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Archive for the ‘Curated Fringe’ Category

What’s Going On Underneath: Meg Foley on The undergird

Posted August 14th, 2018

“The goal is to touch without touching—like really feel and be moved to tears among this long landscape of talking about what our bodies are doing, what we imagine they could do, and about death/loss/grief.” Meg Foley

For the last seven years Meg Foley has been experimenting and and refining her improvisational performance practice, “action is primary”. For a year, she paused every day at 3:15pm to dance, wherever she was, embracing the practice’s central tenet to “hold what you are doing at the center of what you are doing, even as slips towards new centers.” After developing the practice individually, she began to investigate how it could be used to make a group dance.

Foley’s entry into the 2018 Fringe Festival, The undergird is a four-person piece which explores the artists’ “felt experiences” of grief and death in a rhythmic celebration of where memory and imagination live inside the body and how they can be remade through movement. FringeArts talked to Meg about her intriguing title, performance practice, and process.

FringeArts: The undergird” is an intriguing title. How did you come up with it?

Meg Foley: I knew I wanted to use action is primary, an improvisational practice I’d been developing and performing at that point for almost seven years, to make a piece about grief and my relationship to mortality/death, which at first I was like “oh duh, it’s about my Dad dying”. And it is, but quickly I realized it was about something much bigger. I started writing early on and a lot of other material—my experience as a parent and of child birth, my relationship with my mother, the feeling of my own skin—emerged.

I knew that I was trying to stay close to something that I was either pulling away from or avoiding; I was trying to move towards the center rather than away. And I think I had an image of cement and rebar and how it’s held together, a little bit like going down into the boiler room or something to get to where all the mechanicals are.

I think a lot about the action and embodied sensation of words and linguistics, and so it was very clear to me that the title of this piece was a noun. Also thinking about something stretching underneath, holding other things up, or a constant underpinning. Because right away when I started working on the piece, I started thinking about time as a primary material and research point and also thought about earth matter and our bodies as part of that, so in that sense The undergird is both sort of biological and emotional/personal in terms of what’s going on underneath and throughout all the time.

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Bringing Dance Where It Does Not Belong: Monica Bill Barnes on The Museum Workout

Posted August 13th, 2018

After a six-month run at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum Workout comes to the Fringe Festival with a unique opportunity to rediscover one of Philly’s most iconic institutions. Known for its impressive steps and collections of art spanning 2,000 years, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will host the 45-minute contemporary dance/participatory workout routine led by Monica Bill Barnes and Company. Author and artist Maira Kalman, known for her New Yorker cover illustrations and her books for children and adults, chose the artwork along the tour and provides commentary on select works and dance partners Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass lead high-energy, choreographed exercise throughout the many galleries.

The experience turns the typical museum visit on its head and forges a new relationship between visitors and art, to the tune of “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” (and other high-energy numbers mixed live by creative producing director Robert Saenz de Viteri). We talked to Monica Bill Barnes about the process of developing this work and the how it fits into her company’s mission.

FringeArts: How did the company come up with the idea for The Museum Workout?

Monica Bill Barnes: When the Met [The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City] first approached the company about making a show for one of their galleries, we were skeptical about creating a show in the midst of so much art. We did not want to add more art to this wealth of art. But the opportunity felt exciting and a challenge that we wanted to take on. I visited the museum with each company member and while Kelly Hanson and I were standing in the armor gallery looking at all the knights in shining armor, we started to wonder how long it would take to jog through the entire museum without stopping to look at anything, how many miles it would be, what song would we listen to and would that actually be an interesting thing to encounter as a visitor to the museum? We loved the idea of running in our signature sequin dresses that we have worn for several shows with the brand of running shoes that I grew up watching my dad run marathons in. These sequin dresses are designed to feel a bit like a suit of armor but with sequin.

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The Inappropriateness of Words: An Interview with Heiner Goebbels

Posted August 6th, 2018

Heiner Goebbels is a prolific German artist, composer, and director who has created compositions and theater works for ensembles and orchestras around the world. His work often defies easy characterization, using unconventional musical composition and theatrical staging to push the boundaries of contemporary performance art.

This year’s Fringe Festival will feature two of Goebbels’s pieces: Stifters Dinge, a performative installation with no actors, only machines, sounds, and whispers, and Songs of Wars I Have Seen, a musical composition performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra and Tempesta di Mare, interspersed with text from Gertrude Stein’s World War II memoir Wars I Have Seen, recited by the members of the orchestras. Stein’s text, which uses plain language to describe her own experience during the war, is juxtaposed with orchestrations that span centuries of musical styles, played on modern and period instruments. FringeArts asked Goebbels about the many sources of inspiration for the piece, as well as the relationship between the two works he is presenting in this year’s Festival.

FringeArts: How did you encounter Gertrude Stein’s writing?

Heiner Goebbels: The first experience I had with the meditative musicality of her prose was when Robert Wilson recited some paragraphs of her book The Making of Americans during the funeral service for German author Heiner Müller. It was a moving encounter with literature, which is so hard to describe: a novel, a poem, a litany, an incantation? And with other excerpts of this book I created my music theater work Hashirigaki in 2000.

FringeArts: What inspired you to adapt her memoir into Songs of Wars I Have Seen?

Heiner Goebbels: I got the idea to work with some of that text for my opera Landscape with distant relatives, which I created in the context of 9/11, because of the difficulty and the inappropriateness of personal words when trying to talk about an experience of violence and disaster.

