Blood-thirsty yells shatter the solitude of Clark Park on a Saturday afternoon.
At about 1:30 p.m., a motley group of kids brandishing plastic foam swords assemble on the northwestern corner of the park. When the game starts, they charge toward the other team, screaming at the top of their lungs.
The subsequent scene: kids slashing each other with foam axes and teens releasing high-pitched shrieks before collapsing to the ground.
The weekly battle for Clark Park has begun.
Run by Wayfinder Experience, a New-York based group that aims to teach kids leadership and teamwork skills through improvisational theater and outdoor games, the battle has become a weekly institution at the park.
"I love it," said 17-year-old Nika Zeitlin of Chestnut Hill. "I've come since seventh grade and there's really a great sense of community here. I feel like I'm free to be myself. Where else can you scream out loud and pretend that your limbs have just been hacked off?"
In addition to holding adventure summer camps, the organization also holds weekly capture-the-flag games at Clark Park, Starr Garden and Allen's Lane Art Center.
Managing these events is 29-year-old Philadelphia native Aaron Hoffer-Perkins, known by Clark Park regulars as "Shaggy."
"Play's kind of my religion," he said. "It dissolves barriers and status . people are more authentic and are more willing to express themselves."
The program draws its inspiration from Adventure Game Theater, a summer program that Hoffer-Perkins attended as a child and where he later worked as production manager.
"They acted out battles in a mythical, fantasy universe," he said.
When the group folded, he and other staff-members, started Wayfinder in 2002.
Now, Wayfinder also includes Adventure Game Inc, a non-profit program that brings these activities into schools.
The program is still in a start-up phase in Philadelphia, but it hasn't taken long for community members to notice Wayfinder's appeal.
Legal Studies professor Eric Orts has brought his son, Emmett, 10, to games at Clark Park since last spring.
"He always liked playing computer games and this is almost like a real-life computer game to him," he said.
The games themselves are steeped in mythology and history. One Saturday, the battle began with a gladiator chant from Ancient Rome.
"We use archetypes because people can relate to them," Hoffer-Perkins said. "We want every kid to have the chance to act out the hero or the villain or the warrior."
The action even attracted Haverford Anthropology student Liz Shriver, who comes into the city to observe- - and sometimes join - the battles.
"It just looks like everyone is having a lot of fun," she said. "You just don't see that very often."Comments powered by Disqus
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