Explor­ing Philadelphia’s fringes

Philly Fringe 2021: A series of neigh­bor­hood walk­ing tours in Philly

4 minute read
A smiling man w/ glasses stands in the left-hand corner of the frame, posing for a photo with a group dressed for a long walk
'Walk Around Philadelphia' organizer JJ Tiziou takes a selfie with a group of walkers during a previous outing exploring the city’s edges. (Photo by Jacques-Jean Tiziou.)

JJ Tiziou has racked up nearly 800 miles walking along the borders of Philadelphia. But he says there’s still more to see.

“The walk is full of metaphors, full of surprises and beauty, but also challenges and obstacles. It is an exercise in patience and improvisation and spontaneity,” says Tiziou, a visual artist and community organizer. “It's never the same twice.”

This year, the Philadelphia Fringe Festival will host Tiziou’s eighth organized perimeter pilgrimage, with the walk divided into 10 sliding scale segments. It’s perhaps the most ambitious ambulatory experience in the festival but by no means the only foot-forward event for those interested in enjoying the 2021 Fringe outside or while socially distanced.

Walk Around Philadelphia

Tiziou first walked Philadelphia’s boundaries with three other artists in February 2016. That roughly 100-mile walk was the start of a much larger journey.

With sights ranging from blue herons and shipyards to prisons and electrical plants, Tiziou’s Walk Around Philadelphia encourages participants to reflect on and appreciate their surroundings. Once registered through the Fringe, people can sign up for a guided walk, choose several segments, or organize their own. Each segment covers about 10 miles over five hours, although walkers can opt to leave early.

Tiziou acknowledges that participating in the walk comes with accessibility challenges and that it is a privilege to explore the city. A virtual final reflection is open to participants and onlookers to discuss and share experiences. Additionally, Tiziou continues to fundraise to create opportunities for would-be participants and is collaborating to make the walk more accessible, including for people who require descriptive narration.

Bridging the Distance

Awareness of space is central to another Fringe event, Expansions Contemporary Dance Ensemble’s Bridging the Distance. The interactive walking tour and dance piece unfolds in the Mt. Airy and North Philadelphia neighborhoods, with participants scanning QR codes to watch pre-recorded performances in either location.

“I want to bring attention to the neighborhood as much as the dance experience,” explains choreographer Christina Castro-Tauser. “These are the neighborhoods that I live and work in.”

The dance performances—filmed by Castro-Tauser’s husband, Scott Tauser, a videographer and designer—are a mix of site-specific pieces. Due to the pandemic, the ensemble created last year’s Fringe production Connecting the Distance in a virtual space. This year, some members have been able to collaborate while socially distanced and reporting from across the country.

One piece imagines the interactions between two commuters on Mt. Airy's Allens Lane bridge. Another highlights a B-boy in motion at the FDR Skatepark. And another features an ensemble member performing many miles from Philadelphia in Georgia's Tallulah Gorge State Park.

Through the varied locations, Castro-Tauser hopes to awaken viewers’ senses. She envisions viewers grabbing a cup of coffee from a local business, perhaps listening to a SEPTA train going by, and queuing up a dance video on their smartphone.

“What you see, what you smell, what you taste becomes a part of the dance,” Castro-Tauser says.

A white circular sticker with the words Walk Around Philadelphia sits on a concrete barrier by a small creek.
Walk Around Philadelphia takes participants to the city’s edges. (Photo by Jacques-Jean Tiziou.)

Going the Distance

Fringe attendees interested in exploring the city have additional opportunities to stay in motion, at various price points and with different levels of interaction and accessibility.

  • The Birth of Jawn: Exploring Philly with a King is a pay-what-you-can immersive audio experience narrated by drag king Jawn Wooders, and will be available September 6 through October 4. The performance is meant to be listened to while exploring Philadelphia, from the Ninth Street Market to the Gayborhood, either in the real world or while using Google Maps. Participants will need a smartphone, tablet or computer with access to the internet. Headphones are recommended for a more immersive experience.

  • Walking with Charles: Stand-Up En-Route is a free event taking walkers through Fishtown over several evenings, September 17-25, and as part of a group led by comedian Charles Blyzniuk. Since Blyzniuk works on new stand-up material while walking, the 40-minute tours will feature a mix of jokes and musings, as well as neighborhood sights. Proof of vaccination is required to attend this event. Masks must also be worn.

  • Movement continues with Jody Oberfelder’s Life Traveler, a pay-what-you-can audience experience taking place October 2. Audience members, who must reserve time in advance, will meet at the Ben Franklin Bridge to accompany a dancer with a suitcase on a brief and intimate journey. The interactive piece has been presented on bridges and sidewalks in cities around the world. Participants should wear good walking shoes. Adapted versions are available for people who use wheelchairs.

What, When, Where

10 x 10 – Walk Around Philadelphia is a walking tour divided into 10 segments, September 6-October 4, appropriate for ages 13 and up, priced at sliding scale. Groups are limited to about 15 participants and will include at least one experienced perimeter walker. Each segment will cover about 10-12 miles and take five to six hours to complete at a leisurely pace. Once digitally registered, participants can also access maps to plan their own trips.

Participation requires signed liability waivers and media consent forms at the start of the walk. Walks are undertaken through public space at the audience's own risk. There will be options to leave early if necessary. Minors must be accompanied by parents or legal guardians. If price is a barrier, please contact the artist. There will also be an online reporting session for participants and others to join on October 3.

Bridging the Distance is a 90-minute interactive walking tour blending dance and video, available September 9-October 3, from Expansions Contemporary Dance Ensemble. The cost to access the map with Mt. Airy and North Philadelphia QR code locations is $5. Participants will need a smartphone, tablet, or computer with access to the internet.

For more information about these and other events, and to register or purchase tickets, visit fringearts.com

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