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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

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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Textbook Definition of Life: Interview with Dan Rothenberg of Pig Iron

Posted July 13th, 2017

“I think the question ‘Does a machine have a perspective?’ is another way of asking the question ‘What is alive and not alive?'”

Brilliant in their innovation and shining in their craft, the Pig Iron Theater Company has earned its accolades for its artistic excellence. The recipient of several Obie awards, the company never fails to amaze in its fresh, interdisciplinary takes on current events and social themes of the human experience. Dan Rothenberg is one of the founders and artistic directors of Pig Iron, producing their newest work, A Period of Animate Existence. This production has amounted to a huge collaboration between actors, musicians, and a number of choirs, culminating in a show about the human experience of climate change, in the form of a symphony. We caught up with Dan to find out about how the idea for this show came about, and what it’s been like to put it all together.

FringeArts: How did the title A Period of Animate Existence come into being?

Dan Rothenberg: Troy Herion proposed this title.  He looked up the word “life” in the dictionary.  It is a textbook definition. We were working with a few different sources of inspiration: Alan Watts, who talks about “the rocks peopling” as a way of imagining the beginnings of life on Earth, and understanding that we organic creatures are made out of exactly the same stuff as inorganic rocks. We looked at Richard Dawkins and “the Selfish Gene,” which talks about humans as big lumbering robots “operated” by genes within us.  This grade-school question: “what’s the difference between alive and not-alive?” remains elusive for both scientists and philosophers, even today.

FringeArts: How did you go about gathering your key collaborators, what were the artistic conversations you were hoping to foster between not just them and Pig Iron, but between each other?

Dan Rothenberg: Some of the collaborators are folks I’ve worked with before for years, like Tyler Micoleau (lights) and Nick Kourtides (sound). These are people I trust who have contributed to some of the Pig Iron work I am most proud of. I am working with the librettists Kate Tarker and Will Eno, and with choreographer Beth Gill, for the first time. We were looking for artists who take on big ideas and who care about form. People who make work in which the form is front and center.  Especially with choreographer Beth Gill, I wanted somebody with a deeply mathematical mind. Someone who sees the poetry in mathematics, since I feel that this piece is about seeing the world in terms of fundamental forces rather than as a set of relationships between people.

FringeArts: What prompted the five movements structure?

Dan Rothenberg: Gustav Mahler said that a symphony must be like the world, containing everything. So the five-movement structure is a symphonic structure. It’s our own “13 ways of looking at a blackbird.” A deliberate effort to get at something that’s too large to get your head around, by coming at it from five very different angles.

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FEASTIVAL is almost here

Posted September 24th, 2016

The 2016 Fringe Festival is approaching its end, and while it’s tragic that our lives can’t always feature such a bevy of thrilling and thought-provoking performance, I’m sure everyone is ready to return to their normal routines that include things like sleep. But before you settle back into that same old, there’s still a bit of celebratory fun to be had here at FringeArts. The 2016 Audi FEASTIVAL, FringeArts’ annual fundraiser, is coming to the waterfront Thursday, September 29 and bringing some of Philadelphia’s best restaurants and performers in tow.

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(photo by Neal Santos)

For the first time in FEASTIVAL history, co-host Michael Solomonov (Zahav, Abe Fisher, Federal Donuts) will curate a live gastronomic performance, taking advantage of the event’s Fringe Fire Pit and PECO Ice Station to prepare some divine dishes that will be served directly to guests. Chefs Solomonov, Nick Macri (La Divisa Meats), and Brad Spence (representing Alla Spina and the Vetri Family of restaurants) will heat things up, manning two rotisseries and a grill, while Chefs Greg Vernick (Vernick Food + Drink) and Peter Serpico (Serpico) will keep it cool over at the ice station.

Food won’t be the only thing there to grab your attention though. After all, this is FringeArts. Circadium, the nation’s only school of contemporary circus, will astound you throughout the evening with stilt walkers, jugglers, contortionists, and aerialists providing quite the spectacle. Returning for their second FEASTIVAL, FringeArts favorites Red 40 & The Last Groovement will be bringing their raucous clown funk party back to their old stomping grounds with an LED video stage provided by Tait Towers. Inside FringeArts at the Audi Artist Lounge muralist Juan Dimida will live paint a 2017 Audi A4 over the course of the evening, utilizing a mix of traditional painting styles and cutting-edge digital art to achieve his innovative vision. Meanwhile in the lounge, Brian Sanders’ JUNK, a consistent Festival favorite, will be showcasing their wildly imaginative and daring brand of physical theater.

