Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Hear How They Strut: Contemplating Self-Determination

Even in the 1830s, Philadelphia's African Americans exercised their right to Kujichagulia or self-determination. The expression showed in their dress and perhaps their stride and swagger.

This short film responds to an illustration from the "Life in Philadelphia" series by Edward Williams Clay. It was created for "If She Stood,"a production by Ain Gordon and Nadine Patterson,commissioned by the Painted Bride Art Center in Philadelphia, Pa.

Hear How They Strut: Contemplating Self-Determination from Afi Scruggs on Vimeo.

This blog explores issues raised by If She Stood, a play by Ain Gordon and Nadine Patterson for the Place Philadelphia project. Please subscribe to receive posts in your email.

If She Stood will run for six performances - Friday, April 26, 2013 at 8pm, Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 8pm, and Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 3pm, followed by Friday, May 3, 2013 at 8pm, Saturday, May, 2013 at 8pm and Sunday May 5, 2013 at 3pm. Tickets are on sale for the first weekend - BUY HERE.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

See How They Strutted: Philadelphia's Fancy Blacks

Silk Stockings plate  from Edward Clay's Life in Philadelphia series
Edward Clay illustration
Courtesy, Library of Congress

Ask me about black attire in the 1830s - in Philadelphia or anywhere else - and I'd have shaken my head. I mean really, what could they have worn? Simple smocks? Plain shirts and trousers?

I hadn't really thought about African-American attire as a signifier - that is, a finger pointing up  in somebody's face - until Erica Armstrong Dunbar mentioned satirist Edward Williams Clay's series "Life in Philadelphia."

Armstrong Dunbar, who directs the program in African American history at the Library Company of Philadelphia, helped "unpack" the 1830s during a panel on the historical and social milieu for "If She Stood" and the Place Philadelphia project. She referenced Edward Clay’s illustrations as indicative of the racial attitudes towards the city’s blacks.

“For any of you who may have heard of (the series), or seen them, they’re these sort of reproductions marking black freedom: wildly dressed women as well as black men, suggesting that this new generation was … completely incapable of handling the responsibilities that came with freedom,“ she said.

Although the drawings are undeniably racist, they reveal much about Clay and his subjects. They opened my eyes to a possibility I'd never considered: even in oppression, black folks had style. And money, if Clay's illustrations are taken at face value. Look at the woman he drew in the print above. Clay mocks her request for "flesh colored" - read white - stockings, by having a clerk show hose that's black as pitch. The subtext is clear: she thinks she's as good as a white person.

And maybe she did. Because style wasn't just about looking good. Rather, these folks strutted because they could. They wielded agency.

When social scientists use the word "agency," they’re talking about the power to control one’s life. Here’s an explanation from Yahoo Answers:

“Obviously, when someone is being held in slavery, there are many aspects of that person's life over which he or she does not have control. So the historical question is whether slaves were able to stake out any small areas within their lives in which they could have agency.”

Although Philadelphia’s black residents were free, they were still oppressed. Clothing became more than fashion; it was a statement. Really a shout. Folks like Clay got the message; so did another Philadephian, John Fanning Watson. Here's what he wrote about "negroes and slaves" in 1845:
"In the olden days, dressy blacks and dandy coloured beaux and belles, as we see them issuing from their proper churches, were quite unknown. Their aspirings and little vanities have been rapidly growing since they got those separate churches and received their entire exemption from slavery. Once they submitted to the appellation of servants blacks and negroes, but now they require to be called coloured people, and, among themselves... gentlemen and ladies. Twenty to thirty years ago, they were humbler, more esteemed in their place and more useful to themselves and others."(emphasis mine) from "Annals of Philadelphia"
But Black folks just don't dress and stand around; they move. These dandies and the dandy-ettes dance. While looking at Clay's illustrations - and overlooking his condescension - I wondered how that 1830 strut would have sounded if set to a contemporary beat.  Keep listening...

