Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center features young artist with Asperger’s

Eart on the spectrum Emily Burke, 11, has been an artist since she could pick up a drawing utensil and last month, her art was featured every weekend at the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center.

The show, named Art on the Spectrum, features artists diagnosed on different levels of the Asperger’s/Autism scale, MRAC Board Member Mike Muir said.

In first grade, Emily was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and now participates in several programs specifically designed to accommodate children with similar conditions.

“She has made leaps and bounds since her diagnosis,” her mother Lauren Burke said. “People with Asperger’s tend to be really good at things.”

And while Burke’s parents notes she prefers to draw animals – especially dragons – she has a very macabre side to her art.

“I’ve always seen some conflict her drawings,” Emily’s father Pat Burke said. “She has cats fighting and wolf fights.”

Emily’s depictions of cats and dogs cover the walls of the MRAC, but as one sifts through prints for sale, more pieces depicting death and bloodstart to appear.

warrior cats

Pat attributes some of her darker work with an infatuation with zombies, but Emily doesn’t see it that way.

She said she naturally started drawing it and that she likes dragons.

“Something she’s told me [is] she drew something she saw in a dream,” Pat said. “Just the other day she showed me a drawing and said it was a ‘dream dog.'”

While Emily’s art has been co-featured at other shows, the work at MRAC was her first independent showing. Her work took up the majority of the space and was advertised as the main spectacle on MRAC’s website.

A percentage of the show’s proceeds have been donated to the Plymouth Meeting Community Program, a soccer club that meets off-season when TOPSoccer, a national soccer club for children with special needs, does not hold practices and games.

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Manayunk distillery looks to wind back time with a sip of gin

The first thing you notice when you crack a bottle of Liberty Gin open is a strong lemon aroma. Walter Palmer, a Manayunk resident who founded Palmer Distillery just a few blocks from the neighborhood’s Main Street attributes this ingredient to his own preference.

“It really is wonderfully citrus-y,” he said of his gin.

Palmer said his approach is methodical and artisanal, insisting that he doesn’t want to expand to the point of sacrificing the high quality, organic ingredients he imports from around the world.

“From my perspective, a good gin should be pure to exactly what gin is,” Palmer said. “I do have a personal philosophy that everything has a sweet spot, as it should be. Our company motto is ‘as it should be.'”

Palmer spent months researching, trying to identify what made a good, Philadelphia gin before opening up 10 weeks ago.

He found himself looking at the American Revolution, a defining time in American history. And Philadelphia played a big role. He wanted to make a gin as strong and robust as the city he’s working in.

“Generally, the people who were having those thoughts [of revolution] drank,” He said. “They weren’t drunk, but they drank. I mean, they drank a lot. ”

He said he was fascinated with the idea of being able to walk in the steps of the Founding Fathers, holding a drink with the same properties as theirs. His gin is meant to, in a way, wind back time with every sip.

Palmer officially earned his permits and licenses in May and will be moving his product onto a few Pennsylvania liquor store shelves in September. He makes small batches, but has the capacity to distill 220 gallons at a time.

Palmer is also working on a corn whiskey product called Manayunk Moonshine. His plan is to bottle half and barrel half, and maybe sell it in flasks. As tempted as he is to dig into the bourbon business, there are more restrictions involved in that.

“Even if I end up selling gin from New York to D.C., I’ll be perfectly happy,” Palmer said. “My goal is not to be Diageo. I want to be a high quality, craft distillery. I want to use high quality products and make high quality products.”

Palmer Distilling is located at 376 Shurs Lane in Manayunk. If you see a sign that says “free gin tasting” you are welcome to go in for a free shot.

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African music and improv come together at Mt. Airy Art Garage

Traditional African drumming, a middle school choir group and an improv troop came together at Mt. Airy Art Garage for African drummer Ron Kravitz’s show, “Underground at Ron’s Goes Aboveground.”

The different groups put on contemporary acts while Kravitz’s traditional African drums and guitars near the stage joined the shows with their own improvisational songs and dances to create an “East meets West” theme.

Kravitz has been hosting improvisational music jams at his Wyndmoor home for nearly two decades and hosting “underground” shows about five times a year. He curates his “above-ground” shows when he is inspired by locations like Mt. Airy Art Garage, where he is a member, and believes he can attract larger audiences.

Playback Theatre performed improv shorts based on the audience’s stories and feelings as a part of their reunion show. The national group had a Philadelphia location with the guidance of Sarah Halley, the artistic director of the troop who served as one of the show’s curators.

“Ron has been a musician for us for many years,” Halley said. “When I talked with Ron about doing a reunion performance, it was his idea to hook it up with the choir.”

The chorale group was the final act and had parents sitting on the edge of their seats gleaming with smiles. The students sang some songs in traditional African form, with accompanying artists like Kravitz and Quint, who guided the students during practices and rehearsals. Kravitz synced other contemporary music with traditional African drumming and music, giving a traditional angle to music the pop top-100 dance songs the choir sang.

The choral director at Jenkintown middle/high school, Alyssa Davidson, was excited to introduce multicultural music to her students and said she hopes to continue brining Kravitz in for more lessons on his skill in traditional African music.

“They get to see different kinds of instruments from all over the world,” Davidson said.

The Jenkintown Select Vocal Ensemble, composed of seventh, eight and ninth grade students, performed traditional African songs and pop music with the guidance of Kravitz and Davidson, who have been working together for more than five years.

