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Community-Based Work

How we occupy space and the place we are currently guide the way I construct my practice.  The environment, the neighborhood, the residents, how they pass time and work, and what stigmas/connotations are in existence all contribute to the body of my work.  Understanding our roots to where we were born, where we live now, and where we hope to live. I’m drawn to understand Americana.  What are our “American traditions”, what does it mean to be an American yesterday, today, and tomorrow? How are different traditions engaged throughout the country?  If we can agree upon this mac-n-cheese recipe, maybe we can agree upon other things.  While we are cheering on the local sports team, can we also acknowledge toxicity around some traditions and fandom. 

In working with communities, I’ve observed and want to continue to create a “theater of us”. A whole person and neighborhood-centered inclusionary experience that welcomes, dissolves stigma, understands barriers, and builds bridges. I seek to understand how neighborhoods work and the individuals that occupy them, what is happening on a day-to-day level, and be sensitive to current stigmas or associations. By obtaining partnerships with universities, businesses, community organizations, and arts organizations, I want to create work that addresses the needs and feelings of the neighborhood. Through interviews, and community-building sessions I hope to unearth the roots of neighborhood issues, explore trauma, sharing contrasting perspectives all the while celebrating and amplifying the unique qualities of neighborhoods. I want to unearth stories of humans, neighborhoods, and cities, and find common ground.

I am guided by exploring the poetry of everyday public spaces as performance locations. My work centers on creating performances in non-traditional site-specific locations as participatory walking plays and experiences. These can be in the neighborhood streets, fields, bathrooms, apartments, cemeteries, parks, subway stops, restaurants, rivers, and any point in between. How we interact with these spaces is what is most important to me. I’m pulled by the conversation between the neighborhood, our location, and our personal relationship to the location.  What are the stories from the community, in what ways do neighbors agree, and disagree, and how do we look at the neighborhood in ways we’ve never could have imagined? I’m interested in how we experience the ordinary in extraordinary ways. What information do we bring to the site, where does our mind wander to, and what will the audience be left with are important questions to my work. These performances occur as disruptions to the everyday environment. The time of day, location, the direction we face, the path we walk, and the architecture is all thought out and curated. The work becomes ambulatory, participatory, and with thoughtful engagement with the neighbors/business owners/and civic workers.


I’ve developed a movement vocabulary that I’m guided by. I want to infuse abstract movement and gestures with everyday situations and occurrences. I meet the performer where they are physically, emotionally, and intellectually. The work I do doesn’t try to replicate a theatre structure or a play, but rather uses stories from non-traditional performers.  By understanding everyday life “dances” (how people move, their gestures, movements from animals, inanimate objects, and machines of the neighborhood) I’m able to amplify and create a unique physical vocabulary. Using ideas of distillation, composition, and transposition creates movement languages that straddle between realistic, and fantastical. Text and movement have shared properties of the representational. The use of storytelling, poetry, improvisation, replay scenes, and abstraction are ways I am able to generate text.  


The process of community-building and performance-making rests on exploring and mining out empathy. My work combines practices and techniques of dramatherapy, theater of the oppressed, clown, Lecoq-based acting style, Open Space, improvisation, and mindfulness. In working with communities I will lead open workshops. The goal of workshops rests on creative output. Sometimes output can take the form of stories, potlucks, scenes, songs, dances, sculptures, etc. The workshops are typically held in community centers or storefronts where we allow all levels of participation from observation, interaction, creation, writing, and sharing. These eventually will lead to a public display.

Upcoming Works

  • Local Chain, A Burger Ballet- a performative installation and community-based project exploring food service workers.  Development 2023-2024, with premier performance in Fall 2025.  Development in Philadelphia, NYC, Texas, and North Carolina.  

