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Archive for the ‘FringeArts’ Category

Steamy Nights On the Plains: An Interview with Trajal Harrell on Caen Amour

Posted July 11th, 2018

Trajal Harrell is a dancer and choreographer who uses history to inform the contemporary dance he creates. Known for the series Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church, parts of which were performed in the 2014 Fringe Festival, Harrell recently completed a two-year residency at MoMA, where he turned his attention to butoh, a form of Japanese dance theater. That study informs his entry into the 2018 Fringe Festival, Caen Amour, a new work that draws inspiration from dance styles of the near and distant past. Harrell gives viewers a look into the hoochie-coochie shows of the early 20th-century, positing that perhaps this early form of erotic dance served as an origin of dance as a modern artform. His piece, which premiered at the Festival Avignon in 2016, is an invitation into a historical imagination, Harrell’s vision of the exoticized, orientalist peep shows that drew in crowds a century ago. FringeArts talked to Harrell about his historical influences and the different styles that all exist in this innovative dance work.

FringeArts: Do you remember how you decided upon the title Caen Amour? Do you remember where you were when you decided upon it?

Trajal Harrell: I don’t remember where I was but the title was an attempt at a cheesy title for a hoochie-coochie show. Another, for example, could have been “Steamy Nights on the Plains.” In the case of Caen Amour, the title is a mix of the city Caen, France, and the word for love in French. Because of my touring schedule, Caen is the place I’ve spent the longest consecutive time since 2009. It’s still reigning. Also, Caen Amour when you say it could almost sound like “quand amour” which means “when love?”

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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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A New Foundation for Growth: An Interview with Niki Cousineau and Scott McPheeters

Posted November 2nd, 2017

Niki Cousineau and Scott McPheeters are co-directors of the Philadelphia-based performance company Subcircle. Founded in 1998 by Niki and Jorge Cousineau, for nearly two decades Subcircle’s work has transformed theatrical and site-specific spaces, merging dance, sound, set design, lighting and film, conveying to audience and performer alike an inseparability of performance from environment.

This month they bring their latest piece to FringeArts. HOLD STILL WHILE I FIGURE THIS OUT is a daring experiment in spontaneous creation featuring Niki, Scott, and Christy Lee, with live sound design from Jorge. Each night a previously unseen performance will unfold before audience’s eyes, with most of the movement, sound design, and set construction being created in the moment. Described by thINKingDANCE as “a dance of mild idiosyncrasy, enhanced by the dancers’ subtle balance between logicality and lunacy,” witnessing these artists’ ingenuity from moment to moment is enthralling, entrancing, and giddying all at once. Earlier this year Niki and Scott shared some insight into what it’s taken to create a show that constantly recreates itself.

FringeArts: Do you remember how the title HOLD STILL WHILE I FIGURE THIS OUT came into being? 

Niki Cousineau: The title came about during the rehearsal process at the Maas Building. There is a section of the piece where we narrate/interpret what is happening on stage. As I was going through my notebook after a few rehearsals I was looking at some of the texts we generated during these improvisations. One of the things I’d written down was “hold still while i figure this out.” It felt both fitting for the piece, art making, and life.

FringeArts: How has the show evolved from where it started?

Scott McPheeters: The vast majority of material in this work is developed live and in direct relationship to one another. For the year and a half that this piece was being created, we often found ourselves entering the studio in dismay of the state of the world. What had originally been a weekly exploration of various improvisational scores eventually turned into a question: “What if we could start all over from scratch?”

We spent a year and a half essentially studying how to begin again, and how to build upon different proposals of a new foundation for growth. We were fascinated by how quickly entire environments could be constructed from a single source of inspiration and that depending on the day and the source of inspiration, the environments would be completely different.

FringeArts: Can you discuss how the various components, from movement to sound to visuals to text, relate to each other?

Scott McPheeters: Each time we perform the work, it is from scratch. We choose a starting point—usually an image from a book or online along with a piece of text chosen from a book. This informs a movement solo which inspires original text generation. A new audio landscape is developed nightly from sound bites sourced only from the performance space itself. Set design is constructed live to complement or provide contrast to the dance taking place. The most exciting aspect of the work is that everything unfolds for the very first time right in front of you. Through example, we hope to inspire deep listening, reflection, and action.

