By Katie Bohri
The Schuylkill River cuts through the heart of Philadelphia, defining East and West and bringing with it half of our drinking water. But how many of us actually see it? “‘Schuylkill’ actually means ‘hidden river,’ and much of the river is hidden from the public,” says Ryan Hennessey, explaining the name’s Dutch origins. He’s a volunteer with the Invisible River Festival, an immersive performance on, along and—most dramatically—above its waters: aerialists will be suspended from the Strawberry Mansion bridge as they perform gravity-defying twists and inversions as part of the day of education and performances.
For festival organizers, now in their third year, it’s all a way to celebrate the river while inspiring stewardship of its waters.“We created Invisible River to bring people to the Schuylkill so they could see the possibilities that seem invisible to most of us—swimming on the river, more boating opportunities for all, healthier creeks that lead from our neighborhoods to the river,” says Alie Vidich, who founded the program in 2013 and now serves as its artistic and executive director.
Education about the Schuylkill—from the estuaries that feed it to how we use its resources—is woven throughout the event’s programming. The Philadelphia Water Department and Fairmount Water Works partnered with organizers to provide stormwater management demonstrations this year, and alongside educational programming, the riverbank festival will also feature interactive art exhibits dedicated to the river’s history and future. Attendees can expect boating lessons with free rentals, local food trucks and a beer garden. Attendees can even bring their own watercraft to enjoy the festival from the water, and paddle alongside the fleet of performers.
Starting at 2 p.m. at the Mander Recreation Center, a drum line will lead spectators through a stormwater garden to the festival site on the banks of the river. The on-river performance begins at 5:30 p.m., when a flotilla of dancers on stand-up paddleboards will perform for spectators, who are encouraged to bring their own boats as the group moves toward the Strawberry Mansion Bridge. There, dancers will be suspended from the bridge itself and will perform in midair above the Schuylkill’s waters.
“We’re hoping that spectators take away an awareness of the river,” said Hennessey of the festival. “We’re trying to make the environmental aspects of Philadelphia common knowledge.”
August 29, 2–8 p.m., Free. Procession starts at the Mander Recreation Center at 2 p.m. at 2140 N. 33rd St. in East Fairmount Park and leads the audience to the event. Parking is very limited in the parking lot of St. Joseph’s University’s Robert M. Gillin, Jr. Boathouse at 2200 Kelly Dr. Walking and bikes are encouraged.