At the UniverSoul Circus, the Audience Is Part of the Show
“Soul is not a color – it’s an experience.”
That pretty much sums up what makes the UniverSoul Circus different from any other circus you’ve been to. You’ll find that legend emblazoned on the T-shirts and tote bags the circus sells at the merchandise shop on your way in and out of the big top in West Fairmount Park.
Since the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus folded its tents, the 24-year-old UniverSoul is the one surviving link to the old-school circus tradition now touring nationwide. But it’s old school with several twists.
One of them is alluded to in that phrase above. The UniverSoul Circus is at the same time global and deeply rooted in African-American traditions. When did the ringmaster at “The Greatest Show on Earth” ever do a call-and-response with the audience? Or lead everyone in a blessing at the end?
That audience involvement sets this show apart from other circuses too. It takes numerous forms, like the “Soul Train” dance competition my date volunteered me for, or the “Making the Band” routine, where a fellow who communicates solely via a whistle gets four random people to come into the ring and mimic the crazy dance moves he makes. And then there’s the between-acts bit in the second half when they bring out the enormous beach balls and set them in motion among the — well, by then, it’s really not accurate to call it an audience. Fellow performers is more like it. The engagement between the cast and the audience raises the energy level of the UniverSoul to heights not normally reached in a traditional circus.
Performers from 30 countries around the world have appeared in the circus since its debut in 1994, with a special emphasis on the Southern Hemisphere and the Caribbean. That fellow with the whistle — I learned from the show’s publicity that his name is Sfiso — hails from South Africa, for instance. So does Lucky the ringmaster. And this year’s edition opens with a colorful spectacle featuring stiltwalkers, dancers and limbo performers from Trinidad and Tobago. My companion, whose family comes from Trinidad, ate this up, as did I.
The performance features a host of traditional circus acts, including acrobats showing off their balance on a “Wheel of Death,” contortionists from West Africa with bodies so flexible they’ll astonish your yoga instructor, slapstick clowns, and motocross daredevils.
And trained animals — zebras, camels, horses, ponies and an elephant, to the delight of the children and the dismay of the animal-rights activists.
But even these traditions get an injection of new jack soul. For instance, the show’s featured clowns, the Detroit-based Fresh the Clownsss, dispense with the red noses, big shoes and oversized pantomime in favor of Technicolor braids, baseball jerseys and languid, fluid moves. And they too find audience members to incorporate into their act.
If you decide to check this circus out, be prepared to make some noise. Not only do the ringleaders encourage it, the contests are judged based on audience response.
The intimate scale of the UniverSoul circus tent makes all this possible. Everyone gets up close and personal with all the action in this space, and that in turn fuels all the interactivity. If you aren’t troubled by the animal acts, and you’d like to experience an old-fashioned circus with a multicultural flavor, you should experience this show full of soul. There’s more fun in UniverSoul’s one ring than there ever was in Ringling Brothers’ three.
The UniverSoul Circus performs under the big top at 52nd Street and Parkside Avenue in West Fairmount Park (next to the Mann Music Center) through Nov. 26. For more information and tickets, visit the UniverSoul Circus website.
Philly Just Lost Its Chance to Be the First to Enforce a Wage Equity Law
Though Philadelphia was the first city to sign wage equity legislation, it lost its chance to be the country’s first city to actually enforce it. That title went to New York City at the beginning of the month when it passed a law that bans all public and private employers from asking about a candidate’s pay history.
Philadelphia’s law was supposed to take effect May 23 this year, following Mayor Kenney’s approval back in January, but the city halted enforcement due to a lawsuit from the Chamber of Commerce. I last reported on the lawsuit in June after a judge threw out the Chamber’s legal challenge. But the organization submitted an amended complaint soon after and claimed that Philly institutions like CHOP, Comcast and Drexel would be harmed by the law.
So what’s the status of the ordinance now? According to the city, both parties have completed all briefing regarding the Chamber’s motion to preliminarily enjoin the law and presently awaiting a decision from the court. And there could be further proceedings depending on the court’s decision.