This blog explores issues raised by If She Stood, a play by Ain Gordon and Nadine Patterson for the Place Philadelphia project. Please subscribe to receive posts in your email.

 If She Stood will run for six performances - Friday, April 26, 2013 at 8pm, Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 8pm, and Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 3pm, followed by Friday, May 3, 2013 at 8pm, Saturday, May, 2013 at 8pm and Sunday May 5, 2013 at 3pm. Tickets are on sale for the first weekend - BUY HERE.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

When Mrs. Jarena Lee Stood Her Ground

"Between four and five years after my sanctification, on a
certain time, an impressive silence fell upon me,— But to my utter surprise there seemed to sound a voice, which said to me, "Go preach the Gospel!" I immediately replied aloud, "No one will believe me." Again I listened, and again the same voice seemed to say — "Preach the Gospel ;  I will put words in your mouth, and will turn your enemies to become your friends." - from Religious Experience and Journal of Mrs. Jarena Lee, Giving an Account Her Call to Preach the Gospel"

A call from God must be a terrible call to hear, for God is not an easy taskmaster. He (yes, I use the male pronoun to refer to the deity; it's my conditioning) will send you to folks you despise – just ask Jonah. He will insist you spread a message no one wants to hear – just ask Jeremiah. When you follow God, you will find yourself in places where society says you don't belong – just ask Mary, who abandoned her place with the women to hear Jesus preach to the men.

Is it any wonder then, that Mrs. Jarena Lee, the first woman to preach in the AME church, said "No!" to God?

 I'm struck by the other half of her response: "No one will believe me." Her objection wasn't unique - even Moses stepped away from becoming God's mouthpiece. Both Moses and Mrs. Jarena Lee had reason to suggest God had made a huge mistake. Moses had a speech impediment. Jarena Lee was a woman. Throughout the New Testament, women are reminded they are better seen than heard.

Mrs. Lee struggled with her faith. Her journey wasn't a straight path, but meandered through spiritual hills and valleys.
"From the day on which I first went to the Methodist Church, until the hour of my deliverance, I was strangely buffetted by that enemy of all righteousness — the devil. I was naturally of a lively turn of disposition ; and during the space of time from my first awakening until I knew my peace was made with God, I rejoiced in the vanities of this life, and then again sunk back into sorrow. For four years I had continued in this way, frequently laboring under the awful apprehension, that I could never be happy in this life. " - from Religious Experience and Journal of Mrs. Jarena Lee

Yet she recognized she'd been blessed with the power of exhortation - we'd call it preaching now. Her worry wasn't just acknowledging her gift; it was getting a hard-headed public to accept a woman who had something meaningful to say.

No less a revolutionary than Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church,  turned her away. When she told him of her conviction, his response was curt:

He then replied, that a Mrs. Cook, a Methodist lady, had also some time before requested the same privilege ; who, it was believed, had done much good in the war of exhortation, and holding prayer meetings; and who had been permitted to do so by the verbal license of the preacher in charge at the time. But as to women preaching, he said that our Discipline knew nothing at all about it — that it did not call for women preachers.
At first, Mrs. Lee was relieved; she didn't have to carry out the burdensome task she'd been given. But she quickly fought back and resolved to speak her piece:

O how careful ought we to be, lest through our by-laws of church government and discipline, we bring into disrepute even the word of life. For as unseemly as it may appear now-a-days for a woman to preach, it should be remembered that nothing is impossible with God. And why should it be thought impossible, heterodox, or improper for a woman to preach t seeing the Saviour died for the woman as well as for the man... " from - Religious Experience and Journal of Mrs. Jarena Lee
Allen relented when she heard Mrs. Jarena Lee preach, but others didn't As she walked throughout the countryside, preaching and saving souls, she repeatedly ran into male preachers who barred her from their buildings.

Yet she stood her ground and walked her path.