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There’s Nothing Called African Music: A Conversation with Olivier Tarpaga

Posted October 12th, 2017

“Dance and music are one in our tradition, and they come in one body.” This is what Burkina Faso-born dancer, choreographer, musician, and composer Olivier Tarpaga offers when asked about the relationship between the two mediums in his latest show Declassified Memory Fragment. Positioned as an “open letter” to life in a few African nations that have experienced cultural and political tumult over the last several decades, the piece opens tonight and runs from Oct 12-14 here at FringeArts. As the dancers move throughout the performance space, a group of virtuosic musicians play from the sidelines, informing the dancers’ movements and energies. “Live music affects everything and the dancers feel different and create different when the music is live,” Tarpaga asserted in a previous interview. Live music has always been a hallmark of Baker + Tarpaga Dance Project, likely because music has always been a hallmark of Tarpaga’s life.

Growing up in Burkina Faso, Tarpaga didn’t have to look far to find great music. His father was a saxophonist and the leader of Supra Volta, a popular band that played West African musics with modern instrumentation, even a rhumba influence. They were active throughout the ‘60s, soon after the country gained its independence from France, and often played for heads of state and dignitaries. They were based out of an empty bedroom inside the Tarpaga household, and young Olivier couldn’t help but be drawn to their infectious tunes.

“I’d just walk there and listen to them, and they’d all walk out—somebody was smoking a cigarette, everyone was talking—and then I’d go in with my brothers and we’d start banging on everything. I was always on the drums.” In the ensuing chaos things would get broken, and as a result he was often in trouble with his father. Even so, he simply couldn’t get enough. “Music was an addiction,” he said, and though he’d repeatedly beg his father to teach him to play, he’d always be told to study his math and science, that music would have to wait. Even when his father was teaching Tarpaga’s brothers to play saxophone—despite their total lack of interest—he was still pushed to focus on math and science. Nowadays, he’s the only musician in the family.

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Alone Together at Close Music for Bodies

Posted September 20th, 2017

I’ve found myself thinking a lot about sonic resonance lately, due in no small part to some recent visits to La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela’s installation Dream House. Various incarnations of this sound and light environment have been mounted by Young—a revered minimalist composer, some say the first—and Zazeela—a light and visual artist and musician— around the world since 1969. The MELA (Music Eternal Light Art) Foundation Dream House at 275 Church Street in New York City has remained in that space for the last 25 years, the couple’s longest installation to date. It is a room of infinitely repeating cycles of sound and light frequencies, one that transcends its overwhelming, lower Manhattan surroundings.

During my first visit, initially the sounds contained therein were not as pleasant as I expected, grating even. It took a few minutes to acclimate, but once my eyes adjusted to the dreamy, pink and purple hued lights and my body to the drone reverberating through it, the experience was unlike much else. Speakers are directed such that where you position yourself in the room determines what you hear. You can even opt to just sit down on the lush carpeted floors and loll your head to witness the difference, exhibiting just how spatially specific the installation is.

I couldn’t help but recall this experience when observing a rehearsal of Close Music for Bodies on a rainy afternoon some weeks back. The piece from sound artist Michael Kiley premieres September 20th and runs until the 24th, part of the 21st annual Fringe Festival, and much like Dream House it calls attention to the infinite amount of unique experiences that structured sound can offer in a live setting. That’s about where the similarities end. Whereas the experience of Dream House is a solitary one, Close Music for Bodies is a communal, deeply humane work that wrings beauty out of the limitations of perspective.

Central to Close Music is Kiley’s voice practice, Personal Resonance. “My primary goal with teaching is to have the student understand that the real beauty and benefit of voice has nothing to do with how you sound, and everything to do with how your voice can make you feel physically—and therefore mentally,” he recently told the FringeArts Blog. “Once someone understands how to control that physical sensation, their voice becomes as accessible as breathing.” This democratization of singing is integral to the performance and bolstered by the democratization of the space itself.

Once the piece kicks into motion, the shuffling about of cast and audience rarely ceases. At various intervals throughout the duration the performers guide audience members into various formations and in turn have to constantly navigate around them. These are all very conscious, choreographed movements, shaped with the help of choreographer Sean Donovan, director Rebecca Wright, and the performers themselves. Explaining the team’s close attention to movement, Kiley told us in that same interview, “I’ve been thinking of the movement as sound design—like speaker placement, only my speakers happen to be performers.”