“We believe the legislation is lawful and the law department intends to fully defend it as this lawsuit plays out,” city spokesman Mike Dunn told me. “They have thoroughly reviewed the legal concerns of the business community, and the administration is confident that the law will withstand this challenge.”
The Chamber of Commerce said it could not comment on the status of the lawsuit.
Similar laws are popping up all over the country. Puerto Rico, California and Massachusetts have each banned all kinds of employers from asking about a candidate’s pay history and their laws take effect in 2018. Delaware has also banned the question — its law will go into effect sooner in December 2017. Wage history questions will be illegal in Oregon beginning in 2019. On the city level, both New Orleans and Pittsburgh have pay equity laws already in effect as of early to mid 2017, but they only ban wage history inquiries at city departments and agencies.
Philly’s law aims to reduce the impact of historical salary discrimination, but some business community members leading the backlash say it is not the answer to closing the gender wage gap. Supporters of the law have said its necessary since workers can’t count on the city’s businesses to do the right thing. Others have said that while the law looks good on paper, it might actually lead to unintended consequences that ultimately hurt women.
Dunn says the debate over the law has actually given the Kenney administration a chance to more fully hear the concerns of the business community, and not just to this measure but also to other laws that some consider burdensome.
“We know that Chamber members are committed to ending wage discrimination, and we are hopeful that moving forward we can have a better partnership on this and other issues of concern to business owners and their employees.”
Cards Against Humanity Throws Up Wall Against Trump
If President Donald Trump manages to actually build that wall along the U.S.-Mexico border he promised to erect, he will have to work his way past 150,000 American citizens and a bevy of lawyers first.
That’s because the Chicago comedians behind the popular game “Cards Against Humanity” bought a strip of land along that border and syndicated it to its fans.
The holiday promotion, dubbed “Cards Against Humanity Saves America,” offered 150,000 slots to customers who paid $15 per slot to receive “six America-saving surprises [delivered] right to your doorstep.” The first of those six surprises: An illustrated map of the land the company bought, a certificate of its promise to fight against the wall, some new game-playing cards, and most importantly, an ownership stake in a parcel of land surrounding the border, according to the promotion’s website. The promotion was announced this past Tuesday (Nov. 14th) and sold out on Wednesday.
Cards Against Humanity also said that it has retained a law firm that specializes in eminent domain cases to fight any government attempts to take the strip in order to prolong the process of building the wall.
This isn’t the first time the Cards writers have used land as a holiday promotional come-on, according to a Bisnow report on this latest purchase. In 2014, Cards Against Humanity bought Birch Island, a six-acre island in Maine, for $200,000, renamed it “Hawaii 2,” then sold 250,000 buyers “exclusive” rights to one square foot of the island. The company also ran a similar holiday promotion the following year, buying an Irish castle, renaming it, and offering buyers 15 minutes of dominion as “King of Castle Sensible.” And last year, the company took in $100,000 from buyers who paid to watch a live stream of a backhoe digging a huge hole somewhere in the United States.
The America-saving surprises will ship six times throughout December. Wonder what kind of land-office business they’ll do next holiday season?
What Leading Philly Democrats Have to Say About the Jewell Williams Harassment Allegations
On Thursday, we asked six top Philly Democrats to comment on sexual harassment allegations against Sheriff Jewell Williams.
The accusations come from three current and former employees: 40-year-old Vanessa Bines, an administrative assistant in the Sheriff’s Office who claimed in a federal lawsuit that, over the course of two years, Williams invited her to private dinners, made genitalia jokes and then retaliated against her after she rejected his advances; Marlaina Williams, who alleged in a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that Williams made inappropriate comments about his sex life and repeatedly attempted to kiss her; and Karan M. Rogers, whom Democrats paid $30,000 to settle her 2011 claim that Williams, then a state representative, harassed her while she worked as his legislative aide, as reported by the Inquirer and the Daily News.
Earlier this week, Philly’s Democratic Party leader Bob Brady told WHYY that the “time to make a decision” regarding Williams “is not right now”: “They are allegations, we hope the allegations are false, and if they become true, we have to make to a decision.”
