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Archive for the ‘Festival’ Category

Making Art in 2017: Michaela Shuchman on Airswimming

Posted August 17th, 2017

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

Name: Michaela Shuchman (Performer)

Company: Half Key Theatre Company

Show in 2017 Festival: Airswimming

Past Festival shows: Scarlet Letters with Ross & Diggs

FringeArtsTell us a bit about your show. Where did the concept develop from? What are some questions you are tackling?

Michaela Shuchman: Set in 1920’s 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 50 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: Noa Schnitzer on The Currency of Belief

Posted August 16th, 2017

Noa Schnitzer. Photo by Heather Dawn Sparks.

Name: Noa Schnitzer

Show in 2017 Festival: The Currency of Belief: Trapeze and Spiritual Comedy

FringeArtsTell us a bit about your show. Where did the concept develop from? What are some questions you are tackling?

Noa Schnitzer: I am engaged in exploring the intangible elements that make up the gap between who we are and who we want to be (as a solo entity and as a community). To begin illuminating this gap is to understand where we come from as individuals. In this show, religion and gender are put under my artistic microscope. I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish community and decided to stop practicing at the age of 18. Over the years, prayers from this past pop up in my mind and stay with me for days. The fact that 15 years later these prayers have an  involuntary voice in my mind got me thinking about the strength and significance of prayer, practice, and identity in community. In The Currency of Belief, the voice of prayer holds space for the hidden seams in this one life I am exploring, my own. Through these illumination a question arises: is there anything that prayer is not?

FringeArts: How have your interests in or approach to art making changed in the last year? Have you found yourself taking anything new into consideration?

Photo by Abigail Bell, Michelle Bates and Heather Dawn Sparks.

Noa Schnitzer: I am more proactive in reaching out to people that I want to collaborate with. The thing that I always need to practice accepting is that my art is important, and while conventional parameters of success are an amplifier for my ego, I am the main amplifier of my ideas.

FringeArts: Tell us about an instance from 2017 where your interaction with art—either as creator or audience—provided some much needed solace or refuge from outside troubles.

Noa Schnitzer: It was at a Drum Like a Lady jam. LaTreice V. Branson has an amazing life force and it resonates through the community she invites around her. It is both powerful and humbling to feel the undeniable rhythm that everyone in the room was creating. Dance is my language and music, the pen strokes. We have reached a scary time where we need one another and we need the feeling and practice of being connected. The Drum like a Lady community creates this. No matter where a person is in their life the sound of a drum holding a RHYTHM awakens an inner essence.

Filipino Folkdance, Contemporary Ballet, and Motherhood: Annielille Gavino Kollman’s HERstory

Posted August 11th, 2017

Annielille Gavino Kollman in HERstory

What do you get when you combine modern choreography, folkdance polyrhythms, and a baby? The dances of Annielille Gavino Kollman strive to bring together eastern and western styles, while incorporating many other disciplines, and using a group of dancers diverse in both race and generation. Her newest work, HERstory, is a three-part production that investigates the theme of motherhood and culture, and is supported by the Small But Mighty Art Grant. Originally from the Philippines, Annielille’s dance is about her homeland as a mother, and acts as both a celebration and portrait of the women there as well as around the world. She first learned dance as a folkdancer, and now incorporates the styles from her country into contemporary movements. Much of the work is autobiographical, expressing Annielille’s experience as a mother and as a Filipina woman, but it also includes the backstories of the other dancers, who contribute vibrant rhythms by clapping, stomping, and yelling. It also includes spoken word through poetry written by the dancers and Lenora Howard, film projection by Jasmine Lynea Callis, and music composed by Maya Simonee. The work is powerful, dynamic, and beautiful, telling the story of motherhood in an entirely new way.