  • The Mending Quilt- workshops and public displays across the country, including New Orleans, Portland, OR, New York City, Philadelphia, and California.  2023-2025

  • A Performance of Everyday Objects- workshops and public performance looking at lost objects, and other tools we come across on a daily basis.  This will lead to a performative installation where audiences will interact with these objects.  20204, Philadelphia, and NYC

The Mending Quilt, Philadelphia (2023)

A Performative Sewing and Story-Sharing Project

Created by mike durkin

As Part of the Color Me Back Program, a program through Mural Arts Philadelphia


8-week sessions (2x a week)


Sharing Session- February 3rd, 2023


Let us mend together.  mike will conduct story-sharing sessions centering around mending, while we mend our clothing or supplies.  Participants will gather with torn clothes and items and Mike will teach and help mend those clothing.  We will also talk about other areas in our life we need to mend, relationships, habits, and other important issues the participant is engaged in.  The focus will be on occupying time, the mending, will be hand-sewn.  This action which will take lots of time will help the individual working on focusing, grounding, and being present.  In addition to the mending we will be making a quilt.  Participants will hand-sew their own designed squares to be part of the larger quilt.  This will culminate in sharing sessions where we will show off the quilt as well as participants will share stories around their squares.


and you will know it’s done  when the oil stops bubbling, Philadelphia (2022)

A Community-Developed Cookbook and Storytelling Performance

Created by Lead Artist mike durkin with participation from Kensington community members

In Partnership with Mural Arts Philadelphia

Performed at the Kensington Corridor Trust Community Garden

3236-56 Kensington Ave

Sept 23rd- Oct 2nd, 2022


Contributed recipes from Christina

Wanda Letícía Cantres, Gloria “Smooches” Cartagena, Shane Claiborne, John F., Oliver Jorgensen, Katarina Love, Noel D. Matthews II, Sunny Phanthavong, and José Rios  

For more information:


and you will know its done when the oil stops bubbling, Asheville, NC (2021-2022)


A Community-Developed Cookbook and Storytelling Performance

Developed through The Orchard Project Greenhouse (NYC), Hambidge Arts Culinary Arts Residency (Rabun Gap, GA) and Revolve First Draft Residency

Created by Lead Artist mike durkin

Assisted by Angelina Bruno


Contributed recipes from Lyric Antico, Dave “Doc” Brown from Doc Brown’s BBQ, Mike Durkin, Louise Pittman, Antanas Vainius, and Shunyu “AJ” Huang 

June 9th- June 17th, 2022


We think about traditions and rituals that bond us together.  We think about how we have a particular way we observe and practice food-making and eating.  Whether it is at a table, or in front of the refrigerator- food holds deep value to all of us.  This is a project that looks at these traditions and finds unions between multiple traditions.  


The recipes and accompanying installations look at important dishes to the contributors.  Holding value to the individual.  In gathering the recipes, I put emphasis on not needing the most amazing dish, but the dish that is made amazingly.  It doesn’t matter the complexity of the recipe, or the expensiveness of ingredients, but the joy it contains for the contributor and the memories and stories that accompany it.  What you will see is 6 recipes selected from over 100 recipes collected. Starting from October 2021, I spent time collecting recipes at a variety of different locations, meeting people, learning about recipes, hearing stories, and building community.  I would spend weekly sessions at the 12 Baskets Cafe from the Asheville Poverty Initiative, and at the AHOPE Day Center through Homeward Bound.



and you will know it’s done, when the oil stops bubbling  ('21-'22)


A Community-Developed Cookbook and Storytelling Performance
Created by Lead Artist m
ike durkin


Food is community, food is power, food is legacy, food is memory, food is love, food is home, food is life. Food has the capacity of bringing folks from different backgrounds together. Food is personal history, oral history, and oral tradition.  Multidisciplinary artist Mike Durkin plans to look at the role food and recipes play in different regions.  Whether it’s a recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation, or the recipe we’ve made because it makes us feel good, recipes hold special places in our lives. The project titled: and you will its done, when the oil stops bubbling. By tracing the past, present, and future stories around food we can forge deeper relationships with our neighbors as well as the environment our food comes from.  The story sharing circles will culminate into constructing a recipe book as well as a presentation and participatory community meal.      

Mike will work with participants recording their stories, being present while individuals are preparing their recipe, developing an intimate and personal connection through the recipes and sharing of food.  Focus will be paid on the unwritten directions of the meal preparation, such as knowing the meal is done by the sound of the oil, the smell of the caramelization, or other senses.  Mike will explore rituals for the participant, like only making a meal during a specific holiday, using a specific type of frying pan for the meal, or listening to specific music while cooking.  Mike will use these recipes to develop the cookbook.

With select participants, Mike will commission various forms of art that are a response to their contributed recipes.  These could take the form of video, writing, audio, photography, sculpture, or performance.  