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Challenge and Care: An Interview with Tania El Khoury by Monica Uszerowicz

Posted July 24th, 2018

In Tania El Khoury’s immersive installation and theater piece Gardens Speak, 2014, audience members put on raincoats and enter a cemetery where they are given a card written with an Arabic name. Matching it to a tombstone, they lie in soft graves of dirt, ear to the ground, and listen to a story whispered from beneath the soil, told by the dead themselves. If they wish, they can leave a note in response, folded and buried.

These narratives are reconstructed from the families and friends of the deceased, all of whom were dissidents of President Assad who were killed during the uprising in Syria and buried in home or community gardens. Syrian cemeteries are often too full, and large funerals became potential regime targets, putting grieving families at risk. Gardens Speak was developed in 2014, a response to the struggle against Assad’s dictatorship and the collaborative, protective relationship between the living and the dead. Piecing these histories together, El Khoury renders physical the idea that the ground beneath our feet contains multitudinous, literal lives.

Born in Lebanon, El Khoury is based between London and Beirut, where she cofounded the performance collaborative Dictaphone Group. During this year’s Miami Art Week at the Fillmore Miami Beach, and as presented by MDC Live Arts, she will share Gardens Speak and As Far As My Fingertips Take Me, 2017, another participatory project. [These works are presented in the series ear-whispered: works by Tania El Khoury as part of the 2018 Fringe Festival.] Here, audience members allow their arms to be drawn upon by El Khoury’s collaborator, Basel Zaraa, who remains unseen behind a wall. I understand listening and touching as their own kind of dissidence, as both art form and intentional practice. Horror and confusion on a mass scale are heartbreaking, then numbing; it is easier to understand sociopolitical upheaval when you are connected, heart-to-heart, to another story.

— Monica Uszerowicz

Monica Uszerowicz: You developed Gardens Speak in 2014. Americans have the forced context of both Trump and new refugee crises through which to view seemingly everything. How has the project’s meaning grown for you since its original impetus, if at all?

Tania El Khoury: I see Gardens Speak in the political context of Syria rather than the American context. What the piece does now, almost four years later, is remind us that what we perceive as a “war” in Syria started as a legitimate and popular uprising against a four-decade-long dictatorship. It also reminds us of the root of the displacement of Syrians, which we’ve been witnessing in the form of large numbers of refugees. The stories in Gardens Speak speak volumes about the responsibility of the Syrian regime in turning a peaceful uprising into a violent war, and in displacing people locally and internationally.

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Cooking Up Cabaret: An Interview with John Jarboe and Sally Ollove

Posted July 23rd, 2018

“We could write a book, but we’re cabaret artists, so we decided the best way to understand the history and the present moment was to explore it through performance.” Sally Ollove, The Bearded Ladies Cabaret 

John Jarboe and The Bearded Ladies Cabaret are back with a new treat, The Poison Cookie Project. Artists will perform live in Do You Want A Cookie?, a curated show in this year’s Fringe Festival; individual performers present extended cabaret acts as Late Night Snacks; and audiences can learn more about the long history of cabaret in the Digital Fringe offering, The Poison Cookie Jar.

Jarboe, the founder and artistic director of the Bearded Ladies, is one of FringeArts’s most frequent collaborators, serving as host and curator of our monthly series Get Pegged Cabaret. Together with Sally Ollove, the group’s associate artistic director and dramaturg, the Bearded Ladies will present an international cast of cabaret performers who trace the role of cabaret in community building throughout history and its heightened importance in today’s world. Like a poison cookie, this performance will tempt the audience with outrageous costumes and innovative collaborations, and lead them to consider art’s place in society and what it means to give visibility to sometimes hidden communities.

We asked Jarboe and Ollove about the evolution of this enticing project and about what it’s like to assemble such a diverse cast of performers into one room.

FringeArts: What was the initial inspiration for Do You Want A Cookie? and The Poison Cookie Jar?

John Jarboe: I realized in 2013 that I was a practicing cabaret artist, but I didn’t really know what cabaret was or where it came from. Since much of my work straddles the personal and the political, I also wanted to know what the political roots of the form were. How was it used in relationship to political and social crises? Who are my ancestors? What did they do?

Sally Ollove: Once we began looking for those answers, we realized pretty quickly that resources were scarce. There are a number of great books about specific moments in cabaret history, but very few that look at the form across geography and time, and none that extend into a close look at what’s happening in cabaret today. We could write a book, but we’re cabaret artists, so we decided the best way to understand the history and the present moment was to explore it through performance.

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You can be Le Super Grand

Posted May 21st, 2018

Do you want to be a part of a grand Fringe Festival show? Here’s your chance. Audition next month to participate in Le Super Grand Continental, one of the world’s most infectious art events.

Le Grand Continental® Philadelphia Museum of Art Plaza, Philadelphia Fringe Festival

Photo by Sylvain Émard Danse

The 2012 Fringe Festival kicked off with a large scale performance unlike anything Philadelphia had seen before. One hundred and fifty volunteer dancers of all ages and backgrounds assembled at the iconic Philadelphia Art Museum steps and twirled into a rhythmic human kaleidoscope of celebratory dance. Le Grand Continental was a joyous and intoxicating spectacle, one that united people from across Philadelphia’s diverse communities and was praised by the Philadelphia Inquirer as “fantastic… it left the audience cheering for more.”

