This Town is a Mystery: How Four Local Families Create Community — and ArtBy Erin Kane |
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Deep in the Tacony section of Philadelphia, on a wide, crowded street, is a modest row home that belongs to an ordinary family — the Bosticks.
Over the next several nights, however, Leah, the matriarch, and her two adult children, Adam and Princess, will open their home to an adventuresome public and perform the emotion-laced narrative of their lives.
Unique performances, starring four diverse Philadelphia-area families, will run in their homes for the length of the 2012 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival.
“It’s really an amazing project for us. I feel really changed by it,” said Amy Smith, Co-director at Headlong. The nearly 20-year-old nonprofit has a knack for nontraditional dance and spent years dreaming up the idea for “This Town is a Mystery.”
Last fall, after securing a grant from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through Dance Advance, it cast a wide net hiring a publicist and attending community meetings to find “citizen dancers.” More than 40 families applied.
“We definitely wanted a diversity of subcultures… neighborhoods, economic background, race, and religion. We purposely excluded families who were part of the arts community,” explained Smith. Headlong used unscientific criteria to narrow down the applicants.
“It really was about the mutual vibe,” said Smith. Four families stood out, committing themselves and their homes.
“This project combines a lot of different threads we’ve been interested in. It’s a less passive way to see a performance and encourages or forces [the audience] to take a risk of some kind,” she said.
These risks are twofold. For one, there is the mystery that revolves around the location. Performance-goers are unable to pick which home they will attend, causing them to explore unfamiliar neighborhoods. All of the homes are outside of arts-concentrated Center City.
Then there is the required potluck contribution. Breaking bread with performers and audience members is an integral part of the second act — a spirited sharing of food and fellowship that dissolves barriers. “We’re making pieces for adventurous souls who want to try something different,” added Smith.
On opening night, a ten-member audience sat alertly in the Bosticks’ kitchen, captivated as the trio laughed and danced and told stories in their personal and funny 30-minute act. The performance mixed music and narration and featured household props — cherished family photographs; medicine; plastic flowers; sugar.
“We never did anything like this together,” said Princess, whose mother signed the family up. Soon they were all on board, practicing multiple times a week for months.
“It helped bring us together even more,” offered Adam. “It was fun. We had fun together. “We’re artistic now, you know what I mean?”
Four families, four personal performances
Of the four families, few have any formal training. “We’re interested in the dances people have in them, whether they are trained dancers or not,” said Smith.
That amateur element adds to the genuineness of the performances, elevating the intimacy of the project. Each family also worked with stage and production managers. Their living spaces were reconfigured and professionally lighted.
“We’re creating a piece from them. It’s actually quite invasive,” said Thom Weaver, a designer who worked on all four pieces. “This is far and away the strangest and most interesting project I’ve been involved with. It’s weird, but in a good way.”
Moments after the lights came up at the Bosticks’, audience members rearranged their seats to form long tables across the length of the kitchen. A tablecloth was spread. Food was carefully set out. And then the eating and loud chatting and light-hearted laughing commenced.
“We’re probably the coolest family you’ll meet in a while,” revealed Princess during the meal. “We’re really not shy,” added Leah, who pulled performance-goers into a warm embrace before sending them out her backdoor.blog comments powered by Disqus