Agile Rascal Theatre Brings New Meaning to 'Performance Cycling'

Combining the disciplines and pushing the limits of cycling and art, Agile Rascal Theatre will host a staged reading on bikes of their latest production, 'Ghost Ride or the play that blows away,' next Sunday, August 27.

Agile Rascal Theatre Brings New Meaning to 'Performance Cycling'

My eyes lit up with delight when I texted Dara inquiring about the name of her bicycle touring troupe, Agile Rascal Theatre. I'd just realized its acronym was ART, and I'd wondered if the name was inspired by Le Lapin Agile, the famous Montmarte cabaret whose name can be translated to the agile rabbit and was frequented by such prominent artists as Pablo Picasso and his contemporaries. Turns out it was all just coincidence. The happenstance ends there, though, for I'd learn that the immersive performance on bikes coming to Philadelphia next weekend is the product of nothing but years of hard work, dedication, and a deep love for craft.

Agile Rascal Theatre started as an impulsive and ambitious dream by Dara Silverman, who was falling in love with riding bikes while finishing her Master’s in Playwriting from San Francisco State University. Devised theater had been a passion of hers since high school and she’s remained committed to theater arts for its DIY qualities, freedom to experiment, and relatively affordable cost. Commuting by bike to grad school from Oakland on her Raleigh Technium, she started to imagine how she could combine her loves of theater and bicycles. The dream began to materialize with an 8 day, 500 mile test-tour from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

“I love riding my bike, it makes me so happy and I think more people should do it. It’s just so fucking great. It makes the landscape an adventure.” - Dara Silverman

Having written a play, raised $20,000, and planned a route, Agile Rascal Theatre came to life in 2015 when Dara set out with six others on a 105-day, 4,600-mile bike tour featuring 17 performances between San Francisco and NYC. The riders pedaled about 350 miles between each weekly performance, carrying all their equipment and sustenance on bike. Their play, Sunlight on the Brink, was the first coast-to-coast tour of an original play by bicycles (okay, maybe with just a little hitchhiking, but isn’t that a valuable part of any bike tour?).

Suffering a fair degree of exhaustion and tension from their monumental premiere, Agile Rascal Theatre developed a new model for subsequent plays, whereby the team would immerse themselves in a place, derive inspiration from its unique history, geography, and environment, and develop a production that was rooted in its actual setting. A 2017 tour in Montana and a 2019 tour in Florida were steeped in allegory and a touch of magic realism.

A 2019 performance in Bethlehem, PA put the audience on bikes for the first time. They followed performers (and discovered others implanted) across the town’s landscape on a hunt for utopia. Agile Rascal designer Lexy Ho-Tai used found and recycled materials to create the most incredible props, transforming bicycles into horses and transporting viewers to a wild and wonderful new world.

In 2021, Dara moved to Philadelphia, which is closer to her family and which she described as a relatively affordable city with a vibrant arts scene. Her recent work has focused on a new play: Ghost Ride or the play that blows away, for which her troupe will host a staged reading next weekend on MLK Drive. A staged reading is a step in the creative process to find what is or isn’t working, and to engage with the audience to enhance the storytelling and kinetic experience (the play will be moving, afterall). This first reading is free to join but registration is limited and required. Register here. Full production is anticipated for 2024 utilizing local performers in addition to prior collaborators to help with music, design, choreography, sound, lighting, and costume. Yeah, it’s official.  

The seeds for the Philadelphia project were ghost bikes, safety, and transportation justice. Bikes have always been a part of Dara’s plays (whether representing animals, cars, etc) but have never been the subject of the play. For this project, Dara also wanted to put the audience on bikes, empowering them to be part of the solution for the dramatic conflict that confronts the story’s protagonists and everyday society.  

While developing Ghost Ride or the play that blows away, Dara observed bike messengers in Rittenhouse Square and learned of Pablo Avendano, who was killed by traffic violence in 2018 while working as a food delivery cyclist for Caviar. He serves as inspiration for the story’s protagonist, who the audience will follow into the afterlife on the day of his death. The play will focus on race, class, privilege, and why one might ride a bike. The casting for the play includes cyclists who have never performed before and actors who aren’t deeply involved in cycling. Each character will ride a bike that represents their ‘cycling personality.’

This performance is intended for audiences of all abilities and aims to draw art-lovers to the cycling community and to attract cyclists to the art community. Dara expressed special thanks to Neighborhood Bike Works, who has been graciously assisting in building a cargo bike and has expressed a desire to help supply bikes for the performance.

Follow Agile Rascal Theatre on Instagram and join them for the staged reading on August 27 at 1PM or 4PM by registering for the free event here.