On Thursday, we asked a group of leading local Democrats three questions:
- Do you think Sheriff Williams should resign?
- Do you think the sexual harassment and misconduct allegations against Sheriff Williams are credible?
- In light of reports that Democrats paid $30,000 to settle a sexual harassment claim against Sheriff Williams in 2012, do you think the party has taken necessary measures to prevent and address this alleged situation?
None of them answered all three of the questions. Three did not respond at all.
Here are the answers we got.
Mayor Jim Kenney
Kenney was the first to answer and gave the strongest statement.
“I think he should step down,” Kenney told Philly Mag. “Three women have come forward, and one was paid a significant sum to settle her claim just a few years ago. I think that anytime a pattern of sexual harassment is revealed, it’s smart practice for that organization to review its policies and make any necessary changes.”
City Council President Darrell Clarke
City Controller-elect Rebecca Rhynhart
Rhynhart said she would conduct a “detailed audit” of the Sheriff’s Office next year.
“I think that there should be a process to review the claims of harassment, such as an outside investigator experienced in workplace investigations brought in to evaluate the claims promptly,” Rhynhart said. “Victims should be believed and too often in society they are not. It is the responsibility of government leaders to ensure that the workplace is free from harassment.”
She added that, “as a private citizen, I am troubled by these multiple accusations and think this must be vigorously investigated.”
U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans
Evans provided the following statement: “Sexual harassment is never acceptable and should never be tolerated in the workplace. I believe all sexual harassment claims should be vigorously and fairly investigated. I in no way condone sexual harassment of any kind and believe all sexual harassment claims should be taken incredibly seriously. I along with all of the staff members in my Philadelphia and Washington, DC office are required to complete the House of Representatives Office of Compliance sexual harassment awareness training. Sexual harassment is not an issue we as a nation can stand to take lightly or an action we can allow in any way.”
State Sen. Anthony Williams
A spokesperson for Williams said the senator has “no comment at this time.”
State Rep. and Philadelphia delegation leader Maria Donatucci
With reporting by Holly Otterbein.
Manatawny Still Works Is Opening a Bottle Shop and Tasting Room at Suburban Station
Want some good news for your Friday? How’s this: Next week, the good people at Manatawny Still Works will (finally) be opening their third location — a bottle shop and tasting room inside Suburban Station.
Where to Eat This Weekend: Small Bites
With Thanksgiving on the horizon, no one wants to go out and eat some huge, multi-course dinner. No, what you need for this weekend before the food marathon is small plates, little bites — and maybe a couple stiff drinks, too.
So that’s what we’re suggesting for this weekend. And a great place to start is…
Police: “Anarchists” Vandalized the South Street PPD Mini-Station
Philadelphia police are looking for a group of 10 to 12 people they believe to be anarchists who vandalized two squad cars and the area outside of the South Street Mini Station, 905 South Street around 11 p.m. on Thursday night.
Police officials tell Philly Mag that officers working inside the substation on Thursday night went out to investigate a disturbance on the street when they discovered the chaos just caused by the group. Two police cars sustained damage, including one which had a hammer protruding from its windshield. Glass bottles containing red paint were thrown against the side of the building, and a smoke bomb was also set off.
— Action News on 6abc (@6abc) November 17, 2017
Anarchist/anti-police propaganda pamphlets where found strewn about the street. Nearby surveillance footage shows the unidentified offenders – all wearing black clothing – fleeing westbound from the scene.
37 Things to Do This Weekend
Friday, November 17
A Die Hard Christmas @ Good Good Comedy Theatre
Universally beloved Philly comedian Doogie Horner celebrates the release of his new illustrated book A Die Hard Christmas with a live reading and other relevant entertainment.
Bardo Pond @ Kung Fu Necktie
Like lava, Bardo Pond cannot be stopped. The Philly band — leaders of the Psychedelphia scene — has been creating molten meteor rock since 1991. Their sound is heavy and acidic, but also nuanced and moved by deep tectonic grooves. Their latest, Under The Pines, was released in March.
