle of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia’s broadest and most tourist-happy boulevard, on a mild summer day, crawling on my hands and knees in the grass to get a good look at the underside of a sculpture.

This sculpture is just one stop on a new set of audio tours that spans four and a half miles from City Hall, up the Ben Franklin Parkway, past the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and along Kelly Drive. The tour, commissioned by the Association for Public Art, spans more than forty pieces including Three-Way Piece Number 1: Points by Henry Moore, the toothy bronze monolith I’m currently investigating like it’s a crime scene.

After the jump: interacting with “civic bling.”

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