FringeArts Blog

Making Art in 2017: Rebecca Katherine Hirsch on Bad Activist

Posted September 6th, 2017

Photo by Kevin Watkins.

Name: Rebecca Katherine Hirsch

Company: Humble Mumbles

Show in 2017 FestivalBad Activist: Sex Politics, Palestine and You

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

Rebecca Katherine Hirsch: On one hand, this show is an eros-drenched saga of scapegoating and shame. On another hand, it’s a specific plea to my fellow Jews of America to rethink about our diaspora relationship to Israel! It comes from life: my travels to Palestine/Israel which have contained many complicated situations such as romances, apocryphal conversations, and what someone who inspired this play once called “solidarity sex—sex born of the struggle.”

FringeArtsHow have your interests in or approach to art making changed in the last year?

Rebecca Katherine Hirsch: My interests in trauma, representative sexuality, Zionism, and feminism have, over the years, crystallized, solidified, fragmented, evaporated, and reconvened, among other things! The two relationships featured in this play—one unequal Jewish–American friendship, one unequal American–Palestinian romance—have happened and re-happened and the experiences have altered the art (and vice versa).

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Making Art in 2017: Sarah Carr on Mistress of the Maze

Posted September 5th, 2017

Sarah Carr. Photo by Chris Hallock.

Name: Sarah Carr

Company: WeftWorks

Show in 2017 Festival: Mistress of the Maze

Past Festival shows: None: this is my first!

FringeArtsTell us about your show.

Sarah CarrMistress Of the Maze explores the ancient Minoan myths and rituals that inspired the classical Greek tale of Ariadne, Theseus, and the Minotaur. I am an anthropologist as well as a dancer and fiber artist, and I have always been fascinated by the Bronze Age civilizations.

The Greek version of the tale of the Labyrinth is well known, but it reflects the values and concerns of the ancient Greeks: there’s a strong brave man to save the day (Theseus), a monster to slay (the Minotaur), and a princess (Ariadne) to be carried away when the task is complete. However, this well-known tale was crafted roughly two millennia after the Minoan palaces on Crete were abandoned. It is an appropriation of Minoan icons and symbols that retains almost nothing of the original context.

Minoan culture was starkly different than Ancient Greece. Images of warfare, so common in Ancient Greek art, are nearly absent in Minoan art. Minoan culture was mercantile, trading with and adopting influences from the lands surrounding the ancient Aegean. Minoan religion does not feature any clear depictions of male deities. Images of goddesses, and women interpreted to be priestesses, abound. Ariadne, rather than a princess awaiting her prince, was likely Labrynthinos Potnia. She was a goddess whose sacred symbols included the Labrys, the double-headed axe for which the Labyrinth is named, as well as the horns of the bull, the snake, and the honey bee. In this work, I am attempting to reclaim the identity of Ariadne, to create dances that feel like rituals dedicated to the principle of feminine power that was so very important in Minoan culture. It is not meant to be a historical reenactment, as the production uses very stylized masks and costumes. I wanted instead to capture the essence of this culture and pay respect to their myths and symbols.

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Composing for the Future: Interview with Troy Herion

Posted September 5th, 2017

Troy Herion is a composer and filmmaker whose works unite contemporary music with visual arts through film, theater, dance, and concert music. His  compositions range from classical and avant-garde orchestral music to intricate and melodic electronic scores. He has teamed up with Dan Rothenberg (director) and Mimi Lien (design) for Pig Iron Theatre Company‘s A Period of Animate Existence, which has been dubbed “a work of symphonic theater” and premieres at the 2017 Fringe Festival. Period is structured as five moments and tackles questions about the future of life in such turbulent times. It also features more than 80 performers including  children and elders, as well as The Crossing, Contemporaneous, and members of the Philadelphia Boys Choir & Chorale and Philadelphia Girls Choir, and Philomusica. Troy shared some of his thoughts with us on the creation of A Period of Animate Existence earlier this year.

FringeArts: What does the title A Period of Animate Existence mean to you? And how did you first respond to it?

Troy Herion: When you look up the word “life” in the dictionary, one of the definitions you will find is: “a period of animate existence.” Our piece looks at the concept of life from a zoomed out perspective—one that tries to consider where life came from and where it is going. When I think of the dictionary definition of life—a “period” of animate existence—the word period implies something with a beginning and an end. The period of my own life is barely conceivable—to think I have a beginning and an end. But when I zoom out and think about the period of life on earth, or life in the universe, the origins and the future trajectory of this continuum of life are entirely beyond my imagination. When we consider the idea that life is a continuum, that all living things on Earth are part of an unbroken chain going back to the first emergence, and continuing into the future from generation to generation, then the period of animate existence is really on a timescale beyond comprehension.

FringeArts: How do you incorporate or consider the other artistic processes happening on this show when composing?

