The Fringe Festival is back for 2012, and it’s in the living rooms of the McQueens from Tacony. It’s also in their kitchen, and in the homes of three other families around the city who’ve partnered with the Headlong Dance Theater for This Town is a Mystery. The families’ lives have been turned into performances right in their own homes that Fringe-goers can purchase tickets to see.
“To be surrounded by so many people and to know so few of them is one of the weird mysteries in being in a city,” said Andrew Simonet, co-director at Headlong.
He found himself wondering who lives in the houses of Philadelphia and what stories are beyond those walls. Simonet set out to find families to open their home and tell their stories through artistic performance.
Out of 40 applicants, four households were chosen: the Bosticks from Tacony, the Aryadareis from South Philly, Tobie Hoffman (the one-woman show from Mount Airy) and the McQueens, who live on the 6600-block of Glenloch Street.
“Part of this piece is a question about the city and it’s a question about neighborhoods and their economic or educational or ethnic subculture and how you can get caught in that bubble,” Simonet said. “To try and make a little diagram, we needed four households and it doesn’t tell you everything about Philly, but it starts to define a big space.”
Kenya McQueen, a 19-year-old sophomore, tells the story of overcoming her shyness to become a cheerleader at Penn State University. Father Calvin McQueen shares his experience as an inmate counselor for juvenile delinquents and the inner journey he went through to become to man he is today. Mother Kendra McQueen, and her son Kassean McQueen, 11, jam out to Nirvana’s “Teen Spirit,” before Kassean stunned the audience dancing as Michael Jackson. Calvin and Kendra tell the story of how they fell in love and danced to “My Funny Valentine,” their wedding song before Calvin breaks into what the family calls his theme song – Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”
After the performances, audience members are invited to bring their seats around the table for a potluck. There, the McQueens press audience members to share their own stories.
“This exceeded my expectations,” Germantown resident Sandra Chaffa said. “I loved the potluck. They are very talented and this took a lot of nerve. This to me is the Fringe, something edgy like going to someone’s home.”
Part of Simonet’s goal for the project was to break the stereotypes of Philadelphia neighborhoods. “Everyone has an image of a certain neighborhood, but that may or may not be related to the people actually living there,” he said. “Once you sit down and have a meal with someone, you’re just never going to have assumptions about that neighborhood or that kind of person again.”
Jessica Lopez is a student reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication of Temple University’s Multimedia Urban reporting Lab.