Since then Le Grand Continental has travelled across the globe, gathering together hundreds of dance enthusiasts to perform its sensational choreography, which combines festive line dancing with the fluidity and expressiveness of contemporary dance.

“In every city the reaction is the same,” says Montreal’s Sylvain Émard, the mastermind behind this acclaimed work. “No matter the culture, the participants experience the same excitement and emotions. Same for the audiences. There is an obvious sense of pride to achieve such a challenge. It also allows the people to somehow reconnect with the city they live in.”

This year, the Fringe Festival will be ushered in once again Sept 8 & 9, 2018, with Émard’s unifying work, but with one key difference. As the title Le Super Grand Continental suggests, this time around Émard and his team are doing it bigger and are looking to gather 200 dancers to realize this remarkable performance, which features whole-new choreography.

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Songs of Rivers Tempesta di Mare Has Seen

Posted May 16th, 2018

The 2018 Fringe Festival features Songs of Wars I have seen, an intriguing theater/music work by composer Heiner Goebbels inspired by a World War II memoir by Gertrude Stein. The composition will be performed (and spoken) by musicians from two local ensembles. But while the Philadelphia Orchestra will be familiar to most Festival-goers, baroque orchestra Tempesta di Mare remains less known.

This weekend provides an opportunity to get to know the classical ensemble, as they present their Spring program in concerts at Penn’s Landing and in Chestnut Hill. The program, River Music: Bach & Telemann on Water’s Edge, includes pieces by J.S. Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann, Baroque heavyweights whose compositions figure prominently in Tempesta’s seasons.

“This music is powerful and evocative, and it tells fascinating stories,” says Rafael Schneider, who works for the orchestra. Telemann’s piece “Hamburger Ebbe und Flut” (Hamburg ebb and flow) premiered in 1723 at a large hall overlooking the Port of Hamburg, a location Schneider compares to the Independence Seaport Museum overlooking Penn’s Landing and the Delaware. The Seaport Museum will host Saturday night’s concert, an event which also serves as the centerpiece of Tempesta’s annual gala. This festive gathering includes boat rides along the Delaware, a cocktail hour with signature drinks, a meal, and a post-concert dessert reception with the artists.

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A Séancers Syllabus

Posted May 10th, 2018

Photo by Julieanne Harris

This weekend, Nigerian–American curator, poet, and performance artist Jaamil Olawale Kosoko brings his latest work to FringeArts. Informed by the deaths of all his immediate family members, Séancers collapses lyrical poetry, movement forms, and discursive performance to explore how the American racialized body uses psychic, spiritual, and theoretical strategies to shape shift through loss and oppression.

Kosoko’s artistic practice is in many ways guided by his voracity as a reader and, in the case of Séancers, many of the works that inspired the piece were also pertinent to his grieving process, to seeing his loss in a greater context of cultural erasure and systemic oppression of Black people in America. At the top of a recent episode of Terrible, Thanks for Asking, he offered, “I think of a quote by James Baldwin: ‘You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.’ And I think really situating myself inside of being bookish has allowed me an understanding to know that my story is not particularly unique.”

Below is a list of texts and works that inspired Kosoko to make Séancers—a mix of Black theory, poetry, performance art, and video art—along with links and quotes (some direct, some contextual) to help spark your own exploration into these illuminating sources.

 

Mumia Abu-Jamal and Cornel West, “The Empire Files: Black Radical Tradition”

 

James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket (Viewing and Reading)

“If Raoul Peck’s fiery documentary I Am Not Your Negro piqued your interest in all things James Baldwin, then try this movie as a companion piece… This 1989 documentary is full of archival footage, recordings of Baldwin reading his work, old interviews, photographs and memories from friends like Maya Angelou and Amiri Baraka. Although some scenes, like a recreation of Baldwin’s fight with his father, haven’t aged gracefully, the documentary’s focus on Baldwin’s personal and creative life humanizes this literary legend.” Monica Castillo, The New York Times

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Wake Work: An Interview With Jaamil Olawale Kosoko

Posted May 7th, 2018

Photo by Leni Olafson

Nigerian–American curator, poet, and performance artist is far more acquainted with loss than a person his age should be. At 34, he is the only living member of his immediate family. In a recent interview with the podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking, he detailed his tumultuous upbringing and the devastating losses that have marked his life. Kosoko is quick to note that his story is not extraordinary, that the pain and hardship he’s experienced is far more common than some might care to acknowledge. However, what is unique about Kosoko’s story is his ongoing journey towards “post-traumatic enlightenment,” which has seen him allowing grief to inform his artistic process and letting his work inform his healing process. “In grief work, you may know that in order to help someone move beyond a hard moment, there’s this idea of a transitional object,” he notes in the episode, adding, “That’s really what my creative work is doing for me.”

This weekend, Kosoko will bring his latest work, Séancers, to FringeArts and as the show’s title suggests it is one that approaches loss head on. Presented as a literal séance, complete with a different guest artist/theorist who helps frame the witnessing of each performance, it explores the ways in which the American racialized body uses psychic, spiritual, and theoretical strategies to shapeshift through loss and oppression in surreal and fantastical fashion. “I’m thinking a lot about trying to heal, strategies of survival that have been embedded in black thought, black life, really since black people landed on the Americas—about larger societal traumas and my own personal traumas and how they’re engaged in this dance,” Kosoko shared in a recent The New York Times profile. In this way, Séancers reaches beyond personal loss to encompass cultural loss as well, particularly those that relate to rituals, to old modes of congregating among African-Americans that Kosoko sees as extinct or dying.

