By Len Lear
The annual Philadelphia Fringe Festival is known for the kind of offbeat, non-traditional, non-mainstream performances that you’ll never see on prime-time network television, but a Germantown family may outdo even the most bizarre performances of past years.
Vashti Dubois and her husband, Albert Stewart, who have been victims of the four-year-old recession, will be launching a show in their own home, the “Eviction-Proof PeepShow Home,” as part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 14 and 15, 7:30 to 9 p.m., and Sept. 16, 3 to 4:30 p.m., at 4613 Newhall St. It is a one-act play in an unusual, if not unique, format that will include several other Northwest Philly residents. One might say the primary purpose for the show is to help the Stewart family stay in their home.
The Eviction-Proof PeepShow Home is a multi-disciplinary performance art project about a family fighting to stay in its home. According to Vashti, “It’s a combination show home, peepshow, fire sale and protest. The show artfully tackles the issues of foreclosure and eviction in Philadelphia.”
This pioneering “reality show” assembles artists, actors, musicians, photographers, etc., to illustrate the devastating impact of foreclosure on families and communities as seen from the viewpoint of the house. The story is told through a series of staged scenes and happenings throughout the three-story Victorian home. Visitors will visit each room, interacting with artwork, performers and the spaces they inhabit.
“The performance turns the concept of the ‘show home’ on its head,” explained Vashti. “It plays with the concept of staging the ‘residents facing eviction’ at the request of the home.”
The actual residents of the home are: an unemployed former foreclosure prevention specialist (how’s that for cruel irony?), community organizer and musician; his wife, a social justice activist and artist who hasn’t worked in almost three years, their 13-year-old son and 22-year-old daughter (also unemployed).
“I have been underemployed or unemployed as in no full time work for almost three years,” explained Vashti. “After my last lucrative contract ended, the work just dried up. Occasionally I might get a call to work on a grant or do some development thinking, but it has not been a great time to be a middle-aged African American non-profit professional.”
The family has essentially given up. They’re preparing to move into whatever digs they can afford, but the house has other plans; it likes the family and decides to stage a peep show/rent party/fire sale to raise money and save the family from the streets.
The home is in poor shape, so it enlists the assistance of several artists to make it more presentable. The result is a mixture of carnival funhouse, theater of the absurd and Shakespearean tragedy rolled into one.
The story of the house and its residents is told through artwork and performances, transforming the home into a ”living storyboard.” Vashti says that “it casts both viewer and artist as first responder and eyewitness to one of the biggest tragedies of our time (home foreclosures and evictions).”
The experience will run for 90 minutes broken down into individual segments of 15 minutes each. Guests can stay in the home for one segment at a time; they must leave before the next segment begins, although they are welcome to pay a fee to re-enter. People will also be able to attend online for a fee.
After all, the house IS trying to raise money! Guests are also encouraged to participate in this fundraiser by purchasing tagged items; all offers are listened to.
Only on Friday night, Sept. 14, one of the performers at “PeepShow” will be Jennifer Blaine, a spectacularly talented Mt. Airy native who has performed a very funny and poignant one-woman show all over the area with several characters she has created, sort of like Lily Tomlin, Gilda Radner, Kristin Wiig, Whoopi Goldberg, etc.
“I will most likely be performing as Ruth, my elderly Jewish character with a penchant for dirty jokes,” she told us. “She’ll be talking about all the animals that are discovered in foreclosed homes and other things she is concerned about regarding foreclosure.”
Despite her unemployed status, Vashti Dubois does run as a volunteer “Life with Books,” a non-profit organization in North Philadelphia whose focus is literacy. It partners student volunteers, mostly from Temple University, with young people to read for 20 to 30 minutes every Tuesday through Friday.
Vashti will also be directing one other show in the Philly Fringe Festival titled “My Name is Sam Johnson,” written by Cymande Lewis, another Germantown resident. “Sam Johnson,” about a young woman who has been abused, will be performed Sept. 20, 21 and 22, 7:30 p.m., at the historic Germantown Theatre Center, 4821 Germantown Ave. “I love theater,” said Vashti, “and believe that it has the power to both entertain and provoke.”
For more information about “PeepShow” or “My Name is Sam Johnson,” call 267-265-9158 or 267-393-5806, or visit www.evictionproof.com