Summer ’82: When Zappa Came To Sicily @ PhilaMOCA
A new documentary about wild music legend Frank Zappa and the infamous concert he played in Italy in 1982, featuring onstage and behind-the-scenes footage. Dweezil Zappa will be there for a meet and greet. The 7:30 screening is sold out but the 10:30’s still got tickets left, last I checked.
Self Care @ Little Berlin
A combination art show/reading. Philly artist J Pascoe’s work focuses on “how social settings and urban spaces are navigated by the general populace as well as her own anxiety and discomfort from interactions originating at these sites.” Readings by Candy Alexandra, Raquel Salas Rivera and Virginia Price.
Squeeze @ Keswick Theatre
Founded in 1974, Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford’s occasionally hiatused New Wave/power pop band released The Knowledge last month. It’s a trip, man.
Dennis Stroughmatt & Creole Stomp @ TK Club
Illinois fiddler Dennis Stroughmatt makes the case for French Creole music in the Midwest. Get up and dance.
Crimes of the Heart @ Calvary Center
Curio Theatre stages Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning dysfunctional family comedy-drama. Directed by Gay Carducci. Through December 9.
The Lone Bellow @ Union Transfer
The Brooklyn rock/Americana trio released Walk Into a Storm in September. It’s a pretty, rootsy record, stacked with upbeat crowd-pleasers.
The Black Heart Procession/Sam Coomes @ Boot & Saddle
Reunited California indie band the Black Heart Procession doesn’t have a new record out yet, but that just means the set lists are packed with old favorites. Absolutely show up on time for Sam Coomes — low-key one of the best songwriters on the planet — whose résumé includes Quasi, Blues Goblins and Heatmiser.
Labyrinth @ South Street Cinema
Jennifer Connelly, a bunch of Muppets and David Bowie’s codpiece star in this 1986 Jim Henson fantasy musical.
INAATE/SE/ @ Lightbox Film Center
Adam Khalil and Zack Khalil’s film transforms an ancient story from their Ojibway heritage about the first time indigenous people in North America met Europeans. It’s part documentary, part something else. The trailer looks pretty psychedelic. Stick around for a Q&A with the filmmakers after the screening.
Big Jay Oakerson @ Helium
The Philly-born standup has appeared on Tough Crowd, Louie, etc. Through November 18.
Rasheeda Speaking @ Allens Lane Art Center
This workplace thriller and off-Broadway hit explores race and gender in the workplace. Written by Joel Drake Johnson, directed by Scott Grumling. Through December 3.
Saturday, November 18
Dee Dee Sharp @ World Cafe Live
A rare performance by this 72-year-old Philly soul legend who scored several Top 10 hits in the early ’60s both solo and with Chubby Checker. Among them: “Mashed Potato Time,” “Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes),” “Ride,” and “Do the Bird.”
Hot Snakes @ Underground Arts
Hot Snakes — featuring alums from Drive Like Jehu, Delta 72, Rocket from the Crypt and more — are post-punk/garage royalty. They just signed to Sub Pop and are expected to release a new record in the Spring.
Tom Papa @ Keswick Theatre
The NY actor/comic/Sirius radio show host has two comedy specials directed by Rob Zombie. That’s… unexpected.
Petal @ Everybody Hits
A solo show at The Cages by Kiley Lotz, the only constant in achingly gorgeous Scranton indie rock act Petal. Her latest EP, Comfort, dropped in September. Also on the bill: Born Without Bones, Super American and Tombo Crush.
Joe Bonamassa @ Academy of Music
Slick blues/rock with a big, brawny guitar front and center.
Andy Blitz @ Good Good Comedy Theatre
Standup comic and nine-time Emmy nominee Andy Blitz wrote for Conan for years, and appeared in many sketches — including the Slipnutz series. Blitz’s writing credits also include Eagleheart and Master of None, where he’s also co-executive producer.
The Frights/Vundabar/Hockey Dad @ First Unitarian Church
Just a fun night of rock ’n’ roll from San Diego, Boston and Australia.
