16 Nov Harriet Knopman and Eileen Mulgrew
10/14/18 Interview HARRIET KNOPMAN and EILEEN MULGREW
Knopman and Mulgrew were Wear White At Nite co-organizers along with John Lafont
Interviewed by Jeff Cain and Terry Fox
[Please set up. It was the Spring of 1977…]
HK: There was a lot going on at that time and there had been festivals and there were so many talented people in the neighborhood. I was associated with ETAGE. I was interested in pulling people in from the neighborhood and other Philly artists into the theater. I met Eileen who was a dancer, and we became friends and we began to hang out. Several nights well after closing hours at Sassafras we started talking about this Project.
[Who else was there?]
EM: I think Jeff Cain and Chuck Mattern were in on these conversations.
[You were listed as Coordinators and a Committee was on the printed program.]
HK: It was our idea but everyone on that list contributed, but there were a lot of others in the background, the performers primarily.
[You brought a lot of people to the event that didn’t live in Old City. A list of artists/events on the program and were cited]
HK: Thom Shafer in the Hammock. (Phantom of the Stork Club) Of course! He looked like The Cheshire Cat.
EM: Spanish Steps, at the turning point was Harriet’s vignette:
In the very beginning when you first came into the Courtyard. I figured it would be interesting to have something flamboyant but dark at the same time; somebody sitting there welcoming you into the happening of the whole thing. She was dressed in Spanish costume and her name was Marcie Marmet.
EM: The Bob Rivera work included a projection.
I remember Roofanasia, dancers with umbrellas.
Anne-Marie Mulgrew and John Melinchuk were at their window on a rooftop that looked sort of like a balcony.
Card Players: They sat there [under the Ben Franklin Bridge] and played cards and got drunk and then they wandered away.
Labyrinth in the Side Yard by Terry Kreuzer:
John Lafont also provided the music for that piece. That was a really lovely piece. It was simple, kind of sheets hanging, blowing in the wind with shadows and lighting. They worked on it together.
Taking Tiger Mountain. Bricolage theater group
The piece went on ahead of time before people got there. They were supposed to wait but they didn’t. They had invited people just to their event without going through the walk. The second night they insisted that they had to do the walk through, so they slowed things down. Not sure they performed both times at 8:45 and 9:45.
EM: We weren’t able to see everything.
HK: There was no communication. I was running around. I was in the front at the start, where there was a lot of trying to keep order. We didn’t have walkie-talkies. I remember some of the larger pieces and the painting exhibit at ETAGE. Tom Jackson, my friend was poet in part of Poets Corner.
[When did you decide to do Wear White at Nite and how long did it take to organize?]
HK: Eileen had more time during the day. I had more time at night. It all came together without technology. I didn’t even have a typewriter. We just made lists. We wanted to do something in the community with everybody involved in the event with dance, music, multimedia.
[Do you think there was anything like that in Philadelphia prior to that?]
EM: Oh no. This was a really very new new new thing. An outdoor multimedia event? No never happened before. We weren’t aware that it had ever happened anywhere.
HK: But it seemed like a good time, and we had the place and plenty of people.
EM: OCA had already had been started so there were some connection already made and some of our planning and discussion happened an OCA meetings.
[This event was part of the OCA’s 2nd annual festival]
EM: It was a kind of culmination for the festival. My recollection (without looking at the materials you have) is that it came together fast maybe we began talking in February of that same year. It was just a couple months.
HK: I remember that too. It was no time at all, we got the people together, we called the City, we made sure we were able to get all that together. John Lafont also did a lot of that kind of thing. He was the contact person for City permits. For some reason we needed water. A frogman? At a water hydrant on Race Street?
EM: Most people were only involved in their own bit. So almost nobody got the sense of the whole thing.
Harriet, John and I had a kind of vision that kind of leapt off on its own.
HK: And that’s just how it was. We were trusting everyone to do their own thing. Be here and be all prepared. If you need light we’d get it. We didn’t need auditions. You know what I mean?
EM: We didn’t really have a sense of how it would all hold together. Mostly what we tried to do is to make sure there was something every so often along the route, without blank space; big pieces interspersed with small pieces just for dynamics. But aside from that… We did try to get a lot people involved. So our early work was promotion, trying to get people involved. Talking it up. Michael Boughter designed a poster.
[Support from local businesses was quite extensive.]
EM: One of the things we had to do is to go to every building owner along the route so they knew that we wanted to use the back to their buildings as well. Not one person gave us any flack.
We didn’t have to any insurance – because it wasn’t money making?
[There was an admission charge]
Well, maybe not. Maybe we did have insurance.
[Councilman and local businessman, Jim Tayoun, maybe he helped with that?]
HK: I went to his office at the Middle East Restaurant. I got a donation from him. But when I went in there he thought I was applying for a job as a belly dancer. I said, “No, I’m here from Old City Arts and I need to talk to you.”
Everyone was very supportive. Nobody had any fear of us. Let them do what they want to do. It was a very different time. People were more accepting, and people were less fearful of what was going to happen. Nobody fell and tripped and sued. It was a very laid back. Like experimental music, this was an experimental theater piece that was outside.
[What did the title mean to you?]
HK: It would be at night
EM: The ideas of night and white were free floating around for a while. Jeff [Cain] came up with the name from a Rolling Stones’ song. We did have a concern for safety and things and we did want people to signify themselves as being involved by wearing white. The Sentinels, Harriet’s idea, were a kind of theme, to escort people for safety purposes primarily, and to string it all together for continuity and flow. The audience definitely needed a guide, as lots of people/audience didn’t know the neighborhood.
Harriet never got to do her sentinel piece at the end of Cuthbert Street.
HK: All you would have seen was a piece on a fire escape. We had a few fire escape pieces that never came to fruition.
[How about the Sentinel costumes?]
EM: The concept and look was Harriet’s. We had two posters, one with the Sentinel. One poster was blue and orange and one black and white.
[Did you expect the audience to wear white? ]
HK: No. But some did interpret it to clothing, maybe 20%.
[What about spelling? Nite or Night ? The poster happened before the printed program]
EM: The coordination of the printed program was incredibly time consuming, having to talk to every single person/artist along the route.
[There was a walk through in daylight but no tech rehearsal]
The map in the program was drawn by Bob Pistilli. It was done before…so we knew the route.
[It was Memorial Day Weekend how many times did groups go through?
EM: How many times through? 3 times in groups of 10 and 20?
At the end of it when we gave ourselves a debriefing, we gave ourselves a like a B-minus to a C-plus. It was hard to get everybody where they were supposed to be. We had major angst – we had no idea if everyone would show up, or if the Sentinels would show up; we didn’t know how many people would show up. We didn’t know how long it would take to walk through.
[How did you get to Old City?]
My sister and I were connected to the dance scene, so we connected to Terry at the 217 Studio.
It was a struggle getting spaces functional and it was too expensive, much less to be a proper dance space.
Bread Street Studio was great for performances, not art exhibits. Lebowitz and Stoops invited people to perform there and Maggie Newman taught (Tai Chi) there.
That neighborhood could have been something – but we were too late already. I remember the meeting of OCA when Denise Scott Brown (from the team doing the feasibility study) came to talk to us about development. She stood on a little chair like a princess, to be above us. She wanted to convince us to tell her everything about the way were living, how much it costs and whether there were fire escapes and all of that… So, they could speculate essentially on what could happen there. That was the death knell when she came to talk with us. It was already over that fast.