The experience of John Cambridge’s Much To Do, Much To Fix starts outside the venue, which is a five-story warehouse standing at 5200 Unruh Ave. To access the show on the fourth floor, audiences must ride a cargo elevator, stepping out to view the outer walls of the set constructed entirely by hand out of recycled materials.
Once they’re ushered in, audiences will take their seats on decommissioned army benches and church pews arranged upon a circular platform. As the show begins, the platform will slowly spin around and reveal the entire 360-degree hand-built set, which ranges from locations of mundane office buildings to dwelling places of the gods.
The warehouse venue provides a fitting atmosphere for the Philadelphia Fringe show that focuses on the wasteful energy consumption of us mere mortals inhabiting planet earth. Cambridge, director of Wings of Paper theater company and CEO of the Philadelphia Insectarium, wanted to raise awareness to Philadelphia residents’ ability to receive their energy from renewable resources.
“You learn a lot about what we call cultural apathy around energy usage,” said Cambridge, who personally constructed the majority of the set. The play follows the gods of music, stories and creatures, who inadvertently release apathy into the human world and must fix their mistakes.
Cambridge had much to do and much to fix when he first embarked on the project. Aside from building materials such as screws, the entire set is created out of materials that will be recycled. Philadelphia Reclaim donated timbers used to construct the stages and wooden platforms, in addition to the desks, lamps and other props used to make the sets come to life. Cambridge was able to borrow the materials in exchange for helping the organization move from Center City to the warehouse in Tacony.
“After finishing a day at the museum I’ve been coming here from about 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. for the past four months to work on this thing,” he said.
There’s a lot for audiences to take in as the platform starts spinning, and unlike most theater performances, audiences are encouraged to take photographs of the show – just no flash photography. When the walls are made of recycled billboards and adornments of the set created from recycled refuel lines for fighter jets, it’s hard not to be impressed.
The sound and lighting come from recycled parts as well. Sound plays from old Blu-ray players rigged up as amps and the lighting comes from Northeast High School, which let Wings of Paper purchase lights for them and rig them up for free instead of renting them out each show like the school had previously been doing.
The story follows the three gods trying to think of ways to encourage humans to intervene before they run out of coal by 2088. This is a real-world problem as Philadelphia Energy Authority oversaw factual parts of the script. The gods accidentally make matters worse when trying to intervene, and have to come up with a way to fix their own mess before the humans can fix theirs.
“We would like people to leave the show and reevaluate their day-to-day choices. Small little choices you make can have a huge impact,” Cambridge said. “The choice to use a glass water bottle you can reuse as opposed to going through plastic water bottles, those are the types of choices we hope this show will help people make.”
Cambridge also urged Philadelphia residents to take a look at their energy providers and consider making the small pay increase to switch to renewable energy sources.
Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. on Sept 16 and 19-21, 2 p.m. on Sept. 22 and 5 p.m. on Sept. 12-13 and 15. Tickets are $15, and shows are BYOB. For more information, go to wingsofpapertheatre.org.