Church Girls @ Johnny Brenda’s
Jangly, artful indie rock from Philly. Church Girls released Hidalgo back in September.
Entellekt @ Kung Fu Necktie
High-energy, braggadocious rap from North Philly.
Bearing Witness: Four Days in West Kingston @ the Penn Museum
“Part art installation, part memorial, and part call to action,” this exhibition focuses on the Tivoli Incursion tragedy in Jamaica in 2010. Runs through July 15, 2018.
Kid Flix Mix 2 @ Lightbox Film Center
An amazing collection of short films for kids from all over the world.
Mark Mulcahy/Summer Fiction @ Boot & Saddle
Mark Mulcahy (of Pete & Pete’s Polaris and Miracle Legion) released The Possum in the Driveway in April. Show up for Summer Fiction. Bill Ricchini’s heartworn indie band just dropped a new single called “Since You’ve Gone With That Boy,” and it’s bittersweet like Tigermilk.
My Fair Lady @ Sedgwick Theater
Quintessence Theatre Group presents the two-piano version of the beloved musical. Music by Frederick Loewe, lyrics and book by Alan Jay Lerner. Stars Leigha Kato and Gregory Isaac, directed by Alexander Burns. November 18-December 17.
John Carpenter @ Trocadero Theatre
The legendary horror/sci-fi director — Halloween, The Thing, Christine, etc. — just released Anthology: Movie Themes 1974-1998, a compilation of his compositions from those and other movies in his giant, bloody catalog.
Le Trou @ Lightbox Film Center
Prisoners plot their escape in this 1960 French film directed by Jacques Becker.
Sunday, November 19
Shilpa Ray @ Kung Fu Necktie
Bodacious Brooklyn singer Shilpa Ray and her band make bluesy garage-punk with a touch of ’60s girl-group sass. Utterly engaging rock ’n’ roll.
Dream Theater @ Merriam Theater
Deep, dramatic prog metal.
Bitch @ PhilaMOCA
Scottish director Marianna Palka wrote, directed and stars in this funny feminist satire about an overworked, underappreciated wife and mother who starts taking on the characteristics of a dog. It’s based on a true story. Not kidding. Sunday and Monday, November 19 and 20.
Silversun Pickups @ The Fillmore
The veteran alt-rock rock group just released Better Nature. It’s cool, catchy and easy on the ears.
Nails @ PhilaMOCA
An Irish horror film about a woman who wakes up from an accident paralyzed haunted by a supernatural presence. Directed by Dennis Bartok, stars Shauna Macdonald (The Descent). Sunday and Monday, November 19 and 20.
Brain Candy Live! @ Kimmel Center
Ex-Mythbuster Adam Savage & YouTube star Michael Stevens team up for and “educational stage tour” featuring “crazy toys, incredible tools and mind-blowing demonstrations.” I did a whole thing on it the other day.
Flyers Wives Carnival @ Wells Fargo Center
Raise money for a good cause while interacting all with your favorite Flyers plus Andrew MacDonald.
Bedouine @ Johnny Brenda’s
The earthy, Syrian-born singer-songwriter released a self-titled record in June. Fans of softly mysterious folk artists like Laura Marling will definitely fine something to love about Bedouine.
Philly’s Poverty Rate Is the Highest Among U.S. Big Cities
Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia Research Initiative released the findings of a new report on Wednesday that examined, in detail, our city’s poor. At 25.7 percent, Philadelphia’s poverty rate ranks the highest among the country’s top 10 largest cities, even as we slide down that list.
The nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank’s study focuses on both the demographics and geographical positioning of poverty in Philly by analyzing census data from the 10 poorest U.S. cities with at least 350,000 residents and our most populous municipalities. Pew is actually based here, too, so they do have a bit of an investment in this subject, especially as an organization driven to improve public policy through research.
Although it’s been steadily rising since the ’70s, the rate of poverty has remained rather stable in Philadelphia over the past ten years. From 2006 to 2016, that average grew by less than one percentage point (the city did see a sharp fluctuation in the years following the Great Recession, which has since evened out).
