CONSTANTS: a performance journey in history along the Schuylkill River

We took inspiration for the creation of CONSTANTS from the powerful body of water, which runs through our city, the Schuylkill River. Early in the process, we realized the audience would not feel the full scope of the river unless they engaged in it as well. So canoes were borrowed and we staged our performance in the river and on its shores. This dimension truly added a new sensibility to the work, and allowed us to understand as artists how we can begin to awaken an audience. CONSTANTS was inspired by the river’s history, folklore, and calm sensibility. Our river takes its name from the Dutch Explorer, Arendt Corssen, who was the first European to come in contact with the river. He named it Skokihl which became Schuylkill River and quite literally in Dutch is translated as hidden river. We wanted to explore what this meant to us now, as present day citizens of Philadelphia. What histories, cultures, animals are hidden from us? We chose several histories to explore; the Lenape People’s associations with the river and their Story of the Four Crows, Philadelphia’s Typhoid epidemic, the story of Sarah, a young runaway slave hiding in the back of a train as it crosses over the river, and the native Shadfish’s journey into rebirth. We gave life to these stories in a process that integrated dance, theater, music and sculpture into an interdisciplinary performance work. CONSTANTS first appeared for Philadelphia audiences in 2010, and in 2011 we re-visited the work but made vast changes to the structure and content of it. The Puffin Foundation generously granted us funding to create more choreography for the 2011 iteration of the work. New choreography was added to the Lenape People’s Story of the Four Crows, Sarah’s story, and a complete new section called Typhoid Ghosts was built. The production received rave reviews from audience members and local press and was a very big success! CONSTANTS allowed viewers to envision the river in a completely new light.

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