Laurel Hill Cemetery? For fun?

No, seriously. A cemetery. Hanging out with the dead may sound exclusively like the stuff of Halloween lore, but Laurel Hill, a national landmark, has the potential to be quite the social spot.

Located in East Falls, Philadelphia and accessible by SEPTA buses, the cemetery first impresses with its size. Its ornate columned entrance invites passersby to wander on in, and if you can ignore the tacky brown memorial to the park’s permanency – unfortunately, the first thing you see upon entering – then you’ll likely be pressed to explore the sprawling hills of grass and marble.

I traveled to the cemetery on a dreary afternoon when clouds were rolling in and lighting could be spotted off in the distance. It would have been creepy, if not for the somehow cheerful-looking grave markers scattered around the grounds by no particular method of organization. This yard of the dead features some of the prettiest stonework I’ve seen – angels, pyramids, and mausoleums designed after Egyptian and Roman art as well as art deco. Random, yes. Scary (during the day), no.

At the back of the cemetery, there are gorgeous land overlooks that support some fancy mausoleums by the Schuylkill River, which runs right next door. According to my guide, those overlooks are also great places for getting in some private moments with a date, and while I won’t be following up on his insinuation, I do think that the spot could be a romantic place for picnicking.

Notable residents include members of the Wharton clan (i.e. Penn royalty) and General George Meade of the Civil War. Laurel Hill has been featured in several Hollywood films, including the latest Rocky installment and Law Abiding Citizen.

The best selling point for the place is that it offers a quiet refuge of nature with the guarantee of visitor’s contemplation. There aren’t many sprawling greens in Philly, and there aren’t many graveyards anywhere that look so welcoming that you’d want to visit, especially without knowing anyone inside of it.

Plus, Laurel Hill offers a ton of public programs to engage the community, especially around Halloween. It’s allowed to take advantage of spooky stereotypes when the events sound this cool: the Rest in Peace 5K on October 6; “Edgar Allen Poe: Deep into that Darkness Peering” on October 23, nighttime flashlight tours of the cemetery on October 26, 27 and 30; and a Fall Family Fun Day on October 14.  There’s stuff going on year-round though. Check out their website for event details.

Entrance to the museum is always FREE on Monday-Friday 8:00am-4:30pm and Saturday-Sunday 9:30-4:30pm. Temple PEX Pass holders can receive $5 off of a public tour or program.

StorySlam!

Ever on the hunt for the best nontraditional entertainment offered by our darling city, I introduce to you a hidden gem of the Philly performance scene: StorySlam.

Hosted by First Person Arts, which touts itself as the city’s only non-profit arts organization centered on personal storytelling, StorySlam is an event at which ten volunteer members of the audience get to tell a true five-minute tale to be judged by their peers. Each ‘Slam has a theme which can be interpreted in any way. Storytellers are judged on both content – relevance to theme, interest level – and performance – style, time limit adherence. Anyone in attendance can volunteer, but if the count exceeds ten, names are drawn at random.

At July 9th’s event, themed “Wild Things,” story topics ranged from the Ottoman Empire to dirty dancing in clubs to cats to becoming jaded by the sound of gunshots in Philly. (Whomp.) Did you ever want to know how to NOT get rid of a bat in your attic? We heard it there: definitely don’t become incapacitated by fearful sobbing and attempt to videotape your ski attire-wearing roommates as they chase it with an ice pick. (That storyteller did pretty well in the scoring.) Ever wonder what it takes to be a middle-aged, female stand-up comedian surrounded by sexist, twenty-something, pseudo-intellectual dudes all the time? The answer involves some hilariously ball-busting feminism. (That storyteller won.)

StorySlam takes place at World Cafe Live in West Philly on the second Mondays of every month, and at L’Etage in South Philly on the fourth Tuesdays of every month. World Cafe Live is an all-ages venue; L’Etage is 21+. Tickets are normally $10 at the door or $8 for First Person Arts members – BUT, Temple University students/PEX Pass holders, y’all get a pretty fancy buy-one-get-one deal! Because where you may not want to spend ten bucks on your first novice storytelling event, you should definitely want to spend five bucks on a fun evening of comedy with friends – especially if you’re of legal age to enjoy the $3 drink specials. Maybe after a couple of lagers you’ll want to get up there and perform yourself.

