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City of Numbers: A Philadelphia Story


City of NumbersCity of Numbers. Paint by number. Live as a number.

The City of Philadelphia has a unique, successful program that has placed art in the lives of its residents –all of its residents. From prison cells to the Avenue of the Arts, the Mural Arts Program has made in impact on the way Philadelphians see our own neighborhoods and our neighbors. And now, through an exciting partnership with InterAct Theatre Company, has developed a series of programs to shed light on our Philadelphia crime, Philadelphia neighborhoods, paintings on the walls and citizens that live behind walls.

Wednesday night of the 27th was the Opening Night Reception for City of Numbers, Mixtape of a City, a one-man show written and performed by an artist who interviewed lifetime inmates at Philadelphia’s Graterford prison about their work as mural artists with the City of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program. The play is full of personal narratives that are strewn together to poke holes in our city’s justice system –pointing blame for failing citizens on ‘both sides of the walls’ at everything from poverty to racism to police to parenting skills, without focusing on one fault as the root or solution.

The initial creation of CITY OF NUMBERS began when Mural Arts commissioned InterAct Theatre’s Emerging Playwright in Residence, Sean Christopher Lewis, to write a play documenting the lasting impact of Mural Arts’ Restorative Justice program, which was designed to help combat and prevent crime by teaching men and women at correctional facilities in the Philadelphia area the art of mural-making. While interviewing inmates at Graterford prison, playwright Lewis quickly realized there was more to the Restorative Justice program than mere city beautification.

The Mural Arts’ Restorative Justice program was a forum for inmates to discuss the impact of their crimes, as well as a concrete opportunity for them to begin making amends to their community. Using the program’s ideals as a springboard, Lewis began imagining a play that not only confronted Philadelphia’s nationally recognized crime problem, but more importantly, how Mural Arts addresses the issue through art education. The result is CITY OF NUMBERS, a documentary-like drama written with tremendous honesty, humor, and humanity that combines the playwright’s personal journey with the perspectives of the many people he came to know while researching and writing the play.

To continue the discussion, a month-long program has been developed:

InterAct Theatre Company and the Mural Arts share a long-standing commitment to utilizing art as a transformative tool in the pursuit of social justice and the betterment of the Philadelphia community. The two organizations have collaborated many times, yet CITY OF NUMBERS represents the two organizations’ closest and most active collaboration to date, working together to program several auxiliary events that will stimulate community dialogue about violent crime, law enforcement, and the transformative power of art. 

January 28–February 28 – Mural Arts presents Color By Numbers, an free exhibition of work by the Mural Arts Restorative Justice Program, including work created by participants in the Mural Program SCI Graterford and the Philadelphia Prison System (PPS), as well as by youth from the Youth Study Center, St. Gabriel’s Hall and VisionQuest, programs for court adjudicated juveniles. In addition, works by juveniles for the Art at the Court program and the Youth Violence Reduction Partnership program, The Guild, will be on display. An opening night reception for Color By Numbers, featuring a special performance of excerpts from CITY OF NUMBERS by Sean Christopher Lewis, will be held Thursday, January 28, 5:30 p.m.- 7:30 p.m. at the Commonwealth Gallery, Lincoln Financial Mural Arts Center, 1727-29 Mount Vernon Street, Philadelphia. 

Saturday, February 6 at 2:00 p.m. – InterAct, in collaboration with Philadelphia Young Playwrights, will present four performances of Young Voices Monologue Festival, featuring 15-20 monologues, written by Philadelphia-area high school students and performed by professional actors, exploring the themes of violence, crime, law enforcement and the tranformative power of art. Admission for Young Voices is $5.00 per person and will be held on the Mainstage of The Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia. No reservations necessary. 

January 28–February 21 – InterAct will host several post-performance discussions featuring playwright & actor Sean Christopher Lewis, as well as local politicians, law enforcement professionals, criminal justice experts, and community leaders. Talk-backs are currently scheduled on Sunday, January 31; Tuesday, February 2; Wednesday, February 3 ; Sunday, February 7; Tuesday, February 9; and Wednesday, February 10; and Sunday, February 14. Line-up of guest speakers to be determined. 

Monday, February 15th, 7 p.m. FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC – InterAct & Mural Arts hosts a free panel discussion on crime in Philadelphia, featuring
Mayor Michael Nutter, Seth Williams, Philadelphia District Attorney, Ellen T. Greenlee, Chief Defender for the City of Philadelphia's Defender Association, Everett Gillison, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, Jane Golden, Executive Director of City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, Moderated by Dave Davies, Senior Reporter for WHYY. The panel discussion will be free and open to the public and will be held on the Mainstage of The Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia. 

January / February (Exact Dates T.B.A.) – InterAct will host several satellite performances of CITY OF NUMBERS. Reaching out to variety of neighborhoods, playwright Sean Christopher Lewis will perform his one-man-show, CITY OF NUMBERS, at churches, schools, community centers, and treatment centers throughout the greater Philadelphia area. Satelllite performances of CITY OF NUMBERS will be free and open to the public. Dates, times and locations to be determined. 

For up-to-the-minute updates on all events, visit www.InterActTheatre.org.