Annielille was born in the Philippines, and lived there until coming to New York after college. She attended the Alvin Ailey school of dance in 2000, which was a multicultural dance company, which catered to minorities who were often overlooked in the world of ballet and modern dance. She left the country “on impulse,” but she also left to escape extremely difficult circumstances. She was tired of being silenced as a woman, and of experineces of abuse by men.  “I was too vocal. I think that was the problem for them. I was too strong to be a submissive wife.” She had been dancing since she could remember, and was a highly skilled folkdancer. “It was just a way for me to get out of the country, so I just followed that, because I was good at it. It became cathartic to me, too, so I just kept doing it.”

After studying at Alvin Ailey, she danced around the United States for different companies, touring in Colorado, and then in Texas. Later she moved to Virginia, where she found very little creative dance, and a society that was less accepting of her than they had been in New York. “It was very segregated,” she says. “Being in a place where I saw Confederate flags every day of my life, I started to make art. I became a political artist at first, and more of a performance artist.” She had her daughter, and started teaching her dance. “When I didn’t have an outlet for dance, I started teaching her texture, colors, and letters through dance.” She also started choreographing for a Filipino folk dance group, where she began teaching her folk dances. She moved to Philadelphia two years ago, which was a welcome change. “I liked the grit, and a little bit of a faster pace. I love the row houses, and the little streets, where people can connect easier than in wider, suburban space. I feel more at home in cities like this.” Once in Philadelphia, she started dancing for Kun-Yang Li/Dancers, and soon, creating her own projects.

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The Making of Ghost Rings: Interview with Tina Satter

Posted August 8th, 2017

“There had to be a real patience and generosity on their part. But that kind respect and assuming the best intentions of all involved is always the key to a collaboration as full-on as this was.”

Tina Satter is the artistic director of the Obie-winning theater company Half Straddle. Her work has been described by The New York Times as a “vitalizing blend of coziness and estrangement, weirdness and familiarity.” Her new show, Ghost Rings, coming to the 2017 Fringe Festival, is no exception. Drawing from events of her own life, she uses the format and flow of a pop concert to create a work of theater. On stage the band is made up of two women singers, an additional musician, and Satter herself on drums. Also present are two puppet “Private Inner Beings,” Deer and Seal-y. As the two characters grow up, the show examines their intense relationship, and the oscillating dynamics within deep connections between two people. We had a conversation with Tina Satter about her inspiration for Ghost Rings and the process of putting it together.

FringeArts: Do you remember how the title Ghost Rings came into being? Do you remember where you were?

Tina Satter: Yes, in 2011, I was at a three-day silent writing retreat in upstate New York facilitated by the incredible playwright Erik Ehn. It was through the Pataphysics Playwriting Workshops. I generated some writing there that I’d had no pre-plan for, and it was taking shape in its earliest forms as a conversation between two young women, I didn’t know yet if they were sisters or friends or romantic partners —and in this early writing they were discussing basic things like borrowing a sweater, but then also asking each other dark existential questions—and in that first writing I remember having this thought that there was this kind of candy these girls would eat—I imagined it as pale purple circles and I called the candy Ghost Rings. And then I must have left the retreat titling all that early writing, draft, whatever it was, Ghost Rings, because when we showed the earliest versions of it at CATCH in June 2012, the whole thing was then called Ghost Rings.

FringeArts: Can you discuss the basic creative and narrative starting point for the show?

Tina Satter: Well, I had this very early writing of these two girls discussing these banal and existential questions, and in this very early draft they also each had these inner animals – one girl had a Deer who was their corresponding inner animal, and the other had a Seal. [Initially we called these animals “Spirit Animals,” but having come to realize that this was very culturally insensitive, we’ve reconceived of these inner animals of each girl as “Private Inner Beings” that still manifest as Deer and Seal-y]. But I wanted to play with the idea that these weren’t actually cute, cuddly animals—but that they were kind of crass, and direct, and not necessarily mean, but maybe didn’t always offer great advice, that they sort of actually operate like “mean girls” and that the deer in particular wanted to talk about sex and stuff.

