THE WAGNER

Ever walked down off campus around Montgomery and 17th and wondered what that beautiful, big, old building is?

Its name is the Wagner Free Institute of Science. Frozen in time, the collection hasn’t been updated since the 1940s, and the whole place smells like old wood (in the best way).

The downstairs has a library and an enormous lecture hall where Wagner used to give free lectures to community members and scholars alike who took an interest in the natural sciences.

The upstairs is an enormous exhibit hall with cases upon cases of found species. Identified by handwritten cards detailing species information, the museum is stuffed with shells, rocks, starfish, crustaceans, insects, birds, snakes (and even a human skeleton).

The collection is impressive, and even if you don’t consider yourself a “nature person,” some of the specimens were so beautiful it was like walking through an art gallery. The one downside is that you’re not allowed to take pictures, so you have to go see it for yourself.

It’s fun, it’s close, it’s free, and you can spend as much or as little time as you want (I went with on a class field trip, and none of us were ready to leave after half an hour). Take an afternoon and check it out- worst case scenario, you can still get Rita’s on the way home.

Do Something Awesome

Dear Readers,

There’s something urgent that I want to tell you about. It’s so cool that I’m letting you know about it before I actually do it myself.

As I was browsing through City Paper this weekend I noticed ad for “Delicacy,” a French film from 2011 featuring Audrey Tautou (who I happen to have an enormous lady-crush on). I immediately googled it, and found out that the movie is playing at the Ritz 5, a fabulous movie theater that I consistently forget about. Ritz 5 is one of several Landmark theaters in Philadelphia. Landmark is the “largest theatre chain dedicated to exhibiting and marketing independent film” in the nation.

Students with ID get in for $7.25 any time except Saturdays & Holidays. Read as: students get in cheaper than they will to pretty much any other movie, even at matinee hours.

In addition to “Delicacy”, the Philadelphia theaters are featuring critically acclaimed films that you may have heard of including “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” “The Artist,” and “Coriolanus”.

The moral of this short story? If you’ve been wanting to expand your horizons, and want to sit in a cool theater on one of our hot spring days, check out the Landmark Theaters.

You’re welcome,
Tori

P.S. This is a great date idea. It’s cheaper than a normal movie and you get to seem cultured. Double win.

Time Stands Still

On Saturday, February 25, at 7:25pm, my friend Leah and I got onto the regional rail from Temple University toward Doylestown to see a play. 30 minutes later, we got off at Ambler station. Had we not taken a wrong turn first, it would have only taken us  2 minutes to reach our destination, Act 2 Playhouse.

We went inside and were immediately handed the two tickets that had been left for me at will call. We were about ten minutes late, but the show had started promptly and everyone was already seated and engaged as we were shown to our row. The theater seats 130, and it was sold out (mostly with adults over 40). Instead of making us climb over everyone, the entire row scooted down so that we could have the end seats and didn’t even glare. I was already impressed.

After shuffling around getting my coat and over-stuffed bag situated, I finally focused on the stage, and was sucked in almost immediately. First of all, the set was awesome. Set up like the inside of an apartment that was decorated by grown-up hipsters (who, instead of thinking they’re too cool to care about material objects actually don’t care and just happened to end up with an assortment of furniture from Ikea and the Middle East). My favorite touch was that the kitchen sink had running water. (The “rain” that actually left the window panes wet was a close second).

Time Stands Still is a Broadway play that is making its Philadelphia debut at Act II Playhouse before moving on to the People’s Light and Theater Company in Malvern later this Spring.

The story follows a middle-aged couple who were brought together by their shared experience as journalists in war zones. After the woman is almost blown to pieces in the Middle East and the man has a meltdown after seeing other people blown to pieces one too many times, they are forced to re-evaluate their careers and decide if documenting suffering is what will ultimately make them happiest, or if they want a more conventional life. I won’t give it away, but I will say that the story is woven together beautifully, and that the mixture of anger, angst, tenderness, and humor feels effortless and makes the two hours fly by.

As a journalism student, the heated discussions about the true merit of journalistic work hit home for me in a profound way. My favorite scene in the show, however, was the dinner party discussion about whether seeing a play about world issues and educating oneself is a valuable use of time. It was as though the writers were winking at the audience the entire time, saying, “you’re not off the hook, here- it’s not just the characters who are going to have to think about the tough questions- you’re in this too”.

The acting was well executed and the leads, Susan McKey and Kevin Kelly, looked vaguely reminiscent of Amy Pohler and Jason Bateman, which was entertaining in and of itself.