Doors at 7:30 PM, shows at 8:30.
http://storyslams.firstpersonarts.org/
August 13th’s theme (held at World Cafe Live): Obsessed
August 28th’s theme (held at L’Etage): Guilty Pleasures

Beyond the Mainstream

Technically the point of this blog is to hype events and places that are featured in the GenEd PEX Pass, and I usually stick to that because the PEX Pass offers some bangin’ stuff. (See: super-discounted theatre tix, free museum entry, awareness that things like the Love Letter Train Tour exist. JOE, WE ARE GOING SOON. Ahem.)

The core idea behind the PEX Pass is to give students an incentive to get out and about in Philly, where they’re so lucky to go to school. But that idea can also inspire a desire to explore other cultural aspects of the city – stuff that’s less obvious than the PMA, stuff you might not have thought to check out, or stuff you just didn’t know was happening. Sometimes it’s difficult to find such goings-on by their nature of being less-than-mainstream, but those can be the most rewarding, too.

I learned about Moonstone Arts Center through my arts-related internship a few days before last Sunday’s “Spring Celebration” fundraiser and attended it mainly because I’d heard of the poet Sonia Sanchez, whose likeness is featured on a mural behind Temple Star on 15th & Carlisle. Moonstone is a community art space and independent bookstore in Center City with a wonderful history of fighting the system; the event was a benefit on its behalf. The lineup included jazz musicians, spoken word poets – including Temple’s explosive own Dr. Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon – and folk singers. None of these genres play a part in my usual selection of entertainment and for this reason, it was hard for me to get into some of the performances. But I can admit that my worldview is limited. I can try to appreciate what I don’t understand and be better off for it. For instance, I’ve never heard somebody speak the way Dr. Williams-Witherspoon did, like a preacher screaming with joy. And actor Norman Marshall reminded me, with his booming reenactment of a speech by abolitionist John Brown, just how historically rich this town is, and how important it is to remember the past.

I recommend making an effort to attend out-of-the-way events in Philadelphia. We live in an extremely diverse city with so much to offer, no matter how big or how unknown. Follow blogs to find out about new places, or maybe just take an open-minded wander downtown. Maybe you’ll find something that reminds you why you wanted to study here in the first place.

P.S. If you’re picking up what I’m putting down (HA), consider attending the Leeway Foundation’s Change in Motion 2012 film event this Thursday, June 21. It’s exactly the type of thing I’m talking about, this beyond-mainstream shtick, with artists working for social change and presenting their work FOR FREE to the public. It’s at the Painted Bride Art Center – another very cool place to check out – at 7:00pm.

A Modern Visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Two of my very favorite things to do are 1. Look at Art and 2. Anything Free. Therefore, the first Sunday of every month at the PMA is an especially glorious day for me, as I can combine my two loves and feel intellectually fuller because of it. Technically a donation is required before you can enter, but as long as you have as little as a penny with you then you are [metaphorically] free to squint and tilt your head at the Surrealists, chuckle at Picasso’s playfulness and fantasize about starring in the most recent Game of Thrones episode whilst checking out the Arms & Armour section.

I spent the entirety of June’s Sunday visit in the modern wing. It’s the best for human interaction, because there’s always bound to be a guard who will follow you out of the video room and say, “Now be honest, do you really think that that’s art?” Even if you stay quiet whilst wandering the whimsical walkways of the first floor, you can keep company with Dali’s Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War), Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Pollack’s Male and Female, Warhol’s Four Jackies, and many more strange and interesting pieces ranging from paintings to sculptures to crayon on wall.