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A Guide to Megapolis Audio Festival, Pt. 3: Molding Sounds

Posted September 13th, 2017

From September 16-17 the fifth Megapolis Audio Festival will descend upon Philadelphia, drawing world class musicians, sound artists, radio producers, and all around audio adepts to join the artistic frenzy that is the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Much like the 2017 Festival’s program, Megapolis’ schedule of events might appear a little daunting at first glance, so to help you navigate it we at the FringeArts Blog are going to break it all down for you into some easily digestible categories. Follow these links to Parts 1 (sound tours), 2 (performances), and 4 (installations and digital works).

For Part 3 we’ll be taking a look at workshops where pass holders can get hands on experience with some complex hardware, learn more about the art of radio storytelling, and more.

 

Voltage is Sound, Voltage is Drawing
Tim Nohe
Sept 16, 11am @ PhillyCAM
This hands on, all ages workshop encourages participants to experiment with live technological art to create mathematically derived music and drawings. Led by artist, composer, and educator Tim Nohe, the workshop is rooted in expressive drawing, fascinating mathematical discoveries of the 19th century, and the “switched-on” synth music of the 1960s. Participants will experiment with a range of electronic tools from various eras. Compose electronic drawings on an ‘80s era Vectrex game box by controlling a modular synthesizer. Utilize wireless infrared controllers, iPad apps, and touch sensors to shape sounds and draft kinetic drawings.

 

Blinks, Bleeps, and Bits in the Wild: Breaking the boundaries of littleBits
Ed Bear and Monty Kim
Sept 16, 1pm @ Community College of Philadelphia
littleBits makes technology kits composed of electronic building blocks that empower everyone to create inventions, large and small. To go really large, however, requires some experience, which this workshop will provide. Led by littleBits designers Ed Bear and Monty Kim, participants will be introduced to basic programming, soldering, and design skills. They will learn how to unlock the powerful control, audio synthesis, programming, and connectivity of littleBits to build large multi-channel sound systems, interactive LED sculptures, Bluetooth controlled motors or generators, and whatever else they can invent. No experience necessary.

 

Makin’ Radio Ravioli
Olivia Bradley-Skill
Sept 16, 1pm @ PhillyCAM
New York based radio producer and sound artist Olivia Bradley-Skill breaks down the nuts and bolts of cut-ups and sound collage and discusses how different sounds marinate together to tickle the ears and echo the extremes of our subconscious. Utilizing sound effects, cut-up speech, and music, nonsense will turn from goofy to maniacal, organic to robotic, and the other way around. At the end participants will build their own collages that create new meanings and flavors.

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A Good Balance of Comfort and Discomfort: An Interview with Steven Dufala

Posted September 12th, 2017

This week, two Philly Fringe favorites are returning to the Festival with two very different shows. Absurdist theater artist Geoff Sobelle will mount HOME on September 13, an ambitious new piece that ruminates on the transitory nature of dwelling, the impossible structural demands of a house, and the absurdity of making a home. Meanwhile, on September 14, theater maker and performer Thaddeus Phillips will premiere his latest work, A Billion Nights on Earth, a fantastical show for all ages that dives into the realms of parent–child relationships, as pair stumble through alternate realities in search of a beloved stuff whale. Though both of these shows are starkly different, they do have one thing in common. That would be artist Steven Dufala.

Dufala has been creating work in a variety of media for decades now. He has regularly collaborated with his brother Billy, under the name The Dufala Brothers, and together their work—often humorous, hyperbolic reimaginings of everyday or iconic items—has been exhibited widely. They’ve also organized absurdist artistic happenings, including a toilet-trike race through Old City during the 2005 Fringe Festival.

Recently, Steven Dufala has lent his exceptional talents to some ambitious works of theater, designing sets and making some larger than life visions a reality. Perhaps most notable among these collaborations was his work on Geoff Sobelle’s widely lauded show The Object Lesson, which had its premiere during the 2013 Fringe Festival and has since been taken all over the world. Turning theaters into storage spaces with boxes stacked high to the ceiling and filled with the usual household wares, the kind of miscellanea that does little but collect dust but somehow stays with you for years, as well as some more surreal keepsakes—”moss to mystic” designated actual moss with a strong whiff of incense, “acorn collection” ought to be self explanatory—his design and installation work on the show was critical to achieving its uncanny yet strikingly down to earth vibe.

We recently caught up with Dufala to learn more about his artistic practice and what it’s been like splitting his time between these two aesthetically divergent shows.


