i love philadelphia, John Rosenberg, Curate This

Crossing the Border

real straight up and down motherfucking talented artists

John Rosenberg came to Philadelphia from California, put on a bunch of great plays in a converted industrial building in Kensington, then left Philadelphia for California. We became friends, and I asked him to write about his thoughts on the city and its theater.

– Christopher Munden, curator

i love love love love love love love love love philadelphia. when i think of philly i think yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes. My lady friend for eternity is from philadelphia so what is not to love? It is white wine and 24 packs of tall cans of becks for $20 and parliaments my wife bought and fuck i should really eat something i didnt eat dinner i should eat a cheesesteak from little petes before going to bed for work the next morning. it is quarters of xanax when i got to work, 30 minutes of work spread over eight hours while working on a play and then printing out a copy after my boss left and regional railing it home and hooray my wife wants martinis and then smoking all her cigarettes and watching tv and working on a play.

philly is where i figured out for the most part how i wanted to try to do whatever the fuck it is i do, which is write plays and find actors to be in them and then put on the play and hope the actors die before i have to pay them.

philly is where i hit the fucking lottery and got the chance to have my very own theater i could rent for $6000 a year in kensington.

philly is where i got not legally married to my wife.

philly is where a dude asked to rent the theater and then stole all the fucking lights but got caught by a neighbor.

philly is where my wife’s father threatened to kidnap a site reviewer from the pew foundation.

philly is where i was on a ladder in the papermill theater trying to turn on a ceiling fan for a fucking actor and the fucking ladder collapsed because i am an idiot and i fell 15 feet onto my elbow and there was a piece of my elbow floating but i didnt have health insurance so I just left it the fuck alone for three months

papermill, photo by @dopez, Curate This, John Rosenberg
The Papermill Theater, photo by @dopez

philly is where i learned to get an idea, not wait on it but find an actor who wanted to work and write the thing and put the motherfucker up.

philly is where a critic got stopped by the police after one of our shows because they thought she was a prostitute.

philly is where a cast got an outstanding fucking review and a fight broke out during a pick-up rehearsal.

hello! i hope you are working on a thing. maybe in your head or in whatever medium you do shit. but i hope you are working on a thing. i hope you are working on the thing and planning on putting it on somewhere in philly. i hope you pay to put it on and don’t wait for someone else to do it for you. unless your shit is super good or you got it like that.

i really think it is fantastic when people make stuff and then put it on. it is the fucking best.

it is hard to do and hard to earn respect but it is the best. it is YES YES YES.

there are people who are straight up and down real motherfucking talented artists and get their shit put on by the pew foundation or fringearts or the powerhouse theater companies in town and win barrymores and shit. People like Gaby Revlock and the young dude who does shit with the people that i cant remember his name but he is a nice dude and knows how to go about getting his shit done. Not Brad. Fuck. What is his name? I can do this without looking it up. He wrote the play shitheads that azuka is putting on.

i dont have the courage to send my shit out so i like to do it myself.

chris the brit asked me to write this thing on my time in philly. What is heehaw is i just did my taxes from my time in philly. i should have done them before, yes, but i dont have the courage to send my shit out.

My wife and I did seven full length shows and a bunch of shorter things from september 2010 to feb 2014 in a warehouse in kensington called the papermill. i think we spent about $30,000 and made about $1.00 in ticket sales.

there is a way to talk about this stuff without it reading like glory days shit and you had to be there bullshit. i am sure there is, but i am unsure how to do that. maybe by mentioning i think i made about $1500 in ticket sales and spent over $30,000 to play make believe. this does not include late penalties from the irs. i am also sure that my shit is never gonna be as great as it was there, so boo-hoo for me, hooray!

the papermill is still there as of this morning. You should rent it and put on a play. Why the fuck not?! Rent it and tell people to see the show! take the market frankford line and get off at somerset. ask anyone where the local theatre is, because you are there to see people play make believe as they trot lightly on the boards. they will point you in the right direction.

Queen of All Weapons press release, Curate This, John Rosenberg
Queen of All Weapons press release

i miss that shit hella but thank the fuck god i got out of there before someone got fucked up. THANK FUCKING GOD. i used to say that the papermill was the most dangerous theater in america and that shit was slightly true. you could get fucked up coming to see a hella fresh theater show in soooooo many various ways. you could get in a car accident, but whatever. you could get your ass beat getting off at somerset. highly unlikely, but i also did my shows during the day. you could decide that you wanted to take the edge off before a show and get pills or a bag of something and there was no better place to do that than at the somerset stop. you could be a season subscriber to hella fresh theater and die from the fucking mold or the asbestos. you could come see a show in the dead of winter that we heated the theater using open flamed propane tanks and this thing best described as a jet engine/banshee and one of the actors could have kicked it over and KABOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM. you could have died from boredom from the bad shows i put on or attempted to drink away the pain from the show you saw OH MY GOD I SHOULDNT HAVE SMOKED IN BED AFTER THAT TERRIBLE SHOW BUT I WAS SO DRUNK BUT NOW I AM IN HEAVEN AND CAN SEE ALL THE THEATER I WANT FOR FREE.

