Andrew Simonet found himself wondering who lives in the houses of Philadelphia and what stories are beyond those walls. “To be surrounded by so many people and to know so few of them is one of the weird mysteries in being in a city,” Simonet said.
As the co-director of Headlong Dance Theater, Simonet set out to find families to open their home and tell their stories through artistic performance. The result was This Town is a Mystery, a four piece production featured by the theater company for the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival.
“Part of this piece is a question about the city and it’s a question about neighborhoods and their economic or educational or ethnic subculture and how you can get caught in that bubble,” Simonet said. “To try and make a little diagram we needed four households and it doesn’t tell you everything about Philly, but it starts to define a big space.”
Out of 40 applicants only four households were chosen: the Bosticks from Wissinoming, the Aryadareis from South Philadelphia, Tobie Hoffman (the one woman show from Mount Airy) and the McQueens from Tacony.
During the McQueen’s performance each member of the immediate family shared their own personal story with a small audience.
Kenya McQueen, a 19-year-old sophomore, told the story of overcoming her shyness to become a cheerleader at Penn State University. Father Calvin McQueen shared his experience as an inmate counselor for juvenile delinquents and the inner journey he went through to become the man he is today. Mother Kendra McQueen and her son Kassean McQueen, 11, jammed out to Nirvana’s “Teen Spirit” before he surprised the audience by dancing like Michael Jackson.
Together Calvin and Kendra told the story of how they fell in love and danced to “My Funny Valentine” which was their wedding song.
The show concluded with Calvin singing Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” what the family calls its theme song.
After the performance was over, audience members were invited to bring their seats to the table for a potluck dinner. Everyone passed the food around the table and McQueens invited their guests to share their own family stories.
“This exceeded my expectations. I loved the potluck,” said Germantown resident Sandra Chaffa. “They are very talented and this took a lot of nerve. This to me is the Fringe, something edgy like going to someone’s home.”
Part of Simonet’s goal for the project was to break the stereotypes of Philadelphia neighborhoods.
“Everyone has an image of a certain neighborhood but that may or may not be related to the people actually living there. Once you sit down and have a meal with someone, you’re just never going to have assumptions about that neighborhood or that kind of person again,” he said.
This Town is a Mystery will be running until Saturday, Sept. 22 and information about purchasing tickets to all four performances can be found at thistownisamystery.com.