Troy Herion: I’m sort of obsessed with the ways music combines with things like images, environments, and story. I tend to work holistically by imagining music in some sort of context, which has led me to some more interdisciplinary projects like my visual music films. I’m interested in synesthesia, and I experience music as a very tactile thing. Sounds have color and weight, they can travel like objects in space with momentum and friction. So my music is definitely inspired by colors, textures, brightness, and movement. A Period of Animate Existence is a unique project in that we are writing (and revising) the music, story, choreography, and visual design simultaneously. I tend to be inspired by a concept or an image from Dan or Mimi, and then will write an unfinished demo of music. We then try to combine the music and design sketches, so that each can be influenced by the other.

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Making Art in 2017: Michaela Shuchman on Airswimming

Posted September 5th, 2017

(Left to right) Michelle Johnson and Michaela Shuchman. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Name: Michaela Shuchman

Company: Half Key Theatre Company

2017 Festival Show: Airswimming

Role: Performer

Past Festival shows: Scarlet Letters with Ross & Diggs

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

Michaela Shuchman: Set in 1920s Ireland, Airswimming by Charlotte Jones is based on the true story of two women imprisoned in a mental hospital for daring to challenge society’s definition of womanhood. Forgotten by the world, Dora and Persephone come together for one hour each day to clean and find connection. Through sheer force of will, friendship, and a penchant for Doris Day, they redefine their world and resist confinement for over fifty years. Airswimming explores female identity and friendship at a time in Irish history when mental health and women’s issues converged. Jones takes the imagined circumstances of two real imprisoned women and asks: How do we express and accept ourselves when our freedoms have been taken away? How can finding connection with another person help us better understand ourselves? What does Doris Day have to do with any of this? Airswimming speaks to the desire in all of us to be free from societal constraints, to dance and be weird and wacky with our best friends, and to find meaning in the most unexpected of places. 

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Making Art in 2017: William H. Gaffney IV on A Fable for the Living

Posted September 4th, 2017

Name: William H. Gaffney IV

Company: Group IV Productions

Show in 2017 Festival: A Fable for the Living by Kevin Brockmeier

Role: Director

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

William H. Gaffney: AFFTL is a short story, found in a collection of short stories called The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier. The story was first presented to me by someone whom has since passed away, which has taken a huge part in the conception of this piece. In “A Fable for the Living” a woman attends a concert with her fiancé after an afternoon of bickering and arguments. He begins to cough into his sleeve and excuses himself. A great amount of time passes and she becomes wary of his return and, going to the lobby in search for him, she finds him dead on the floor. Beside herself, she spends the next few weeks, months even, attempting to contact him in some way. Ultimately, she gains this contact and out of love for her he convinces her to join him. The concept of the piece isn’t one correlating to suicide. The concept strictly revolves around the idea that we live in a multi-realm existence, an endless fire escape of trial and tribulation. Is death the be-all and end-all of existence, or existence on earth? When we die, is it not possible to move from one realm to another or do we stop in time and never live again? A Fable for the Living offers a comforting approach to life and death.

FringeArtsHow have your interests in or approach to art making changed in the last year? 

William H. Gaffney: Our mission states that we create plays that reflect the current social, economic, and political state of our audiences. I think this past year’s political environment has changed the majority of people’s view on art, whether creating or not. I believe I feel more passionately than ever before to provide hope and a speck of wisdom in a time that has been layered over in clouds of smoke. Art is not only meant to inspire an individual, but to stir a reaction, question, and begin a dialogue between a community of people, like-minded or not. I take the streets into my rehearsal space/development more often now. I think about what I’ve seen, what’s going on in the news, what’s happening in my neighborhood and I apply it to whatever work we’re doing that day. I hope this connection between the make-believe and realities of our world help develop an even more affective and considerate approach to the story of A Fable for the Living.

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Rosas dances Coltrane: Interview with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker + Salva Sanchis

Posted September 3rd, 2017

“For dancers, improvising should be the norm rather than the exception.”

Choreographers Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Salva Sanchis bring their full evening dance work A Love Supreme to the 2017 Fringe Festival. Four dancers surrender themselves to John Coltrane’s spiritual ode to divine love, his 1965 jazz masterpiece A Love Supreme. The album was revolutionary for its carefully balanced interplay between improvisation and structure. Likewise the choreographers create improvised and composed materials, interweaving and absorbing them into one another, for the performances.

In addition to jazz music, the practice of improvisation has always occupied a distinct space within the choreographic oeuvre of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Rosas. Salva Sanchis—who studied at PARTS (Performing Arts Research and Training Studios) from 1995 to 1998—was himself a privileged witness to that very evolution: he performed as a dancer in the 2003 Rosas creation set to Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew, and in 2005 as dancer and co-choreographer in Desh, a piece based on Indian music and John Coltrane’s “India“. More than ten years after the presentation of the piece in a diptych with Raga for the Rainy Season, De Keersmaeker and Sanchis have undertaken a reworking of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, turning it into an evening performance now danced by a wholly new cast of dancers.