The more I ponder these three words - if she stood - the more I'm guided to women who are all but forgotten like Mrs. Jarena Lee. (I included her title because, during that time, it denoted a respectable woman. I like the idea of a respectable woman acting in a powerful, challenging manner.) I wonder at the way these women raised their voices, but Mrs. Jarena Lee also used another strategy. She wrote a book.  And to ensure the reader understood who was speaking, she added a notation: "Revised and corrected from the Original Manuscript, written by herself."

What a marvel. A woman who was admittedly self-taught dared to believe her experiences were so inspirational and important that others should know of them.

"But for the satisfaction of such as may follow after me, when I am no more, I have recorded how the Lord called me to his work, and how he has kept me from falling from grace, as I feared I should...I have now only to say, May the blessing of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, accompany the reading of this poor effort to speak well of his name, wherever it may be read. AMEN."

This blog explores issues raised by If She Stood, a play by Ain Gordon and Nadine Patterson for the Place Philadelphia project. Please subscribe to receive posts in your email.
 If She Stood will run for six performances - Friday, April 26, 2013 at 8pm, Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 8pm, and Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 3pm, followed by Friday, May 3, 2013 at 8pm, Saturday, May, 2013 at 8pm and Sunday May 5, 2013 at 3pm. Tickets are on sale for the first weekend - BUY HERE.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

If She Stood - or Sat - with Authority

Illustration of Sarah Grimke
Abolitionist Sarah M. Grimke
from the Library of Congress
My attempt to understand the social and historical contexts for "If She Stood," the play that Ain Gordon and Nadine Patterson are writing for Place Philadelphia, has me researching the status of women during colonial America - even though the play is inspired by events from the 1830s. But I wanted to know where women stood from the founding of this country. I learned they - or we - were little better than slaves.

"By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage..." from "Of Husband and Wife," by William Blackstone

A woman's status depended upon her marital state. As William Blackstone's commentary so eloquently explains, a woman paid for a spouse with her autonomy.

What was the practical effect? 
"...A married woman could not own property independently of her husband unless they had signed a special contract called a marriage settlement. Such contracts were rare and even illegal in some parts of the country. In the absence of a separate estate, all (personal property) a woman brought to her marriage or earned during marriage, including wages, became her husband's. He could manage it or give it away, as he chose, without consulting her. "- from "The Legal Status of Women: 1776 - 1830" by Marylynn Salmon for the Gilder Lehman Institute of American History
When we consider the past, many of us think that women closed their mouths and stood in the place where society placed them. Yet searching through history reveals that women cocked their elbows, and pushed against the notion they were better seen than heard. Although "If She Stood" concentrates on abolitionists such as the Grimke sisters, these women had a forerunner in Anne Hutchinson.

Hutchinson was an educated woman, a wife and mother who had given birth to 16 children. Her transgression was simple and powerful. She led discussions on scripture in her home. She taught that any one could communicate directly with God, a teaching that directly challenged the religious hierarchy. At first, her audience was women. But her interpretations and explanations were so powerful, men joined the women.

Soon Hutchinson was teaching 50 or 60 people. The Puritan authorities looked at the meetings and saw defiance. In 1638, Hutchinson was tried and banished. She died in 1643, in Long Island during an attack by Native Americans.

Under the codes of the time, Anne Hutchinson didn't have a leg to stand on. She was a wife, part and parcel of her husband yet under his dominion. For as Blackstone wrote: 

But though our law in general considers man and wife as one person, yet there are some instances in which she is separately considered; as inferior to him, and acting by his compulsion.  - "Of Husband and Wife," by William Blackstone

By what right, then, did Hutchinson believe she could expound on scripture. By what right could she sit in the only chair in the house - a right reserved for a man? By what right could she lead a mixed audience - men and women who came to her weekly discussions - to question the authority? By what right had she "rather been a husband than of a wife," as charged by Rev. Hugh Peter, one of the leaders who participated in her trial.