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Whispers from the Wall: The Silk Graffiti of Aubrie Costello

Posted August 4th, 2017

Walking down many streets in Philadelphia is like wandering an art gallery for graffiti. The tags of artists like SAGA, KAD, and LAZZ fill the walls with a calligraphy that has become a unique Philly handstyle. These, along with colorful street art projects, have made the city a vibrant center for the growth and evolution of graffiti, some even becoming three dimensional installations. You may spot some of these words made of flickering strands of fabric hanging from a wall, a fence, or a bridge. This is the work of “silk graffiti” artist Aubrie Costello, who uses long strips of Dupioni silk to write phrases around the city. Although the pieces are often large, they feel intimate, like their speaker is whispering to passersby. Some of her work is hung on the streets, while other pieces reside in nature, and others still have migrated into gallery spaces. This year, she is collaborating with dancers Jess Noel, Leslie Davidson, and Fatima Adamu in an interdisciplinary production, Show Me What You Want Me To See, or SWMYWMTS. The dance performance will take place inside a gallery with its walls covered in silk writing. An accompanying film by Lendl Tellington follows the trajectory of a romance between Jess and Leslie in the apartment of Victoria Prizzia, which is similarly filled in Aubrie’s silk calligraphy. This is interspersed with a separate story of love lost, performed by Fatima in a cemetery, as well as shots of more silk words and phrases fill a forest in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. The work is also a collaboration with composer Josh Hey, who has created ghostly and powerful original score (with a few surprise musical guests!) This interdisciplinary performance is in an intimate gallery space, accompanied by a screening of the film. The curves in the silk are mimicked in the movements of the dancers, bringing through its ephemeral but powerful emotive voice.

Silk graffiti by Aubrie Costello in Gravy Gallery and Studio

Aubrie grew up in the quiet Pine Barrens, and went to a public school where the arts were nurtured. Without much to do in their area, the kids in this town chose to make art. “There were a lot of graffiti artists, and skate kids, and musicians that are in Philadelphia now in bands. So I guess we all had that deep itch to make stuff, and now we’re in a city that is more nurturing for that.” Aubrie’s father was a woodworker, who did everything with his hands. “He would even hand draw all of his estimates and specs and documents. He didn’t do anything on a computer.” Aubrie herself absorbed the love for “do-it-yourself” aspect of a project—if given the choice, she also prefers a more analogue approach to her work. She went to the Moore College of Art and Design in 2003, where she began studying fashion design before transitioning to a major in Drawing and Painting. While she loved drawing and making her own clothes, she couldn’t enjoy the business aspect of fashion. She threw herself instead into creating art installations, and began investigating new ways of using silk. One such installation involved a huge pile of high heeled shoes, bound, or “mummified,” in silk. She would cover the gallery wall with drawings that would mirror the installation. While she was at Moore, professors would often wander into students’ studio spaces to check out their work and give them advice. One such offering was from a professor who taught fiber arts, which she had never even taken. “She came into my studio one day, and I was using silk very differently. I was stretching it on canvas stretcher bars. She said she liked it, but she said ‘You’re not letting the fabric speak for itself.’ And that was one of the things that stuck with me, I actually think about that to this day. Sometimes I want to do more to the fabric, but then I think back to what she said. The fabric alone can have its own emotive quality.”

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Puppet slams, Faust, and Ghost Stories: Interview with Leila Ghaznavi