Interview by Michaël Bellon.

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker: Taking on A Love Supreme fits with the idea of revisiting, and rewriting, Rosas’s repertoire for a new generation of dancers. We did the same thing with Rain (the piece from 2001 that we picked up again in 2016 with an entirely new cast). In 2005, Salva and I conjointly choreographed A Love Supreme and since then he has frequently used material from the piece in his classes as a teacher at PARTS. What is interesting about the piece, in addition to its intrinsic connection with this milestone of 20th-century music, is the way it combines improvised and written choreography.

Salva Sanchis: When we were working on Bitches Brew, we used to listen to Miles Davis a lot. We therefore inevitably developed a fascination with the role that Coltrane played as a musician in the Miles Davis Quintet. Davis and Coltrane admired each other very much, yet they were at the same time very different. Miles is about simplicity, Coltrane about expressive excess and energy. On the whole, A Love Supreme is more suitable for a dance performance than a simple collection of songs. The music possesses a structure with a beginning and an end, thus offering a kind of dramaturgical accessibility.

Michaël Bellon: Were you already a “jazzman” when you got involved with Rosas’s jazz-based projects?

Sanchis: I was a fervent jazz-adept before we started on the piece, definitely. I have always been interested in different kinds of music, but in the period before and during Bitches Brew, I happened to be sharing a flat with two jazz students. I learned a lot from them. Within their discipline, they were wrestling with the same things I was in my dance training. Take improvisation for instance. Dance shares a relationship with every musical genre since the two media show a strong mutual compatibility. Yet what is so interesting about jazz is how the practice of improvisation has always been at the very core of the genre. That has always fascinated me, mainly because my experience with improvisational practices in dance was only in an infant stage at the time. As a choreographer, I found it difficult to justify the use of improvisation, whereas for jazz musicians this has always been the norm.

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Making Art in 2017: Justin Jain on These Terrible Things

Posted September 3rd, 2017

(Left to right) Bradley Wrenn, David Johnson, Justin Jain. Photo by Kathryn Raines.

Name: Justin Jain

Company: The Berserker Residents / The University of the Arts

Show in 2017 Festival: These Terrible Things

Role: Co-Creator, Performer

Past Festival shows: With Berserkers: The Jersey Devil, 2007; The Giant Squid, 2008; The Annihilation Point, 2009; The Talkback, 2014; It’s So Learning, 2015; I Fucking Dare You, 2016; It’s So Learning, 2016 (part of FringeArts winter season)

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

Justin JainThese Terrible Things is our subversive comedic response to contemporary American theater values. We’ve dredged up the work of the (fictional) god-like playwright, Lord Ham Hillerson. His work spans centuries and the variety of work he’s produced emulates those of classic playwrights we revere today—Shakespeare, Beckett, Williams, Mamet . . . to name a few.

These Terrible Things in rehearsal.

The conversations we’re having in the room center around why we produce some works that are consistently problematic—for their misogyny, racism, clunkiness, or for just being over-produced. Why it is so hard for new voices and plays to get attention or funding? Why do we revere the classics as “better”? We are also stoked about this collaboration with UArts because another thread we are chasing are the dangers of educational theater training. The guru and student relationship is one we are excited to explode.

Of course, it would not be a Berserker show without some kind of twist. Let’s just say there’s something much more sinister at play in this piece than meets the eye. That when we look in the shadows we see that all artists deal with the same demons. That sometimes bad ideas need to die. And that what we do as theater artists is all just make-believe.

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2017 Festival Spotlight: Apocalyptic Visions

Posted September 2nd, 2017

In these turbulent times, artists in the Fringe Festival are using their mediums to present worst case scenarios for our unpredictable future. Check out the horrifying projections of reality coming to our city at this year’s Fringe!

 

AMERICANA PSYCHOBABBLE @ Berks Warehouse
Alexandra Tatarsky

A delirious anti-narrative of American emptiness, violence, and nonsense—part exorcism and part enema! With styrofoam wings, Xmas lights, and ketchup. “Phyllis Diller meets Artaud!” “Like Kellyanne Conway woke up from a coma after overdosing on sleeping pills and reading too much Gertrude Stein.” AMERICANA PSYCHOBABBLE exists somewhere between irrational healing ceremony, sad clown song, dance in the abyss, and desperate diatribe to take back ecstatic nonsense as an act of resistance. More info and tickets here.

 

Every Day APOCALYPSE! @ The Collective
Lone Brick Theatre Company

The death rays and nukes of outrageous fortune are aimed squarely at a struggling theater group when an irate son of God condemns the company to face a new apocalyptic scenario every day, for eternity. Can they learn to get along in order to save the world, not to mention the world’s worst production of Hamlet? More info and tickets here.

 

GATZ @ Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre
Harrison Stengle

Philadelphia, year 2025, the tempo of the city had changed sharply. The buildings were higher, the parties were bigger, the morals were looser and the kush was cheaper, the restlessness approached hysteria. From the makers of the off-off Broadway show Sword of the Unicorn comes GATZ a Great Gatsby modernist parody. More info and tickets here.

