Connecting with community, one Philadelphia experience at a time

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Artist Mike Durkin (left) and his audience

Artist Mike Durkin (left) and his audience

The SoLow festival is afoot in Philadelphia, featuring solo performances on a low budget. Hence the name.

One of the performance artists wants to make a date with you to walk around the neighborhood. “For a Good Time Call” starts with a phone number for Mike Durkin, who is available any time — 24 hours a day — to take your call.

This is how he answers:

“The world in front of me consists of a ceiling fan, set onto medium speed, with four light bulbs, two of which need to be replaced.”

Durkin describes his environment, in this case his apartment. Then he engages in conversation;  he wants to know about your environment.

Durkin is not in character and he is not telling a story. And there is no audience. This is not really theater, but a performance experience. The audience of one is not a spectator, but a participant.

“This is a piece about community and understanding the world we live in,” said Durkin. “We talk about what community means to us. By then I determine if we will meet up and explore a community, which a person had not been to before.”

That’s the second part of the performance — putting down the phone and rendezvousing with Durkin out in the real world.

Last week, Durkin made a date with caller Tony Bolante to meet outside the Rodin Museum on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. It’s a place Bolante had never been.

“I only moved here in September for grad school,” said Bolante, who is studying theater at the Pig Iron School and living in the Kensington neighborhood. “I’ve been itching to see more of the city now that’s summer’s here.”

For the next hour, Bolante and Durkin walked around the Logan Square neighborhood. It’s an unusual tour: Durkin admitted several times he has no specialized knowledge about architecture or city history. His is a sense tour of the city, improvising games and observations about what it feels like to walk these streets, to look at the way light changes on trees, to feel bronze sculptures, to talk about how people share the cityscape.

“We’re exploring an environment together,” said Durkin. “We’re in a moment-to-moment relationship. Finding new discoverings in the world.”

Durkin said the experiences are created in real time by the artist and spectator working in tandem to do things they hadn’t done before, even if it’s running up the steps of the Art Museum.

The interactive performance will take place until the end of the week. After that, Durkin’s phone number will be disconnected.

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