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An International Message for World Theatre Day from Brett Bailey

Posted September 22nd, 2016

untitledCreated in 1961, World Theatre Day, is celebrated annually on March 27 by International Theatre Institute Centers around the world and the international theatre community. Each year, a renowned theatre artist of world stature is invited to craft an International Message to mark the global occasion. In 2014 Brett Bailey, acclaimed South African theater artist and creator/director of Macbeth, shared this message, a rallying cry for performing artists everywhere to truly embrace the power of their platform and wield it for the greater good. Find more info on World Theatre Day as well as messages from years past here.


Wherever there is human society, the irrepressible Spirit of Performance manifests.

Under trees in tiny villages, and on high tech stages in global metropolis; in school halls and in fields and in temples; in slums, in urban plazas, community centres and inner-city basements, people are drawn together to commune in the ephemeral theatrical worlds that we create to express our human complexity, our diversity, our vulnerability, in living flesh, and breath, and voice.

We gather to weep and to remember; to laugh and to contemplate; to learn and to affirm and to imagine. To wonder at technical dexterity, and to incarnate gods. To catch our collective breath at our capacity for beauty and compassion and monstrosity. We come to be energized, and to be empowered. To celebrate the wealth of our various cultures, and to dissolve the boundaries that divide us.

Wherever there is human society, the irrepressible Spirit of Performance manifests. Born of community, it wears the masks and the costumes of our varied traditions. It harnesses our languages and rhythms and gestures, and clears a space in our midst.

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Meet the Cast of Macbeth

Posted September 20th, 2016

This weekend FringeArts and Opera Philadelphia will present Macbeth as part of the 2016 Fringe Festival. Tonight there will be a panel discussion with members of the cast hosted by Stephanie Renée at the African American Museum of Philadelphia. In anticipation, we thought we’d help you get acquainted with these distinguished performers with these short bios. RSVP for the event here and learn more about this week’s ancillary Macbeth events here.


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Owen Metsileng (photo by Nicky Newman)

Owen Metsileng (Macbeth) was born in 1987 in a village called Manamakgotha in Rustenburg, South Africa. He comes from a musical family and started singing at an early age in church and school choirs. While in secondary school, he was introduced to classical music. He was a member of the Black Tie Ensemble from 2006 to 2008 and joined the Cape Town Opera Studio in 2010. He has sung many roles with the Cape Town Opera, including Le Dancaïre in Carmen, Barone Douphol in La Traviata, Marcello in La Bohème, as well as Jake in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess on a UK Tour. In September 2012, Owen performed in Cape Town Opera’s Gala Concerts with Orchestra Victoria at the Hamer Hall in Melbourne. He also took part in the Belvedere singing competition and was chosen to compete in the finals in Amsterdam in 2014. He has been performing the role of Macbeth in Third World Bunfight’s adaptation since its 2014 premiere.

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Nobulumko Mngxekeza-Nziramasanga (photo by Nicky Newman)

Nobulumko Mngxekeza (Lady Macbeth) was born in Queenstown in 1981. She was introduced to music when she joined her high school choir. In 2001 she enrolled at the University of Cape Town’s College of Music and trained under Virginia Davids, Sidwill Hartman, Marisa Mavchio and Angela Gobatto. In her young career she has performed in Carmen as Micaella, as Bess in Porgy and Bess, as Pamina in Der Zaubeflute, as Anna in Nabucco. She has worked with Isango Ensemble where she performed in the following productions, Impempe Yomlingo (The Magic Flute), Abanxaxhi (La Boheme), Aesop ‘s Fables and Ragged Trouser Philanthropist. Nobulumko has also travelled internationally with various productions for Cape Town Opera where she was previously a Studio Member. She has been performing the role of Lady Macbeth in Third World Bunfight’s adaptation since its 2014 premiere.

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Otto Maidi (photo by Nicky Newman)

Otto Maidi (Banquo), born in 1972 in South Africa, began singing at a tender age of eight in his church’s Sunday school and his school. He studied classical singing at the Pretoria Technikon Opera School under Pierre du Toit and later moved on to Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, where he obtained his Artist Certificate Degree in Vocal Performance under Prof. Barbara Hill-Moore. He has toured throughout the U.S. and Europe and has sang with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, the Turtle Creek Chorale, and the Meadows Symphony Orchestra. Previous roles Otto has played include Bonzo in Madama Butterfly, Colline in La Boheme, Peter in Hansel and Gretel, Crown in Porgy & Bess, Olin Blitch in Susannah, Ramfis in Aida, Vodnick in Rusalka, Dulcamara in L’Elisir d’amore and a highly acclaimed Joe in Show Boat. He has been performing the role of Banquo in Third World Bunfight’s adaptation since its 2014 premiere.

