A singer’s healing gift

Philly Fringe 2022: Matthew Armstead presents Song Bridge

2 minute read
Armstead appears in 3 juxtaposed forms: delighted kid, surly teen, and grownup with a knowing smile, wearing a black dress.
The little boy, the teenager, and the professional: Matthew Armstead in 'Song Bridge.' (Image via FringeArts.)

Song Bridge, a solo show written and performed by Matthew Armstead for this year’s Cannonball Festival, is a soulful, heart-wrenching, and joyful coming-of-age story about healing and redemption. Armstead integrates poetry, storytelling, movement, and song to bring the audience on a captivating hour-long journey, exploring the artist’s life at the intersections of a Black, queer, trans identity.

Armstead begins by walking the audience through a grounding and breathing exercise. This act of kindness and care sets the tone of the performance. Though the piece explores trauma, homophobia, and racism, Armstead shares their journey from a place of deep healing, joy, and wholeness. The artist deliberately gives audience members the agency to take care of themselves, gently guiding them to make space for their own healing. Armstead has a “space holder,” a person who holds space for them at each performance—intentionally not putting the burden on the audience.

Armstead’s piece is deeply personal and autobiographical, yet universal. They use three characters—the jubilant little boy, the lonely teenager, and the responsible, empathetic professional—to share stories from different stages of their life. Armstead uses body language, tone, and facial expressions to articulate distinct personas, as well as a disembodied voice that adds characters and interaction throughout the one-person show.

As someone who exists at so many marginalized intersections of society—Black, queer, non-binary, and trans—Armstead never fit neatly in the boxes and expectations of their family. A shy preacher’s kid, the first experience they had with song was in a church gospel choir. While Armstead eventually sheds aspects of their upbringing that restricted and constrained them, song is a gift from childhood that remains a constant companion and touchstone throughout their journey.

Armstead’s teenager is deeply lonely and feels unseen in the mostly white suburbs where they grew up. During college, the teenager explores their queerness, which provides community and acceptance. The teenager is often afraid to ask for the space and care they need for their own healing. Finally, the professional carries the story forward, grounds the experience, and provides perspective. In a touching moment of inner healing work, the professional kneels down to hug and forgive the little boy inside. Armstead also honors their ancestors by telling their ancestors’ story through poetry and movement.

They end the performance with an invitation to the audience to sing along with “This Little Light of Mine,” a reprise and reclamation of the song Armstead sang as a child. The artist’s generous and emotional outpouring is sure to resonate with anyone who has struggled to find their place in the world. With the lingering musical notes, Armstead leaves the audience with a tune of hope and light for our own healing journey.

What, When, Where

Song Bridge. By Matthew Armstead, co-directed by Rhetta Morgan and Cat Ramirez. $20. Through September 25, 2022, at the MAAS Building Studio, 1320 N 5th Street. (215) 413-1318 or fringearts.com.

Proof of Covid-19 vaccination is required to enter. Masks are required in all indoor spaces.


The MAAS Building studio is accessible only by stairs, and the cobblestone entrance may be difficult for some to navigate.

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