Posted July 31st, 2017

Leila Ghaznavi in the 2016 Puppet-delphia Fringe

Leila Ghaznavi is the founder of Leila and Pantea Productions, a theater company with an unconventional approach to contemporary drama. She puts her training in mask and puppetry to use in her productions, often using light and shadow as tools for storytelling. The daughter of an Iranian immigrant—and a Daughter of the American Revolution—her multicultural background often comes through in her original plays based on social issues. One of these plays is Silken Veils, which was nominated for the Best New Work award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Her work is often interdisciplinary, combining puppetry and theater with her wide range of other skills, including aerial dance and clown. “When creating work, I pull from my toolbox whatever I need to tell the story the story I want to tell,” says Leila. “I’m always interested in how to tell a narrative story but in a different way.” This year, she is producing three different shows in the Fringe Festival. The Puppet-delphia Puppet Slam brings puppeteers from Philadelphia and beyond together for a night of whimsy, beauty, and raucous fun. The other two shows couldn’t be more different. In one, she partners with Broderick Jones, a New York based puppeteer, to create Ubu Faust, a literature-based but rambunctious one-man-show. In the other, she is reinventing The Turn of the Screw by creating a minimalist set that makes use of darkness as a shadow of mystery to tell the story. I had a chat with Leila about how she came to work as a puppeteer, and what it’s been like producing all of these shows for the 2017 Fringe Festival.

FringeArts: What has it been like producing so many shows for this year’s Fringe Festival?

Leila Ghaznavi: Leila and Pantea Productions is producing three separate events for the Fringe this year. A ghost story called, The Turn of the Screw, written by Henry James and adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher, a raucous puppet farce called Ubu Faust created and performed by Broderick Jones, and the second Puppet-delphia Puppet Slam, which is a cabaret composed of short puppet works, from the poignantly beautiful to the bawdy and comedic. The puppet slam will feature both local and out of town artists.

The Turn of the Screw

What makes all three shows Leila and Pantea Productions is the use of puppetry and the delving into how to use shadow and light as a story telling mechanism. The Turn of the Screw is a ghost story with a minimalist set. Light and shadow create a world that is unseen but literally haunts the stage. Ubu Faust is the complete opposite, a one-man puppet show from New York City-based performer Broderick Jones, it mishmashes puppetry and literature together to create its own unique, irreverent identity. Poetry has always been a prevalent theme in my own work, so I was excited by this chance to present a new artist to Philadelphia that takes these great works of literature and creates his own unique spin! I first premiered the Puppet-delphia Puppet Slam two years ago and it was a great hit! What I love about puppet slams is that you never know what you will see. They are a smorgasbord of puppetry and the short acts involved can range from little gems of beauty, to down-in-the-gutter dirty, to witty and charming. We are currently pulling together the acts for the slam. It will be a mix of local Philly artists and out-of-towners.

This is actually the first year where I will not have a lead role performing in the Philadelphia Fringe, because I will be touring to the Edinburgh Fringe in August. So instead, I decided to produce three shows and appear in Peculiar Works’ Floydada show instead! Although, I will definitely be in the Puppet-delphia Fringe Slam, so keep an eye out for me!

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In “Urgent Care,” The Colored Girls Museum Offers Itself as a Sanctuary and First Responder

Posted July 28th, 2017

“Chamber” by Joy Ude and Petra Floyd

Walking down Newhall Street in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, it’s hard to tell that one of these houses is not like the others. After a moment, you’ll find a wooden sign for The Colored Girls Museum (TCGM) outside of a 128-year-old Victorian twin. Since 2015, TCGM has been quietly redefining the role of museums in Philadelphia. The house is the home of the founder and executive director of the museum, Vashti Dubois. She founded the museum as a celebration of women of color, as well as a living memoir and sanctuary. Michael Clemmons is the curator for the museum, and has known and worked with Vashti for many years. “I think that what our museum does is very unique, distinct from everything else that’s out there,” he says. “In many ways, it’s the only museum of its kind.” From July 29 to July 30, the museum will be presenting its last showings of the current show, Urgent Care: A Good Night’s Sleep, before closing to prepare for its Fringe Festival event, Urgent Care: A Social Care Experience.

