The Bearded Ladies, The West Collection, Prison Food

The Bearded Ladies

Art of Life — Produced by Karen Smyles

The Bearded Ladies is an experimental cabaret group devoted to exploiting all the possibilities of intimate, homemade theater through beautiful songs, tricked-out costume changes, drag, and virtuosic prop construction. With wit and sparkle, they tackle the politics of popular culture, sex, gender, and artistic invention.

In September, The Beards will be premiering a new work developed in collaboration with Opera Philadelphia. Earlier this year Friday Arts went behind the scenes to one of the first rehearsals, with the entire creative team. Watch our interview with the Beard’s Artistic Director, John Jarboe, and you’ll instantly see what makes the troupe wildly entertaining, to just about everyone. We also talk with Heath Allen, their Music Director and Composer, Dan Visconti, who are working together on ANDY: A Popera.

A Popera is a musical mélange inspired by the life, fame, and the philosophy of Andy Warhol. A Popera is, like its eponymous hero, a fabulous collision of the high and low, the commercial and the artistic, the traditional and the innovative. It is a work that explodes onto the stage–and sparks out into the audience, presenting singing soup cans, Marilyns, and a randy banana on stage with contemporary versions of Warhol Superstars Valerie Solanas, Candy Darling, and Edie Sedgwick. It’s an artistic collision of cabaret and opera exploring what Warhol has become today. What happens when a man becomes a brand?

The opera will premiere on Thursday, September 10th as part of the Fringe Festival, with shows through September 20th. For more information, visit

The West Collection

Art — Produced by Michael O’Reilly

The West Collection is a collection of artworks that are on long-term loan to SEI, the financial services firm founded 46 years ago by Al West. Al and his daughter Paige have spent the last 19 years collecting 3,100 compelling contemporary works by over 700 leading international artists, many of them from the Philadelphia Area.

What is different about the West Collection, is that the artworks are on display at the offices of SEI itself, in Oaks, PA (outside of Phoenixville) and in the SEI satellite offices throughout the world. (The offices themselves are what one might expect to commonly find in other more progressive parts of the world). Another thing that is different is that these artworks in this office represent one of the most ambitious collections of contemporary art in private hands anywhere in the world.

The goal of the West Collection is to share challenging and inventive work of emerging artists with the SEI audience and the public. At any given time 1,500 works from the West Collection are installed at the SEI Corporate Campus in Oaks, PA and other works are displayed in rotating exhibitions at the nearby West Collection Warehouse. Artworks are also loaned to various international and local museums and universities for exhibition. Current projects include an exhibition series at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia and an educational initiative in public schools.

FRIDAY ARTS tours the collection through touring the offices. In doing so, we discover “The Hot Hall” – the place where the more disturbing (as expressed anonymously by the people working there through a well-established mechanism) works are relegated. We talk with Al and Paige West and Lee Stoetzel, the curator of the West Collection about “The Hot Hall” as well as how the collection started and how the artworks themselves ended up in SEI’s offices.

Prison Food

Art of Food — Produced by Monica Rogozinski

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site brings back its popular Prison Food Weekend. On these days visitors can sample five states’ versions of nutraloaf, the “food product” issued as punishment in many American prisons, as well as “chi chi,” comfort food made by inmates using ingredients from prison commissary. Courts have generally upheld the rights of prisons to serve nutraloaf, but the practice remains controversial. Freestyle BBQ, a catering company owned by correctional officer John Freeman, will create the nutraloaf samples using official recipes from five U.S. states:

  • Idaho (Breakfast Version): Most prisons serve the same punishment loaf at every meal. Idaho may be the only state with breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes. The breakfast nutraloaf uses traditional morning foods, blending cereal, milk, toast, and even orange juice into a single baked loaf.
  • California: Inmates on a “disciplinary diet” in California jails are served this loaf twice a day. The recipe includes raw cabbage and chili powder. Inmates receive two slices of whole wheat bread and a quart of water with each serving.
  • Illinois (Vegan Option): This vegan recipe features an unlikely combination of applesauce, tomato paste, and garlic powder. Inmates at the Tamms Correctional Center sued the Illinois Department of Corrections after being served this recipe. They alleged cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Their suit was unsuccessful.
  • Vermont: Prisoners sued after being served this loaf, which contains non-dairy cheese and

The Visitors to the historic site can taste all five versions, record their thoughts on a tasting card, and decide for themselves whether serving nutraloaf is a form of cruel and unusual punishment. Visitors can also sample chi chi, a comfort food made by inmates using ingredients from the prison commissary or vending machines. Chi chi recipes vary, but commonly include ramen noodles, chips or cheese curls, meat snacks, and sugar. Formerly incarcerated individuals will prepare the chi chi using a recipe learned during their time at SCI Graterford, the prison that replaced Eastern State Penitentiary.

We’ll also tour through the Penitentiary cafeteria and bakery ruins, and learn how food used to be prepared and served throughout this prison’s 142 year operational history.

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