Overall, I thought the show was very well done, and definitely worth the trip to Ambler. Though my friend and I ended up making our train back to Temple, we were crunched for time at the end of the show, so I would definitely recommend getting tickets for a matinee showing and then making an afternoon of hanging out in Ambler (which is adorable).

Act 2 Playhouse offers discounts in your PEX passport, and Time Stands Still is only running until March 11, so buy your tickets now and go see the show over spring break!

SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE

She did it again, ladies and gentlemen. She said she was going to something, she got really excited about it, and then it fell through. Such is life. Luckily, not doing something still won’t stop me from writing about it, so here’s the deal with Slaughterhouse 5 at Curio theater

What: Slaughterhouse 5 (the play!)
Why? Because Curio is that cool. Honestly, I would seriously doubt their judgement for attempting to adapt a novel like Slaughterhouse 5 to the stage, but their acute awareness of how strange of an idea it was(“How are we going to present Vonnegut’s classic story?  Come and See!”) is precisely what gives me confidence in their ability to pull it off. In my experience, when people take calculated risks, that’s when genius comes in. This show has been getting buzz from a slew of local press outlets, and I have high hopes for the outcome of their bold choice.
When: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm from February 2nd – March 3rd
How much: $15.00- $20.00 (+ the discount in your PEX passport!)
Where: Curio Theater, 4740 Baltimore Avenue
Transportation: Is tricky, because it’s in a weird part of West Philly that’s kind of far from Temple (as far as city distances go). Google maps told me that it would take me a bus and a trolley to get there (or a subway and a trolley), so I recommend inviting someone with a car and making your life a hell of a lot easier.
I still hope to make it to the show before it closes since a large part of my heart is occupied by Vonnegut, but even in the event that I don’t, I still heartily encourage you to make the trip. The PR staffer at Curio was amazingly kind to me, which, interestingly, has so far (in my year and a half of doing this job) been a pretty good indicator of how fun a place is.
Go. Be cultural. Your parents will be proud.

Tori Gets Lawlz-y at ComedySportz

Unprofessional title? Keepin’ it.

Anyway, as you may have gathered, I finally got to go to ComedySportz, a PEX activity that I’ve been super excited about for a while now. I know that this is longer than my typical post, but know that I’m not wasting your time, I just really really liked it.

I was planning to go the weekend before Thanksgiving, then couldn’t. I meant to go last weekend, but I was in a tryptophan coma and missed it. After lots of shuffling around, I got all the pieces to fit together- I had a friend, a ticket waiting for me at will call (thank you, Don!), walking directions and a subway token and finally got to check out the 7:30 pm show (there’s also one at 10 pm) at the Adrienne theater on 20th and Sansom Streets.

Essentially, ComedySportz is what the Olympic event in improv would look like. No obscenity (or you get shamed and have to sit with a brown bag on your head for a few minutes), no bad puns, and 100% improv-ed material. The teams are red (Jersey turnpikes) versus blue (Philadelphia Amish) are are made up of four players each.

The show consists of a series of improv games, some of which are judged by applause from the audience, others by pre-chosen audience judges and the rest by the referee (who, to give you an idea of the seriousness of the game, gave a point to the blue team when they asked for it, and took two away when a red player hugged him too enthusiastically).

At the very beginning, Referee Sean told us, “This isn’t television, this is Theater. I can see you,” which set the tone for the entire evening. Audience participation is crucial, and ComedySportz is serious about their commitment to theater as an art form.  From clapping to chiming in topics, to actually getting up on stage, the audience is treated as a living element of the show. When a huge group of people with reserved tickets walked in 10 minutes late, they were welcomed by everyone on stage and in the audience. The atmosphere is light and silly and the energy of the crowd is a huge factor in the kind of experience you have. Read as: go with a huge group of really fun friends that you know you’ll have a blast with.

Because it’s bound to be different every time, I won’t bother explaining which games they played or how they went, but I will tell you about the players. Each team member had a ton of personality and though you could definitely tell that it was the first show of the night and that they were warming up, each one had something inherently hilarious about them. For instance, one player had a contagious laugh that made me giggle every time I heard it. It was also evident that everyone had a theater background, if not for their stage presence then for their awesome singing voices that came out during random parts of games. You know those people that sing along to the radio and demolish the high notes without thinking about it? ComedySportz is where those guys go to thrive.

Singing–> music–> sounds–> this is the part where I tell you about my moment of stardom.

Whenever people in a show ask for audience volunteers, I always raise my hand because I assume I won’t get picked. Well, ladies and gentleman guess who got brought up on stage tonight? This girl, of course. The game was for the actors to create a scene involving two honeymooners in Alaska who get their room crashed by a random old guy. My job was the provide hilarious sound effects. When I say you get out what you put in, this is a perfect example. Before I went up, I was really enjoying myself but after I put myself out there and got a supportive, positive response from the audience and the players alike, I liked it even more. Because really, who doesn’t like being clapped for?