My favorite section is that of Cy Twombly. The American fellow was known for colorful abstract scribbles on huge white canvasses – hence, his “Fifty Days at Illium” room at the PMA. Each board represents an aspect of that epic Illiad story we Temple kids get to read in Mosaic II. Twombly’s version of the story features messy phallic symbols and heroes’ names scrawled in pencil. Maybe his style won’t suit everyone, but I prefer paintings that offer evidence of the person who created them. It would be difficult to look at The Fire That Consumes All Before It and not picture Twombly covered in red goo, smearing his hands all over the canvas like a genius five-year-old, grinning as he lumps on the balls of paint that will dry and three-dimensionally represent the gore of battle.

If you can’t get to the museum on first Sundays, look in your PEX Pass for a ticket for free – FREE! – entry. All regular student admissions are reduced, too. Check out http://www.philamuseum.org/ for details on upcoming exhibits!

Spoiler alert! The Cy Twombly room looks like this, but bigger.

Fifty Days at Illium: The Fire That Consumes All Before It

An Overview of Londonlife

The sad time has come for me to change the “Lives in” on my Facebook page from “London, United Kingdom” to regular old “Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.” Cue the wailing and gnashing of teeth. I will pull myself from the depths of sadness, though, to offer an overview of what studying in London through Temple is like. Keep in mind that Temple doesn’t technically have its own campus in the UK; it works with a program called Foundation for International Education, or FIE, that provides the housing, internships, and support.

Classes:
This is the Temple program that specializes in the School of Communications and Theater, so if you’re planning to go as a non-SCT major, expect to get lots of elective credit done that semester. London offers at least one class for every SCT major. I took British Mass Media, which satisfies the International/Intercultural Media Issues Requirement; Travel Writing; an internship seminar; and a Special Topics course taught by the Temple faculty member who came with us, called “Visual Communication in London.” That last one was especially great because it incorporated field trips to places that I wouldn’t have thought to go on my own, like to the Imperial War Museum and 7 July Memorial in Hyde Park.

Classes are held once a week. The internship seminar, if you choose to take on an internship, is held only five times across the semester. Don’t forget: ANY for-credit study abroad program satisfies the World Society (GG) GenEd!

Housing:
FIE housing is located in Kensington, which is in the Royal Borough, a.k.a. “Right Down the Street from Where Will and Kate Live.” FIE offers multiple flats in the area, but I can only speak for Metrogate, which is fabulously located near the FIE classroom building and Gloucester Road tube stop. My entire floor in the flat was filled with Temple kids, which fostered a sense of family despite our distance from the real ones. (Awww!)

Work:
London is one of Temple’s only study away programs that offers an internship option. That is, FIE will find you an internship. Yes. Let that sink in. I didn’t realize how magical that was until I began searching for a summer internship on my own, because they are ridiculously difficult to score. To qualify for the internship, you need to write a separate essay explaining what you want to get out of one, what you ultimately want to do in your field, etc. and submit your resume (called a CV – curriculum vitae – in the UK) to FIE. They then do the tough stuff of matching you up with a company that fits your field. Heads up, visas are wickedly expensive.

It takes a while for FIE to confirm the internships, so you won’t find out what yours is until you arrive in London. Once you’re there, you’ll have an “interview” with the company that is usually just a get-to-know-you sesh, and then you officially begin the work during the second full week of the program. The internship requires two full work days every week except during spring/fall break, when classes are cancelled as well.

I got to work for an international entertainment trade magazine because I indicated in my application that I wanted writing experience and to “understand the inner-workings of a media company.” Done. Other people worked for production houses, public relations firms, theatre companies, record labels, advertising agencies, local newspapers, etc. etc. etc. … Not everyone had a great placement, but I rationalize that by remembering that no internship promises to be glamorous.*

So that’s that! There’s so much more to talk about it, but by golly, gee willikers, dang nabbit, you’re just going to have to go to find out for yourself what else there is!

*However, many of them DID turn out to be glamorous – at least on some days. One person sat in on a recording session of Colin Firth. One attended London Fashion Week. I covered the BRIT Awards and Hunger Games premiere. Just sayin’.

We hung out.

Greetings from London!