i consider myself a philly playwright, whatever that means, hooray. i would get sick before every show i put on. i would feel terrible until the actors for the show got to the theater. it is a terrible thing to say, but actors make me feel safe. i love them. i look forward to when i will be able to use cyborgs and not have to pay them.

my time in philly was shaped by my friendship with josh mcilvain. he interviewed me for the fringe back in 2010 because of the space in kensington. we saw each other’s work and saw enough in each other that we respected so we became friends. josh is a super real playwright and is a great fucking writer and knows what he is and what he isn’t. we read each other’s stuff, gave notes, took turns directing each other’s shows. the thing i miss most about philly is working with josh. he has his eye on getting put on by companies and shit because he isn’t a moron, but josh is devoted to making new shit and putting it on. his nice and fresh series is an awesome vehicle for artists looking to show their new polished work. if you are gonna do a nice and fresh, don’t be a useless talent, help set up and clean after the show.

Doing theater in los angeles is like in philly, except it isnt. there is a theater alliance here in los angeles and it seems as stupid and worthless as the philly shit with the barrymores and large companies acting like they care about the work and the idea of community in theater. there are people banging out great work, people putting on stuff just to get noticed and people using it as a step ladder, just like philly.

i have put on three shows in our apartment in los angeles. All of them are plays that take place in apartments. i dont think it was good because it was in an apartment. it was good when it was good and bad when it was not good. actors have a few great shows, a few not great shows. one actor kept sleeping in our backyard without our knowledge or consent. I am right now trying to figure out how to turn our living room into an russian airport for a play called let it snowden.

photo by john rosenberg, Curate This, I love Philadelphia
An apartment becomes a Russian airport. Photo by John Rosenberg.

but hooray! kiss my dog pussy with the negativity and just do some new work! everyone is a champion! If you are working no a thing and want someone to read it or want to run an idea by someone, email me at hellafreshtheater@gmail.com.

Header photo by Josh McIlvain.

Barry Kerollis, photo by Bill Hebert

Crossing the Border

Disorganization, Nepotism, and Lack of Community

I first became aware of Barry Kerollis several years ago when I saw him dance with BalletX. His strong stage presence and sensitivity as a performer made him a stand out in this contemporary ballet company. Years later I discovered that not only was he an accomplished dancer, but he also possessed a unique voice as a storyteller. What I appreciate most is how candid he is on a variety of topics from his own point of view, influenced by years as a professional dancer, choreographer and teacher. Dance Magazine sums up Barry’s work perfectly as an “innovator using unique new media to break the fourth wall with audiences.” His current forays into media, which include the blog Life of a Freelance Dancer and podcast Pas de Chát: Talking Dance, are just the beginning of ways Barry will continue to transform the public’s perception of dance.

-Mira Treatman, curator

Here I am again. Writing in the dark, sitting on a Greyhound bus on my way home from New York City. This trip has become a regular commute of mine since I decided to transition my career goals from the birthplace of our nation to the capital of the dance world. I’ve considered this move for nearly four years since working in the city where I was born didn’t work out as I had envisioned. I’m tired from these bi-weekly (or more often) commutes that eat away at my bedtime hours. But it’s worth it. It’s worth it, even if I am only in the early stages of renewing my hope for opportunity.

When I think about Philadelphia, one thing that defines this city is opportunity. In the past, it was historic opportunity for a new union. Today, it’s entrepreneurial opportunity in an affordable city, and, more importantly for me, artistic opportunity in one of the artsiest cities I’ve explored (and I’ve been to many a US city). But when I moved to Philly five years ago, I moved here for the opportunity to expand my experience in an area that holds my greatest passion: the dance scene.

Let’s get to the point. I left Pacific Northwest Ballet, one of the nation’s top five ballet companies, in 2011 to live for my art and try my hand at something new. I left a 40-week contract for half of that and left a $60,000 a year salary for one-third. But I came to Philly to join a company outside of my comfort zone in order to stretch my range as an artist, so it didn’t feel like that great of a sacrifice. That daring risk I took didn’t pan out as I had hoped. I quickly found myself without the job that brought me here after suffering a career-threatening injury that the company chose not to support.