This is where I will put the picture of me with all the players, assuming I can get my hands on it. For the time being, enjoy this gem of me eating a lime.

ComedySportz performs every Saturday night at 7:30 pm and again at 10 pm. Because they are extremely conscious of keeping it PG during these performances (so feel free to bring your 5th grader cousin when she visits), they have recently added a raunchier version called The Blue Show, which happens on the last Friday of every month during the 10 pm show. As an enthusiastic potty-mouth, I’ll definitely be checking this out later this month.

Tickets are $12 for students with ID, but $10 for Temple students who bring their handy-dandy PEX passport. Read as: great deal.

Thanks again to Don who was kind enough to accommodate my ever-shifting schedule, to the players and of course the friend I coerced into coming with me.

Behind the Scenes of Eastern State Penitentiary’s Terror Behind The Walls

First of all, Happy Halloween! I hope everyone has had a safe and shenanigan-filled Halloweekend.

Second of all, I have a confession to make in the spirit of journalistic full disclosure. I know I promised to go to Terror Behind the Walls, but then I remembered that I hate being scared, and decided not to. Luckily, my roommates all made the trip and thus enabled me to compile a list of tips and highlights for those curious about the experience. And just think, now you have a whole year to chew on these hints before deciding if you want to subject yourself to the terror behind the walls next Halloween. (See what I did there? I think I’m pretty clever). On to the list!

  1. Go with people you aren’t afraid to look like an idiot in front of. This is not a good first date idea. Yes, you’ll end up clutching them for dear life, but you’ll probably also end up crying and panicking, which isn’t cute.
  2. Bring a guinea pig who’s brave enough to take the lead. They’ll take the majority of the hits on being grabbed by surprise, giving you a little relief.
  3. Don’t caffeinate before you go. You’ll just end up giving yourself a heart attack or an anxiety attack or something which isn’t worth it.
  4. Try as hard as you can to avoid driving. Parking is challenging, particularly as you get closer to Halloween, and it’s a much better idea to just take the trolley, a bike, your legs…pretty much anything other than a car.
  5. Reward yourself afterward. Fairmount Pizza and Philly Water Ice are less than a block away from the Penitentiary, and are a satisfying way to end a night of fright.

Even with these tips, I’m not sure I’ll be woman enough to make the trip next year, but at least I feel a little more prepared for it and hopefully you do too. The most important thing at any haunted house type of experience is to remember not to take yourself (or your surroundings) too seriously and to have fun. As long as screaming is followed by laughing (which it definitely was for all of my friends who went), it’s well worth the trip.

An Intro To Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program

What is the Mural Arts Program?

What do you do when your city is covered in graffiti (and I’m talking about “this-is-my-gang’s-drug-territory” graffiti, not just artistic “this-could-hang-in-a-gallery” graffiti)? If you think like the founders of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program then you convert the energies of young, vibrant artists from destructive to constructive, and invite them to use real paint (as opposed to spray paint), as well as their creativity and comfort with heights to participate in the creation of huge mural installations all over the city.

Mural Arts is responsible for some 3600 murals in the Philadelphia area, and has enlisted everyone from young volunteers to famous artists, to be a part of the movement. The murals cover a wide range of topics, and anyone can propose ideas for an installation. The whole point is that walls are for the people, and should be as beautiful as possible.

The societal implications are also huge- in lots where murals are present on an adjacent wall, there is a marked decrease in littering, and almost zero instances of graffiti on the walls where murals are featured.  “There’s a lot of respect for these murals,” explained my guide, on the Love Letters tour, “people have a lot of reverence for them and don’t mess with them once they go up.”

To support its artistic endeavors, the Mural Arts Program runs a wide range of tours, including the one that I went on this past weekend, the Love Letters tour. CLIFFHANGER! (The LLT post will be up this weekend, just to keep you on the edge of your seat!)

Shofuso Japanese Teahouse

Where: Intersection of Lansdowne and Horticultural Drives in West Fairmount Park

What: Shofuso Japanese Teahouse. Features a 17th century Japanese house that overlooks a perfectly manicured garden and private lake.

When: Sat & Sun 11am to 5pm during October. Visiting season closes October 23, so get there soon!

Who: The house was designed for the Museum of Modern Art by Junzo Yoshimura in 1954.