Hello, Philadelphians! I write to you from the confined quarters of my Kensington flat. No, not that Kensington. The one in the Royal Borough of London, United Kingdom! Surprise.

Obviously, I can make no comment on the current state of the PEX Pass, though I’m sure it is doing quite fabulously in providing you with cheap access to fun stuff in Philly. But I can say that studying abroad has been an incredible exercise in cultural communication. Over here, not only am I taking classes and living in the busiest English-speaking city in Europe, I’m also interning at an international entertainment industry trade magazine that gives me tasks like, Hey, go to the British version of the Grammys and report on the event and, oh yeah, go to the after party where Florence Welch and will.i.am are DJing. Rough life, right?

But seriously, I’ve learned how to integrate myself into a foreign land and new situations in a way that’s comparable to that first semester of college when you’re wondering why your roommate’s boyfriend has become a permanent, awkward fixture in your room. My inherent Americanism was not something that I’d ever had to question before coming here. I had never traveled outside of the continental United States. No one in my life hails from a different country, except for my paternal grandfather, who rarely talks about the days he spent running from the Nazis in World War II-era Poland. This was exactly why I needed to study abroad, though! There are about 6,840,507,000 people and 196 countries in the world, and I had met only a few of them and only lived in one. There was literally a world out there that I’d only seen in the media. I knew how my part of the globe operated, but I had no idea what else I was missing.

I can’t help perceiving my world from the perspective of my own culture, my own experiences, because they’re all I’ve ever known. But I can combat ethnocentrism by opening my mind to others’ ideas and lifestyles. I’m not saying that you need to go thousands of miles from home to figure out your place in the world, but learning to navigate the Tube and visiting places like Parliament and Westminster Abbey are good reminders of how teeny-tiny I am in comparison to everything else, and how far I have to go to understand THE TRUE MEANING OF LIFE.

And on top of all of this, studying abroad and earning credit for it waives GenEd students’ World Society requirement! Best part.

Kensington Gardens. Typical.

Student Voices at the Wilma Theater

You know what’s cool about high school? Not that much. You’re angsty, your parents don’t understand you, your friends are doing stupid things, you’re not technically old enough to do a lot of what you want to do (legally),  and you don’t know what the heck to do with your life, except that you’re supposed to go to college. Lame.

“Student Voices,” written and largely performed by high schoolers, negated that stereotype by acknowledging issues of more substance on December 2nd. The evening was divided into three parts.

The first featured a monologue by Haley Gordon of Cheltenham High School and starred Brian Cowden. Gordon’s monologue appeared as the winner of the 2011 Young Voices Monologue Festival. “Thoughts Can Fly” described a young man’s frustration with humans’ burning need to outdo every other species. The character paced back and forth on a bare stage, pondering aloud, “What is our ‘est?'” meaning, what do we do better than anything else, and why does that make us Homo sapiens fit to rule the world? It is a dilemma that many adolescents can relate to: what is my place in the world? Why do people act the way they do? How can everyone else seem so sure of themselves? The thought-provoking piece was expertly performed by Cowden, who clearly knows his angst.

The second part featured the one-act play “On the Way,” winner of the 2010 Annual Playwriting Festival, by Upper Darby High School student Lyn Huong Nguyen. The heart of the story is a distraught family that has been torn apart by the Vietnam War. Teenage Thuy has been waiting many years for her father to return from the war even while her mother seems to have given up hope that he will ever come back. When he finally does appear, though, he is not the man that they remember. With the help of a great supporting cast and impressive rotating set complete with a straw hut and backyard swing, “On the Way” affected all who have experienced war or heartache.