 

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Making Art in 2017: HoneyTree EvilEye aka Timaree Schmit on A List of Common Misconceptions

Posted September 2nd, 2017

HoneyTree EvilEye. Photo by Ryan Gerbino.

Name: HoneyTree EvilEye aka Timaree Schmit

Company: SEXx Interactive & Polyglamorous Productions

Show in 2017 Festival: A List of Common Misconceptions

Role: Performer, Co-Producer

FringeArts: Tell us a bit about your show.

Timaree Schmit: We’re tackling inaccuracies about sexuality, but rather than being a boring lecture, we’re utilizing burlesque, drag, and live music, all in the silly tone of a cheeseball after-school special. My PhD is in sexuality education so I spend a lot of the day trying to talk to folks about the realities of sex, an area that is as rife for misinformation as any. Meanwhile, my nights are spent as a burlesque performer and I get to witness the education and activism potential of performance art.

SEXx Interactive is a sex-positive collective that seeks to build community, educate and empower and they were a natural fit for this project. Polyglamorous Productions is a collective of artists who all inject a lot of sexuality messages into their performances anyway. This is the synthesis of what we’re about.

There are so many common misconceptions about sexuality, ranging from the historical (chastity belts weren’t actually a thing in the middle ages, Mary Magdalene wasn’t a sex worker) to the random (bears aren’t actually drawn to your menstruation), to the socialization we get from porn and commercialized sexuality. We get wrong intel from media, peers, church, government and more and there are important reasons that this misinformation is disseminated.

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Music Engenders a Feeling: the Musical Inspirations of Ghost Rings

Posted September 1st, 2017

Next week theater maker Tina Satter and her New York-based ensemble Half Straddle will return to Philadelphia with Ghost Rings, part of the 2017 Fringe Festival. The show explores exceptionally close friendship, non-heteronormative romance, female families, and so much more. Oh yeah, and it’s a pop concert.

Half Straddle are no strangers to integrating original music into their shows, but with Ghost Rings, they decided to up the ante. “[Half Straddle composer] Chris Giarmo, and I had been discussing doing a project that really focused on singing,” Satter recently told the FringeArts Blog. “Chris had expressed that he wanted to experiment with making music out of our collaboration that was more challenging and really required very, very good singers to do it and I loved that challenge.” To help realize this goal, Satter looked to a variety of musical sources for inspiration. Whenever it struck, she’d pass the song to Giarmo, explaining what it was about the particular track that caught her attention, and he’d take that influence into consideration as he composed.

Satter was gracious enough to provide us with this short playlist with some of those inspirations. Though the sounds on the list may be varied, they are all bold in their vision, defiant in their aesthetic, and unapologetically female. The music of the show reflects the sonic diversity to some degree, and yet it’s all remarkably cohesive, unified by its absurdly talented band/performers—featuring Satter and Giarmo, and fronted by Erin Markey and, for this iteration, Amber Gray—and the hilarious and heart-wrenching narrative at its core, one that could only have been conveyed through such a theatrical song cycle. As Satter put it in an earlier interview, “Music engenders a feeling you can’t even name in your body, heart, and brain. Watching these people onstage not just creating narratives and drama but all this live melody really paired with the content of the show and our holistic approach to it from the earliest stages.”


“The Weakness in Me” by Joan Armatrading

She is the best. Hands down. The storytelling and direct shot of recognizable emotion in this song in particular is very inspiring always. Her music is a constant overarching thing to look to in making music, work, and life in general—so even if not direct at all in a given project we make—looking for our version of the emotional unlocking, storytelling, and melody for a given piece always starts with looking to Joan.

 

“The Eye” by Brandi Carlile

Cannot remember how I first came to this music. But I heard a song somewhere in the summer of 2015 and then looked up the singer. I had never heard of Brandi Carlile. But I started to get so into some of her songs, and was sending them compulsively to Chris saying there was something about this sound that felt like it could work in parts in our approach to Ghost Rings. Then I learned she was this out lesbian in country music and married to a woman and had kids with her, and it felt even more right that she was embedded in some way in this piece we were making in part about queer family-making.  “The Eye” in particular did influence our final song “Not Here”—both in the lyrics I wrote and Chris’s music approach to it. I think Chris’s incredible drag alter-ego, Kimberly Clark, now also covers some Brandi Carlile when she performs.

 

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Making Art in 2017: Harrison Stengle on GATZ

Posted September 1st, 2017

Name: Harrison Stengle

Company: Thinking about establishing a company called “Macho Goat.” As of right now it is just me.

Show in 2017 Festival: GATZ

Role: Writer, Director

Past Festival showsSword of the Unicorn (which is going to New York)

Julie Stackhouse, Jesse Bradley, Jonny Long, Jenna McLaughlin, and Lamar Bumbrey in rehearsal.