FringeArtsTell us a bit about your background. 

Winslow Fegley in A Billion Nights on Earth

Steven Dufala: I grew up in south Jersey, the middle of five boys in a creative household. Our parents were pianists and teachers, and all the brothers make things. So I’ve always been making things.

FringeArtsWhat was the Philadelphia arts community (or communities) like when you first arrived at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts? 

Steven Dufala: I used to like to say the scene was mostly living rooms and basements, and I guess that’s still kind of true, but everything was really DIY. Pig Iron was making shows in basements, the best music was at peoples houses, the best parties, the best art shows didn’t really look like shows, but were kind of one or two night show/parties. Old City was kind of too fancy, and no one really went north of Spring Garden. 

When I got to Philly, I didn’t go straight to the academy, I was at UArts for two years in film and animation. That basically cracked open a whole world of creativity I’d never really explored and that’s why I went to PAFA—to try and get a better foundation for making things in general.

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Recollections of Home from Geoff and Stefanie Sobelle

Posted September 7th, 2017

Next week sees the premiere of HOME, the latest work from acclaimed theater artist Geoff Sobelle. As a house comes together on stage and its residents—present, past, and future—begin to crowd in, audience members are confronted with the transient nature of dwelling, the constraints of time and money, the impossible structural demands of a house, and the absurdity—and at times the impossibility—of turning a house into a home. It’s a startlingly down to earth and moving meditation contained within a dazzling theatrical spectacle that asks us “What makes a house a home? What’s the difference? How do we confuse the two?”

The piece’s dramaturge—writer, editor, professor, and sister of Geoff, Stefanie Sobelle—has a pretty concise way of summing up this house vs home dichotomy. As Geoff told the FringeArts Blog in a recent interview, “[My sister] likes to poke fun at the old adage from The Wizard of Oz, ‘There’s no place like home,’ because she says, and rightly so, that home is not a place. It’s something else… so indeed, there IS no PLACE like home!” What that something else may be is the question HOME seeks to awaken in its audiences.

Back in April of 2016 the Sobelle siblings took part in an ongoing reading series for New York arts non-profit apexart. Entitled Double Take, the series is organized by writer and Bookforum co-editor Albert Mobilio and asks award winning and emerging poets, novelists, editors, and artists to trade takes on shared experiences. For their Double Take—video shared below—Geoff and Stefanie turned to their childhood home, sharing personal recollections of spaces within and around it, in which real and imagined details commingled.

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2017 Festival Spotlight: FringeArts ~After Dark~

Posted September 7th, 2017

This ain’t your grandma’s Fringe. Join us for some of the raunchiest, rowdiest, wildest shows at this year’s Fringe Festival. Hire a babysitter and leave your kids at home because these shows are decidedly NOT family friendly. Viewer discretion advised. 

Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret @ FringeArts
Martha Graham Cracker

The hairy-chested, fake eyelash-laden alter-ego of thespian Dito Van Reigersberg performs a balls-to-the-wall drag cabaret. Backed by her stellar band and with her killer voice, Martha Graham Cracker takes you on a raucous, joyous, uninhibited ride around her world.
“The Drag Queen King of Philadelphia.” The Philadelphia Inquirer
More info and tickets here.

 

 

Bye Bye Liver: The Philadelphia Drinking Play @ Evil Genius Beer Company
Happy Hour Live, LLC

Two parts sketch comedy, One part drinking games: Mixed and served! Come party with us for a night you might remember with interactive drinking games between comedic romps about the drinking experience. Ticket includes your first beer from Evil Genius! More info and tickets here.

 

The Groom’s a Fag; The Bride’s a Cunt; The Best Man’s a Whore; and the Maiden of Honor (Just) Hung Herself in the Closet @ The Beard Cave at St. Mary’s Church
On The Rocks

Daniel is pretty gay, but he’s marrying Nora. Nora is a virgin that wants her wedding night to be a sexual awakening. Shit gets fucked up. A song, a dance, an image, a poem all wrapped in a sloppy burrito of a play about glamping, hookers, the Easter Bunny, cocaine, Emma Stone, hauntings, and the horrors of commitment. More info and tickets here.