Recently, FringeArts caught up with Kosoko to learn more about the theories and art that informs Séancers and what audiences can expect to witness.

FringeArts: What made you think up the title Séancers?

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko: My previous piece #negrophobia was described as a kind of séance as I toured it throughout Europe over the past couple years. It felt like a natural progression to lean more into themes of paranormal activity, loss, and resurrection as it relates to Black identities. Of course I’m also thinking a lot about Black theory, which has been incredibly healing and informative for me as a way to come to terms with personal and societal trauma. Black conceptual technologies such as fugivity (Fred Moten), afro-pessimism (Frank Wilderson), and intersectionality (Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw) have given me a deeper intellectual framework to ground the ideas and metaphors that are situated inside my new work, Séancers. Lastly, the work has literally become a way for me to stay in close relationship to my dead family. I’m the only living member of my immediate family.

Have a listen to an interview I recently did here.

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Vender Una Fantasia: An Interview With Alex Torra

Posted April 13th, 2018

Cuban President Raúl Castro’s second term is coming to a close and as such he’s preparing to vacate the office, making good on the two-term limit he set back in 2013. Though he intends to remain on the National Assembly and retain his position as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba (the country’s only legal party), for the first time since 1959 someone other than a Castro will rule the island. On April 19th, Cuba’s National Assembly will undertake the historic vote to decide just who that someone will be. The following day, as the reality of that outcome is settling in with Cuban citizens, those of us here in the island’s not-so-friendly neighbor to the north will have a chance to settle into some theater seats and get an irreverent, pointed examination of our nations’ contentious relationship.

Jenna Horton and Benjamin Camp. Photo by Kate Raines, Plate 3 Photography.

¡BIENVENIDOS BLANCOS! OR WELCOME WHITE PEOPLE! will receive its world premiere here at FringeArts on April 20th through the 28th. This new, original play from Team Sunshine Performance Corporation has been years in the making, and a true passion project for the ambitious company’s co-founder Alex Torra. Serving as the show’s lead artist and director, he was spurred to create the work in part because of his complicated relationship with his Cuban heritage. However, as the project has grown, it’s expanded its concerns far beyond the personal to encompass the long history of cultural exploitation and outsider ignorance Cuba has suffered through. Case in point, I’m embarrassed to admit just how recently I became aware that Cuba’s aforementioned vote was happening so soon. Live and learn.

Recently, we spoke with Torra to learn more about the origins of this bold, lively new play; the long journey to making it a reality, full of trips to Cuba and visa nightmares; and what audiences can expect to see onstage once the rumba beat starts.

FringeArts: Where did the title ¡BIENVENIDOS BLANCOS! OR WELCOME WHITE PEOPLE! arise from?

Alex Torra: Back in 2015, I had an opportunity to travel to Cuba for the first time. It was a super intense and difficult trip for me – for many Cuban-Americans, we only understand Cuba through the things our parents tell us and from photos or videos. To see it with your own eyes is a whole different experience.

I was really taken aback by how many of my interactions were tourism-based, and how much of the culture I was seeing was focused on getting (at that time) white tourists to have a great time and spend money. I kept having the strangest sensation – that Cuba was selling itself. I saw this phrase “Rentar Una Fantasia” on the back of a taxi. It clobbered me. Cuba has opened its doors to tourists, and now, tourism serves as one of the largest sources of revenue for the country. Cuba openly caters to tourists, and especially tourists from wealthy majority-white nations, to come and partake of the island and culture. It’s for the sake of survival, for sure, but it makes me deeply uncomfortable.

Idalmis Garcia. Photo by Kate Raines, Plate 3 Photography.

In my research, I discovered that this is a recurring theme in Cuban history. There is desire/repel quality to the way Cuba has dealt with foreigners. It goes as far back as La Conquista, where the Native people of the island, at some moments, welcomed Spanish strangers to the “New” World before they were enslaved, tortured, converted, and poisoned by European sicknesses. Then, in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Cubans, who had achieved independence from Spain had begun to welcome Americans. The Americans, in the early 20th century, used Cuba as a new marketplace and the island, especially Havana, became a kind of playground for the mafia, Hollywood, and tourists. When Castro came into power, many Cubans were happy to see the Americans go, but then the country became reliant on the Soviet Union. After the fall of Russian Communism, Cuba opened up to tourism for the first time in 40-50 years, welcoming European and Canadian tourists, and now, Cuba has opened up and is welcoming American tourists.  It’s a powerful and complicated story, of both revolting against these outside forces and also welcoming them in.

FringeArts: How has your identity and relationship with your heritage informed the piece from its conception?

Alex Torra: It was the starting place for the project. We’ll see how much of this finds its way into the final performance, but a big complication for me is my white Latinoness. I present white (some say I “pass” as white), but I’m part of a Latinx minority group. As a first generation Cuban-American, I was encouraged to find success by my parents and community, and so I set out to do that. Along the way I deleted my Miami accent, I went to theatre schools that focused on American and Euro traditions of theatre where the work was made for primarily white audiences, and I worked hard to fit and succeed. I “whitened.”

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Revelatory Hours: An Interview With Elizabeth Huston

Posted March 26th, 2018

“New means change the method, new methods change the experience, and new experiences change man… Whenever we hear sounds, we are changed, we are no longer the same, and this is the more the case when we hear organized sounds, organized by another human being; music.”

