“What would it be like if death was your sister?”
This haunting question, posed on the flyer just above an aqua-tinged girl sleeping beside a skeleton, beckons theater fans into [redacted] Theater Company’s latest production, “Juniper Street.”
After a semester in London at the British American Drama Academy, Josh McLucas ’15 began [redacted] with the hope of bringing together artists from the college community to develop a production over the summer. After revising, rewriting and scrapping several other ideas, “Juniper Street” began with a sudden moment of inspiration when director Swift Shuker-Haines ’14, was walking down Juniper Street in Philadelphia.
“Swift described the sensation as this: it was as if they had lived on Juniper Street in a past life, or would someday live there in the future,” says McLucas. From there, the team toyed with the concept of penates, which were minor household deities in ancient Rome. Eventually, they arrived at the idea of the incarnate Death living in your home, being a member of your family.
The performance takes part in three phases. In “The Wake,” the audience watches a performance where actors interact with the angels and demons that haunt them in their home. In “The Feast,” the cast serves and enjoys a meal with the audience. In “A Sleep,” the audience spends a night sleeping on set, either awake and playing sleepover games, or sleeping with the other audience members on set.
“When and if they do fall asleep, the play continues into their dreams, with subtle musical influences,” notes McLucas on the play’s website.
The show was originally performed in an apartment near Swarthmore with the help of a grant from the college. After a successful run, the piece was amended for performance at WetLand in Philadelphia, a large-scale installation at Penn’s Landing that depicts a world literally sinking into the water.
McLucas explained the many technical challenges posed by adapting “Juniper Street” to this new environment. A mariachi festival next door, unexpected fireworks and technology issues made it difficult to perform. Still, “Juniper Street” sold out three quarters of their performances over the summer, and broke even financially.
Helmed by McLucas, the members of [redacted] also began fringe/fringe this year, as an alternative to the Philly Fringe Arts Festival. fringe/fringe promotes emerging artists and creates equal access with a “pay what you can” policy. There is also no fee to register as a performer, which makes it possible for young artists to participate and show their work.
“I envision it as being the bottom rung of a ladder, where you can do the fringe/fringe when you’re first starting out, and it costs you nothing, or very little,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer. His egalitarian perspective on the arts fits with the community-building goals of “Juniper Street.”
“The overarching goal of the show, in addition to telling the story, was to make a group of strangers feel at home in an apartment they’ve never been to,” he says. Even with death in the corner, “Juniper Street” creates an experience where people come together in both horror and comfort to explore the dark side.