 

KINK HAÜS @ The Latvian Society
Gunnar Montana

Gunnar Montana transports us once again, this time to a brutal underground nightclub where no fucks are given, and fierceness is always welcome. Fantasy, fetish, and carnal desire are all in fashion so leave your inhibitions at home because inside KINK HAÜS, anything goes. That is, if you can get past the doorman. More info and tickets here.

 

 

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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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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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Alex Tatarsky’s Americana Psychobabble: The First in a Tryptich on America’s Political Tragicomedy

Posted August 26th, 2017

Alex Tatarsky in Americana Psychobabble

Alexandra Tatarsky is an absurdist performer hailing from New York City who aims to present the current state of affairs in the United States through her mixture of performance art, theater, and clown. She studied with mask maker Stanley Sherman and attended the Pig Iron School in Philadelphia. She performs on stages, in galleries, museums, bars, and living rooms, sometimes as a mound of dirt, and once in an all-too-convincingly stunt as Andy Kaufman’s daughter. She also teaches at the School of Making and Thinking (Abrons Art Center) on Holy Fools, and at the School of Authentic Journalism in Mexico City on performance and community organizing. “I am obsessed with how a performance teaches an audience how to engage with it, and how a work can be fully alive to the particular room it’s in.” Americana Psychobabble is “an attempt to both exorcise and exercise our demons,” an examination of America’s underlying divisive hatred, feelings of abandonment, already-present absurdity, and penchant for ketchup. The show investigates the “empty trashy language careening between somewhat cogent critique and incomprehensible garble seemed to speak to the demonic complexity of the American spirit, and the ugliness that undergirds a razzle-dazzle surface.” The show is a part of the Fringe Festival as the first in what will hopefully become a triptych of performances, the second of which she began devising during the 2017 Camp Fringe. We had a chat with Alex to explore the drive behind this new work, and the path that led her to become an absurdist comic.

FringeArts: Where did you grow up, and how did you begin making art?

Alex Tatarsky: I was born and bred in New York City and was apparently singing songs in made-up languages in my stroller before I could walk, like most kids. But the first performance piece I remember was dressing up as a “butterfly-doggie” and walking around the East Village like that when I was three. So I think it’s fair to say I’ve always been interested in absurdist character work and the rich, uncomfortable spaces between categories. Venerable Philly poet CA Conrad points out that we all made art as kids and then some of us—due to resources, encouragement, delusion, devotion, or compulsion—kept making art and some of us stopped. But we all have that kid artist in us and can access it if we choose to.

As a kid I danced with the magical Lisa Pilato for many years in a church basement by the West Side highway, and played a lot of street ball—both of which contributed considerably to my later development as a performer. But my main performance education for a long time mostly consisted of hanging out in parks and watching street performers like Master Lee chop a cucumber on an audience member’s dick, or Tic & Tac the acrobatic twins gather a huge crowd with some dancing but mostly jokes making fun of each other and the audience. Along with street preachers, panhandlers, drag queens, and anybody else vigorously monologue-ing on the street, these were my performance idols. I went on to study Russian literature and spent a few years thinking about and translating Russian Jewish poetry—whose concerns around the poet/prophet/lunatic are perhaps not unrelated—and when I got back to New York I began studying commedia with master mask maker Stanley Sherman. Eventually I decided it was time to go to proper clown school and ended up in Philly to train with Pig Iron who had blown me away when another clown guru, the amazing Ed Malone, took me to see their Twelfth Night in New York and Dito’s Iazzi so delighted me that I cried. But most importantly, I love to go out dancing and I credit the club as my main influence and form of movement-based research.

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

Alex Tatarsky: Miguel Gutierrez, Abner Jay, Trajal Harrell, the Kuchar Brothers, my uncle Miles, Richard Pryor, Dario Fo, Lenny Bruce, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Frank Wedekind, Cecilia VicuñaGershom Scholem, Aventura, Andy Kaufman, Edouard Glissant, Lucy Hopkins, Stuart Hall, Marguerite Hemmings, Grace Lee Boggs, Charlie Chaplin, Cam’ron… all extravagant thinkers pushing at the edges of their disciplines and challenging us to imagine new worlds and ways of being.

