The red scare and Adrienne Skye Roberts

Adrienne Skye Roberts‘ reading of her family history, with visual aids, is a magical thing, occupying its own unique space between a performance and a talk. I heard her Swimming Lessons and the Red Scare at the Coral Street Arts House, with about 20 other people, a couple of whom figured in her story. You can hear her Friday, Sept. 23 at Vox Populi if you missed her Coral Street talk (details at the end; a talk for tomorrow night has been cancelled).

Adrienne Skye Roberts at the Coral Street Arts House

The story was about Roberts’ search for truth, family and identity. She was tracking down information about her grandfather, who was one of nine members of the American Communist Party arrested and tried under the Smith Act here in Philadelphia for conspiracy to overthrow the United States Government. (Eventually the Smith Act and the convictions were tossed). The talk included a slideshow and a giveaway of a Daily Worker newspaper facsimile into which Roberts inserted her own content. I especially loved the red date stamp, lending the publication a feel of 1950s government bureaucracy, surveillance, and dusty files. The slide show, while it repeated some of the newspaper images, also had a few surprises, and it was those surprises that gave it life. Some additional images would make it even better.

Adrienne Skye Roberts' bogus facsimile of the Daily Worker, with a photo of her grandfather, Joseph Roberts, previously known as Sam Gobeloff. Date stamped in red on left.

Roberts, from San Francisco, came to Philadelphia on a Philadelphia Art Hotel residency, and in the course of her research, she got squired around to her grandfather’s old neighborhood by artist Diane Pieri, who was in the audience the night of the talk. Pieri, told me she herself had been a “red diaper” baby. Roberts met the last surviving of her grandfather’s co-defendants, Sherman Labovitz, and the wife of another–both were in the audience. Labovitz is the author of Being Red in Philadelphia, A Memoir of the McCarthy Act. He looked quite chipper and handsome. The human faces helped authenticate the story.

Roberts is not a typical PAH resident. She’s a writer for one thing, and a former dancer (she’s unusually tall for a dancer!), not to mention a curator, educator and activist interested in issues of queerness and race.

A performance has been cancelled that was scheduled for tomorrow night, but another one is scheduled for Friday, one of several talks organized by the Moles Not Molar Reading and Performance Series:

Friday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m.
Vox Populi Gallery
319 N. 11th St., 3rd Floor