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Mob scenes: Philly students create play from random city violence

By Peter Crimmins, NewsWorks.org

This weekend, another flash mob is coming to Philadelphia — this time as documentary theater.

For three days, Thursday through Saturday, a West Philadelphia charter school is staging a play based on last year’s random mob violence.

Students in the theater department last fall interviewed 43 people involved with city flash mobs, both the violent kind — where people are randomly attacked — and the artistic kind — where groups of strangers break out in song.

It’s called “Phlash: A Mob Story” and, in the play, every word spoken comes directly from those recorded interviews with victims, parents, police and prosecutors. All of them explain from their point of view what happened and, more importantly, why.

It’s not an easy question to answer.

“I didn’t want it to be a preachy piece,” said Gregory DeCandia, the director of the Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia Charter School theater department, and founder of BCKSEET Theater. “I didn’t want to say it was this, and the fix is that. It’s not that easy of a question. That’s actually a line from the show. It gives more a rainbow than a color to what it was.”

The students were introduced to the documentary theater work of Anna Deavere Smith, and the Laramie Project, which tell stories using the actual words from real people affected by current events. “Phlash: A Mob Story” is a mash-up of thoughts and recollections from many people, weaving a narrative.

What struck Travis Smith about the script was the wide range of perspectives. The senior at Boys’ Latin, describes himself as judgmental and a pessimist. He was tasked with interviewing a woman from Occupy Philadelphia as source material.

“One day in rehearsal. I just played with her voice,” said Smith, hitting a higher register. “Maybe if I speak real high like this, and walk around saying ‘Hare Krishna’ I’ll probably feel something that she does.

“It was like, wow. She’s full of life, and I have to be like that.”

All of the actors are African-American teenagers, the same demographic primarily involved in the summer riots on South Street and Center City. While many of the teens involved in “Phlash: A Mob Story” were not at all affected by random acts of violence, some were, as victims or friends of victims.

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