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Making Art in 2017: Annie-B Parson on 17c

Posted August 20th, 2017

Name: Annie-B Parson

Company: Big Dance Theater

Show in 2017 Festival: 17c

Role: Co-Creator, Co-Director, Choreographer

Past Festival shows: Plan B (2004)

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

Annie-B Parson: This piece is primarily an interrogation and a rendering of the 17th century diaries of Samuel Pepys, perhaps one of the most hyper-graphic, non-hierarchical chroniclers of the minutiae of each day. He wasn’t a writer in the sense that he analyzed or poeticized experience as he meditated on the world—no! He was more concerned with his clothes, his boils and his libido. These diaries are monumental records of dailyiness, which is close to my heart.

Photo by Ian Douglas.

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

Annie-B Parson: The world will always create a lens or frame in which to see your work, and since January 2017, I think we will all view our society, and thus our work, differently forever. In the past year, the piece has become more about Sam’s wife Bess, whose diary was burnt by him, and at the risk of sounding trite, the effort has been to find her voice. It was always there in dance, but it became important for me to hear her speak as well. We also drew a more pointed “outing” of Samuel Pepys as a sexual predator. The complexity of his character did not suffer in any way by clarifying this behavior.

FringeArtsTell us about an instance from 2017 where your interaction with art provided some much needed solace or refuge from outside troubles.

Photo by Jeff Larson.

Annie-B Parson: I felt this more during 9/11 to be sure. At that time, the word solace came up over and over again in my mind. I would notice a beautiful attention to generating material that year, as if theater were a refuge and perhaps held a sense of hope.

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Finding Reality in a Dream: Alison Hoban of the Found Theater Company

Posted August 18th, 2017

Adrienne Hertler, Joe Wozniak, Kristy Joe Slough, Ciara Collins, Matt Lorenz, and Joe Palinsky in Game Show Show.

Working in the surreal world between dreams and reality, the Found Theater Company presents their eighth original Fringe Festival show this September. The group works as a collective in Philadelphia, and devises works like this year’s Game Show Show around a central theme, such as the televised game show. While the premise is light, it’s used as a vehicle to a comment on the current state of disarray that the United States continues to fall into. “Found always works inside of this kind of in between world, where we straddle reality and a dream state,” says director Alison Hoban. “We’re (hopefully) able to take the audience to heightened, otherworldly places, while also being able to reach them as people with real human experience: heartache, love, success, failure.” Founded under the direction of Felipe Vergara, the company creates their shows by using a theme and building a narrative step-by-step, a process that has evolved over time. Alison Hoban has been with the company through it all, as their elected director after Felipe. I talked with her about her artistic roots, and how this show came to be.

Kristy Joe Slough in Game Show Show.

FringeArts: Where did you grow up, and how did you first become involved in the arts?

Alison Hoban: I’m from Wayne, PA, right outside of the city. My family wasn’t involved in the arts, but my parents always encouraged creativity throughout my life. They made it possible for me to take dance classes and be involved in theater from when I was young. I took and taught dance lessons through school. I spent a few summers at Upper Darby Summer Stage. But I really fell in love with theatre at Radnor High School under the direction of Mary Anne Morgan.

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

Alison Hoban: Oh man, there are so many! I feel overwhelming lucky to be a part of the Philadelphia theater community. There are some amazing makers creating new works here. I was in the first class of The Headlong Performance Institute in 2008 and met a lot of them there. Headlong Dance Theatre has been a long time favorite. Seeing the care they take of themselves and each other during the creation process was inspiring. That was the year I saw one of Nicole Canuso’s works (Wandering Alice) for the first time too and it blew me away. It remains one of my favorite things I’ve seen in this city. I always look forward to seeing what other makers in the city are into and am always excited to see new works by Lightning Rod Special, Almanac, Sam Tower + Ensemble, the Philadelphia Opera Collective and so, so, so many others.

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Fun Woke Giving: Interview with Cookie Diorio

Posted August 17th, 2017

Credit : Pink Melon Media

“Stay woke and have fun” has become the motto drag songstress Cookie Diorio adopted to describe her philanthropic show Art of the Heel. Though many artists are civically engaged and tie their work into giving back to their respective communities, few do it in such a unique way as Cookie—one of Philly’s most talented drag queens. With Art of the Heel, Cookie is beautiful, comedic, and grounding all at once—a hard plethora of traits to balance in one performance. We reached out to Cookie to learn more about the passion and creativity behind this show.

FringeArts: What was the initial inspiration for Art of the Heel and the social justice aspect woven into it?

