Theater / Performance

Gumshoe (New Paradise Laboratories, Philadelphia Central Library and Rosenbach Museum, 15Apr2017)

more more gumshoe

NOTE: This show runs until May 7th, and is free!  Reserve tickets at:

What THEY say it is:

Something preposterous is happening at the Free Library of Philadelphia. You must help us unravel it.    An exhibition has opened containing the original manuscript of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” the very first detective story. Your guides, members of the Library staff, are behaving… well… strangely.   New Paradise Laboratories invites you into an immersive adventure in detection. GUMSHOE is also an expedition into the treasures of the great Parkway Central Library. It will blend disguise, subterfuge, infiltration, half-truths, and bald-faced lies, to get to the bottom of a crime that hasn’t yet happened. We’ll lead you through secret doors and down escape hatches, both real and imagined, into the underbelly of the building. The truth of life is its mystery.

Fun with cellular tracking devices

What WE say it is (Phoning it in, this time):


What Tara Says It Is, As Relayed Via Clay Typing As Fast As He Can, While Tara Cooks Clay’s favorite “Vegetarian Enchilada Soup”, Plus Observations Interjected By Clay, Throughout:

Clay: “Tara, give me your off-the-hip description of Gumshoe”.

Tara: “So pleasantly entertaining, like I smiled the whole time we were there, smiling to myself the whole time.  It was zany but didn’t totally make sense, maybe I learned a little bit, and I think there were smatterings of truth about Philadelphia and its history.  It was really different.  I’ve been to interactive shows but I don’t think any like that.”

Clay: “If you were going to describe Gumshoe to someone who hasn’t heard of it and also is short on time and also maybe a little ignorant, what would you say?”

Tara: “I would let them know that it’s going to confuse you, you’re going to be confused.”

(Stirs soup)

no not gumshoe

It has nothing to do with the NES Zapper classic, Gumshoe.  I wish it did, but sadly, no.


“You need to be prepared to interact.  We had a good group, but that could have gone off kilter.  If we’d been grouped with a bad group, it would have been bad.  If you’re not comfortable with things that don’t make sense in the end, or a tidy resolution, then this isn’t for you.  If you like zany history and don’t mind overlapping 1850 and modern history than this might be ok for you.  I wouldn’t have known how to mash these things and ideas together.  They did a good job of exposing people to new ideas like the Rosenbach or theater to this new idea that they haven’t seen before.  You’d need to be open to new forms they’re exposing to you; the theater, the iphone walking tour, the regular museum presentation, to read the documents they’re presenting to you and Poe’s detective stories and real Philadelphians and people who admire Poe and people who collected stories and even people who wrote stories ABOUT collecting detective stories.  ….  I thought the overlapping nature of the show was cool and good.”

“……..I don’t understand the whole fucking thing about the ‘starsight theater’ and that was kind of bullshit, I never totally understood that part, but I did like the way people’s costumes and shirts related to it, that was pretty cool.  You do need to be willing to interact with others and deal with the insanity of what might happen when you gather a whole big group of people together.”

Tara stirs the soup some more and wonders aloud if this (all of the above) is what Clay wanted her to say…..

Clay: “I know you’d be upset if I publish your comments above without allowing you a chance to add context to your statements about the starsight theater being, and I quote, “kind of bullshit”.  Would you like to add anything about that?”

Tara: “I just didn’t understand the significance of the theater and maybe I understood it that maybe it was the convergence of the three timeframes.  I mean, maybe I didn’t understand that it was the culmination of the show.  Maybe this was because my phone couldn’t connect and then some of it maybe was my fault that I didn’t understand it but I didn’t understand it.  Yeah, don’t publish things that I say like that!”


“This batch of soup might be a spicy one, I’m just warning you.”

Clay: “I told the readers we’d be trying new formats and the new format is TRUTH for today and you said its bullshit and now that’s recorded for all time.  I don’t think its important anyway, you said you liked the show anyway.  I didn’t understand it entirely either, it felt like the show fixated on that theater issue a bit much and by the time we were supposed to be unraveling the whole thing hours later, it was easy to lose the thread of the show’s overall point.  Plus we were getting a little tired and hungry and in fairness we’d been trekking through the show for like 4 hours by that point and I think we were looking for more in the way of a cohesive conclusion and the show was aiming to give us a more existential final experience.”

Tara: “I don’t like calling things bullshit in public.  It’s not nice.”

Puts fruit salad into container for tomorrow’s lunch

Clay: “So please clarify what you meant, perhaps with better words?”

Tara: “I mean I didn’t understand it and that’s why I got frustrated with it.”

Clay: “That’s entirely understandable.  What were a couple of your highlights, and please speak a little slower, my hands are already hurting from transcribing this quickly.”

now sweeping floor, waiting for soup to boil

Tara: “Im getting a little tired. I know this is supposed to be fun but I’m getting a little tired.”

Clay: “We will finish another time.”

Picking up a few days later…Tara is putting away the dishes Clay has washed, and puttering around in the kitchen.  Clay hopes that Tara has had time to reflect and will add more information on Gumshoe, a neat experience which will, sadly, fade from mind too quickly, as life has a way, I’ve noted, of passing on and on into the future….


The Free Library of Philadelphia


Clay:  So, Tara, resuming the Gumshoe interview.  So, we began our investigation in a group of people in the foyer of the Free Library, a place we used to visit for regular after-work ‘date nights’.   It’s regrettable that such traditions had to end, but the central library isn’t exactly close to either of our workplaces.  Anyway, what was your favorite part about the visit to the free library?