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Explore Macbeth, Third World Bunfight, and Congolese history with these events

Posted September 19th, 2016

This weekend FringeArts and Opera Philadelphia will present Macbeth as part of the 2016 Fringe Festival. A reimagining of Verdi’s nineteenth century opera from South African theater company Third World Bunfight, this production brings the classic tale of greed, tyranny, and corruption to the Democratic Republic of the Congo where a brutal warlord, General Macbeth, and his ambitious wife murder the king and unleash atrocities on the crumbling province that they seize. For more info and to purchase tickets click here. Be sure to check out our timeline of Congolese history as well.

In anticipation of this tour de force opera gracing our city as part of its American premiere tour, FringeArts is hosting several ancillary events leading up to and in tandem with its Saturday and Sunday performances, each tackling different contextual aspects of the show with an overall focus on representation. Below you’ll find a rundown of these events. RSVP here. They’re all free, but those that precede performances are only open to ticket holders.

 

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(photo by Nicky Newman)

9/20 @ 6pm:
Panel discussion with members of Macbeth cast
Hosted by WURD’s Stephanie Renée

Join 900AM WURD’s Stephanie Renée at the African American Museum in Philadelphia in meeting the virtuosic cast of Third World Bunfight’s Macbeth. The cast will speak to their own experiences working with classical material, approaching the form of opera, and working with controversial theater maker Brett Bailey.

Stephanie Renée is the host of 900AM’s The MOJO, emphasizing issues of arts and entertainment, cultural identity, education and economics. Renée guides her audience through a daily exercise of finding beauty in the midst of ugliness, hope in the face of strife, and inspiration in moments great and mundane.

At the African American Museum of Philadelphia
701 Arch Street

 

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(photo by Nicky Newman)

9/23 @ 6pm:
Performance Provocations: 20 Years of Brett Bailey and Third World Bunfight
Lecture by Dr. Megan Lewis

Third World Bunfight strives to create innovative, multi-layered, deeply considered performance and installation works that reveal the beauty, the wonder, the darkness and the tragedy of our world, with a main focus on the post-colonial situation in Africa, and historical and contemporary relations between Africa and the West. This lecture from Dr. Megan Lewis will engage the history and work of this stalwart and controversial company and its director Brett Bailey.

Dr. Megan Lewis is a South African-American theater historian and performance scholar concerned with the staging of national identity, gender, and race. She is an assistant professor of theater history and criticism at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

At FringeArts
140 N. Columbus Boulevard

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Fringe at 20 Profile: Brenna Geffers

Posted September 19th, 2016
Geffers with Actors

Geffers with Shadow House performers Anthony Crosby, Kayla Grasser, and Michael Linehard (photo by Mickey Herr)

Name: Brenna Geffers

Type of Artist: Theater-maker and Director

Companies: I am a freelance artist, but have been proud to call Theatre Exile, EgoPo Classic Theater, Thom Weaver’s Flashpoint, and Rebel Theater in NYC my artistic homes in the past. Currently I am an artist-in-residence at The Powel House with the Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks (PhilaLandmarks). I am also a member of the Philadelphia Opera Collective, which just means that I hang out with some gorgeous artists and singers for a few months out of the year.

List of Fringe shows I’ve participated in:
Mother Courage and Her Children, Wandering Rom, 2006 – Director
Planetary Enzyme Blues, New Paradise Laboratories, 2007 – Assistant Director
Masque of the Red Death, Wandering Rom, 2007 – Creator/Director
Mud, Wandering Rom, 2008 –  Director
Woyzeck, EgoPo, 2009 – Director
Marat/Sade, EgoPo, 2010 – Director
The Oresteia Project, Philadelphia Artist Collective, 2011 – Creator/Director
The Consul, Philadelphia Opera Collective, 2012 – Director
Opera Macabre, POC, 2013 – Librettist/Director
A Doll’s House, EgoPo, 2013 – Creator/Director
By You That Made Me Frankenstein, POC, 2014 – Creator/Director
Jump the Moon, Philadelphia Opera Collective, 2015 – Creator/Director

Geffers - Mud

Joe Canuso, Megan Snell, and Robert Daponte in Mud (photo by John Margolus)

Fringe show I’m participating in for 2016Shadow House, an immersive opera and theater piece where 10 different storylines across 200 years are connected by a single location. Audience members follow characters and stories by moving around the historic Powel House, chasing what interests them to put the pieces together. There is music and movement and mystery happening in all the nooks and crannies of the house. I am the creator and director for the piece and was commissioned by the Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks.