Coming from most, these words might not ring as all that profound, but coming from Karlheinz Stockhausen—easily one of the most important figures in the development of 20th and 21st century music—they take on a much greater resonance. One would be hard-pressed to find another composer who did more to challenge and retune the ears of musicians and listeners alike in the last century than the enigmatic genius, but the kind of change to which he was referring wasn’t one of alteration, but one of revelation. To him, music was a prompt for self-discovery. “I think [music] is only a means, it’s like a spiritual food, and it will be used by certain people who discover a certain identity of what they are and what’s there vibrating. They choose more of it, they like it—liking means, as I always say, remembering. When I like something, then I discover something that I have been before, that is profoundly already within me. It resonates, like a piano that you hit,”  he offered towards the end of a 1971 lecture.

This April, FringeArts will present Stockhausen’s KLANG, a day-long performance of the storied composer’s final, unfinished work, and the presentation is sure to provide attendees with hitherto unseen and unheard sonic experiences. In fact, this presentation will be the first time anyone will have the opportunity to hear the work in its entirety in a single day—all 21 completed compositions of the intended 24. Charting the soul’s journey from the body into the afterlife and featuring music that ranges from intimate chamber pieces to head-spinning electronic explorations, the program provides audiences space to reflect on time, spirituality, reality, and the meaning of mortality. As captivating as so many of KLANG‘s pieces are, at its core the work is deeply meditative, reflecting Stockhausen’s philosophy of music as a tool for self-discovery and, in turn, transformation.

Recently, we caught up with Elizabeth Huston—harpist, educator, curator, and co-organizer of the presentation—to learn more about the background of this landmark work, how this presentation and its assembly of collaborators came together, and what audiences can expect at this all-day event come April.

FringeArts: How did the idea of performing KLANG with these collaborators come about? 

Photo by Klaus Rudolph

Elizabeth Huston: In 2014 I had the idea of planning a performance of all of Luciano Berio’s Sequenzas for the 2014 Fringe Festival. The Sequenzas are 14 different pieces written by Berio over the course of his career (1958 to 2002). I noticed while researching the pieces how Berio’s “voice” changed and evolved while Berio grew as a composer, even though each piece of the series keeps his distinct voice and perspective. I decided to search for more sets of pieces like that, and found quite a few, which resulted in me starting my Composit series. The second performance was all of Davidovsky’s Synchronisms, and this will be the third.

Stockhausen’s KLANG is a little different. Instead of being pieces written over the course of Stockhausen’s life, they are the last pieces he wrote (2004-2007). He died hours after completing the twenty-first Hour of KLANG, making this his final opus, the culmination of his life’s work. Since this piece was intended to be composed of 24 Hours, it is especially poignant as a reminder that we all die with unfinished business.

These pieces are notoriously challenging and dense, so I knew I needed collaborators on many fronts. Joe Drew worked with Stockhausen personally and knows his work intimately, so I am running my ideas by him to ensure an authentic communication of Stockhausen’s vision. MusikFabrik also knew Stockhausen personally, and they will be coaching our other performers, ensuring the highest quality performances possible. Stockhausen assigned each of the twenty-one parts of KLANG a specific color which is important to communicate. Thomas Dunn was a perfect fit for lighting design as he is known as a painter of light and can use colors incredibly effectively in his lighting. Finally, these pieces are very theatrical and musicians are not always the best actors, so we roped in Adrienne Mackey to push our performers to embrace the duality of these pieces and bring them to life.

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Always the Same and Never the Same: An Interview with Jérôme Bel

Posted March 7th, 2018

Photo by Herman Sorgeloos

This Friday, Jérôme Bel is returning to Philadelphia with his 2016 Fringe Festival smash hit Gala, a performance featuring 20 dancers, from professional dancers to first timers—including children, teenagers, pensioners, and people with disabilities. Back in 2016 we spoke to Bel about working with a new cast and creating a piece which anybody can understand and learn within a few days of the performance. In advance of this one-night-only remount, we’re reaching into our archives to share his insights.

FringeArts: What was the initial inspiration for Gala?

Jérôme Bel: I was giving a workshop for amateur dancers in a suburb of Paris. I immediately thought that it would be very interesting to put on stage people who are not skilled in dance, people who are very different—old, young, good dancers, bad dancers, terrible dancers.

FringeArts: How did you develop Gala’s basic structure?

Jérôme Bel: 1, Amateurs are not traveling, they can not go on tour, because they have their jobs or they have to go to school if they are young. So my idea was to have a local cast in each city where the performance would be invited. 2, Amateurs can not rehearse a lot because they have a job, so the piece should be rehearsed very, very fast. 3, Consequently I found a very simple structure that anybody can understand and learn within a few days in order to perform the piece.

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The History of Cherdonna Shinatra: From Name to Fame

Posted February 23rd, 2018

Photo by Lou Daprile

This weekend, Seattle-based dancer and choreographer Jody Kuehner, aka Cherdonna Shinatra, will take the stage in all her queer drag glory for Clock that Mug or Dusted. It’s sure to be a wild ride, one filled with live installation art, dance, birthday cake, found objects, and a commentary on all things queer feminism. While getting ready for Ms. Shinatra to perform, I feel it’s important to discuss where her stage name derives from and the journey she has gone through to make it to this point.