The third part featured a collaborative effort by students of South Philadelphia High School. Written by about forty students and performed by thirteen current seniors of the school, the show described the school’s daily life, history, and current racial tensions in a series of vignettes. South Philly High is a multiethnic school whose troubles have brought national attention to it, most notably for a day in 2009 when Asian American students at the school were terrorized by groups of African American students; the play was written as a response to that event. For more information about this piece, go here: http://www.metro.us/philadelphia/entertainment/article/1037289–south-philly-high-don-t-write-them-off

It should be stated that I actually had a very nice high school experience, overall – partly because I had theater and writing as creative outlets. And if I had known about Student Voices Center Stage and Philadelphia Young Playwrights four years ago, believe me, I would have been all over them. Sounds like a fantastic deal: write your own play or monologue, get feedback on it from theater professionals, potentially have your work performed on the Avenue of the Arts in Center City? Um, yes. I have infinite respect for these young playwrights and imagine nothing but bright futures for all of them.

Located between Locust and Spruce on Broad, the Wilma is easily accessible by the Southbound Orange Line, and at $5 for a student (PEX-discounted) ticket, it’s also ridiculously cheap. Oh, and the interior of the theater is stunning. GOOOOOOO!!!!!

http://www.wilmatheater.org/

www.phillyyoungplaywrights.org

It’s a good thing I didn’t bring my pet hamster …

You probably don’t think of Northern Philadelphia as a mecca for science. You probably think that your school is the only academia-oriented attraction. Well GUESS WHAT, TEMPLE KIDS?!?! … NO! Stop being so narrow-minded! Gosh!!!!!

Just kidding. If you’ve ever walked down Montgomery from Broad (which you have, because you got lost on your way to a lot of frat parties during your freshman year), you’ve probably noticed 1. the police station, 2. that fantastic mural of the smoking man at 16th, and 3. the Wagner Free Institute of Science, located at 17th and Montgomery. It’s a lovely building, albeit out of place in the neighborhoods that surround it.

Here are some things that I saw/learned during my visit:

  • A preserved rat split open with it’s organs on display
  • Stuffed animals galore (not the Build-A-Bear kind) like a kiwi, a porcupine, a porcupine fish, etc.
  • Rocks! Lots and lots of rocks!
  • The word “taxidermy” is Greek for “to arrange skin.” (Does that mean that plastic surgery is technically taxidermy? Hmm …)
  • Elephant and capybara skulls! D’aww
  • A giant English draft horse skeleton that the Institute bought for ten bucks in 1889 – snagged it!
  • So many rodents! My hamster, Charlie, might’ve had a great time hanging out with them. However, it might also have freaked him out that all of his friends were dead.
  • Native American artifacts
  • Bones of a Brontosaurus “thunder lizard” excelsus
  • Fish look as gross when preserved with marble eyes and mounted on a wall as they do on my dinner plate.

All of these could be found in a single room, which is located on the second level of the Wagner. On the main floor there was also a gorgeous lecture hall that seemed more old-school Harvard than Nor’Philly with its cherry wooden seats and a presenter’s desk laden with sculpted busts and what can only be described as “specimens.”

The Wagner is a good place to visit even if you’re not a science person. I certainly don’t subscribe to any bio monthlies, but I still enjoyed checking out the displays. It’s easy to get to, it’s a nice break from typical city scenery, and it might bring you back to elementary school days when museums were a fun break from regular school. It’s also a reminder that we Homo sapiens share the earth with a lot of other creatures – and that nothing is permanent, as evidenced by all of the skulls lying around.

The Wagner Free Institute of Science is open M-F 9-4 … and yeah, it’s pretty free.

It's lovely, right?

Theater on Campus! Part II

Hello again, PEXers! (I’m still working on the name.) So, I’ve been attending many cultural events and have thus been too busy to post about them. But I return now with suggestions galore.

This and my previous post are entitled “Theater on Campus” Parts I & II because they both describe opportunities to be theatrically enriched without traveling farther than this end of Broad Street. The first was provided by a student organization that specializes in getting YOU involved with your favorite form of entertainment (and it is your favorite, obviously. I’m not projecting at all).

