Shared from the 2017-07-31 Reading Eagle eEdition

‘This Is Reading’ is where change starts

Art installation at Franklin St. Station ends 3-week run with challenge to residents

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Joshua Culbreath of Philadelphia performs in Sunday's show.

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READING EAGLE: CARL FONTICELLA

A dance party follows Sunday's final performance of “This Is Reading” at the Franklin Street Railroad Station.

The economic decline that gradually infiltrated Reading — not long ago a thriving center of business and industry — has unexpectedly delivered two great works of art.

Now artists are calling on city residents to build upon that creative momentum and carry the torch proudly forward into a brighter future.

In April, playwright Lynn Nottage won a Pulitzer Prize for “Sweat,” a play inspired by Reading, and three months later, she presented an art installation honoring the city itself from past to present.

“This Is Reading” — a combination of film, theater and dance that occupied the Franklin Street Railroad Station for the last three weekends — came to a close after two performances Sunday night.

According to Nottage, the underlying goal was to create a sense of hope among city residents, empowering them to breathe new life into their surroundings despite widespread despair that often exacerbates racial and economic tension.

Director Kate Whoriskey said the show, which offered free tickets and played to capacity audiences, shined a spotlight on humanity above all else — the one quality that inevitably brings people together.

“We set out to create a space in which we could bring all of the communities in Reading together under one roof … from a homeless person to a public official,” she said Sunday. “I think we’ve achieved that room in which everyone feels comfortable and everyone feels welcome … where people decide to approach each other with kindness and a more open heart.”

Tony Gerber, a filmmaker and Nottage’s husband, described walking through the city telling people about the installation and meeting a teenage boy who seemed decidedly uninterested.

“He ended up coming four times and bringing a different friend each time,” Gerber said. “When you ask if we accomplished our mission, to me, that’s the accomplishment — to get people into an event like this who normally wouldn’t seek out performance and music and the arts, but who are inspired. That kid kept coming back because it connected with him on some level. This is a populous piece of art.”

In addition to celebrating Reading’s storied past, the installation examined the strengths of today’s Reading through the eyes of residents, who describe community, hard work and diversity.

Audience members on Sunday listed a variety of emotions that surfaced during the show: sadness, nostalgia, acceptance, pride, hope and unity.

According to City Councilwoman Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz, who volunteered with the crew, the question remains how to continue down a path of positivity and togetherness. She said city leaders plan to discuss potential uses for the historic Franklin Street station, which has been relatively unused since undergoing a $5 million restoration completed in 2013.

James Williams and Stephanie Seda, longtime city residents and Reading High graduates, participated in the show as dancers and said the experience has inspired them to continue working toward a better future.

“We just kind of hopped on the positivity train here, but it’s up to us to keep it going,” Williams said. “This is where change starts.”

Contact Lea Skene: 610-371-5032 or lskene@readingeagle.com.

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