The first artist in her name is none other than Cher, the Goddess of Pop, known for songs like “I Got You Babe,” and she’s “got” the queer community on her side. Cher has become a gay icon, in part through her son Chaz, but also for her sense of style and fashion. Drag queens—specifically Chad Michaels and Charlie Hides from RuPaul’s Drag Race—have imitated her, feeling that her struggle and story relates to their coming out processes. Madonna, the other half of Cherdonna’s namesake, is another another legend worth talking about. The Queen of Pop, known for bestsellers including “Like a Virgin,” is also considered a gay icon. She was introduced to the queer community as a teenager, and since then, has been a welcome presence. Like Cher, many drag queens have imitated her, seeing her journey to stardom as very similar to their struggles. And then we have Frank Sinatra who, while not necessarily a gay icon, was a legendary singer known for classics like “My Way.” Adding his name at the end of her stage name cements Cherdonna Shinatra as the legend that she is. In discussing the origin of her character, she also offers, “I feel like Cherdonna is an extension of myself in a way that’s not like an ‘other’… For me it’s a heightened version—more or less myself, or my less censored self.”

Courtesy of the artist

Cherdonna’s work has been shown in every major venue in Washington State and all over the country, but she hasn’t always been alone in the spotlight. From 2008-2013 she performed with Ricki Mason, also known as drag king Lou Henry Hoover, as “The Cherdonna and Lou Show.” The character of Cherdonna started with Lou in this cabaret-style series of performances which often included dance, theater, drag, burlesque, glitter, and featured celebrity impersonations, including an infamous Sonny and Cher routine. Both artists would transcend their queer identities with how they presented themselves on stage—Cherdonna with her long legs, platform heels, big blonde hair, and copious makeup and Lou as a petite drag king wearing a neat mustached face and all. In a 2016 interview, Kuehner commented on her and Mason’s stage duo’s gender play, noting, “We’re both queer people, and we had started diving into more work about gender and gender play… Over the last six years, it’s been diving in more. I got hooked, and just felt there was so much to explore in it.” Kuehner performing drag as the gender that she identifies with is a revolutionary concept, as it transcends what the audience expects from drag.

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Laughing in the Face of Inequality: An Interview With Beth Eisenberg

Posted February 20th, 2018

Beth Eisenberg is one of the organizers of Philadelphia’s Bechdel Test Fest, a comedy festival highlighting our city’s funniest women, trans, and non-binary comedians and performers. Founded in 2016 to help foster a more inclusive comedy community in the face of gender inequality on Philly stages, the annual festival has continued to expand with each iteration—in duration, in number of performers, in stage sizes—and this year is no exception. Spread out over three nights at three different venues, the 2018 festival offers audiences around the city a series of diverse showcases, highlighting a wide range of comedic forms including stand-up, sketch, improv, clowning, and much more. Each evening also ends with a free open stage event for open-mic standup, performance pieces, and improv jams. FringeArts will be hosting the festival’s second night, March 3.

The festival’s continual growth speaks to the ever-present need for greater inclusivity in comedy, and it’s heartening that, as our cultural conversations around gender discrimination continue to develop with more verve than has been seen in many years, so too do platforms that are actively working to upend this universal inequity. It’s vital work that, as Eisenberg is quick to acknowledge, has been happening in our city long before the festival’s genesis, but it seems now more than ever comedy fans are eager for more diverse offerings. Thankfully, Bechdel Test Fest is here to provide.

FringeArtsHow did the Festival come about?

Pictured: Heather Raquel

Beth Eisenberg: Almost three years ago there was an uproar about diversity on some stages. Few women being cast. Few women being asked to create or direct. Most spots in comedy locally and nationally were pulling from the all men’s clubs. Initially, there was a post in the all female identifying Facebook group, Improvaries, sharing the feeling of exclusion and isolation around a recent audition that cast primarily men. Though this issue wasn’t a unique occurrence, it was from that moment that an energy was generated around making a space for female identifying performers in the city.

Everyone rallied. Everyone shared frustration. And lots of individuals shared about how other cities have successful females festivals. So it was the right time and interest from the group was there. That group is comprised of comics from all spaces and theaters, backgrounds, experience, ages, etc.

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Making a Radical Mess: An Interview With Jody Kuehner aka Cherdonna Shinatra

Posted February 7th, 2018

Courtesy of the artist

Cherdonna Shinatra is a drag queen who’s not a drag queen. Not in the way we’ve come to expect, anyway. She’s the alter-ego of Jody Kuehner, a Seattle-based dancer and choreographer, and a queer woman. That last bit makes Cherdonna—a simple, brilliant portmanteau of icons Cher and Madonna—a bit of an anomaly in the world of drag, as does her penchant for dipping her creative toes in the worlds of performance art, experimental theater, and contemporary dance.

Over the last several years Cherdonna has evolved from a cabaret performer with her former artistic partner, drag king Lou Henry Hoover (played by dancer Ricki Mason), to one of Seattle’s preeminent boundary pushing performance artists. She’s created evening length performances like Worth My Salt and more recently Kissing Like Babies; she regularly performs with drag artists like former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant BenDeLaCreme, Kitten LaRue, and the aforementioned Hoover; and she recently “crashed” a production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House at Washington Ensemble Theatre. And that’s simply scratching the surface.

