Whether reducing the epic scale of “Moby Dick” to the size of a rowhome bathtub or relocating the simian apocalypse of “Planet of the Apes” to a public park in South Philly, The Renegade Company delights in the juxtaposition of classic stories and unexpected locations.
As artistic director Mike Durkin puts it, “The excitement is in exploring the relationship between the environment that we’re in and the story that we’re telling. It’s completely of the moment and unique, and something that will hopefully impact you for a period of time.”
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Now, Renegade is taking one of the most important works of English literature and staging it in the confines of an historic burial ground with the world premiere of “Beowulf/Grendel” at Mount Moriah Cemetery. Directed by Maura Krause, artistic director of playwrights collective Orbiter 3, the show will allow audiences to follow either one of the lead characters — hero or monster — on a walking tour through the landmark cemetery.
“What’s really exciting and powerful about Mount Moriah is that it’s right at street level,” Durkin says. “It’s not tucked away, you can see the houses and business around it, and we felt that this was a great way to find the relationship between the art and the everyday.”
Finding non-traditional sites also allows Renegade to engage with local communities that might not otherwise be exposed to theater, such as the working-class neighborhood surrounding Mount Moriah. The company also reaches out to local artists to help create an even more immersive experience. In the case of “Beowulf/Grendel,” West Philadelphia’s Telegraphic Tree wellness practice will create teas and scents from natural items found in the cemetery itself.
Durkin says that the idea of adapting “Beowulf” has been kicking around the Renegade Company for several years, but didn’t cohere until the idea of placing it in a cemetery arose. Taking shows off the stage and out of doors, he explains, is a way of reconnecting with an ancient form of storytelling — one that is especially relevant to a tale as old as “Beowulf.”
“Storytelling started out with everyone around the campfire, sharing stories, passing them down from generation to generation. In a cemetery, stories are all around us. Everywhere you go there’s another gravesite that comes with its own set of memories.”
"Beowulf/Grendel" runs from Apr. 13 through Apr. 24, at 6:30 p.m. at Mount Moriah Cemetery, 62nd Street and Kingsessing Avenue. $20. Visit the site for more details