Tara:  The different areas we got to go in.

Clay: Was there a particular area or spot you liked the most?

Tara: The basement—what they did with the basement.

Clay: Specifically, remind me what you mean about the basement.

Tara: The pretend office that they set up—the decorations, with the books, and the references to the libraries that burnt down.

Clay pauses to explain, in ghostly interjected prose, that Tara is referring to the culmination of the show, in which, after being led through hallways, elevators, and the basement of the library itself (bearing an uncanny resemblance to a Freddy Kruger Boiler Room scenes or some kind of creepy film basement situation), we ultimately arrived at a room staged as an office—the detective office, in this case—complete with maps, clues, post-it notes, diagrams, non-sequitur scribblings and remarks. We were free to roam in this room, and it was indeed quite cool, emphasizing the show’s overall spirit of signal, noise, and the difficulty of deciphering which, exactly, is which.   Tara is also making reference to a particularly humble—and neat—wall of graffiti art, where a minimalist representation of books (black boxes) were glued to a deserted hallway to represent a looong row of books (stretching along the wall of the long basement hallway) and labeled with the names of many historical libraries that were destroyed or lost from history. 

Tara:  I didn’t understand the significance of the parachute drop.

Clay, again pausing to explain, a pivotal moment of the show was when we were rushed (the staff were sincerely concerned about being ‘on time’ throughout the event, like white rabbit and Alice, for real) to the main hallway of the library, arriving, in tandem, with many other detective groups coming out of other hallways and rooms around the area, all together, all in the nick of time to see a parachute drop from the apparent ceiling of the library and fall to the staircase landing, whereupon a nondescript woman casually strolled by, spotted the parachute (with a note or letter attached?), and retrieved it, leaving the area without further impact on the show.

Clay: I think it was intended to be a simple spectacle, a neat moment of clues and misdirection.  I mean, it was pretty cool how the timing worked out and all the groups were together at once, all on time.  I think it was a ‘showy’ element of the show.

Tara:  But it didn’t add anything to the show, and it wasn’t really ‘showy’.  I could have done without being rushed through the show.  I don’t know.  It seemed inconsequential.

Clay: I disagree.  I liked the artistry of the timing and all the groups in the landing together was like a tabeleu of characters, sort of a visual art that you’re a part of.  Its more about spectacle than meaning.  But, agree to disagree, and moving on.

more gumshoe image


Clay: Tell me about the actors—a little input.

Tara: The guy named after a foot was cute.  The guy who introduced us to the whole idea, I liked him because he was a good introductory character to know.  He looked like a detective, he was easy to take direction from.  The other characters were supposed to be more ‘wifty’, and the one guy with the Poe finger puppet was good because he was silly. I thought it was well done that they stayed in character but not fully scripted, sort of interpreted, people were talking to them and they are interacting and integrate it with your show, its harder than being on stage with nothing unexpected happening.

Clay: I thought the ‘wifty’ girl was pretty good, but overall I thought it was a tiny bit overacted, but it makes sense, and if I was staging it, I’d probably do something similar.  You don’t want boring, flat characters (since they’re the whole show, besides the space itself), you want cartoonish and entertaining.  Still, sometimes, they were a little over the top, but it was fun, so its cool.  The ominous fellow with the newspaper in front of his face (and the clues appearing in the windows behind him, in the next door building) were pretty rad.

Clay: Do you want to talk about what worked—and what didn’t—with the final section of the show?

Tara: I mean, uh, what didn’t work was that I didn’t get resolution.  Part of that was the Fail of my phone, it didn’t connect and I didn’t get everything that was happening.  But it was kind of long, and I was kind of done by that part, so maybe it was me, I was done.  I liked the idea of integrating history, a museum, performance art.  I liked rare books exhibit and a live performance and a history tour and Philadelphia.  I thought all of that integration of ideas and experiences was pretty good and I liked it all being a part of one presentation.

Clay interjects to explain that the final part of the show was a walking tour—leaving the library and heading out into Philadelphia streets—narrated by a phone app Tara downloaded onto her smurt phone.  However, sadly, at parts, the narration wouldn’t connect, and so it got a little disjointed, and nobody enjoys technology fails.  Also, my legs were aching and we were both getting pretty hungry by mid afternoon, and I think hangry pains set in, disrupting what should have been a fun walk through the city, something we both typically enjoy.

Clay: Yeah, I was done too, after the Rosenbach.  I liked the idea that the mystery continued out of the library into the city—that, in fact, the library section was only the first half of the show—but then the narration and the Rosenbach aspect started to feel like the story was a little too mystic and ambiguous, and like we were split between a spiritual meditiation on time and history, and an actual mystery relating to a falsified work of Poe, literary detective work, I dunno, I was pretty done like you said, and I was having trouble caring enough to weave all the threads into a cohesive story.

Clay: This isn’t to say I didn’t like the idea though, or that I might not have liked it better on another day, or another situation.

Tara: That’s the end of the play.  It was a nice idea to mash all those ideas, I was smiling all the time, we were having a lot of fun.  I didn’t like the feeling of no resolution, but it might have been me.  I’ve been telling all my friends about it, so I guess I liked it enough to recommend it.

Clay: that sounds good. I’d recommend it to people if they want to explore the library, like a goofy mystery and seeing dark corners of the library, and also want an excuse to walk around downtown Philadelphia.  All good things.




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