Like the Grimke Sisters, Hutchinson insisted on her right to speak simply by doing so. Such insistence was dangerous for her and for them.  And even for us. Although years have passed and much has changed, but little has not. Just ask the would-be assassins who shot Malala Yousafzai on October 9.

This blog explores issues raised by If She Stood, a play by Ain Gordon and Nadine Patterson for the Place Philadelphia project. Please subscribe to receive posts in your email.
 If She Stood will run for six performances - Friday, April 26, 2013 at 8pm, Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 8pm, and Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 3pm, followed by Friday, May 3, 2013 at 8pm, Saturday, May, 2013 at 8pm and Sunday May 5, 2013 at 3pm. Tickets are on sale for the first weekend - BUY HERE.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

If She Stood: Unpacking the 1830's

By Nadine Patterson October 13, 2012 *** On Tuesday October 2, 2012 the Painted Bride Art Center held the first of several community forums about the play and the issues we will explore within it. Historians Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Phillip Steitz guided the discussion. Here is an inside look to the development process that Ain Gordon and I are undertaking for the creation of IF SHE STOOD. Thanks to Roy Wilbur of the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage for providing the video.

Unpacking the 1830s: Ain Gordon from Pew Center for Arts & Heritage on Vimeo.
In the above video,  playwright and director Ain Gordon discusses his inspiration for the work.

Unpacking the 1830s: Nadine Patterson from Pew Center for Arts & Heritage on Vimeo.
In the video above, filmmaker and curator Nadine Patterson describes her contribution to the collaboration.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Standing Mute: When Women Couldn't Talk - or Could They?

I know I"If She Stood,"  the play that's coming out of the Place Philadelphia project, explores women's roles in the early to mid-19th century. In my attempt to understand just where women stood during that era, I'm going to straddle time. I'm placing one foot 200 years in the future, and another 200 years before.

My bridge is a PBS reality show called "Colonial House."

Colonial House was broadcast in 2004. It was one of series based on a concept borrowed from BBC. A cast of amateurs would live like their forebears, and we would watch their successes and failures.

Colonial House, the most controversial , an attempt to build a 17th century settlement in the New World. The "colonists" weren't cut out for their roles. Work was harder than expected, of course. But men and women struggled with gender roles.

One scene stayed with me. The men were having a meeting that, of course, excluded the women. Instead of meekly waiting to hear what had been decided, one of the women eavesdrops on the meeting.

Talk about revolution...

If you cue the video to the nine minute mark, you'll hear the participants speak themselves. In this video, the speakers aren't identified. I think this woman is Michelle Rossi-Voorhees.
Her comment:  "It's a very difficult life, coming from the 21st century with all the freedoms that we have, now to not have a voice, except for through my husband... My place is to do the cooking, do the cleaning..."

Around the 11:30 mark, Amy-Kristina Herbert speaks up. She insists on her right to speak and be heard. And she disputes the notion that colonial women were willingly mute.

"When you do speak up, it shouldn't be construed as negative; it should be construed as your opinion,"she says. "There are plenty of women at home who are getting a little irritated watching this series unfold in regards to... the roles that females played.
"We have come to the point where there are plenty of educated women that can look on this project and say "If we weren't to have a problem, that would be unrealistic, because women back then did have a problem, if all of the women in this colony were to say...Well, this was the way it was...I'm just going to do it, there are plenty of historians who would say that wasn't realistic."

So which woman was correct, Michelle Rossi-Vorhees or Amy-Kristina Herbert? History being history, both were. Stay tuned....

If She Stood will run for six performances - Friday, April 26, 2013 at 8pm, Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 8pm, and Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 3pm, followed by Friday, May 3, 2013 at 8pm, Saturday, May, 2013 at 8pm and Sunday May 5, 2013 at 3pm. Tickets are on sale for the first weekend - BUY HERE. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Place Philadelphia Project is officially named!

Photo courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia

Ain and Nadine have begun crafting the theatrical piece that will result from the Place Philadelphia Project research, and the show officially has a name! Drum-roll please…. 
If She Stood.

