A Philadelphia free-thinker, drawn to the stories of Mr. Mumia Abu-Jamal and Mr. Russell Shoatz, built a production anchored in their sentiments.
I didn’t know what to expect Wednesday evening standing on Lancaster Ave in West Philadelphia, between 41st and 42nd, waiting for a show, which is a part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, to begin inside a humble community space whose left wall was filled almost entirely with protest culture books and magazines.
‘Second Skull,’ an experimental gesamtkunstwerk produced by Mr. Quinn Dougherty, an South Philadelphia activist and musician who is one of the #Philly10 – a group of ten people who were arrested in the Lawncrest section of the City after clashing with Philadelphia police officers in March of this year during a protest wherein the demand was to know who killed Mr. Brandon Tate-Brown – opened that evening to the public at LAVA, a modest audience attended.
The production – a unique blend of frequency, media, technology, live music and politics – is partially anchored in, and inspired by, the persistence, personality and grit of two Philadelphia-born political prisoners: Mr. Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former President of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalist, and Mr. Russell “Maroon” Shoats, a founding member of the Black Panther Party.
These two men, who both have seen the horror of solitary confinement, have captivated the imagination of Mr. Dougherty, a 22 year-old free thinker who shares in their sentiment that all true freedom exist in the mind, and only in the mind.
It’s the human mind in fact that Mr. Dougherty has transcribed into avant-garde theater which can only be seen in Philadelphia for two more days: Saturday, September 19th at 4pm and Monday, September 21st at 8pm, tickets are $9.
As I watched the performers onstage, I was under the impression that they were, in some way, re-enacting life as a prisoner in solitary confinement.
That’s not what Mr. Dougherty intended though he’ll “take any interpretation.”
To clarify, Mr. Dougherty, who grew up outside of Philadelphia, spoke exclusively to Techbook Online for exactly one hour about what people are seeing when they view his production, which is populated by “close friends and collaborators.”
“You’re peering into a brain as thoughts organize themselves; amplify themselves; gain traction; after that you zoom out to where there’s multiple people: they represent thoughts,” he said, “as do the lights.”
When asked what his thoughts sounds like, Mr. Dougherty replied:
“It would sound like ‘Second Skull.'”
The complexity of Mr. Dougherty’s thinking underscores the intricacies of ‘Second Skull.’
There’s a point in the show where there’s virtually no movement on the performance floor, and the back wall shows a video of a flutist making odd sounds for several minutes.
Mr. Dougherty said the flute solo is about the slow agonizing process it takes to connect the flute and the body, a “very slow presentation of that synchronization.”
In summary, with his work, Mr. Dougherty hopes to get people to “use their heads and listen to their thoughts.”
It’s a personal pursuit of his, but more broadly, he thinks it should be a “political pursuit” of the masses, because “enlightenment was supposed to be a proliferation of freedom, yet right now a pocket of history exists where enlightenment is not for everyone.”
But Mr. Dougherty doesn’t want enlightenment for enlightenment’s sake, he has a particular agenda and message he wants people to embrace, and he doesn’t shy away from it.
“I want art that takes a side, we should have an agenda to advance,” he tells me, after acknowledging his views are that of an anarchist, one who would flourish in a world rid of bosses and money. “It was intentional for me to have such direct Utopianism,” he added, noting, as the play does, an affinity for a gender neutral society where humans exist without the label of him, her, he, she, male and female, but rather comrade, performer, artist, musician and sibling – instead of brother and sister or bro and sis. “Gender and race… they’re all just social constructs,” he continued, with a tone that reminds one that whatever can be built can be destroyed.
Mr. Dougherty’s view of the world, moreover his determination to make his view a reality, is relatively noteworthy, considering two years ago he wasn’t engaged in activism, yet today his name is associated with the City’s biggest police misconduct story and his artwork is running during the Philadelphia Fringe Festival.
There was no particular story that served as the catalyst for Mr. Dougherty’s spark of life, just a deep peering into his own head, and a study of his thoughts in context to what’s happening around him.
“If you’re really using your head,” he said, “it’s inevitable that you’re going to arrive at the conclusion that you have to change the world.”
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