If you’re looking for something to do this weekend in Philadelphia, I know what it should be. My byline on PhiladelphiaWeekly.com about a performance commissioned by the Village of Arts and Humanities:
Secret History: The Philadelphia Story debuts this Friday at Old City’s Painted Bride Art Center. The play, written and directed by Ping Chong, a New York–based theater director, explores six teenagers’ first–hand experiences with conflict and violence. The catch? Some of them have never acted before. Read the rest here.
CW: What does this story offer audiences?
Ping Chong: All of these teens deal with violence that are not heard about, at least not from their perspective. We just don’t hear them so much. You will in the performance. In other [Undesirable Elements] productions we might have projects about immigrants, any outsiders, like African Americans or Native Americans. We did one with children who lived through war. To hear those voices is to experience, if only for a short-while, their lives. This is the experiences of urban war.
CW: How have the kids, most of whom have no acting experience, developed since the first rehearsal?
PC: Them getting a sense of how this thing is, what it means. Some of them, just three of them have any acting experience. But really, it just happens that they have experience because this is less about a performance than it is about people. This is the 41st, or the 40th, at least 40th version of this [Undesirable Elements] project and with a couple exceptions, all have been done, and really, many done well, with non-performers. I think the audience understands, but in time so have these children.
CW: Tell me about the process, how were these kids picked, how did you write their stories?
PC: I asked the Village [of Arts and Humanities, a community arts center in the Fairhill neighborhood of North Philadelphia that commissioned Chong to do the show] to bring me teenagers to interview [for nearly two hours each]. It’s a difficult problem for these kids to wrap their heads around. Some were reluctant to talk when they found it would get so personal. Some requested holding names for a variety of issues… But we spoke to the children and picked a team that complimented each other and wrote from that interview this piece… I’m exceedingly excited. The teens are working very hard. I really admire their bravery.
CW: Do you have a favorite moment or scene?
PC: When you live outside this world, your image of the drug dealers is that they’re part of the criminal class. But, you know, they are people. The reasons they do it is not jsut as simple as they’re bad guys. There isn’t other income in these households. The drug dealer is the person who can care for a family. Without giving too much away, there is a moment that shows this.
The peformance is meant to connect disparate groups with the concept of violence.
“North Philadelphia is often stereotyped that it is very violent, so violence only affects people in this community,” says Kumani Gantt, the executive director of the Village. “That is not the truth. One of our missions at the Village it to connect our teens with other teens working with other organizations so they can learn that.”
Fri., Feb. 20, 8pm and Sat., Feb. 21, 3pm and 8pm. $10–$15. Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine St. 215.925.9914 www.paintedbride.org
Photo from and further biography at UndesirableElements.org.