If She Stood considers a small but vital collection of women who worked to radically upend numerous societal wrongs through personal and collective action. In 1833 many of these women joined in the founding of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, a multi-racial collective fighting variously for the end of slavery, boycotting of goods produced by the labor of enslaved people, protection of newly freed men and women, and education. Through their work in the Society many of these women individually happened upon what was then called “the women’s question.” They went on speaking tours crusading for their abolitionist cause only to find themselves pilloried both for their politics and for standing at the head of a room; the outrageousness of a woman taking center stage to instruct both men and women on any question. In response, many of these women fused abolition and women’s rights into a crusade for equal rights for all citizens. What prompts an individual to relinquish her personal life to public necessity? What makes a crusader? How does personal faith motivate public action? What happens in the moment before you act?  If She Stood will explore these questions and muse on the women of 19th century Philadelphia who decided to take a stand.

If She Stood will run for six performances - Friday, April 26, 2013 at 8pm, Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 8pm, and Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 3pm, followed by Friday, May 3, 2013 at 8pm, Saturday, May, 2013 at 8pm and Sunday May 5, 2013 at 3pm.  Tickets are on sale for the first weekend - BUY HERE.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Beneath the surface: hidden histories of place

Letter that James Monroe wrote to Thomas Jefferson about the Prosser slave rebellion.
 James Monroe's letter to Thomas Jefferson
told of a slave insurrection near Richmond, Va.
Photo from Library of Congress.
Let me tell you a story about another place and other times. It was the time when I'd just started walking the path that has brought me here, to you.

Almost 30 years ago I was launching my career as a writer. I was in Richmond, Va., a place separated from Philadelphia by distance and culture, yet connected to it by a history that goes back to the Founding Fathers. But my mind wasn't on the past. I was obsessed with my present and future. I was preoccupied with making my rent and building my portfolio. So I took a gig that was fluffy and pretty: an article about a flower festival.

I don't remember the name of the event, but I remember where it was held. It was a beautiful mansion that had been owned by tobacco magnate Lewis Ginter. (If you are a smoker, you are connected to Ginter whenever you draw a puff. He mechanized the production of cigarettes.) I remember getting out of my car on a warm, wet day in spring - I think. The moisture saturated rows of pansies, violets and violas. Their hues tinted the fog that hugged the ground. I conducted my interviews and left with an armload of documents.  I browsed them after work, and discovered where I'd really been.

The online history of the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden mentions the Powhatan Indians and Patrick Henry. But the property was part of the Thomas Prosser plantation, and the place where slave Gabriel Prosser organized a massive uprising. The plan was thwarted when a severe storm delayed the revolt, and gave informants an opportunity to betray their compatriots. Still the revolt was unsettling to the ruling class, especially when it learned the insurgents intended to capture then-Gov. James Monroe. He shared the news with Thomas Jefferson in a letter:
"We have had much trouble with the negroes here... the plan of an insurrection has been clearly proved."
The papers I was reading didn't even mention Gabriel. There was just a throwaway line about Thomas Prosser riding down Chamberlayne Avenue in the driving rain to put down a slave rebellion. The line stopped me cold. I lived at 3807 Chamberlayne Ave. I knew about Gabriel Prosser, but I didn't know the entire story. From that day on, I walked down my steps and rode down my street with increased awareness. What history had I ignorantly tread upon? What stories had I blithely overlooked?

If history abides in any place, that place would be Philadelphia. Some landmarks are obvious, of course. Yet places like the President's House in Philadelphia have histories that are just now emerging. Still, visitors tread heavily and unconsciously, just as I did back on Chamberlayne Avenue.

From now until May, Place Philadelphia will explore notions of time and place; history celebrated and ignored; voices that spoke and those that were silenced. The project pairs noted playwright Ain Gordon and filmmaker Nadine Patterson. Both are asking questions on those themes. Their answers and insights are the fodder for a collaboration that will be presented in next spring.