FringeArts: Tell us a bit about your show. 

Harrison Stengle: GATZ is a post-apocalyptic, vaporwave infused, interracial, post-modernist parody of the original work by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It tackles the themes that are presented in the original book as well as some that might not have been seen before. For example, Gatsby and Daisy’s interracial relationship is a major theme as well as white privilege. The idea is to twist the symbolism of the original story in a way that younger audiences can better associate with.

FAHow have your interests in or approach to art making changed in the last year? 

Harrison Stengle: I am mastering non-subliminal surrealism/symbolism. I want audiences to understand the collective unconsciousness. This can be very difficult to achieve. Understanding the science of it has been something I will continuously develop and strive for.

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Making Art in 2017: Leah Stein on Interior

Posted August 31st, 2017

Leah Stein.

Name: Leah Stein

Company: Leah Stein Dance Company

Show in 2017 Festival: Interior

Role: Choreographer, Performer

Past Festival shows: Portal (2016), Bellows Falls (2015), Splice (2014), Adjacent Spaces (2013), Hoist (2012), Rock Reed Tatami Stream (2011), Japan House Philadelphia (2010).

FringeArtsTell us about your show.

Leah Stein: I/we are tackling the balance between personal and global shifts, great loss and the possibility of regeneration, starting from an interior space. I read an article about a journalist’s visit to Spiral Jetty earthwork sculpture by Robert Smithson. She (Heidi Julavits) said this about her experience there: “I was thinking a lot about interior landscapes, those uninhabited places inside of us that cannot be contained (or explained) by any map. Interior landscapes are shaped by all kinds of forces: geographic or familial or cultural or genetic.”

FringeArtsHow have your interests in or approach to art making changed in the last year?

Diane Monroe.

Leah Stein: The Deep Listening practice I studied and explored with composer Pauline Oliveros has opened many new channels of perception in my creative and performance practice. This past spring, in collaboration with performers, we presented a new work in conjunction with an exhibit at the Woodmere Art Museum called A More Perfect Union? Power, Sex and Race in the Representation of Couples. This project, and the complexities of this time in the US, made me more aware of my own “cultural training” and ways of seeing and experiencing. It also instilled in me a desire to honor even more the great mix of diverse experiences and understandings within a diverse ensemble, even when they are unresolved, as well as the greater need than ever to listen deeply.

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Loosening the Reigns: Gunnar Montana talks KINK HAÜS

Posted August 31st, 2017

This Fringe Festival, Gunnar Montana transports us once again, this time to a brutal underground nightclub where no fucks are given, and fierceness is always welcome. His new piece, KINK HAÜS, is dynamic, dark and full of lust. It forces the viewer to acknowledge their own thoughts and feelings in regards to physicality, sexuality and the intimacy intertwined in both those aspects of ourselves. He takes these hot topics, that many people are comfortable avoiding, and brings them to the forefront of our minds. Recently, we got to ask Gunnar Montana about the inspiration and process behind KINK HAÜS.

FringeArts: Describe KINK HAÜS in three words!

Montana: Sexy, Crazy, Fun!

FringeArts: What do you believe is the most interesting aspect of KINK HAÜS?

Montana: The set is quite a spectacle. I spent two straight months constructing it by hand. And as I did, the show, the choreography, and the spatial transformation all took on a mind of their own. It’s a beautifully twisted world of somewhat organized chaos!

FringeArts: What inspired you to create this piece? Was there a particular moment you were struck with inspiration?

Montana: I was in Berlin, Germany a couple years ago and there was an underground nightclub I was quite excited to go to. It’s known for its outrageous club culture and apparently has a sex dungeon basement. Long story short, I was turned away at the door (I guess I wasn’t hip enough). This show was a fun project for myself to recreate everything I thought I might have experienced in that club had I gotten in.

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2017 Festival Spotlight: Comedy and Improv, Part 2

Posted August 31st, 2017

This year’s Fringe Festival features features an abundance of comedy and improv. Check out just some of the riotous performances hitting our city next month. Find Part 1 here.

 

Elysian Fields @ The Adrienne Theater Second Stage
Philly Improv Theater (PHIT Comedy)

Like no improv you have seen before! A new dramatic one-act play channeling the works of the great American playwright Tennessee Williams is created before your eyes each night. Enter a world of tortured, desperate characters—ripe with unfulfilled dreams, desires, and the struggle to find escape from a harsh reality. The cast creates a show ripe with unfulfilled dreams, desires, and the struggle to find escape from a harsh reality. More info and tickets here.

 

Roll Play: An Improvised Adventure @ The Adrienne Theater
Roll Play

Roll Play is an improvised fantasy epic, combining the excitement of role-playing games with the spontaneity of live improv comedy. Guided by a mysterious Dungeon Master, the audience helps craft the world and its characters while dice rolls decide their fate. Join our heroes as they face mythical monsters, strange spells, ridiculous riddles, and more. Every show is a brand new adventure! More tickets and info here.

