Bastille Day commemorates the 18th century storming of the infamous prison in Paris, a watershed moment in the French Revolution. All around France there are celebrations to mark the day.
Here in Philadelphia, Bastille Day at the Eastern State Penitentiary has grown into a beloved local event, with some Philly flourishes.
The (very) loose re-enactment of the French Revolution in an hour-long song and dance performance includes an evolving roster of historical characters, who comment on current events.
“We’ve replaced Napoleon this year because his politics were getting too conservative for us,” said John Jarboe, artistic director of the Bearded Ladies Cabaret, the ringleaders of the event. “We replaced him with Sojourner Truth, who is the opposite of alternative facts. So Sojourner Truth has come to save us from alternative facts.”
However, Jarboe noted, with a bit of a wink, that not all people in the news today are welcome. “We’re trying to keep out all Russian influence from the Bastille Day celebration, even though there’s been some attempts. There were some emails about Putin trying to be involved, but we have an investigation going on, so I’m sure it will be fine.” In the midst of song parodies, drag queens and thousands of Tastykakes thrown from the prison towers, Jarboe said there nevertheless is a serious side to the performance. “We want to be creating a space for Philadelphians to laugh and sing and also think about what they want to fight for. Obviously with all the political turmoil that’s going on in the country right now, we’ve ramped it up a bit.” The Eastern State Penitentiary Bastille Day celebration is Saturday at 5:30 p.m.