My name is Afi Scruggs. I'll be blogging, riffing on their questions and sharing my musing in cyberspace and social media.

Join me by sharing your comments in this sphere that transcends physical geography.  Until we meet again, watch your step.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Historical Silencing of Women

It may be hard to believe as we sit in the year 2012 that there was once a time when the mainstream opinion was that women should in no way call attention to themselves, speak freely, share their opinions, or gather to make change. But then again, perhaps it isn't so hard to believe considering the recent case of women’s rights activist Sandra Fluke being called “slut” and “prostitute” by talk show host Rush Limbaugh for speaking in favor of contraceptive mandates to the House of Representatives. And of course there was also State Representative Lisa Brown who was banned from speaking on the House floor for using the word “vagina” as she argued against anti-choice legislation.

Like these women of today, the Grimke sisters of the 1800’s were making waves, speaking out and being chastised because of their actions. Angelina and Sarah Moore Grimke grew up on a slave owning plantation in South Carolina but spoke out against both slavery and the exclusion of women from public life. Along with Lucretia Mott, they were influential in creating the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society in 1835.

In 1836, Angelina Emily Grimk√© wrote “ An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South” which garnered so much interest that the sisters were invited to attend the Agents’ Convention of the American Anti-Slavery Society in New York City. They were the only women among forty abolitionists. In May of 1837 they set out to lecture the women of New England about abolitionism.

The New England clergy was so angry that the Grimke sisters were bold enough to speak out that they issued a Pastoral Letter of the General Association of Massachusetts to the Congressional Churches Under Their Care declaring that when a woman assumes the tone of a man as a public reformer her character becomes unnatural and threatens society as a whole.

Excerpt from the letter: 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Starting the Dialog on Racism and Equality

by Nadine Patterson

Place Philadelphia is a project that I am working on with Ain Gordon and the Painted Bride Art Center of Philadelphia. We are looking at the ways in which the self-help movement of early 19th century African Americans intersected with the abolitionist and suffragette movements. We are also making linkages between then and now in the progressive movement to see how far we have come and what we can learn from our predecessors.

Today I attended the last in a six week lecture series by Anthony Monteiro on the ideology of capitalism and the liberation struggle of African Americans. I wonder what the rise of corporate influence in art and culture means for this project specifically and if (or how) the real voices of community will be shared through this project. One of the community scholars Ain and I spoke with recently is Lori Ginzberg. She asked us what would we be willing to sacrifice today in order to attain justice and equality for all? Would we be willing to give a portion of our week for a just cause? What would we be willing to give up in terms of our material comfort?

 “To live with the pretense that racism is a doctrine of a very few is to disarm us in fighting it frontally as scientifically unsound, morally repugnant and socially destructive. The prescription for the cure rests with the accurate diagnosis of the disease. A people who began a national life inspired by a vision of a society of brotherhood can redeem itself. But redemption can come only through a humble acknowledgment of guilt and an honest knowledge of self.” – Excerpt from Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The people that we are researching for this project were acutely aware of the issues of their day. Through study groups, newspapers, book clubs, churches, quilting circles, teas and conventions- men and women of all races took the risk of meeting together. This was a radical act in the 1830’s and 40’s. Unfortunately, groups of women and men, of all races meeting together to discuss the important issues of today is still rare. My hope is that this blog is not simply about the project. I want it to be a clearing house of ideas, a place where Philadelphians can engage with each other and the world at large, about issue of justice, equality, and the redistribution of our nations wealth and resources to all citizens regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Visible Invisibility – The Place Philadelphia Journey

Photo credit:

There are eleven months remaining until the premiere of Place Philadelphia (working title) and theater artist Ain Gordon, and filmmaker Nadine Patterson have been working on and off for a year on the project.