As we hope to continue to better understand Philly’s poor in an effort to diminish poverty in the future, here are three important takeaways from Pew’s report:
The “suburbanization” of poverty is relatively nonexistent in this region.
The city is home to only 26 percent of the Greater Philadelphia area’s population, but 51 percent of its citizens living below the poverty line. That gap of 25 percent is the largest disparity for any metropolitan region in the country. Some factors for this phenomenon include Philly’s advantageous public transit system, low cost of living, and the area’s strict land use regulations that limit the development of affordable housing units in the ’burbs.
Poverty is evolving.
Over the past quarter-century or so, poverty in Philadelphia has expanded outward from isolated pockets in North, West and Southwest Philly to where 40 percent of the city’s residents now live within census tracts with poverty rates less than 20 percent. Additionally, the face of poverty is trending toward more Hispanic and working-age adults.
In Philly, nearly 40 percent of all children under 18 live below the poverty line.
This is just a sad fact that serves as a prime example of what’s at stake. For the sake of our city’s youth, we need to come up with a more effective solution to limiting the reach of poverty in this city as much as we can.
This Classic Black & White Wedding is Also Classic Philadelphia
When in doubt on wedding colors, you can never go wrong with classic black and white. Add in a touch of gold for a festive feel, but otherwise this timeless palette is exactly that — timeless. No matter the decade, Philadelphia couple Stephanie Searles and Louis Vogel, Jr. will be able to look back on these gorgeous photos captured by Rachel Pearlman Photography and never feel they look dated.
Despite being in the same undergraduate class at the University of Pennsylvania, Lou and Steph didn’t actually meet until their first year of law school at Villanova. First impressions were positive all around — “He was tall and an Ivy League graduate and I was impressed!” says Steph; “She looked like royalty,” remembers Lou — but, even then, it took until a shared international law class in their third year to get them on a date. (With the help of a friend, Lou discreetly “borrowed” Steph’s keys and left roses and a hand-written note asking her out in her car.)
Three and a half years later, Steph was out to dinner with her friend Jenna one mid-December night. During the meal, a server handed Steph a note from Lou requesting that she meet him at 17th and Locust at 9 p.m. There, Lou was waiting with a dozen roses and a request that Steph accompany him on a walk around Rittenhouse Square, which was decorated for Christmas. He popped the question, Jenna hung back and took pictures, and when Steph said “yes,” Lou thrust his fist in the air. Steph assumed it was for a photo opp, but at that very moment a group of Mummers lead a parade of their friends and family into the park to celebrate.
The couple married on April 29th, 2017 in a classic black tie affair. After exchanging vows at the Church of the Gesu at St. Joseph’s Preparatory Academy, the celebration continued at the College of Physicians. The groom performed a surprise dance with his father to “Tequila” by The Champs, and sang “It Had to Be You” to his new wife. The Mummers made a second appearance in the form of the Quaker City String band, and, at the end of the night, guests were encouraged to indulge in sugary treats from a massive candy bar. The pair honeymooned in Vienna, Budapest, and Barcelona, then returned home to their Washington Square West residence in Philly, where she is a tax attorney and he is a litigation attorney.
Venue: The College of Physicians of Philadelphia | Photographer: Rachel Pearlman Photography | Event Coordinator: Gina Sole of The Wedding Planner | Florals: Garnish of Catering by Design | Catering & Cake: Catering by Design | Bride’s Attire: Pronovias gown from Elizabeth Johns, Gucci shoes | Hair: Amanda D’Andrea | Makeup: Beke Beau | Groom’s Tux: Trussini from Boyd’s | Transportation: Cescaphe Trolley | Videographer: Video by Louis Anthony | Music: Vincent James Band and Quaker City String Band | Invitations & Programs: Little Pearl Designs | Candy Bar: Nuts to You | Favors: Custom matchbooks from Gracious Bridal | Calligraphy & Signage: Ellsworth Imagined | Photo Booth: Snap That Photo Booths