Love Wawa®? Love Shabbat? You’ll love Brian Feldman’s newest project

Jewish peoples have celebrated Shabbat (sabbath) for thousands of years, but its association with much-loved convenience store Wawa is more recent. DC-based experiential theater artist Brian Feldman (Dishwasher, 24-minute embrace) held a Shabbat dinner in the capital in February 2018 and has since orchestrated dinners at Wawas in Tampa and Orlando. Next week, he brings his Wawa® Shabbawa to the newly opened megaWawa at 6th and Chestnut streets. While there may not be any matches, wine, or challah, there will be LED candles, carbonated grape juice, and soft pretzels. BYOYOT (Bring Your Own Yarmulke or Tichel) and kick your day of rest off right. It’s free, but guests must register on OneTable.

[Wawa store #8131, 6th and Chestnut] January 18, 2019; onetable.org

A Wawa Shabbawa in Orlando, Florida. Photo by Edward Alan Feldman.

A Wawa Shabbawa in Orlando, Florida. Photo by Edward Alan Feldman.

Phindie: What was your inspiration for this show?

Brian Feldman: It was December 14, 2017, opening day of Wawa’s first D.C. store. After waiting in line for nearly an hour to get inside of what was then the world’s largest Wawa, I looked to the right of the entrance doors, saw people sitting at the communal table, and voila, the idea was immediate. Having recently begun attending weekly Shabbat dinners through OneTable, a national nonprofit that supports the funding of Shabbat dinners for those in their 20s and 30s, I’d been giving some thought to where the first public Shabbat I’d host on OneTable would be, and the two worlds just conveniently lined up.

Brian Feldman, left, at a Wawa Shabbawa. Photo by Pete Schreiber.

Brian Feldman, left, at a Wawa Shabbawa. Photo by Pete Schreiber.

Phindie: What does Shabbat mean to you?

Brian Feldman: For me, it’s a much needed weekly opportunity to slow down and reflect on the profundities of life through a Jewish lens. Some of my fondest memories from childhood were around the dinner table during my family’s Friday night dinners, and whenever I see the lighting of Shabbat candles, it takes me back to those simpler times. It may not be surprising to say that I was raised extremely reform. And yet, I’m now the most religiously observant member of my family, even attending the D.C. synagogue I live across the street from! Although, to be fair, I don’t go every single week. Since February 2, 2018, it’s also meant… Wawa!

Phindie: As a non-Philadelphian, how familiar are you with the Wawa-worship? Does it seem weird to you?

Brian Feldman: People obviously develop strong feelings towards the things they like, whether it be classic literature, comic books, music, TV shows, movies and their characters, sports teams, restaurants and, yes, soft pretzels, and Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews. And while I personally don’t have any pieces of pop culture fandom in my home, save for the ephemera created through my projects (including Wawa® Shabbawa placemats and name tags), so long as it makes the people who do collect that type of stuff happy, and provides a sense of meaning for them, then cool. It’s great. No, not weird at all. I’m a fan of both Wawa and Shabbat, hence this project.

A Wawa Shabbawa in Tampa, Florida. Photo by Brian Feldman.

A Wawa Shabbawa in Tampa, Florida. Photo by Brian Feldman.

Phindie: What sandwich do you order at Wawa?

Brian Feldman: I was just at the new Wawa in Georgetown (where I’ll be hosting the fifth Wawa® Shabbawa on February 1st), and got my usual order of a custom veggie hoagie with cucumbers, onions, pickles, roasted red peppers, lettuce, tomato, and spinach on a classic roll (or shorti, if I’m not as hungry), no cheese, a little bit of oil and vinegar, salt, and pepper. Sometimes I’ll add the avocado. But usually not, because it’s just never enough avocado, ya know? Toasted if it’s cold outside; cold if it’s not.

Phindie: How would you describe your style of theater?

Brian Feldman: Too arty for theater, too theatery for art.™ It’s a little tough, because I feel like I’m in a constant struggle between two worlds that really shouldn’t be as complicated to traverse. I have more friends who work in either traditional theater (classical and contemporary drama, comedy, musical, even dinner theater and theme parks) or traditional art (drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, mixed media, etc.), but almost none who are consistently proposing work to both galleries, museums, art events and Fringe festivals and legit theaters of all kinds (except for dinner theaters because of The Feldman Dynamic). I approach all of my performance projects as if I were putting on a play. Sorry if I didn’t really answer this question.

wawa-shabbawaPhindie: Hum, maybe that answers it. How have Philly audiences received you?

Brian Feldman: I think it’s fair to say I’ve developed something of a love affair for Philly and Philly audiences. They’ve been absolutely wonderful, and even after having only done 23 performances in the city (24, if you count #txt2 at the Painted Bride which I unfortunately was unable to perform in, but which I totally count!), they’ve been responsible for some of the best experiences of my career. I’ve made some really great theater friends (two of whom even gave me a key to their home for when I’m in town!), fans, and supporters. This is on top of all the civic boosting I routinely encounter on each visit, i.e. “You gotta to move to Philly!” (No one ever told me, “You gotta to move to D.C.!”)

I really love it up there and try to visit often. Two of my favorites productions from 2018 were in Philly. Nell Bang-Jensen’s The Caregivers at Pig Iron and Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music at the Merriam, which were both religious experiences in their own right.

It’s the only city I actually get sad about leaving. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that me and my entire immediate and extended family, including all four grandparents, were born and raised in Philly or the surrounding communities, except for me (first eight years) and my sister (first five years). Whenever my Megabus or Amtrak pulls away from 30th Street Station, aside from experiencing those feelings, I’m usually also trying to figure out how to get back.

Phindie: Well, welcome back!

Brian Feldman: It’s always great to be back!

Experience Wawa® Shabbawa in Philadelphia on Friday January 18, 2019, at the new mega Wawa® store #8131 at 6th and Chestnut streets. FRE but registration required.!

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About the author

Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.