PHILADELPHIA ARTS WRITERS
Featuring arts, humanities, and culture of Philadelphia Volume 2 Issue 4, June 2004
Garden Varieties: Big Tea Party
by Monica Pace
A mere block or two from that south Philly culinary mecca, Pat’s Steaks, grows a backyard oasis to thrill even the most hardcore carnivore. Fragrant with summer vegetables and herbs, and coils of incense to keep mosquitoes at bay, this is the garden of Big Tea Party’s Elizabeth Fiend.
“Basically, [Big Tea Party] is a snapshot of my lifestyle,” Fiend ventures. The jeweled bees on her cat’s eye glasses seem to nod in agreement.
Broadcast on Drexel University’s DUTV, and created by Fiend (writer), Valerie Keller (editor) and Gretjen Clausing (camera) this show, featuring “cooking, crafts, and anarchy,” has a distinctly Philadelphia flavor.
It’s a flavor unique as the Philly cheese steak itself.
In brief, three-minute segments, the unorthodox lifestyle program takes the viewer to Love Park, or to the local supermarket, or to a bike shop off of South Street, to demonstrate how to craft something new out of the old and familiar. The “Philly Cheese Fake,” for example, offers a vegetarian alternative to a Philadelphia tradition.
The Big Tea Party tradition began in 1998. It was Clausing, whose credits include work with the Neighborhood Film /Video Project and the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema, who suggested the idea in the first place.
“She just casually said to me one day, I think it would be good to get together to shoot a video, because we have so many projects. Drawing, cooking, all those topics,” Fiend recalls. The two shot the first five videos in one day, on location at Fiend’s house, before enlisting the talents of Keller. An acquaintance of theirs, Keller had already proven her prowess in editing films such as the PBS series “The Dinosaurs” and the Emmy-nominated “Fever.”
Big Tea Party’s trademark quick editing, colorful cartoon graphics, and down- to-earth, DIY-style craft demonstrations have earned it a large fan base among the teen set. An appearance on The Food Network’s Roker on the Road helped present BTP to a wider audience. Fiend does not take the growing admiration for their work lightly. Sipping from a glass of tomato juice, she cites a fan letter from memory.
“I got a really nice e-mail from someone who lives in a rural area in the middle of the country, and was 15. . . and she said that after her father saw me on TV, he said, ‘I have more respect for your ideas now’. And she said it made her cry. It made a huge difference to her.”