The Philly Fringe and Live Arts shows I have been to have always been interactive in a sort of way. During the Festival in 2008, I sat in the Rotunda at 40th and Walnut with choral chanters and modern dancers moving in front, to the side, and in back of me as I sat, with the rest of the “audience” (however, I’m pretty sure we were part of the show as well), on pews in the large, acoustically magnificent, yet dilapidated sanctuary from which the Rotunda gets its name. That piece was called Urban Echo.
During this year’s Festival, I was once again physically proximal to the performers. I attended Urban Scuba which took place in the abandoned YMCA swimming pool at Broad and Pine streets. We quickly scurried down the alley to the long pathway to the entrance so we wouldn’t miss the raise of the (in this case, shower) curtain. Entering through the shower/locker rooms, as would be normal in any other trip to the swimming pool, we got into the shallow end of the pool and experienced what, even then, and especially now, seems like a dream. While we sat anxiously in our seats at the shallow, and currently dry, end of the pool, the performers danced, flew, swam, crawled, splashed, twirled, leapt, climbed, bounced, fell and glided through a created jungle of imaginative refuse. The four performers put on a circus of a show involving acrobatics, modern dance, creative movement, trash bags, packing peanuts, strobe lights, shower curtains, tar (or was it paint?), ominous beats of music and a shallow sea of water. The reason and message of the performance was never explicitly indicated. I came out thinking of an imagined reality of life existing in the sewers below and of an environmentally damned future in which the trash no longer fit into dumps and instead hung around whatever life forms remained or had evolved. While the show was pretty over the top and out there–I enjoyed just that. The beauty of the Philly Fringe and Live Arts Festival is that it is a venue for experimental theater, dance, music, and all things art. Some shows are more successful than others– but in all cases, they elicit opinions and responses from the audience and represent creative, passionate, and active members of the Philly arts community.
A final show I was able to see at this year’s Festival engaged me in a whole separate fashion. Taking place in a traditional theater setting—Suzanne Roberts Theater on Broad Street—I walked in to the theater with a group of friends to see “The Last Cargo Cult”. Upon entrance we were given the top bill from a stack of money that a woman at the door told us to “hold on to.” I got a one dollar bill and focused on finding a seat. After we settled, I looked over, and my friend had a ONE HUNDRED DOLLAR BILL. He feared he would be called on to participate during the show; I quickly assured him that I would swap him bills and assume whatever participation the ONE HUNDRED DOLLAR bill might entail; I also told him that if we got to keep them in the end, I would be keeping all ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS.
When I gained possession of the ONE HUNDRED DOLLAR BILL it was beautifully new and crisp, the way one would think fake money would feel. The lights came on and the storyteller of the evening’s piece, Mike Daisey, took his place in a chair in front of a simple desk on which a small glass of water and note pages were. Mike Daisey led the audience on a journey of stories ranging from the South Pacific to his childhood. Over time he spoke of the importance of money and the character of various cultures and their relationship to money. The details of each portion of the stories escape me now, however whenever Daisey spoke of the excess and the lack of money in various scenarios, my stomach turned over a bit—and that I distinctly remember. I was aware of that ONE HUNDRED DOLLAR BILL at every moment of the show. A ONE HUNDRED DOLLAR BILL is not something you would want to accidentally drop (and given my recent wallet- and key-misplacement, I had good reason to pay close attention). Nearing the end of the 2 hour (or so) show, I looked down at my ONE HUNDRED DOLLAR BILL when Mr. Daisey said that the money given out at the beginning was his own that he would have made from the evening; my hand was in an incredibly uncomfortable looking claw shape and the bill was crumpled up into a ball within it; my friend’s one dollar bill lay comfortably at peace on top of his program and was just as crisp as it had been when the woman gave it to me when I walked in. Mike Daisey was giving us the choice, as he said we always have, of doing what we will with the money we have. We could give him back the money that was given to us at the door and was rightfully his (and there was a bowl eagerly awaiting the bills near the stage); however, there was no way to track who had what bill, so we could swap with a separate denomination we had in our wallet and give more or return less.
Knowing that a ONE HUNDRED DOLLAR BILL was a big bill not to return, and knowing that others knew I had that ONE HUNDRED DOLLAR BILL, and knowing what a great party that ONE HUNDRED DOLLAR BILL could have sponsored, and knowing how long that ONE HUNDRED DOLLAR BILL could last me at the farmer’s market, and knowing that some of the rich patrons of the arts in the audience that received a one dollar bill would put in more in the end, and knowing I could pocket that ONE HUNDRED DOLLAR BILL, I returned all one hundred dollars to the bowl. I wonder how the show and the stories would have effected me had I stayed with my one dollar bill—but I’m quite glad I got to experience the stories in an ultra-sensitive and focused frame of mind. It was worth all hundred and twelve dollars and fifty cents that I did not leave the theater with in the end.
[submitted by Ingrid Lindquist]