There’s a new thing in town: The Philadelphia Thing. A new independent producing organization founded by Sarah Bishop-Stone (formerly programming director for FringeArts and the curated portion of Philadelphia’s Fringe Festival), The Philadelphia Thing presents its first offerings this month in the form of a performing arts festival, the Trade School. Trade School celebrates the work of Philadelphia performing artists and creates connections with artistic peers from across the country. The inaugural festival, Trade School: PHL/LAX, sees artists from Philadelphia and Los Angeles present work June 5-8, 2019, mostly at the Bok building in South Philadelphia (see full schedule below).
Phindie spoke to Sarah about the new venture.
[Bok,1901 S. 19th Street] June 5-8, 2019 philadelphiathing.org/trade-school-index
Phindie: How did you get the idea for Philadelphia Thing and the idea of cross-city art exchange?
Sarah Bishop-Stone: I moved back to Philly in 2013 to work at FringeArts, and ever since then have been trying to devise ways to get Philly artists access to more visible national platforms, as well as simply more paid performance opportunities at home. Since leaving the Fringe in 2018, my role as an advocate on behalf of these artists has really crystallized.
This concept of the festival came about very organically–my friend and colleague Miranda Wright, who runs Los Angeles Performance Practice, was looking to develop some partner cities in her LA-focused festival, LAX, and we worked together to bring four Philly artists to LA last October. As curators and producers we are always thinking about ways that artists can connect without resorting to the typical “hubs” (NYC etc)—there are so many commonalities for performing artists working outside of the visible national touring network that never get talked about or highlighted, but can really be shared as resources and strategies. So Miranda is trying to build city-to-city, artist-to-artist connections in LA, and I saw the opportunity to do that here as well. I’m also really looking to diversify and increase the paid presentation opportunities for independent artists making work here in Philly, and a cross-pollinating festival seemed like a great start.
Phindie: How difficult was it to realize?
Sarah Bishop-Stone: To start with, there’s a big shift moving from the idea of showcasing the aspects of Philly performance I’m most excited about, and producing an actual festival bringing all of these artists together. I’m deeply grateful to Judilee Reed at the William Penn Foundation, who listened to our pitch and believed we could pull it off. The Philadelphia Thing is all about independent Philly artists—those who make their living and their work without institutional affiliation–and by turn it’s non-institutional itself. So this experiment is about independent artists and independent producers marshaling the resources to create this platform.
Phindie: What attracts you to LA artists?
Sarah Bishop-Stone: Like Philly, LA has a strong visual art scene that performing artists have infiltrated in various ways. We’re interested in those artists who’ve modeled their practices to the resources available, not necessarily the smoothest or most obvious path. Additionally, several of the LA artists we’re working with lived in Philly before moving west! So I am curious to hear from them how Philly paved the way for them to make a career in LA.
Phindie: How was the lineup compiled?
Sarah Bishop-Stone: All of the Philly folks we’re presenting have rigorous artistic practices that deserve a wider platform—this is by no means a comprehensive or complete take on everything happening in independent Philly performance today, but it’s a snapshot of certain artists in this time and place. Meg Foley and jumatatu poe were both part of the cohort we brought to LA in October, choreographer-performers with deep roots here; Emily Bate has active collaborations with folks outside of Philly and also maintains a really strong, locally focused practice; James Allister Sprang is still newish to Philly and creates work that spans performance, visual art, music, and spoken word. Together, I’m hoping they and their peers will start to create a working definition of what the “Philadelphia Thing” means.
Phindie: What do you want the audience to take away from the festival?
Sarah Bishop-Stone: First, I want to appreciate and highlight the incredible work that artists are making in Philly, through grit and hustle and community support. These artists are all engaged in artistic conversations both locally and nationally, and deserve to be supported at home and have opportunities to share their work outside of Philly. That’s part of the exchange idea, too, so that audiences have an opportunity to see the ideas that artists in different cities are wrestling with, and how they relate to the work happening here.
Phindie: What’s next for The Philadelphia Thing?
Sarah Bishop-Stone: This first festival is a big experiment! But if it goes well, I’ve already gotten interest from colleagues in Detroit, New Orleans, D.C., Vancouver, and Minneapolis to start conversations about the next exchange city. There’s a hunger for artist-to-artist exchange in all of these places, and I’m excited to see where it goes.
Trade School PHL/LAX Festival Schedule
Wed, June 5
9p | Meg Foley: THE UNDERGIRD (solo)
sun, june 9
2-4p | Studio Visits: Various Artists