Even if you don’t recognize Meg Saligman’s name, you probably know her work.
The internationally renowned muralist has been prolific in Philly over the past two decades. Her best-known piece is probably Common Threads at Broad and Spring Garden — or at least it was until this winter. As the Eagles advanced in the NFL Playoffs, Saligman’s temporary “giant eagle gripping Tom Brady” mural went viral, and a permanent version is planned with the Patriots player replaced by the Lombardi Trophy.
Five months post-Super Bowl win, the facade of Saligman’s Bella Vista studio still features a hapless No. 12 dangling from a big bird’s talons. But what’s she’s created on the inside might be even more exciting. It’s more interactive, that’s for sure.
Think of it like the lovechild of an escape room, a dance performance, an arts & crafts workshop and Fantasia.
Or as Saligman put it when Billy Penn stopped by for a pre-production visit, it’s “our den of mayhem.”
Welcome to FIGMAGO ALIVE, a collaboration between Saligman and Brian Sanders, celebrated choreographer and founder of the JUNK dance troupe. The show, which runs July 18 through fall, is an “art installation that draws its essence from the process to get from one Latin root (FIG) to the other (MAGO) — from abstract figment to fully formed idea.”
What’s that like in person? An experience to remember.
The room has Muppet-like figures strewn across piles of brushes, paints and non-woven cloth. There are acrobats suspended from the ceiling — and then a tour guide pops out of a picture frame above your head, urging you to follow through a makeshift wardrobe into a world of rooms as utterly fantastical and kooky as Narnia.
Some of the many other structural and theatrical elements include dancers on hover-boards, ribbon twirling, DIY stained glass displays, indoor waterfalls, drawing “sexy table dances” (as described by Saligman), shadow characters, geometric shapes, original animated shorts, a snake and Napoleon riding a cheesesteak.
You know, a totally normal South Philly gallery.
Each “room” throughout the tour is a 3-dimensional mural, in which groups of two dozen can appreciate, actively be in and add to.
Knowing of her murals — such as the highly photographed Philadelphia Muses on 13th and Locust — probably won’t help you unravel the mystifying spells the studio space will entrance you with. However, knowing a bit of Sanders’ renowned Cirque-style choreography may help you understand just what you’re getting into, before actually getting into it.
Either way, though, you’re bound to get a “crazy-ass guided tour,” Saligman said, “where at the end you’ll be able to utilize what you’ve experienced and become the artist.”
Per Saligman, the “rooms” have changed “at least 5,000 times” since the concept was agreed upon, because the collaboration between sculptors, dancers and painters can be rather hectic. This constant evolution, however, is par for the course for a show that is meant to be a sort of extended metaphor for the very act of creation and the magical connection to art, a phenomenon unique to our species.
Without too many spoilers, here’s what you should know before purchasing tickets and willingly getting into this visual tornado to Oz:
- Wear close-toed shoes and clothes you don’t mind getting dirty.
- Audience participation is a vital element to establish the overall vibe. Check your pride or your insecurities at the door to go with the chaotic flow.
- This is not a proper outing for folks who cannot withstand small spaces, for folks who scare easily or for folks who are physically limited. That being said, per Saligman, the tour is open for “ages three to 80.”
- FIGMAGO and FIGMAGO ALIVE are different. The former is a one-hour tour with no JUNK performers, while the latter is 75 minutes with JUNK performers. For FIGMAGO, adult tickets are priced at $24, and “Lil Figgy” (12-and-under guests) tickets are $16. For FIGMAGO ALIVE, all tickets are $38.