I remember thinking to myself that day, “It’s going to be okay. I’ll post that I’m looking for a teaching job on Facebook and email all of the schools in the area. It shouldn’t take that long to find something. And, I’ve got credentials, experience, and something different to offer the scene (having danced at PNB) to boot.” Very quickly, reality set in.

I was grateful for the support of Koresh Dance Company’s school and local modern dance guru Gwendolyn Bye, but what I found in my new community was a combination of disorganization, nepotism, lack of community, and across-the-board organizational struggle. Here I was, green in our scene and eager to share my experience dancing with PNB and Houston Ballet. But a lack of work opportunity and, even more difficult, a lack of fair wage forced me to embark on an extended national tour that would change my life.

All I wanted to do was live in my new home city. But with little local opportunity, I turned to the national dance scene, which embraced me almost immediately. From this point, I began to tour our great nation as a freelance guest artist. While performing, teaching, and choreographing everywhere from New York to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Alaska, I kept trying to make Philly work for me, even when I was only in town for a week at a time. During one of these occasions, I performed in a questionable dance film where the director considered firing me because I asked to be paid a dishonorable $75 for 12 hours of committment. This stressful situation transpired over a mere $25 raise from the $50 he offered. Either salary was still well below minimum wage. A 6-week open class series I ran at a West Philly studio couldn’t hold one class because attendance was often one or none. I finally stopped looking for local gigs after a school director complained that my rate wasn’t worth my experience. I easily charge $25 more per hour in any other city. I tried to sacrifice as much as I could. But while some met me with understanding, more did not.

After suffering severe burnout from years of non-stop travel, I was ready to give the Philadelphia dance scene one last-ditch effort to make it my artistic home. After four years on the road, four months on the job as Interim Artistic Director of Alaska Dance Theatre, being selected as one of four choreographers out of a pool of 60 international applicants to create a work at the prestigious National Choreographers Initiative, and more, and I was finally committed to find a place at home where I felt my value was needed and respected. Over the longest period I stayed in Philadelphia since 2011 (five months at the beginning of 2015), every pre-professional school, university program, and professional organization aside from the one that brought me back east received an email humbly asking to take me into consideration for work. The only response I received was from Temple University’s dance program (who kindly told me they couldn’t offer any work). Otherwise, no respectful notice of receipt, no “No, Thank You,” no response at all. Aside from my contributions as a substitute at Koresh, I felt at a loss and like I didn’t belong to our community.

In my disappointment, I found myself seeking local collaboration outside the dance scene. Applying for a collaborative arts grant sealed the deal. I was told my application was declined because “I seemed more interested in meeting other artists than collaborating with them.” Instead of becoming a part of the community, I ended up collaborating with myself, again, on a national scale. Here, I created a web series interviewing highly-respected professional dancers, which garnered national attention from multiple dance periodicals. While Dance Magazine recognized my work as a Philly-based artist, I still felt like I hadn’t been accepted as a part of my community.

For all of my hard work and all of my effort throughout 13 years as a working professional, I have found that in Philly I would have to settle for a burnout level of work in recreational dance to afford only just covering my bills (none to put away into savings or to pay off debts). Since transitioning my focus to the New York City dance scene in January, a few Philadelphia organizations have reached out to me for work. The difference this time seems to be that my profile on the national dance scene has risen. I feel a sense of respect for my work. Still, I achingly choose to attempt to transition my career two hours north, potentially transitioning away from the city I love and the city in which my partner has grown a thriving organizational business.

Philadelphia doesn’t feel like a tragic loss for me, as I have gained way more in my life and art from five years calling Philly my home base than in seven years living in Seattle. Though, I still feel a sense of melancholy in saying that Philly has yet to work for me as the place I call my artistic home. Like the residents of Philadelphia as they see the renaissance of this glorious city, I have yet to give up hope on this place that I love. But, at the same time, I can’t sit around and hope that the brick and mortar of our dance scene will change its fabric and accept the architecture that I have to offer.

Editors Note: At the time of publication, Barry was contracted as Guest Faculty at Steps on Broadway and Broadway Dance Center

Photo by Bill Hebert.

It's not me, it's you. Illustration by Mike Jackson, alrightmike.com

Crossing the Border

It’s Not You, Philly, It’s Me

I’m currently in my longest-standing relationship. We’ve been together for over three years. He challenges me in my creative career and my general outlook on life and success. However, I’m in a perpetual state of internal conflict. I find myself trying to curate life to meet his improbable standards.