Her solo piece, Clock That Mug or Dusted, rolls strains of all her artistic endeavors into one. Then through some paint. And maybe a birthday cake. Kuehner has described the work as a “conceptual and inspirational homage to feminist performance artists” and an artistic dare to “find what present day queer/drag feminism might be.” It’s a search left open-ended by the show’s improvisation-friendly structure and reflective of Kuehner’s own avoidance of easy categorization. We caught up with her recently to learn more about the piece’s origins, its challenges, and why she’s looking for a “might be” rather than an “is.”

FringeArts: What made you think up the title Clock that Mug or Dusted?

Jody Kuehner: The title came out of a drag saying that you’ve “clocked” something, meaning you’ve noticed something you like or dislike or generally want to bring attention to. This work is largely improvisational so the idea of noticing things as they come, “clocking” every moment is central. Giving “face” aka “mug,” means giving attention to. Dusted coming from the idea of putting on your face, “being dusted,” and also it’s used as a word to mean being under the influence or even death—“turning to dust.” All these layers are in the work.

FringeArtsHow was creating Clock That Mug or Dusted an artistic leap or creative challenge to you?

Jody Kuehner: Using so many materials continues to be a creative challenge. Not knowing exactly how they will play in the space or what I will be inspired by, it changes with every show. The materials add a whole new cast member to the piece. I like the risk in that. It’s an unknown.

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An Uncanny Approach to Presence: An Interview With Megan Bridge and Peter Price

Posted January 22nd, 2018

Sp3 is shorthand for “space, pulse, pattern, and presence,” four abstract concepts from which storied Philadelphia multimedia dance theater company <fidget>‘s latest show grew from. Developed over the last two years, this interdisciplinary work, utilizing music and movement, obliquely grapples with the increasingly post-human nature of modern living, where technology is wedged between us all, disrupting our interpersonal relationships as well as our relationships to time and our environment. The show seeks to disrupt this interference, positioning the notion of presence as something radical.

Recently we spoke with <fidget> co-founders and co-artistic directors Megan Bridge and Peter Price to learn more about the concepts behind Sp3 and the development of its music and movement.

FringeArts: What was the first idea behind Sp3?

Peter Price: Sp3 is shorthand for space, pulse, pattern, presence. So the initial kernel of the work came out of discussions around those somewhat abstract concepts. We knew we wanted to make a work in a way we have not in some time—mostly set choreography to composed music.

Our last large piece was to preexisting music by the late great composer Robert Ashley, and much of our collaborative practice involves improvisation of both music and dance. So it had been some time since I wrote a piece of scored music of significant scope and Megan choreographed to it.  We began by thinking about the different ways these concepts map to sound and to the body. What does pulse mean and how is it articulated musically or by a dancer? What does playing with pattern do compositionally or choreographically?

Megan Bridge: Peter and I were having brunch (sans kids . . . rare!) on the day after Dust closed at FringeArts, and we were discussing our next projects. We knew that Peter was going to be the lead artist on our next collaboration, and after making Dust I was really excited again about music coming first and letting the body be moved by sound, treating sonic material as a physical phenomenon in the space, and figuring out what it does to the other material that occupies that same space.

In terms of the evolution of the work, I’d say we started very abstract, just playing with material, but as stuff started to stick we realized it had this dark, uncanny vibe. The mood of the piece started to feel very related to our perception of the world around us right now—tension-filled, edgy. So for me the biggest evolution is witnessing that mood and subtle narrativity weave its way into the work.

FringeArts: How is Sp3 structured? What does that structure enable you to do?

Peter Price: Part of the original conception of the piece for me was that the music was going to be continuously pulsed over for about an hour. So the historical models would be the classics of “pulse-pattern minimalism” like Terry Riley’s In C or Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians. As we developed the piece that conception evolved and much of the first half of the piece is now concerned musically with non-pulsed dark atmospheres. The second half of the score remains continuously pulsed and unfolds in six main sections. Each of these sections, though sharing tempo and meter, has their own characteristic sound world and compositional approach to rhythmic pattern. A major concern compositionally is exploring the balance between novelty and redundancy so that the perception of the passing of time changes from section to section even if the clock time of the pulse does not.

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Return to Semi-Innocence: A Dear Diary LOL Playlist

Posted January 19th, 2018

Oh the early 2000s. What a time to be alive. Y2K was in our rearview mirrors and the freeze dried foods from our techpocalypse bunkers were in our children’s lunch boxes. Wayward boy bands roamed the earth hoping to strike a chord with young audiences, relying only on their good looks, dance moves, digitally-tweaked vocals, and focus-grouped personas. And an upset in the Presidential election had our country more politically polarized than ever before. Thank goodness that’s all over.

HAHA.

…ahem…

Anyway, this month FringeArts presents an encore presentation of AntiGravity Theatre Project‘s 2017 Festival hit Dear Diary LOL. Born verbatim from the real-life tween-teen diaries of middle school girls from the early 2000s, most of whom are in the show’s actual cast, this comedic theatre performance plumbs these once heavily guarded tomes for all the earnest desires, deepest fears, secret shames, and terrible poems that often come part and parcel with coming-of-age.

The concept of the show first came about during a fortuitous trip home for lead artist Francesca Montanile Lyons. At the time she was attending Pig Iron’s Advanced Performance Training School and had recently been tasked with devising a show as a lead artist. Montanile came across her middle school diary and found inspiration—or rather, deep, utter embarrassment—in its content. “Obviously it was the thing I had to bring in front of an audience,” she recently told FringeArts. She soon found that many of her classmates had similar diaries and similarly mortified responses to them in the harsh light of hindsight and from there the project began to grow.