TCGM is telling a story that few other art spaces are, in a way that uses art as a place for conversation. The museum is a living monument “for the ordinary and extraordinary colored girl,” bringing her voice out highlighting her concerns. “When you shine the light on anything,” says Vashti, “you begin to notice its extraordinary qualities, but you have to look at it first.” The museum’s exhibitions respond to current social issues, and the “Urgent Care” shows reflect heightened concerns for women of color after the 2016 election. There is a huge variety of beautiful and fascinating objects throughout the house, which are a conglomeration of  historical artifacts and new works of art. Artists who work with the museum either submit their own work, curate a space, or add objects from their own past or family history that are significant to the space’s collective memoir. “Those objects have a story that is important to the woman submitting them,” says Michael, “which is curated into the space.” The museum leaders and staff refer to the museum with she/her pronouns, speaking of the space as a person, rather than a stagnant building. Vashti explains how this reflects the moving and changing aspects of the museum: objects come and go, and rooms within her walls change to reflect changing times.  “The concept in a way is very simple,” says Michael. “In a sense, it’s a story that hasn’t been told, and it should be told. It’s very much a home, it’s relaxing, and it’s a different kind of museum experience.”

Second Floor Bedroom, or “Recovery Suite” in “Urgent Care”

Walking into Salon 1, on the first floor, the museum already feels entirely different from any other galleries. Rather than white walls and echoing hallways, this is a home. Salon 1 is a part of the semi-permanent collection, and many works of art were a part of the inaugural exhibition in 2015. The paintings on the wall are hung in a “salon style,” covering the space, and are interspersed with small statues, old portrait photographs, and personal artifacts, including a singular knee-high tie-dye boot. There are very few name cards on the walls— instead, everyone who comes into the museum is brought on a tour. Through conversation, guests learn which paintings on the wall are by Barbara Bullock, a celebrated African American artist in Germantown that Michael described as almost a “mother figure” in the Philadelphia arts community. There are quilts from fiber artist Toni Kersey, and doll figures by Lorrie Patrice Payne. The experience is intimate and allows for conversations about the art — often, with the artists themselves.

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Poetry in the Air: Tangle Movement Arts brings Life Lines to the Fringe

Posted July 26th, 2017

Rebecca Mo Davis in Life Lines

In their seventh consecutive Fringe Festival show, Tangle Movement Arts uses the poetry of aerial dance and acrobatics to express stories of loss. The show is Life Lines, and it blends together circus arts, theater, and live music.  Philadelphia-born Lauren Rile Smith is one of the producers of the show and founders of the company. “Life Lines is a portrait of a community that is recovering from sudden losses,” she says. “It follows the story of three different women who are processing and healing from really unexpected change: one losing a lover, one losing a sense of safety or security, one losing a sense of connection with others.” In line with much of Tangle’s past work, this show is intensely emotional. The artists use their movements as a physical language to express feelings of loss, “like when you literally feel like the ground can’t support you, or that the person who’s holding you will drop you suddenly.”

Lauren grew up in a family of artists. She’s the oldest of four sisters, all artists: one sister is a violist, one is a playwright, and another a glassblower. She had never practiced circus arts – she had been on the track to become a writer. But while studying English at Swarthmore College, Lauren encountered the writings of a dancer and acrobat that guided her in another direction. “I’ve had chronic pain for most of my adult life. She wrote about her body as though it were a companion, a creative project, a creative constraint, something to take care of, and something that took care of her. I was mesmerized by the possibility that really anyone could relate to their body that way, and I thought, I want that.” She began learning the trapeze in 2009, and found that the nature of the exercise, along with becoming stronger, diminished her pain. All at once, she found herself falling in love with the art form of trapeze. “I loved the way it married these concrete visual metaphors with these surreal actions, like spinning upside down.”

With a couple of friends, she started Tangle Movement Arts in 2011, as an all-women group that was barreling head-on into a new and growing contemporary circus arts movement. Their first show, Ampersand, was in the Fringe Festival that year. Since then, they’ve put on two major shows each year, along with smaller pop-up productions in between. Even though she’s from Philly, she found herself thrown into the Philly arts scene in a new way, discovering that it was a vibrant and innovative community. She met many artists that moved Philly specifically to make art. “I’m finding that it’s such a welcoming community, and the different artistic communities have such great overlap.” One of these artists was Megan Gendell, who wrote the words that inspired Lauren back in college and changed the way she viewed her body. (She has since collaborated with Tangle, in past shows Tell it Slant and Points of Light.)

