While Philadelphia freezes in winter’s hold, rest easily knowing that Thaddeus Phillips — the experimental multimedia theater performer, director, playwright and early Philadelphia Fringe Fest adopter who forever made Old City and South Philly his home – is nestled warmly in his current home studio dwelling in Cajica, Colombia, while preparing his newest virtual interactive showcase, “Zoo Mundo.”
Co-created as a follow-up to and continued journey through his 2020 virtual theater piece, “Zoo Motel,” with his wife, playwright-director Tatiana Mallarino and Philadelphia designer-artist Steven Dufala, “Zoo Mundo” runs from Monday until Feb. 13, and can be accessed on a nightly basis at www.zoomundo.org.
Once in on the action of Zoo Mundo’s world, rather than just becoming part of Phillps’s made, marvelous, in-studio surroundings, his team vividly imagines you (or allows you to imagine yourself) outdoors, within three different stories and trade routes out of East Africa that follows “the first humans and the first coffee beans.” With Phillips as your guide through Dufala’s miniature landscapes, your Zoo world – that of the world wide web – moves through the team’s interpretation of Addis Ababa, Venice, Moscow, the Siberian Express, across the Bering Straits, and down the Pacific coast ending in Antarctica.
“The entire planet is my palate,” says Phillips. “Whether working in Philadelphia or South America, my geography is free.”
Phillips’s Zoo universe came about during the top of the pandemic as the artist realized that his Colombian studio had begun to resemble a hotel room. With that, Zoo Motel first came to symbolize COVID’s claustrophobia, a cluttered motel suite where you could never check out — left to your own devices, and that of the Zoo keepers.
“As the pandemic waned, the possibilities of performing over the WWW exploded, not only because of the worlds we could create, but because we had visitor-viewers from Serbia, Australia, Montreal, Philadelphia – everywhere at the same time,” he says.
Add to the fact that Zoo Motel wasn’t your typical virtual piece with its 3-D analog realities and handmade feel, and Phillips and Dufala’s next trek along the Zoo universe had to be even more expansive.
“Instead of looking inward as we did on Zoo Motel, we looked outward beyond the architecture of one room – a voyage,” says Phillips, moving along the real and imaginary topography of the globe as they envision it. “We wanted to go to all these places, evoke all of these worlds. The theatrical game is the same as Zoo Motel, but Zoo Mundo’s outlook is radically different.”
Using a similar form of cinematic magic that the pair utilized on its predecessor, Dufala and Phillips defined the journey of the undefinable (“editing down and curating the breadth of the entire world”), framed their locations and made miniature 3D landscapes and totems that Dufala had to mail out on the regular, from Philly to Colombia.
“We get ideas, create these things and he sends them down here,” says Phillips of Dufala. “What’s been fun – because it takes him 10 days and more in some cases to construct these items – is that Steven started sending PDF schematics of the facades to us here for us to build in some cases, like the last coffee house in Antarctica. We could print them out and build them here.”
While Zoo Motel was confined to one studio space, Zoo Mundo – as designed by Dufala, and acted out by Phillips – had no limits, and therefore, allowed for the “most ridiculously epic and technically impossible storylines… one continuous shot to create a unique, fun and harrowing theatrical event, as an examination of this planet and all its oddities, curiosities, failures and triumphs,” Phillips says.
Unlike Zoo Motel, Phillips has post-pandemic hopes, to turn Zoo Mundo into a living, breathing staged work not unlike his classic Fringe Fest performance art pieces such as “17 Border Crossings,” “A Billion Nights on Earth” and “Red-Eye to Havre de Grace.”
“That’s the plan,” says Phillips, excited at the prospect of getting out of the house in a literal and figurative sense.
For now, there’s no place like the imaginary home and travelogue of Zoo Mundo.