Cookie: Since November 2016 I have been intrigued by and experimenting with the idea of civically engaged art. I was constantly asking myself how I could use what I do as a singer, songwriter and drag artist to help promote social justice. I decided just to “do what I do” in a way that allows my audience to engage with and learn about different social issues and the organizations tackling them. Art Of The Heel as a project was directly inspired by a concert that I did last winter to raise funds and awareness for The Attic LGBT Youth Center.The name, thought up by my brilliant husband, is a play on the title of a well known book with the last word replaced with HEEL to represent what I do as a drag queen (and I don’t wear heels shorter than 5 inches!).

FringeArts: What attracted you to the three charities that you chose to be part of Art of the Heel?

Cookie: I have the utmost respect and admiration for the folks at Valley Youth House, Women In Transition and PennFuture. These organizations do amazing and hard work to propel our community forward and I value that greatly. In my cabaret acts, I talk a lot about my personal life and experiences. Many of those experiences have been shaped by some of the same issues that these organizations tackle: I have close friends and family who have struggled with homelessness and housing insecurity, I grew up in a matriarchal family and have seen the effects of gender-based violence and drug abuse, and I grew up in a rural community very much in touch with the environment. I have always been taught to stand up for the things that I believe in and I am proud to lift my voice in support of these causes.

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East Meets West, Old Meets New: The Dreamlike Beauty of Hua Hua Zhang’s Experimental Puppetry

Posted August 16th, 2017

Hua Hua Zhang with a puppet from White Nights

You enter a room and are surrounded by translucent white. There are strange, undulating formations, and a strange, ghostly light filters down from a hidden source. You feel as if you are on the surface of the moon. Welcome to White Nights, the newest production by Hua Hua Zhang of Visual Expressions. Hua Hua has been working in puppetry for more than thirty-five years, creating productions that are unique in their style and dazzling in their beauty. She aims to combine Eastern and Western art in her work, as well as old traditions with contemporary styles. Her work breaks the boundaries that have defined puppetry for generations, combining it with poetry, visual art, dance, theater, and music. White Nights is an experimental work, a series of dreamlike scenes that can be interpreted in a multitude of ways by the audience, all aiming for a path toward peace of mind. A half-an-hour preview of the show is being shown during the 2017 FringeArts Festival. The final show happens in November.

Images in White Nights make use of individual characters, some of them curious, others in love, others lonely. Produced in the large gallery space of the Asian Arts Initiative, the setting is a giant desert, based on the Chinese poem Night. The audience sits on the ground, around a small “pool of water,” surrounded by pods that serve as Chinese lanterns and shadowy silhouettes from Chinese ink paintings, as well as symbols of a moon and a sun. The puppeteers perform around the audience, who may interact with their movements. Musicians Bhob Rainy and Gamin Kang are also present, playing live music and interacting with the narratives. Four puppet performers, who have been trained in the style developed by Hua Hua, use the stylized movements of traditional Chinese performance, but use the puppets in an entirely different way, showing their entire bodies and moving with their objects. Interactions between the performers and the audience, and between the puppet performers and their puppets, cause constant questioning of their roles: the performer wonders, “Am I manipulating this puppet, or is the puppet manipulating me?” while the audience asks, “Am I watching the show, or am I a part of it?”

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Tall Tales: An Interview with Clayton Storyteller

Posted August 10th, 2017

Clayton Storyteller hails from Brunswick, Georgia, and has been telling stories for decades in the south, and now, in Philadelphia. He worked as a performer in Las Vegas, backpacked for two months around Europe, and is a two-time USDA Nutrition Study guinea pig. In his Fringe Festival Show Don’t be Cruel to Your Puppy…Lemme Give YOU A Twisted Tale, he has prepared three different programs of stories, each a mix of all kinds of tales. “Program A has westerns and ghost stories, B has science fiction, and C has darker, grittier, more violent tales, plus strange romances,” says Clayton. “Some tales are wilder, some milder, but they have no political or philosophical point, save entertainment.” Each program ends with his signature tale, “A Safe Sex Story,” which will also be available as an illustrated chapbook. He’ll be telling stories beginning before the official Fringe Festival kick-off on September 5th, and will continue to tell them every night afterwards until September 23rd, from 5:30 to 6:10 pm at the Philly Improv Theater. Audiences can come and hear his wild stories as an appetizer before the many events at the Philly Improv Theater and many locations in the nearby area. He hasn’t been to Philly since passing through on a 7th grade school trip, “a half-century ago.” I talked with Clayton about his life and work, and how he happily ended up as a newcomer to the 2017 Fringe Festival.