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Glossary of Heroes

Posted January 20th, 2017

In Hello! Sadness! (running January 26-28 at FringeArts), Mary Tuomanen mines the history of social justice activism to bolster herself in the ongoing fight against injustice and tyranny.  I did a little research to prepare you for this piece of theatrical activism.  Doing this research on inauguration day was both difficult and heartening, a reminder that humanity has unlimited power to resist.  I hope you find comfort in the memory of these incredible people and movements from our shared history.

Fred Hampton

Fred Hampton was an American activist and revolutionary active in in the 1960’s.  By the tender age of 21, he was the Illinois chapter chairman of the Black Panther Party, and deputy chairman of the national BPP.  But I’m 30 and can’t figure out how to pay my Verizon Fios bill … so there’s that.

Hampton was murdered in his home in 1969 while he was sleeping by the Chicago Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Despite the FBI’s claims that Hampton was killed in a shoot-out instigated by the Black Panther Party members present, all physical evidence pointed toward a targeted assassination.  In 1970, a civil lawsuit was filed on behalf of Hampton’s family and survivors present at the shooting.  After a series of trials and appeals, the federal government agreed to a settlement of $1.85 million.

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc is considered a “heroine of France” for her role during the Lancastrian phase of the Hundred Years’ War. She supported Charles VII and was a key player in paving the way for a French victory against English domination. She claimed to have received visions of the Archangel Michael and Saint Catherine of Alexandria to protect Charles VII and to liberate France.  She presented as gender-ambiguous, and dressed exclusively in military garb.  Though the extent of her participation in military campaigns is under debate, the French military was extraordinary successful during her tenure with them.

In 1430, she was captured by the Burgundian faction (an ally to the Brits) and later put on trial for heresy by the English. She continued to dress in traditionally masculine clothing in prison, to protect herself against rape, an offense that was later added to her heresy charges.  She was eventually found guilty and burned at the stake in 1431. She remains a cultural icon for many, and was canonized in 1920 as Saint Joan.  She is one of the nine secondary patron saints of France.

Jean Seberg

Jean Seberg was an American film actress.  Her first role was the titular character in Saint Joan ­– she was chosen from 18,000 young women by director Otto Preminger.  She was also a known supporter of the Black Panther Party and an advocate for racial justice. She financially supported many civil rights groups (Black Panthers, NAACP, Native American school groups) during her life, which resulted in the FBI using the COINTELPRO program to harass, intimidate, and discredit her. The COINTELPRO program was a series of projects used by the FBI to infiltrate and disrupt domestic political organizations. One of the tactics the FBI used to hurt Seberg was spreading a story that her child was fathered by a member of the Black Panther Party instead of her husband.

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#AllYourMarketing All Day, Every Day

Posted September 24th, 2016

Since the 2016 Fringe Festival opened on September 9, our indomitable marketing department hasn’t just been getting all the words out about it, they’ve been participating in it. #AllYourMarketingpart of Digital Fringe, found the audacious trio of Dan Comly, Anna Kroll, and Hallie Martenson live-streaming themselves at their desk throughout each long, arduous Festival work day. Every crisis, every triumph, every sandwich was on display for all the world to see. Sadly, just as the Festival must come to an end, so must this bold exercise in transparency. The stream will be going offline after today, but if you missed any of the excitement check out some highlights below.

things-are-happening-happy-festival-hallie

THINGS ARE HAPPENING. Happy Festival. — Hallie

listening-to-hold-music-featuring-nick-anna

Listening to hold music [featuring Nick Stuccio]. — Anna

lonely-saturday-in-the-office-keep-me-companyhallie

Lonely Saturday in the office. Keep me company? — Hallie

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