Day 114: Three-Thirteen

[Full disclosure: this post is actually being written on Day 115, April 25, but I failed to post yesterday on Day 114 and I’m catching up. I feel like this makes my “one post every day” claim a little bit fraudulent, but really, does it make a difference? Really, does it? I think the only one who experiences these posts as a daily sequential phenomenon is me, the one doing the posting. For the rest of the world, Project 194 has become a web of days and works linked together via the Internet. Leave me a comment if you have a thought about that.]

Today’s post might have been more numerologically appropriate yesterday, on Day 113 [well, not yesterday; see the disclaimer above]. 313 South Broad Street was the address of a building I worked in for many years, and the University of the Arts’ Ira Brind School of Theater Arts was housed there until 1999. Empty for years, the lot became the site of a pop-up park and beer garden last year. I wrote this song for a show we produced to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Brind School (we called it “SOTA” in those days) in 2003, when the demolition of 313 was a fairly recent memory for everyone. This past weekend, the two buildings next door (309 and 311 S. Broad) were also torn down, as the site is being prepared for a massive construction project, a hotel/apartment tower that will be one of Philly’s tallest buildings. It’s a shock to be able to look south on Broad from the intersection of Broad and Spruce and see the entire side of the Broad Street Ministry’s church!

The singers on this track include Tallia Brinson and Jeremiah Downes, and Jeff Kern is the arranger and conductor.

Tonight we’re here to celebrate the anniversary
Of how our program started back in 1983.
It was 313 South Broad Street,
That’s where it all began.
Try to remember or imagine if you can:

The day that you arrived there,
It all seemed strange and new,
But somehow, you survived there,
You spread your wings and flew!
And the place became your home away from home
With a cast of friends like none you’d ever known.
It’s a memory that still seems fresh and green
When you think about your time at three thirteen

Three Thirteen,
That’s where you made a start of it.
Three Thirteen,
That’s where you learned the art of it.
Three Thirteen,
That’s where you found found the heart of it.
Your life began again at age nineteen
Right there, in Three Thirteen.

Three Thirteen was, among other things, the place where the first workshops of the musical Floyd Collins took place. in 1992. I’ve had occasion in recent classes to wax nostalgic about the days when the American Music Theater Festival was at its most robust, and the way that organization made Philadelphia a national center for exciting musical theater. At UArts, there were works produced in our spaces, like Revelation in the Courthouse Park (1987) and Power Failure (1988), or works presented in the Drake Ballroom like Welfare, based on the Frederick Wiseman documentary with music by Lenny Pickett and the Borneo Horns (1991?) and Ed Shockley’s Bobos, with a score by James McBride (1993). More importantly, there were original works that were developed with our students in the cast, works like Bobos, Floyd Collins and States of Independence. States was composed by Ricky Ian Gordon, and was written and directed by Tina Landau, who also collaborated with Adam Guettel on Floyd. One of the last AMTF projects I recall from 313 was The Wonderful O, a musical based on James Thurber’s 1957 children’s book that came delightfully to life in a staging by Marcia Milgrom Dodge on the stage in the Recital Hall of 313 S. Broad before it eventually ran aground on copyright and collaborator issues.

The fifth floor had buckets for when the ceiling leaked,
The basement had roaches so big you nearly freaked,
You dressed for ballet in a busted bathroom stall
And your room for Acting Studio had holes punched in the wall.
Some rooms were cold and drafty, and some so hot and dry
That in wintertime, you kept the air conditioner on high.
But it wasn’t just asbestos in the air,
You could tell that something special happened there.
Ralph the janitor always tried to keep things clean,
Which was not an easy task in Three Thirteen.

Three Thirteen,
That’s where you made a start of it.
Three Thirteen,
That’s where you learned the art of it.
Three Thirteen,
That’s where you found found the heart of it.
Your life began again at age nineteen
Right there, in Three Thirteen.

I’m typing these lyrics out as I listen to the recording, and it’s gratifying to hear the audience (which included a number of alumni) laugh at this description. The recording also includes tributes to the teachers and other individuals who, like Ralph the Janitor, made the place unforgettable. “Sometimes the work got a little pretentious, but then it dawned on you that this was what a life could be in the arts: spirited colleagues, passionate curiosity and no boundaries.”

Recommended listening for current students who want to connect with the traditions of the school, and for alumni wanting a reminder of why the undergraduate years are so precious. There’s more lyrics, but no more time for typing, so use your ears and enjoy!

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