Germantown teen reflects on how her work helped create a PIFA performance

Faith Jones-Jackson, a Central High School junior who has lived in Germantown since she was six years old, said she was initially skeptical when her work with Philadelphia Young Playwrights turned into a chance to help write a show for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA).

“Writing for me was a very personal thing,” she told NewsWorks on a busy Monday afternoon with at least three different groups for the “Time Machine” show rehearsing at the Arts Bank Theater of the University of the Arts on South Broad Street.

It was also a bit intimidating to work with everyone from fellow high schoolers to college students (including some from the university’s Ira Brind School of Theater) and professionals including sound designer Chris Colucci and director David Bradley.

“I didn’t realize we could all be interested in the same thing,” Jones-Jackson said.

Show starts today

This PIFA show, with performances at the Kimmel’s Innovation Studio on Wednesday through Friday, follows the festival’s larger theme of art and performance based on past, present and future time concepts.

The performance, with a cast of 12 including Jones-Jackson, takes the idea of a “lost hour” as its spine. When we turn our clocks forward once a year, where does that hour go? What if we had the chance to go back and use it? What if a mystical team of “gatekeepers” was there to help us make the most of it?

Charmira Nelson, a senior at Constitution High School, is another local teen who has been involved in a collaborative Philadelphia Young Playwrights production which is co-produced by the Kimmel.

While Nelson was not involved in writing the final script for the piece like Jones-Jackson, she is an avid poet and performer who participated in the early development.

How it came together

Last fall, the show’s movement director, Young Playwrights collaborator Shavon Norris, led participating youths in physical improvisations around the theme of time.

Nelson explained that this involved exploring how a certain sense of time can affect your movements: How do you move when you’re running late? Can your body make movements inspired by mechanical time versus natural time, like a traffic light or a growing plant?

Participants were also given speedy improvisational scenarios, with only 15 minutes to make a scene that stitched different figures or aspects of history together in the same room. One such scenario was “what would George Washington do with an iPhone?”

She remembered creating one scenario in which Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama go to a Halloween party, each dressed up as the other.

Obama wore a top hat and a beard, and “Lincoln was rockin’ out with Obama ears,” she laughed.

From rehearsal to stage

Rehearsals began on April 1, but Jones-Jackson said that the show’s foundations were laid as early as last summer.

She cited a Philadelphia Young Playwrights retreat in July during which they visited many of the city’s historic sites, including Germantown’s Cliveden, to jumpstart reflections on the PIFA theme.

After a series of physical improvisations, writing exercises and visual-art projects through the fall and winter, the show’s script developed.

Jones-Jackson, who wants to continue pursuing her interest in theater and writing in college, said artists of all ages involved in the show “found common ground in people not using their time the way that they could.”

Now, she says it’s a little “scary” to realize she’ll be in front on an audience Wednesday, but she’s looking forward to the opening nonetheless.

Performances on Wednesday and Thursday start at 7:30 p.m., while Friday’s is scheduled for 8 p.m. For more information or to order tickets ($10), visit pifa.org or call (215) 546-PIFA.

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