 

Dream Sequence @ The Adrienne Theater Mainstage
Cambridge Footlights/PHIT

Join “the most renowned sketch troupe of them all” (London Independent) transferring from the Edinburgh Fringe for free-flowing hilarity, excellent original writing & side-splitting character comedy. Don’t miss your chance to see this inventive new offering from the group that launched Monty Python and John Oliver! More info and tickets here.

 

 

The Flat Earth @ The Adrienne Theater Mainstage
The Flat Earth/PHIT

Favorites of comedy festival audiences across North America (multiple Best & Producer Picks), The Flat Earth return to where it all began—the Philly Fringe—and present a best-of extravaganza, showcasing material from a half decade of remarkable success: sometimes dark, often silly, occasionally experimental, and always impeccably costumed. Featuring Matthew Schmid, Jacquie Baker, Molly Silverman, Rich Lee, and Paul Triggiani. More info and tickets here.

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Dada Down South: Barry Rowell talks about his play Floydada

Posted August 30th, 2017

Barry Rowell

How do you combine dusty plains, small towns, and pre-surrealism reactionary art? In Barry Rowell’s Floydada, theater, music, and puppet projection present two sisters, one a prodigal artist who has gained fame in the big cities, the other stationary in the town for years and years. The homecoming sister brings Dada art along with her, and the two scheme to present a Dada cabaret for their small town.

Barry Rowell hails from Fort Worth, Texas, and is now the playwright and co-founder of Peculiar Works in New York City. The Obie-award winning group has been producing interdisciplinary and engaging art since 1993. The work is avant-garde in a way that mirrors the post World War I Dada movement. Dada art, poetry, and cabarets were collages of strange, mis-matching objects and images, from toys to toilets. Floydada does the same, bringing together revolutionary anti-art, a host of different disciplines (including Leila Ghaznavi’s whimsical puppet projections), and small town Americana. Barry has been writing plays for decades, and loves to bring together seemingly-disparate elements into one, cohesive work. We were able to chat with him about his origins as an artist, and the strange, wonderful world of Floydada.

FringeArts: Where are you from, and how did you first get involved in the arts?

Barry Rowell: I grew up in Fort Worth, TX, but I was born in Odessa — which is what most people picture when they think Texas: flat, dusty plains with oil pump jacks as far as the eye can see. I saw my first play, Through the Looking Glass, at Odessa College’s replica of Shakespeare’s Globe and I was hooked. My dad had done theater at Odessa College — my grandmother said that she cried and cried when he died as Lenny in Of Mice and Men “because he was just so stupid.” There were several theaters in Fort Worth when I was growing up: we saw Casa Mañana Summer Musicals, Shakespeare in the Park (you sat on a hillside and the stage was built out of an old WPA-era picnic building), and my mother worked at Texas Christian University so I got to see all of the theater department productions there. I made my professional acting debut at Fort Worth’s Stage West while I was in college. It’s always been a very strong arts community.

Catherine Porter and Nomi Tichman in Floydada

FringeArts: Who are some artists that you look up to?

Barry Rowell: I’m blown away by (and a little envious of) artists whose work is intensely physical: Pig Iron, of course, Elevator Repair Service, Yanira Castro (whom Peculiar Works has produced a few times—and she’s as wonderful to work with as her work is to watch), Nicole Canuso, Geoff Sobelle, The Bang Group. I’ve had the good fortune to work with Lake Simons, a gifted performer and object theater/puppet artist here in NYC (and Fort Worth, too). My friend Howard Fishman is both a fantastic singer/songwriter and a talented theater artist—his piece about The Donner Party, We Are Destroyed, is hauntingly beautiful. We saw James Thierrée perform two years ago (he’s a choreographer and Charlie Chaplin’s grandson) and he’s amazing: it was some of the most remarkable physical performance I’ve ever seen. I wish I could write poetic plays as Ruth Margraff and Mac Wellman do. And we’ve been seeing shows in the Fringe here in Philadelphia for years and those have been some of my favorite shows ever: Bruce Walsh’s Chomsky vs Buckley 1969; New Paradise Laboratories’ Rrose Selavy Takes a Lover in Philadelphia; Across by Mark LordAnti-Salon (Antigone in a beauty salon)…I could go on and on.

FringeArts: When did you start writing plays?

Barry Rowell: My bachelor’s degree is from TCU and I did a year of graduate work at the University of Texas in Austin where I studied acting but I took as many history and criticism classes with Oscar Brockett as I could—he influenced the work I do now more than any other professor I had.

I started writing plays because I was producing a second stage series at a long-gone Off-Off Broadway company and the playwright who was supposed to write our debut show dropped out at the last minute. The artistic director said I’d have to cancel and I said, “Like hell I will.” So I made an adaptation of Dracula that combined texts from the novel, a medical textbook, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s On Death and Dying, and some of my original writing into an abstract collage piece set in a hospital in which the vampire (who never appears) symbolizes the characters’ fears of death. A year later, I went back and rewrote it (the first draft took me about 2 weeks—it was very rough!) and Before I Wake became the inaugural production of Peculiar Works Project in 1993.