For Kravitz, the combination of such a diverse group of performers was ideal.

“This is a little dream connection that I’ve imagined — and now it’s actually happening,” Kravitz said.

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The Delaware Valley Opera group returns to its Manayunk roots

The Delaware Valley Opera Company has returned to Manayunk, where they founded the group in 1979, for its 2015 summer festival.

The group will be hosting several performances until the end of summer at the newly renovated Venice Island just off Main Street.

“The theater is magnificent,” said Sandra Day, president and general manager of the group. “My favorite thing is to walk out on that patio and look out at the river. It’s so gorgeous.”

The Philadelphia Parks and Recreation department and the Philadelphia Water Department recently rehabilitated Venice Island, which was long considered an eyesore by the river. The new space has a 250-seat theater and an amphitheater with a parking lot, making it a hot spot for community events and shows.

“We do have the opportunity to actually reach out to some underserved communities,” Vice President Milo Morris said. “We really haven’t had the opportunity to do that in other locations. Having everything within walking distance is really cool. We’re accessible to them.”

The opera group is a nonprofit, so their tickets, which usually run around $25, are tax-deductible. The group is volunteer-based and although the performers are paid, most of the administrative staff is not. The proceeds of the tickets are used towards setting up their summer festivals.

The group performs many traditional shows, but occasionally puts a modern or more entertaining spin on their performances. The group will be performing Mozart’s “Magic Flute” in July with a steam punk theme. Board member Susan Millsfarrington said the opera has also used cross-dressing in some past performances.

“We’re open minded enough that if a director comes to us with a modernized concept, we will consider it,” Morris said. “Most opera companies are afraid to break traditional molds, but our audience appreciates new and different.”

The opera company often recruits younger and less-experienced artists for their shows. Although less experienced, the performers bring a lot of talent and have the opportunity to build their career in opera.

“Younger and emerging singers get their opportunity to learn and perform roles and get performing experience,” Morris said. “Hopefully, as we’ve seen with many of our performers over the years, they get to move up the food chain to bigger companies.”

After many years as a nomadic opera group, the company is happy to call Manayunk their home once again this summer. The administrators reinforced their dedication to serving the community by offering accessible, affordable opera performances.

“You don’t have an opera company in Manayunk everyday. I’m excited about being here and they seem excited about having us,” said Day.

The Delaware Valley Opera Company will host a total of nine shows throughout the summer.

Tickets can be bought at Venice Island or online.

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Germantown circus troupe looks to push boundaries of faith in upcoming performance

Almanac, a Germantown-based circus troupe, has been practicing since October for their performance later this month titled “Leaps of Faith and Other Mistakes.”

The group of five is taking an interpretation of faith into a performance that joins theater, dance and acrobatics in a non-linear story about a group of four performers. In the show, they redefine time, create friendships and turn their relationship into a whimsical and almost confusing story.

“We’re trying to make a piece that is episodic,” Ben Grinberg, an Almanac acrobat said. “There is a narrative, but not just one narrative. And it’s not linear.”

The group has performed silent shows in the past to push their audience into interpreting their story, but their upcoming show involves scripted parts that paint more colorful scenes.

The performers teamed up with Josh McIlvain, a Philadelphia-based writer, in January to help curate the unusual story of the acrobats’ performance about devoting their lives to circus while interpreting what they describe as “sublime human idiocy.”

McIlvain also curates the increasingly popular pop-up performance series in Northwest Philadelphia called “Nice and Fresh.”

The show will be held at Fleisher Art Memorial at 7th and Catherine streets from June 25 to 28. The group said they were enamored with the space and especially inspired by the idea of performing in a church.

“We were looking into performing this piece in a church because it’s all about faith,” Grinberg said.

The performers acknowledge that they are not particularly religious, but hope their show can inspire people on a deep, personal level, the way some people are inspired by their faiths.

“For us to be able to ask our questions in a sincere, searching way and leave space for everyone to come comfortably into it will be our major task — without being overly sacrilegious or purposefully shocking,” Nick Gillette, one of Almanac’s performers, said.

The group said that by colliding three realms of performance in their show, they are creating an opportunity for the audience to interpret their show from multiple angles.

“People see it in a way they are brought to it,” Gillette said. “In a way we can intentionally try to craft one thing but a dance crowd will see it as dance, a theater group will see it as theater and a circus crowd will come in and look at it as circus and acrobatics”

The show’s name, “Leaps of Faith and Other Mistakes,” comes from the group’s determination to define faith for themselves and the audience.

“Leaps of faith has everything to do with us becoming an ensemble that will throw each other in the air and catch each other,” Grinberg said. “It’s a big commitment of trust.”

While the church itself is a well-reserved and conventional space for artists to perform, the group wants to maintain their contemporary theme and push boundaries — both for themselves and the audience.

“We don’t want it to stay safe,” Grinberg said. “Something we have been exploring for years is how can we make circus not just this ‘thing!’ that [seems] so easy.”

Many circus performances highlight impressive and surreal moves while acrobats maintain a wide smile. While performers swing effortlessly into the air, the reality of blisters and sore muscles are lost in translation. Almanac’s performers said they hope to use Leaps of Faith and Other Mistakes to hint at their own experience as acrobats, reminding the audience of the months of practice and the steady strength they must maintain for a safe show.

Information on tickets and the group’s previous performances can be seen at their site,


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