All of us together will create a recipe book.  The aim of the project is to look at the diversity of community members to tell the story of the different regional recipes. The recipe book will look at the diverse population through the recipes, the recipes you grew up with, and the recipes we want to leave behind.  We will also look at the story behind the recipe, what ingredients, memories, settings to paint a vivid picture of the local  experience.  


That Time We Talked About Spaceships While Recreating Matisse’s ‘Le Bonheur De Vivre’ (2019)

A participatory live fiber art recreation and performance of Matisse's Le Bonheur De Vivre (The Joy of Life)
6-hour durational performance/discussion/recreation
Created by mike durkin and Jamie Grace-Duff
Commissioned by the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, PA

Music by Adam Vidiksis

The Renegade Company have created 5 performance works for the Barnes Foundation incorporating the works of Angelo Pinto, Henri Rousseau, 19th Century British Metalwork, Retablos from New Mexico, and Henri Matisse.  Renegade returns to Henri Matisse focusing on Le Bonheur De Vivre (The Joy of Life).  That Time We Talked About Spaceships While Recreating Matisse’s ‘Le Bonheur De Vivre’ is a participatory live weaving recreation performance. Weavers, dancers, and audience members come together to weave a recreation of Matisse’s famous work.  What happens when we give over to joy?  What causes us ultimate joy?  Through a series of story-sharing knitting circles steeped in folk traditions, Renegade invites audience members inside the process of recreation as well as to hear different perspectives on the painting.  This will lead to a live assembling of the artwork and dance celebration during the First Sunday event in November.  Audience members, performers, and knitters will share space, dance, tell stories, weave together to celebrate the true joy of life.


Our desire is to create an immersive environment for viewers to weave through, touch, lounge, and imagine within the Matisse painting. While not intended to be an exact replica, the colors, shapes, and forms will inform the final landscape which will be created through traditional techniques such as knitting, weaving, crochet, macrame, felting, and rug making.


It is our intention to make this project accessible to all ages and all abilities by providing a wide variety of materials and projects to create a visual terrain as varied as our stories, experiences, and skills.

Recreation Specialist
Institute for Community Living (2020-2022

Recreation Specialist/Artist-in-Residence

For 2 and a half years I was the Recreation Specialist at the Two Bridges Women’s Shelter in Two Bridges Manhattan.  I lead arts programming and mentorship.  The shelter is comprised of 100 residents battling mental illness with a combination of trauma, substance abuse, domestic violence, and immigration related matters.  I used trauma-informed art-making activities to help process emotions, entertain, empower, and soothe.  Activities included: story-sharing, poetry-making, quilt making, painting, sculpting, and advising residents on furthering their art and education.  I led two programs daily each week with participation from 5-40 residents at a time.


For More Information, click here

(Kensington) Streetplay (2018)

Created and performed by The Renegade Company and members of the Kensington area community
Directed by mike durkin
A theatrical walking play starting at Kensington Ave and Allegheny Ave


“When you see me, you see one version of me; I’m so much more”.

What does Kensington of the past-present-future look like?  What are the individual goals of community members? What is the larger goal of Kensington? How do we work towards achieving these goals while also understanding the obstacles in the way?


The Renegade Company will be working with community members of the Kensington neighborhood to present stories, performances, scenes, and activities addressing where the neighborhood has been, where it is at, and where it is heading towards. 

Instead of fighting or fearing what does coexistence look like?  

How do we come together in a neighborhood pulled towards the past, and designing for the future?  How do we find common ground and be present with each other no matter what path the individual has taken?  How do we take control of the narrative and aid in the rewriting?
(Kensington) Streetplay is a culmination of a two-year period of working with residents in the Kensington neighborhood that have a relationship with substance abuse, addiction, homelessness, and community activism.  Through partnerships with Impact Services, The Porchlight Project, St. Francis Inn, and the Department of Behavioral Health (DBHIDS) we aim to extend past this narrative by working with the community towards de-stigmatization of the neighborhood from outside forces.


Animal Farm to Table (2016)

Exploring food access, diet choices, and gentrification in a North Philadelphia neighborhood

Inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm

Created and Directed by mike durkin

September 2016

mike along with his group, The Renegade interviewed over 70 residents and those working in food in the North Philadelphia neighborhood.  With an ensemble of performers, designers, and community leaders Mike created a performance looking at the needs of the neighborhood.  Through the lens of George Orwell’s Animal Farm we created a production where audience members went around an urban farm learning about food and making a communal meal at the end of the performance.

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