Trouper helps police defuse Philly 'bomb' drama

A disposal expert arrives to handle what was believed to be a bomb at 12th and Wood Streets. The device was destroyed and turned out to be a theater prop that had been trashed.
A disposal expert arrives to handle what was believed to be a bomb at 12th and Wood Streets. The device was destroyed and turned out to be a theater prop that had been trashed. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 03, 2014

Never put a gun on the stage, advised the Russian writer Anton Chekhov, unless you intend to have it go off during the play.

He could have added: Never put a theater prop designed to look like a pipe bomb in a Dumpster - especially if it's near the controversial Goldtex apartments - unless you want to attract the full force of the city's Homeland Security unit.

That was the lesson Bayla Rubin, of the Philadelphia theater troupe Applied Mechanics, learned Friday morning after a phalanx of police, firefighters, and ambulances descended on 12th and Wood Streets in response to a report of a bomb in a vacant lot across from Goldtex, scene of bitter months-long union protests in 2012.

The all-women theater group was just breaking down the sets from its show We Are Bandits at the Asian Arts Initiative on Pearl Street, a few steps from Goldtex, when they noticed commotion outside.

Police were evacuating nearby buildings and cordoning off the area with yellow tape. On 12th, a disposal expert donned a padded suit that made him look like a cross of the Michelin Man and the Jolly Green Giant.

The crowd held its breath as he approached the Dumpster in tiny, careful steps. Rubin heard a loud pop of a controlled detonation, followed by gasps from onlookers.

"Oh my gosh," she thought to herself. "They just blew up our prop."

The prop in question? A length of PVC pipe, attached to a circuit board. It was used in the Bandits performance, which drew its inspiration from the 2011 Occupy movement.

After the show's run ended Wednesday, Rubin said, she instructed a fellow member to take the "bomb" to the Dumpster on 12th.

"I made the decision on a whim," she said. "We had been working 14-hour days and I wasn't thinking clearly."

After Rubin pieced together what had happened, she went outside to explain to police that they had just blown up a fake bomb.

Considering the tension that proceeded the controlled detonation, the officers were more relieved than annoyed. The woman who came forward "was unaware of the fuss it would cause," explained Joseph Sullivan, chief of the city police's Homeland Security unit, who declined to identify her. "I believe she is sincere and contrite."

Michael Pestronk, one of the developers of the Goldtex building, said he was comfortable that the incident was not directed at his building "since the woman came forward."

"People were making a lot of jokes about it," said a sheepish Rubin. "They kept saying, 'There goes the terrorist.' "


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