How to get there: Philly Phlash bus or Septa bus

Price: $6 per adult, $3 for students, $0 with PEX passport

Tip: Go before it’s freezing, and on a day when you have time you’re trying to kill. This is a lovely trip, but not an event, or something to shove into a packed day

My favorite thing: The lake feeds in behind the house, making water an integral part of the layout of the space. Natural elements are not presented as separate, which reminded me of the connectedness of myself to nature. As a person with heavily transcendental tendencies, being able to sit on the porch and see a creek and a lake made my experience at the house feel particularly sacred.

U Penn Museum of Anthropology

I’ve been to this location before, and I always thoroughly enjoy myself. The combination of Penn’s majestic campus and the huge collection of ancient artifacts that are artfully arranged makes the experience engaging and educational every time I go. This is a good option for a date, but a spectacular option for when your family comes to visit. There’s so much to look at that everyone will find something that interests them (from kid cousins to grandparents), and it’ll be sure to generate some interesting conversation.

Some rotating highlights that the museum is currently featuring:

Excavating Ground Zero: Fragments from 9/11, an exhibit featuring actual pieces of rubble taken from ground zero.

On the Silk Road: Photographs by Bolojinsky, contains albumen prints from the early 1890s that illustrate “the manners and customs of the Kyrgyz people, and localities in the vicinity of Tashkent and Samarkand in Uzbekistan”. Super cool.

Righteous Dopefiend: Homelessness, Addiction and Poverty in Urban America (a photography exhibit)

Fang! The Killing Tooth, an exploration of the vampire myth and the evolutionary purpose of the fang tooth in humans.

I must admit to you that I did not actually visit any of the above exhibitions. I met my friend who I haven’t seen in months at the museum and after walking idly through the Africa exhibit and determining that even the expensive coffee from the cute barista in the museum café wouldn’t make us focus, we left and never made it back inside.

Even though this particular visit was kind of a bust, I absolutely adore the museum (the China exhibit is absolutely spectacular), and even without paying attention, I thoroughly enjoyed the interactive nature of the Africa exhibit (getting to respond to questions on white boards about cultural ideas regarding everything from religion to beauty). Getting down to Penn is kind of shlep, but only costs $3 for an afternoon of entertainment, which is well worth it from where I’m sitting (especially at this time of year when the weather is so nice!)

Go to there.

Alone at Eastern State Penitentary

I’m going to preface this by saying that this would be an awesome date location. Since, however, I’m currently single and had no friends available to strong-arm into going with me, I ended up on an excursion to the very famous, very sinister, Eastern State Penitentiary all by my lonesome.

In case you weren’t aware, Eastern State pioneered the system of solitary confinement based on principles and penitence rather than punishment. Operational from 1828 until 1971, the prison is built like a castle, and is currently being kept as a “stable ruin,” such that it maintains its dilapidated charm while remaining structurally sound. Eastern State has housed numerous famous criminals, gangster Al Capone and bank robber Willie Sutton among them. The design for the building was chosen from a $100-prize contest and was the largest and most expensive public structure to date at the time of its construction.

The model for some 300+ other prisons worldwide, getting to tour the facility and actually sit inside of the cramped cells was an excellent motivator for me to avoid getting sent to prison. Equipped with a bed, a toilet and a skylight that was designed to allow prisoners to “let God shine through” as they thought about their crimes, these rooms are creepy, and require stepping over the doorway to enter, almost as if prisoners are in display boxes (without glass doors).

On my tour, I was given a headset and a map and was encouraged to explore the grounds. Going out of order, I found a number of cool sites. Art installations are incorporated throughout the prison, and provide interesting commentary and insight into prison life, how we view penitence, jail crimes etc. I had the pleasure of going on a five-minute mini-tour during which my guide showed me instances of grafiti or “inmate art” hidden in one of the cell blocks.

Of all the places I visited at Eastern State, the only one that truly made me shiver was the “hole” or punishment cell. When I walked in, I could feel suffering and suddenly found my heart feeling tight and my breath getting more shallow. I can’t quite describe what was so creepy about the experience, but I can tell you that I bolted out of there pretty quickly (did I mention that this is a great date location!?).

I definitely recommend this spot. The best ways to get there are either via trolley or bike (the latter if you can) which are both cheap and time-efficient. Also, Fairmount is a really cute area to hang out in- peppered with lunch spots and an adorable bookstore across the street from the prison, it’s possible to visit for an hour or a whole afternoon.

Moral of the story? Go there!

Note: I’m going back for Terror Behind the Walls, Eastern State’s famously freaky Halloween tour. Anyone interested in joining me can contact me at vmarchiony@temple.edu. Also, I apologize that there’s no video to accompany this post. My beautiful flip cam ran out of battery ten seconds after I arrived. Story of my life.