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Making Art in 2017: Whit MacLaughlin on Hello Blackout

Posted August 30th, 2017

Whit MacLaughlin

Name: Whit MacLaughlin

Company: New Paradise Laboratories

Show in 2017 Festival: Hello Blackout! also screenings of O Monsters.

Past Festival shows: Curated shows: O Monsters, The Adults, 27, Freedom Club, Extremely Public Displays of Privacy, Fatebook, Batch: An American Bachelor/ette Party, Planetary Enzyme Blues, Rrose Selavy Takes a Lover in Philadelphia, The Fab 4 Reach the Pearly Gates, This Mansion is a Hole. Self-produced: Gold Russian Finger Love.

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

Whit MacLaughlin: As a company, we have been drawn to big questions from the beginning: Why is there something instead of nothing? What is the big system we’re all a part of? What does Philadelphia, as a city, as a concept, really mean? Why do we die? Questions that don’t have answers. NPL takes delight in asking unanswerable questions. It’s an obsession. Now we ask: why do we have something called a “future” that is so hard to predict? Seems like a fundamental question, but one that’s almost pure nonsense. One might be tempted to say: “What a stupid question!” Of course we have a future, but we can’t tell what it’s going to be because it’s not here yet. There’s no answer. Yet. Maybe tomorrow.

Nevertheless, almost everything we do in daily life involves searching for a way to predict what’s going to happen. What’s going to come in the mail today? Should I take that job? Am I going to be diagnosed with something bad? Who am I going to marry? We say: the fun is in the finding out! But still, it’s perplexing and frustrating, this issue of the future. Almost all Greek drama is about trying to see the future. Tiresias, the blind oracle, is in many of the plays. A BLIND ORACLE. Drama, from the beginning, has always been about the problem of a future that’s unforeseeable. Like Hamlet trying to figure out what to do to remedy his father’s murder. We’re paying close attention to a newly developing school of thought, a philosophy, called Speculative Realism. It suggests that the only absolute in the world, the only thing that must exist, is “contingency.” The world weaves itself out of a chaotic state and the things that happen don’t necessarily have a reason. May seem obvious, but we think it’s worth considering a bit more deeply, especially now that technology seems to move faster than we can, that our political life seems off the rails, that we live in a “quantum universe.” What does any of that actually mean for us on a daily basis? NPL takes big questions and blends them into a big question cocktail, then gets everybody drunk on it.

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Nowhere to Hide: PAC’s Iphigenia At Aulis

Posted August 30th, 2017

Pictured: Nathan Foley, Tai Verley Credit: Daniel Kontz Design

The Philadelphia Artists’ Collective is joining us this festival with their take on the strong and dynamic Greek Drama Iphigenia At Aulis. To help bring this classical piece to life they will hold it aboard the USS Olympia where both audiences and actors alike will be face to face in the intimate and unique space. Recently we reached out to Dan Hodge, the director of Iphigenia At Aulis, to get his thoughts on a few topics regarding the piece.

FringeArts: What attracted PAC to this particular piece

Dan Hodge: Iphigenia has actually been on our short list for several years. In Clytemnestra, it has one of the greatest leading female roles in Greek Drama and offers something substantial and rewarding for all of the central figures in the play. With its tense gender politics and the focus on personal sacrifice balanced against blind nationalism and warmongering, this seems like a really excellent piece to be exploring right now. The human costs of waging war are thrown into incredibly sharp relief when one has to choose the sacrifice of a child before the military can depart. It’s pretty strong stuff.

FringeArts: What do you feel are the main topics and themes brought up in Iphigenia at Aulis

Dan Hodge: It ultimately all comes back to family and trust. At the center of the piece we have this very tight family unit that is torn apart thanks to a hunger to maintain the pride of a country. We see how the women struggle to find agency and power in a social order stacked against them. And the choices they make are challenging and surprising.

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Making Art in 2017: Tina Satter on Ghost Rings

Posted August 29th, 2017

Name: Tina Satter

Company: Half Straddle

Show in 2017 Festival: Ghost Rings

Past Festival shows: In the Pony Palace/FOOTBALL

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

Tina Satter: When I started Ghost Rings I had this very early writing of two girls discussing banal and existential questions. In this very early draft they each had an animal that operated as their “Private Inner Being”—one girl had a deer and the other had a seal—but I wanted to play with the idea that these weren’t actually cute, cuddly animals. They were kind of crass, and direct, and not necessarily mean, but didn’t always offer great advice. They sort of actually operated like “mean girls.” The deer in particular even wanted to talk about sex and stuff.

