Trade School Festival Creates Collaboration for Detroit/Philly Artists

“We live outside a perceived cultural capital. We don’t live in New York or LA We live in Detroit,” Azab said. “Our work definitely has Detroit fingerprints all over it.”

A Host of People will perform “Cleopatra Boy”, an original work inspired by a line from Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra”. Moments before poisoning herself, Cleopatra despairs of her posthumous inheritance when she imagines herself represented by “a creaking Cleopatra boy, my greatness in the posture of a whore.”

Aja Salakastar Dier, aka Salākastar, performs in Detriot-based A Host of People’s “Cleopatra Boy”. (Courtesy of the business school)

“We look at how his story was told primarily by white men many years after his death,” Azab said. “It’s a pattern that we see happening historically for women, people of color, and queer people. Their narrative can be taken up by others and interpreted in a certain way. We use this to show how we want to resume our stories.

Azab said none of the Detroit artists had ever performed in Philadelphia before, perhaps with the exception of Ahya Simone, a sought-after experimental harpist and filmmaker.

A woman plays the harp with a black and white video or photo playing in the background on a large screen.
Detroit musician and filmmaker Ahya Simone will perform at the Trade School Festival. (Rich Wexler, courtesy of the business school)

Much of the work presented in trade school is meant to be challenging.

Bate’s piece, “Wig Wag,” is based on a choral composition written for a vocal quartet, but the performance extends to the audience who are meant to sing, whether they like it or not.

“The show tries to make room for a variety of comfort levels,” Bate said. “A big part of my job as an artist is to take people who secretly wish they could sing and give them permission to do so.”

Even if you’ve never secretly wanted to sing in public, there’s room for you in this room, too. Bate doesn’t expect everyone to be enthusiastic, designing “Wig Wag” to reflect a larger society.

“The tradition of white western choral music that I was born into – there are a lot of beautiful things about that tradition, but one thing that strikes me is the idea that everyone is trying to sound same way,” she said. “What interests me is making music where we just recognize that we all have a constant impact on each other, and the impacts are all over the map. We don’t have to aspire to reaction conformity.

“Wig Wag” is still in development and is not the final version of what Bate hopes the piece will become. Part of Trade School’s vision is to train audiences to embrace the artistic process, not just the product.

Bishop-Stone believes that including the public in creative development is essential in a post-pandemic art world.

“In 2020 and 2021, I really stopped having expectations of what ‘finished’ means, in terms of when a work meets its audience,” she said. “Part of how we should look at moving forward is how can we be malleable, both as artists and as audiences, to the special relationship of showing the work now.”

One of the performances will be “The Colonialists” by the Philadelphia ensemble Applied Mechanics. The immersive theatrical performance will divide the audience into groups to lead on different walking paths through Gershman Hall at the University of the Arts.