One Fringe evening this week, my friend Wendy and I left Center City via the Broad Street Subway to the Erie stop, and then caught the 56 bus for a long and winding ride to Torresdale Avenue in Tacony. Along the way we saw miles of factory buildings and warehouses. Once we hit Tacony, the landscape changed to small shops and blocks and blocks of row houses.
The performance we were going to was in one of those row houses, performed by ordinary people, not dancers, not performance artists–the people who actually lived there! The show was part of This Town is a Mystery, the four-house suite of performances that Headlong Dance Theater created for the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Fringe.
I was one of about 14 people who came to this performance. To say this was an extraordinary experience for me is a vast understatement, sitting in someone’s dining room/kitchen emptied of furniture, sitting just a foot or two away from the performing family. The family–Adam, Princess and Lea Bostick–each told us stories about themselves, stories that gave us a sense of their values and concerns, stories that revealed beliefs, heartbreaks and vulnerabilities not normally shared with a group of strangers. I learned about the life and death struggle of Princess’ baby and her own struggle to find the strength to endure the realities she was facing. I learned that the strapping Adam could walk away from success to return to the family who loved him best, and I learned how Lea embraced Buddhism for relatively superficial reasons but instead found in it a way to strengthen herself and improve her life.
The concept of breaking down walls between the public and people in their homes is an extension of a couple of Headlong’s ongoing conceptual themes–breaking down the fourth-wall between the audience and the performers; and making art of the everyday and finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.
The performance made me wonder about all the people in all the rowhouses across Philadelphia, and how they all have stories to tell, if only we had the way to listen.
After the performance, with Headlong staff we all set up tables and reconfigured the benches for our potluck picnic. The Bosticks came out to talk with us. Headlong provided ice-breaker questions but none were needed. The ice was broken. The walls were broken. We all ate together, and hugged, and congratulated all involved.
This is my way of writing a personal thank you to this wonderful family who not only were willing to bare their souls but were game for taking a risk and doing something they have never done before–dance in public. My thanks also to Wendy, my fellow adventurer on the subway and bus all the way to Tacony (she also supplied our potluck contribution), and to fellow audience members Ray and Bill, no longer strangers to me, who went out of their way to give me a ride home.
If you missed our podcast interview of Dave and Andrew at Headlong, here it is again.
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