At the same time Half Straddle composer, Chris Giarmo, and I had been discussing doing a project that really focused on singing. We always have original music, scores, and often songs in our shows, and usually these are performed by a mix of untrained and trained singers. Chris had recently expressed that he wanted to experiment with making music out of our collaboration that was more challenging and really required very, very good singers to do it and I loved that challenge and idea. From the beginning, we were like, “Maybe it’s a fully sung-through piece?” but didn’t have any idea what that would mean for us. We also knew from the beginning we wanted to work on it with Erin Markey who has an incredible voice and stage presence, and we’d been collaborating with her for a while at that point. At the time I knew of the actor Kristen Sieh, who’s outstanding, but I didn’t know she was a singer. Then sometime in 2012 I saw her in a show where she sang and she suddenly seemed like the perfect person to play opposite Erin.

Meanwhile, I was honing and refining the writing between these two characters, then called Samantha and Kristen, and their Private Inner Beings (Seal-y and Deer). In the writing they had become these best friends who also have a deep romantic connection. As they grow one truly wants to have a baby with the other so she sets this intention that she is pregnant and it comes true. At the same I was going through all this stuff with my actual sister who I’d always been super close to, but there were pretty intense things she was going through and we were estranged. I couldn’t help putting really direct and personal writing about my sister in the show. It made sense in a way since I would be onstage drumming anyway.

So, I was working on how to make those two distinct aspects of text work together—and then I remembered that when we were really little my sister and I had a “band” with a friend—a fake band obviously, but for a moment in time we took it really seriously. That became this really perfect through-line for Ghost Rings—to re-create a band now as an adult and artist to frame these memories and new stories.

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2017 Festival Spotlight: Comedy and Improv, Part 1

Posted August 29th, 2017

This year’s Fringe Festival features features an abundance of comedy and improv. Check out just some of the riotous performances hitting our city next month. Find Part 2 here.

 

2 INCREDIBLE 2 DREAMZ @ Space 1026
The Incredible Dreamz

Incredible Dreamz is a comedy collective featuring The Incredible Shrinking Matt & Jacquie and The New Dreamz. An exploration of loneliness and connection within the context of everyday relationships. Four performers create a ritual of life that slides between the mundane grind and surreal hallucination. Using a formula where 1 tittle twister = 2 wet willies and 1 homemade meal = 1 hand job, these drama bodies look for formula for love, understanding, comfort and control. This piece uses darker obsessions as material to peel back the pain and beauty inside the desire to be validated—the desire to be fulfilled and to land in a place that is full of froth. More info and tickets here.

 

TOWN The Adrienne Theater Second Stage
Jolie Darrow & Jack O’Keeffe/Philly Improv Theater (PHIT Comedy)

Welcome to TOWN. TOWN is in America, maybe. TOWN is an inviting place where nothing bad happens. The locals of TOWN are hiding plenty of secrets – silly secrets, sinister secrets, and they will all be revealed by the end of the metaphysical horror-comedy modeled after Thornton Wilder’s classic Our Town. More info and tickets here.

 

I’m Ok, Are You Ok? @ The Adrienne Theater Mainstage
Molly Scullion/Philly Improv Theater (PHIT Comedy)

Molly Scullion has been to therapy, and she’ll tell you all about it. In I’m Ok, Are You Ok?, Molly explores living and healing after trauma. With both hilarious and emotional stories, this show takes you far into the depths of just how weird our brains can be; they keep secrets from us, they explode on us, and yet, they’re always trying to protect us. Exploring some of the darkest times in her life, Molly Scullion brings forth a story about overcoming the past and finding strength and humor in pain. More info and tickets here.

 

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Making Art in 2017: Courtney Hunter on Splintered Glass

Posted August 28th, 2017

Name: Courtney Hunter

Show in 2017 FestivalSplintered Glass

Role: Choreographer, Performer

Past Festival shows: This is my first time self-producing and choreographing for the Fringe Festival. For my guest artists, The Blind Faith Dance Company, it will be their third time showcasing in the Fringe Festival.

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

Photo by Carley Schwab.

Courtney Hunter: Our show explores the concept of reality and what humans perceive reality to be through three different stories. My piece “Wouldn’t you, if you could?” specifically explores the ethics of Artificial Intelligence and it gets at whether or not manufactured consciousness is any different than naturally occurring consciousness. Robots, to an extent, already exist around us and the world is already full of automation, but one day, humanity might have the capacity to develop artificial consciousness and intelligence. If we eventually have that capability, should we use it? Is it right and where is the line between scientific exploration and playing god? Once the artificial consciousness is created, how is it any different than human consciousness?

The concept for this piece was inspired by the HBO Series Westworld and the film Ex Machina. After researching further, I learned of the Turing Test. The test, completed in 1950 by computer scientist Alan Turing, observed the ability of machinery to exhibit intelligence indistinguishable from human form. After learning of the Turing Test, I started to wonder what it would mean if something passed the test. At that point, what makes them different from humanity?

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