While most of us would be equally aghast at having our own inanimate confidantes unearthed and their contents aired for anyone to hear, the intrepid ensemble of devisers fearlessly bare these texts and explode the material with moments of direct address, music, dance, and physical comedy, colliding the melodramatic musings with the inherent humor found in their earnestness. The result is a light-hearted, intimate glimpse of the ways these young girls come to understand the world around them, form a self, and use their voices as they experiment with their malleable identities and budding adulthood.

Since nothing triggers memory and nostalgia quite like music, Montanile has shared a playlist that embodies the spirit of that period in the ensemble members’ lives, a veritable early aughts megamix. Stream below or over at Spotify, and catch Dear Diary LOL when it returns for a limited engagement, Jan 25-26, here at FringeArts.

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Ready, Set, Sew: An Interview With Theatre SKAM

Posted January 15th, 2018

Since its founding in 1995, Victoria, BC’s Theatre SKAM has built a strong reputation for their innovative theatrical works. From intimate, elegant plays to boundary-pushing site-specific performances, they always seem to be actively widening the scope of what a contemporary theater company can, and should, do. Case in point: Fashion Machine.

SKAM will bring this widely acclaimed theater/design/education project to FringeArts later this month. Gathering a group of 28 local children, ages 9-13, SKAM artists will lead these budding fashionistas through a few days of intensive training and teaching. They’ll learn about the history and current state of fashion, play some drama games, and, most importantly, learn all the fabrication skills they’ll need to invite a handful of lucky audience members into the Fashion Machine. From January 23-27, these children will take the outfits of seven brave (and willing!) audience members and, over the course of an hour, transform them into something entirely new.

Recently we spoke with two of the projects core artists, Matthew Payne and Shayna Ward, to learn more about how this wild work came together, the benefits of working with children, and the experience of the performance.

From the 2014 premiere of Fashion Machine.

FringeArts: How did the idea for Fashion Machine first come about?

Matthew Payne and Shayna Ward: In 2009 SKAM co-presented the show Haircuts by Children in Victoria by a Toronto company called Mammalian Diving Reflex. We were in the room as children participated in training sessions with a professional hairstylist. It was remarkable to see children grasp concepts quickly while having a blast doing it. Seeing that spark made us want to embark on something equally audacious in spirit.

FringeArts: What made clothing the right vehicle?

Matthew Payne and Shayna Ward: We wanted to try something where the training session made more of an impact than the 2 two-hour sessions the kids received in Haircuts by Children before they started giving free haircuts to people.

As it turns out, remaking someone’s outfit is harder than cutting their hair. Fashion Machine requires more training (12 hours). Part of that time is spent discussing where our clothes come from, the state of the fashion industry, and how new clothes are presented to the public. So the kids who train with us learn how images are manipulated and what they can do to break or better this cycle.

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Happy Hour on the Fringe With Sam Henderson

Posted December 1st, 2017

The latest episode of our newly launched podcast is available for streaming! This episode features a conversation with playwright, performer, and theater technician Sam Henderson. Henderson has appeared on stages or worked behind the scenes at theaters all over the city. He is a member of the self-sustaining producing playwrights collective Orbiter 3, a group focused on sustainability and empowering the playwright as lead artist by embracing administrative and fiscal responsibility in the pursuit of the artistic growth of its members.

The conversation touches on Henderson’s history working in theater throughout the city as well as his latest play, The Brownings, an immoderate re-telling of the great love of the 19th century. This unconventional, rudely comic exploration of the purpose of art and the nature of love runs here at FringeArts from Dec 1 – Dec 9.

Listen below, or over at our show page.

One Long, Horrid Writer’s Retreat: An Interview with Sam Henderson

Posted November 17th, 2017

The love affair and marriage of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning is one of literary history’s favorite romances. It’s not hard to see why. The narrative of two brilliant artists who could articulate their love for each other, wring beautiful verse from it better than just about anyone is certainly an enchanting one. Of course, when are relationships ever that perfect?

From Nov 29–Dec 9, FringeArts will present The Brownings, the latest play from and in conjunction with the acclaimed Philadelphia producing playwrights collective Orbiter 3. Written by Philadelphia playwright and performer Sam Henderson, The Brownings is an immoderate retelling of the titular couple’s famous relationship, with all the fighting and weird sex and drug abuse they didn’t teach you about in school. Though, perhaps there’s a reason for that. We should be sure to reemphasize the terms immoderate and retelling. We spoke to Henderson back in August about the play’s origins and taking some artistic liberties with these famous, oft-idealized figures.

FringeArtsWas there any incident in particular that spurred the creation if The Brownings

Sam Henderson: I was homeless, but staying with friends. I’d spent some time in a psych unit about three weeks earlier, where I’d received really good health care for the first time in about a year and a half. My life was beginning to improve after a long decline. My friends had provided me with a huge, stand-mounted map of Australia for privacy, and I used to just stare at Australia and write plays.

I was struggling to understand myself in the light of my diagnosis of type II bipolar disorder, and my coming to God: two recent, wholly unexpected events that brought meaning to all this personal chaos, if not comfort.

I was deeply under the influence of Mary Tuomanen’s Marcus/Emma, which was still unproduced. I wrote the first seven scenes of The Brownings very quickly as a joke to crack Mary up, and I was surprised when she encouraged me to keep going, since The Brownings is such a rip off of Marcus/Emma.

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