- Associated Press - Thursday, September 18, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Take 100 Philadelphians drawn from every age group, ethnicity, and neighborhood, put them on a theater stage, and have them share stories about their lives.

Sheer madness? Pure cacophony?

Try a piece of cutting-edge theater. And a fascinating one at that.

Called 100% Philadelphia, the FringeArts production will stage three performances, Friday through Sunday, at Temple Performing Arts Center.

And yes, each will be an evening of storytelling, show-and-tells, and audience Q&As; featuring 100 ordinary Philadelphians ranging in age from 2 months to 81 years.



Created by a trio of German writer-directors called Rimini Protokoll, the show is one of a series called “100% City” mounted in more than 20 cities around the world since 2008. Philadelphia is the second U.S. production, after San Diego.

Each city’s cast is carefully chosen to represent its demographic makeup, and each person is asked to share how he or she represents the city.

“I was impressed by how it is a mirror to the demographics of the city and it has real people representing themselves,” said Erica Atwood, 39, who works for the mayor’s office on issues of economic and housing equity. The Rimini people start each project by casting someone in city government, such as Atwood, who helps them assemble statistical information. After that, word of mouth takes over.

Queen Village’s Jessica Kalup said she is pleased that the show allows the participants to share their individuality even as they represent Philadelphia as a whole.

“It’s an opportunity to represent Philly in a way that is specific to my own identity and experiences,” said Jessica Kalup, 30, a Queen Village resident who is one of a handful of mixed-race folks in the show. “I’m Filipino and Caucasian,” she said.

Kalup, who works for a vegan catering service, is a walking love letter to Philadelphia: The collection of tattoos that covers her right arm includes a Liberty Bell, the LOVE sculpture, Claes Oldenburg’s Clothespin sculpture, a cheesesteak, a soft pretzel, and a Tastykake Krimpet.

“I had an opportunity to travel (around the country) in my 20s and I became more and more aware that Philly was my home, a city that really meshes with my personality,” she said.

The “100% City” shows are unique because they involve not a written script performed by actors but a living, breathing script provided by the non-actor performers themselves, said Daniel Wetzel, who cofounded Rimini Protokoll in 2000 with Stefan Kaegi and Helgard Haug, classmates at the Institute for Applied Theatre Studies in his native Germany.

The show also is highly interactive, and audience members are encouraged to ask questions of those on stage.

Wetzel said in an interview that he and his friends had become disillusioned both with traditional theater and with performance art. “Performances … were without any potential anymore to do something interesting to other people,” he said. “We felt performance had to begin from a different point, out in the streets.”

Wetzel and his co-directors prepare for each new show by touring the subject city, usually by bike. He said he was surprised by Philadelphia’s level of segregation. “Each neighborhood is dominated by one particular group. It really stands out. It’s one of the first things you notice. We also found that more people here than anywhere else told us they had been confronted by violence or knew someone who had.”

On the positive side, Wetzel said, Philly “is the most musical city we have ever been to. Music is present in so many ways, and when it comes to music there is no segregation at all, it cuts though differences.”

Mount Airy’s Carlotta Fareira, 81, this weekend’s oldest performer, said each person has been asked to bring an object that helps her or him connect to other people and the city. She’s bringing her first-grade class photo, taken in 1938.

“I was the only black kid in the school,” she said.

She’ll share her experience of segregation and racism through her life, including its effects on her career as a young teacher in the mid-1950s.

“People have asked me how about that picture, saying ‘How did you feel?’ ” said Fareira, who has two grown children. “I couldn’t tell you. I didn’t know I was mistreated. This was just the way things were.”

Two-month-old Ghazi Aizen Jackson of East Falls is another biracial cast member. Her father, Shawn Jackson, is an African American Philly native and her mother, Asami, is Japanese. Both also are in the cast.

Shawn Jackson, 43, a photographer whose work has been shown across the country, is bringing one of his cameras for the show-and-tell segment.

“I go to neighborhoods, some from my childhood, and I try to shine a different light on the city’s African American life by shooting portraits of people I come across,” he said.

Joe Paull, 30, from the Lawndale section of Northeast Philly, said he’s especially proud to participate in 100% Philadelphia because it represents a step forward for arts in the city.

“I feel Philadelphia hasn’t been capitalizing on the arts as much I think we should,” he said. “Music and art are so important for the life of the city.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1qNQNuc

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Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, https://www.inquirer.com

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