Published: Thursday, April 28, 2011
Street festival, Parisian-style, to shut Broad Street Saturday
By Melissa Dribben, Inquirer Staff Writer

At 1 p.m. Friday, cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists with any common sense will have to take a detour through the heart of Center City to make way for a 200-ton crane that will lumber onto Broad Street between Locust and Pine.

Once the crane is in position, a chandelier-type contraption, recently shipped here from France, will be suspended from it. Then, at sundown, a troupe of 18 aerialists from Lyons will be lifted 100 feet into the air and, hanging from the chandelier, will practice their routine, playing twinkly music and spinning in circles.

Passersby who get to see this preview of Saturday's performance by Le Compagnie Transe Express are likely to be transfixed. Anyone in a hurry trying to drive down the Avenue of the Arts, however, is bound to be less amused. And beginning at 1 a.m. Saturday, it's going to get worse. The street closing will expand, detouring all traffic along Broad between Chestnut and Lombard.

The disruption is for a good cause, though - an elaborate street festival, replete with a 70-foot Ferris wheel, a grass park playground and hedge maze for children, nonstop musical performances, and the Transe Express extravaganza. It's all to mark the end of the 25-day Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts. This PIFA project was funded by a $10 million grant from Leonore Annenberg in 2009.

"We've never done this in a big city," said Patrick Imes, the 58-year-old owner of Oscar's Amusements, a family business that is trucking in the Ferris wheel to its spot between Sansom and Walnut Streets under the cover of darkness sometime early Friday.

It will take five hours for workers to set up the 53,000-pound wheel, which will arrive collapsed and in pieces on a 53-foot tractor trailer, Imes said. Fully loaded, it carries 80 passengers.

"We've been all around the city, in Horsham, Harleysville, up at Castor and Erie," he said. "But the Avenue of the Arts is a whole different world down there."

The PIFA staff suspect, but have been unable to confirm, that this is the first time a Ferris wheel has made an appearance on Broad Street, said Ed Cambron, the festival director.

All through the early hours Saturday, working with city agencies, police, and firefighters, scores of arts groups and hundreds of volunteers will transform six blocks of the city into a Parisian fair.

"We're using awnings to invoke the French theme, decorating the head houses of the subways with topiaries, stringing lights across the street, and constructing kiosks that have been decorated by local graphic artists," said Jay Wahl, the 35-year-old producer of the street fair.

It was Wahl's idea to feature the aerial act. "In public performances, if you're far from the stage, you're disconnected," he said. "There is a hierarchy of audience participation. But if the acts are in the air, everyone can see and enjoy it. . . . There's something democratic about it."

The fair opens to the public at 11 a.m. and closes at 8:30 p.m.
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