This opportunity comes from our own Baptist Temple that isn’t really a religious meetinghouse anymore, but a gorgeous performing arts center that holds plays, orchestras, dance, student activities, and the like. Last Thursday evening, it hosted a performance of “The Rivalry” by Norman Corwin which brought to life the pre-Gettsyburg speeches of Abraham Lincoln and his rival, Stephen Douglas. The show, which has been performed on Broadway, was a stop on the tour of L.A. Theatre Works and starred Robert Parsons as Lincoln, Josh Clark as Douglas, and Rebecca Mozo as Adele, Douglas’s young wife and the occasional narrator. There was a fourth character, played by Dian Adair, that served many purposes yet never quite moved the plot along in any noticeable way.

Despite a ridiculously low turnout – come on, Temple, the PEX Pass listed it specifically! – the small cast put on an enthusiastic performance and communicated the story well. The show achieved both education and entertainment by turning something as dry as Civil War-era speeches into a bittersweet political dramedy. Its most poignant moments were Lincoln and Adele’s few interactions. The two weren’t meant to get along, as Adele’s husband was Lincoln’s political enemy, but these small conversations revealed each character’s most pleasant and human sides. Their camaraderie, as well as Douglas’s eventual dedication to Lincoln in order to help keep the Union together, can be a lesson to modern politicians that bipartisanship is possible and something to strive for.

I love theater. I really do. It’s a form of art that’s seeped in self-expression and the expression of circumstances that reveals something about reality as it is portrayed. One of my professors told us this quote: “A story is a record of pressure and response.” To me, there is no form of storytelling that shows pressure and response more explicitly, nor one more tangible, than this.

… And the next time PEX offers you a free ticket to a one-night engagement of a former Broadway show right on campus, please, please use it. Cool? Cool.

Theater on Campus! Part I

Hello, PEX Passians! (Passengers? Passers? Meh.) Many apologies for waiting so long to post my next post. Hopefully the delight that you will receive from reading this and thus being inspired to break forth into the world of live performance will quiet the pain you have felt without the sweet comfort of my artfully crafted words. And stuff.

My greatest sadness of freshman year was the apparent lack of theatrical outlets for non-theater majors at Temple. The shows in Tomlinson were always fantastic, but sadly, my former high school drama geek-ness did not prepare me for such quality. Upon this realization, part of my soul was promptly crushed. It stayed that way until roughly April of my sophomore year. (Yes, it is possible to survive for that long with a crushed soul. WebMD has a tips page about it.*)

Then, though, I discovered my savior: Insomnia Theater! Insomnia specializes in creating and performing several short plays within 24 hours, all written, directed, and acted by Temple students. The process starts the week before with sign-ups, where you indicate what role you’d like (i.e. writer, director, actor). On the Friday night before Saturday’s show, everyone gathers for the actors’ auditions. However, “auditions” is a loose term because anyone who wants to participate can be in the show. After that, the writer and their directors (usually 3-5 groups in all) get together to select their casts and hear the motif for the show, the motif being a one-word prompt to be interpreted any way and incorporated into each play’s plot. Next, the writers stay up through the wee hours of the night writing their scripts based on the given motif. In the morning, everyone gathers again to go over the scripts, and then the writers leave and the actors spend all day learning the plays while the directors direct them. That night – BAM! Showtime. The plays, performed in the Underground of the SAC, are super cheap to attend and open to the Temple community/general public.

It’s hectic, but it’s very, very fun. It’s also a great opportunity for amateur theater enthusiasts to engage in the creative play-making process. Shows usually take months to get going, and here we are with a finished product in one day! The last show of this semester, held last Saturday the 12th, featured the motif of “right/write/Wright/rite” in every capacity. The resulting plays ranged in topic from sorority pledging to a presidential mishap to a deranged Survivor-style detention – and all were quite hilarious.

You’re probably wondering if I’m involved with Insomnia, and if this post is a plug to get more people involved. Answer: YEAH! I’ve acted in two shows and wrote for the last one. But if theater is your thing and if you are hopelessly lost without it, as I was, ignore the shameless promotion and get involved. Insomnia holds two shows per semester, so gethyca butt to next year’s auditions and act it up!

From "Failing Detention," performed in last week's show (Photo credit: Chris Adair)

*No it doesn’t.