FringeArts: Where were you born? Where did you grow up? Were there storytellers in your family? 

Clayton Storyteller: I was born in Tampa. We moved some miles south to Bradenton when I was a toddler, then at age eight up to metro Atlanta, where I spent most my life (so far). I’ve been in Brunswick, Georgia, for last twenty years and enjoy it immensely. My southerner father went to Detroit for work and married a Michigan bride. We didn’t have any Deep South or Appalachian tradition of storytelling in our family. What fostered my love of stories was my mother, who was an avid reader and passed that on to my brother and me. Erle Stanley Gardner was her favorite author. A golden memory of my childhood was looking at black-and-white photos on a wooden stereopticon in the loft of an old library.

FringeArts: How did you learn to tell stories, and when did you start telling them?

Clayton Storyteller: Literature was always my favorite class. In my five-grade high school I wrote dark, dreck poetry—copies of which fortunately no longer exist—and funny stories. I was flattered when I was an 8th-grade “sub-freshman” and a 9th-grade girl in my science class—name sadly disremembered—liked one of these stories enough to copy it front and back on a piece of paper during a study period. Our friends in the desks around us laughed at this, but she scribbled on, repeating, “But it’s so funny!” This was some nonsense about a blackboard named Charlie who was actually green and the silliness goes on from there and is also now lost. That was the girl’s only interest in me, alas! I was a shy kid. My interest in actually telling stories started when I joined Toastmasters in the mid-80s. I also joined the Southern Order of Storytellers about then, which had several “cluster group” meetings in metro Atlanta neighborhoods, where aspiring storytellers could practice stories and get feedback. I started writing my own stories for storytelling, eventually working into all verse tales.

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Moving Against the Tides with Olive Prince

Posted August 9th, 2017

Olive Prince and Brandie Ou in Silencing the Tides

“In watching the tide and the ocean, I think a lot about how it slowly and suddenly shifts. You have to look at it closely, but it totally changes, from the beginning of tide to the end of tide. And I hope I do that with this space.”

Olive Prince founded her dance company in 2008, and since then, has been devising, creating, and teaching highly dynamic works of art. Olive Prince Dance (or OPD) works are often site-specific, such as past productions in the Magic Gardens and in the Iron Factory. For this year’s festival, however, the show is held in the Ballroom Philadelphia, and she is working with visual artist Carrie Powell as a conceptual collaborator for the show. Carrie is building a sculpture that will create an entirely new type of space for the dance. The show, called Silencing the Tides, is a work that exists under and around a large sculpture fabricated from clothing. The show is based on the idea of free will, juxtaposed with messages and metaphors from nature. She evokes strong images of the ocean’s tide, many of the ideas growing from the feeling of sand and the changing nature of the waves. The dancers sway between working together as large forces, and breaking out into their own movements. Sometimes calm, sometimes violent, they may break down barriers as if they were bodies of water, or they may escape each other as if they were sand.

Olive and Carrie are close friends, and the idea for Silencing the Tides grew out of conversations they had together last year. “We’re both artists, and we’re both mothers, and we often spend time together with our kids talking about art.” Carrie often writes poetry and creates drawings to go along with the ideas. She started making drawings that looked like piles of laundry. They talked together and started thinking about ideas of free will, as well as the forces of nature. Olive was drawing inspiration from literature she was reading, including “The Things they Carried” by Tim O’Brien:

“They did not submit to the obvious alternative, which was simply to close the eyes and fall. So easy, really. Go limp and tumble to the ground and let the muscles unwind and not speak and not budge till your buddies picked you up and lifted you into the chopper that would roar and dip its nose and carry you off to the world. A mere matter of falling, yet no one ever fell.”

She also brought in pieces of The Venerable Bede, from 703 CE (“The most admirable thing of all is this union of the ocean with the orbit of the Moon…the sea violently covers the coast far and wide…unwittingly drawn up by some breathings of the Moon.”) as well as Johnathan White and Mary Oliver’s short story, “Swoon.” “I had this really strong image of free will,” she says, “and going against the tide, and so we started exploring that.” Eventually the conversation between Olive and Carrie became the basis of the work. These conceptual conversations combining ideas from movement, visual art, poetry, are integral to the creation of new work, and it has become a defined process that they call in-the-round reciprocity.

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