Cheeseteaks. Whether you’re walking down Passyunk, 9th, South, or Market, we’ve all felt that bit of ire when confronted with a swarm of tourists wrapped around the block waiting for cheesesteaks. It’s not the lines that bother us locals, but the fact that the place in which we live has so much more to offer. This was on the mind of Philadelphia native and 10-year neighborhood resident, Vince Fumo, Jr., after he was stopped by a cheesesteak-eating tourist on the corner of 9th and Federal who asked him, “What else is there to do around here?”
Fumo knew his neighborhood had more to offer and he was going to find a way to help others engage in the place he loves. The result is the Italian Market Project. Part theater, part history tour, part escape room, Fumo’s project is a fully-immersive, site-specific, 90-minute adventure for 8-10 people.
Sense of Place
Many of us devoted readers of Hidden City Daily think a lot about sense of place and the effect our built environment has on a particular neighborhood. Of late, we’ve been focused on the sad plight of Christian Street Baptist Church, an Italian Market landmark that provides a significant thread in the neighborhood’s historic fabric. We’ve asked ourselves “what will be lost?” when, and if, this landmark is demolished to make way for yet more high-end townhouses. What best serves the neighborhood? And who decides? Whose history matters most?
I too am a resident of this neighborhood and have been for almost 12 years. My time is a mere blip compared to those who have spent a lifetime born and raised on these streets. But I have now been here long enough to be sharing stories with the newcomers about the legendary folks and places that are no longer here. I am witnessing a place that has transformed little by little and now suddenly all at once. And I see what has been lost when private parking is prioritized over everything else.
This is what makes the Italian Market Project so important and timely. To create this experience, Fumo founded Bicycle Thief Productions, enlisting the help of theatre artists Amanda Jensen, Brey Ann Barrett (both vets of Theatre Exile), producer Michael Donahue, and playwright David Jacobi. The story they have crafted falls in the intersection of a long-time resident, exuberant “Let’s make the city better” newcomer, new-age shamanism, redevelopment, and the gig-economy. It plays with stereotypes and reminds us that the Italian Market offers more than Italian food. The journey is multi-sensory with the sounds and smells, AND tastes of a vibrant food market adding richly to the experience. The tour guides/actors are some of our city’s best young talent. Their characters are so real you may feel as if you’ve made a new friend.
While Fumo had tourists in mind while envisioning the experience, this seasoned market shopper learned something new. I had a lot of fun experiencing a place I love in a new and most entertaining way.
The Italian Market Project runs weekends from June 15 – July 1 on Fridays at 2PM and Saturday and Sunday at 12:30PM and 3PM. Previews begin on June 8. Tickets are $35/person and includes snacks. For more information, see their website: Italianmarketproject.com