We’re polyamorous, but I’m committed to him. I’m in love, but I am still not certain that it’s mutual. His partners have a sense of entitlement– not only do we feel like we should be able to be creative in any way we want, but we also think we should profit from it. We’re very adept at pretending to know things that we don’t. We think we’re good without much practice, and we claim to be experts just by calling ourselves so. He lends his partners a sort of undeserved elitist mentality. I represent the millennial generation: young, urban dwelling, wanna-be creative from a small white bread town, pretending to know what I’m doing. The secret is finding a way to make yourself irreplaceable, but the fact is that 99% of us are not. It’s not just about working hard; it’s about doing something different, standing out in a huge crowd of people all vying for the same attention.

But, bottom line, this relationship works for me. I like the challenge and I feel like I’m up for it, even when I’m not.

I had a previous relationship that was conventionally great but for some reason it just didn’t feel right. The attraction diminished, the sex got bland, and every conversation got boring and repetitive after a while. We had so many good times, late nights and laughs, but that faded and I knew I needed something more.

Philadelphia, it’s me, not you. That isn’t a line. I’ll always be impossible to satisfy.

When I first graduated from college, I worked briefly as a bartender in Philly. It was around the art museum and Fairmount park, a nicer area of a city that could benefit from a little revival overall. I had some funny regulars and my friends would come in and I’d over pour all their drinks. It was a reckless and carefree time. I shared a loft-like apartment in North Philadelphia with two other aspiring artists, and many other creative people surfed on our couch. The neighborhood was undesirable for most, but we loved it. It was the first time we really felt like adultswhich we weren’t. There was something liberating about walking to the corner bar and asking for a six pack through metal bars, slipping our collected worn dollar bills through the crack, and waiting outside of a closed door wondering if the anonymous arm would reach back out with our cheap beer. Sure we had sketchy neighbors, but they were our sketchy neighbors. It was gratifying to be rebelliously independent. Even more so because our parents were horrified by our living conditions, reiterating the fact that we were not adults, but just pretending to be. I broke up with Philadelphia for a few months to travel, but when I got back it was waiting for me and I felt compelled to start pursuing my career in a creative field on a more serious level. At the end of the day, I wanted to be drinking a beer at the bar, not standing behind it.

I excitedly took a job at a screen printing shop a little outside the main city in the spring of that year. I was so bright eyed when I came for the interview that the manager hired me on the spot. He didn’t understand why I wanted the job so much, and put me in my place when I called the warehouse a “studio.” Being that printmaking was one of my concentrations in college, I naively felt like I was on the right track. Ultimately I worked in a warehouse mixing inks, doing inventory, burning screens, and helping out on the presses. It was long hours and very little pay with no AC in the summer and no heat in the winter. The work was physically and mentally draining, but it was work that I liked. It was male dominated, and about 80% of the workers had fled here from Cambodia during the war. I couldn’t really relate to how hard their lives must have been. I grew up in an indistinguishable rural town in New Jersey where nothing ever happened. I’d smoke weed with the guys in their van after work, and have heard some pretty violent stories (which I’m afraid to repeat), but I never felt like I was in danger. We’d make fun of the boss just like any other colleagues. I still think about them sometimes and wonder how they are doing. It must be hard to move up in the world with “crip” tattooed on your neck, but that guy was my favorite; he was always respectful.

Eventually there was an opening to be an apparel designer in the office attached to the warehouse. I initially felt proud of the promotion, but I didn’t have to think much so I got bored early on. I remember staring at the clock a lot, convinced that it was broken. I was only there for about 6 months before I was offered a job in publishing in NYC (which I have since left for similar reasons). Philadelphia and I were in a failing relationship and it was mostly liberating for me to leave, but it was still hard to get in my car and drive away blindly from the place where I had my first taste of freedom. I miss Philly sometimes, it was genuine.

New York, being that it is so romanticized, felt like the right step for me as someone who is endlessly looking for the next best thing. I fell in love with him almost immediately, but I’ve worked tirelessly to gain a minuscule level of acceptance and success here as a creative professional. My story is all too common. The other morning I woke up hungover next to one of NYC’s other partners; this happens to me more than I’d care to admit. There was a picture in his room of him smiling a few years back. “I used to be so much more hopeful” he mumbled in a melancholy tone.

NYC can be manipulative, but it helps knowing I’m far from alone. I work as a designer in social media marketing now, a trendy profession that didn’t even exist a few years ago. I’m not particularly fulfilled, but I have to remain hopeful that it’s putting me on a good trajectory for whatever comes next. I’d like to be able to support myself by giving back someday, contributing to something that actually matters, likely not in NYC.

One thing I have definitely learned is that whether NYC is better than anywhere else is purely subjective, and the definition of success is so variable. It’s imperative that you keep your head up. The most conventionally “successful” people here jump off of the tallest buildings. NYC can certainly give you life, but he can also take away everything if you let him.