Their journey has led them to research women reformers in early to mid nineteenth century. Ain had this to say regarding his research process:
“The visible invisibility of these women, the relatively scant position they hold in mainstream history is what draws me to them. In some cases we are trying to learn all there is - but in others, the ones that really draw me, you could say we are really ‘confirming their absence' in the historical record. However important these women's lives were they did not manage (by chance or by dint of their beliefs or because they were women) to leave behind the kind of artifacts or documents that mainstream history requires. In this way the historic record sometimes looses out on the true complexity of our past. As a mid-career artist facing my own self-history, these human ellipses speak to me at the top of their lungs.”

Currently Nadine and Ain are delving into the lives of women who struck out against the prevailing codes of thought, conduct, and behavior of their time, women who sought change through personal revolution. These are women who had the courage to relinquish their personal life for public necessity in bolstering the suffrage, anti-slavery and women’s rights movements.

During this process the questions are likely more important than the answers:

What did it take for a 19th century husband to be willing to live in the shadow of wives seeking to upend every code of conduct?

What makes a crusader?

What makes someone stand up?

What makes a wrong unbearable?

How does personal faith motivate public action?

Feel free to leave your responses in the comment section! 

Friday, February 17, 2012

What is "In This Place..." and "Place Philadelphia"?


The Painted Bride Art Center will give Philadelphia audiences a glimpse into an untold story from American history as it continues the build-up to the World Premiere of Ain Gordon and Nadine Patterson’s Place Philadelphia in 2013. The three-time Obie Winner, Gordon, is presenting his one-woman show, In This Place… Thursday, March 8-Saturday, March 10 at 8 p.m. at the Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine Street. Tickets cost $25 in advance, $30 day of show. Tickets are available online at or by phone at 215-925-9914.

In 1830, Samuel and Daphney Oldham were the first free African-Americans to build their own home in Lexington, Kentucky. Five years later they were gone. In This Place ... imagines the full story behind these bare facts from Daphney’s perspective. Gordon wrote and directed this piece which stars Michelle Hurst. The video is by Joan Brannon.

In This Place… was originally a collaboration with LexArts made possible, in part, with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Multi Arts Production Fund (MAP) and produced by Pick Up Performance Co(s). Gordon’s goal was to find an untold story in the Lexington, Kentucky area. While walking around town, Gordon came upon a block were there were several homes with historical markers, and one that had none. That house was due to be demolished.  Gordon decided to explore the history of the house and discovered that the Oldham’s were its original owners.  His efforts and the original production saved the house.

This is the first installment of the Painted Bride’s two-year project examining place. Gordon and noted Philadelphia documentary filmmaker Nadine Patterson have begun an 18 month residency that will culminate in a new theatrical work, Working Title; Place Philadelphia.  With the support of a grant from the Philadelphia Theatre Initiative, the Painted Bride Art Center commissioned writer/director/actor Gordon to create a new play that unearths a “forgotten” story from Philadelphia’s past. Over the course of the18-month residency, he will work in collaboration with Patterson to do an in-depth search of the area in order to find an untold or unknown story that will come to be the subject of the play. The two artists will conduct interviews, visit archives, and traverse the city.

The Bride is partnering with The National Museum of American Jewish History, The Free Library of Philadelphia, Scribe Video Center, and Mother Bethel African Methodist Church to provide Gordon and Patterson with entryways into a diverse range of communities and will host events as the work is developed. Once research is complete, Gordon will write, cast, and direct the show’s production in May 2013.

Gordon has built his career on work that focuses on marginalized/forgotten history and the invisible players who inhabit that space. His work carries a particular blend of historical fact/imagined truth. The Bride began conversations with Gordon in 2010 when he was part of the cast of Spalding Gray: Stories Left To Tell. The Bride paired Gordon with Patterson, after he brought up how he likes to partner with a local artist, who centers his or her practice in another medium.  Patterson is an independent producer of documentary, experimental and narrative film. She has experience in multicultural programming and works with artists and community organizations in using media to disseminate information and raise awareness about critical issues.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Join the "Place Philadelphia" E-mail List

In This Place...