First Fringe I attended and highlight: I started seeing Fringe shows before I moved to Philadelphia, so the shows that I saw, like the epic Black Party Pink Palace and the achingly delicate Hell Meets Henry Half Way loom large in my mind. They inspired me to move to Philadelphia and be part of the strange and beautiful scene here.

First Fringe I participated in: The first show that I was actually hired to be a part of – rather than using the money I saved up all summer from shady telemarketing jobs – was Planetary Enzyme Blues with New Paradise Laboratories. I was the AD for the show and cherished every moment I was in the room with those artists; you don’t spend hours watching Mary McCool create work and leave unchanged. I learned a lot that summer, about art and collaboration and risk. I cried at the final moments of that show every time I watched it.

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CATCH these performers tonight at BOK

Posted September 17th, 2016

Tonight CATCH—the Obie award-winning, itinerant, rough-and-ready performance series—takes a break from its native Brooklyn to treat Philadelphia to a one-night-only performance showcase, CATCH takes BOK, as part of the 2016 Fringe Festival. Featuring a roster of some of the most daring contemporary performers from Philadelphia and NYC, what they’ll be doing may be a mystery, but considering the breadth and depth of each’s body of work it’s a safe bet that you won’t want to miss it. Also, your ticket includes free beer, so, yeah.

Not convinced? You’re awfully difficult to please. In that case, why not get acquainted with the evening’s lineup?

Brooke O’Harra is a director and performer based in New York. As co-founder of The Theater of a Two-Headed Calf she has developed and directed all fourteen of the company’s productions, including the Obie award-winning Drum of the Waves of Horikawa. In an interview with the Huffington Post, O’Harra remarked, “I have been drawn to theater because of the live-ness, the weird formal codes of storytelling, the strange intimacy that happens inside of a group experience, the vulnerability foundational to the act – the real possibility that something could go wrong – these things make the experience charged.” Get a taste of O’Harra’s work with this excerpt from Room For Cream, Two-Headed Calf’s Dyke Division’s live lesbian soap opera which she conceived, directed, wrote for, and performed in: 

Cynthia Hopkins is a writer, composer, multi-instrumentalist, and internationally acclaimed musical performance artist. Through her songs, albums, and groundbreaking multi-media performance works she intertwines truth and fiction, striving to obscure the distinction between edification and entertainment. “My creative process is a survival technique which alchemizes a combination of inner and outer (personal and socio-political) demons into works of intrigue and hope, for the audience and for myself,” she says in her artist statement. She recently relocated to Philadelphia after twenty years in Brooklyn and has been chronicling the experience with her podcast, Moving to PhiladelphiaSample her stunning musical chops in the video below from her 2013 performance at Celebrate Brooklyn: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4whnVrav9tE

Philadelphia native Kemar Jewel is an award-winning international director and choreographer. They are a founding member and creative director of Xcel Dance Crew, a dance group that incorporates dance and theater and specializes in dance styles such as jazz, hip-hop, African jazz, and, chiefly, vogue. A graduate of Temple University, Jewel gained to national recognition for a 2014 Youtube video, “Voguing Train,” filmed on Septa’s Broad Street Line. Since then Jewel has toured and performed across the US and Europe, including at the recent tribute to voguing icon and pioneer Willi Ninja at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. Check out their latest short film, “Vogue Ball Tango,” a spin on Chicago’s “Cell Block Tango” that mixes Broadway with Ballroom: 

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A Timeline of Congolese History

Posted September 16th, 2016
Above: From Macbeth (photo by Nicky Newman)

Next week FringeArts will proudly present two performances that engage the history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo through radically different perspectives and means of storytelling.

Le Cargo, Chorégraphie et interprétation : Faustin Linyekula Studios Kabako - création 2011 - Centre national de la danse

Faustin Linyekula in Le Cargo (photo by Agathe Poupeney)

Le Cargo is renowned Congolese choreographer Faustin Linyekula’s first and only solo dance piece, created in celebration of the tenth anniversary of his Kinshasa based performance company Studios Kabako. The piece finds Linyekula adopting the roles of storyteller and dancer in tandem as he leads his audience on an arresting and deeply personal journey to his homeland, a country marked by decades of violence and unrest, in search of a dance from his childhood that has since been erased.

Macbeth is South African company Third World Bunfight‘s reimagining of Verdi’s titular opera. Set in the DRC and centered on brutal warlord General Macbeth and his ambitious wife, the opera brings the classic tale of greed, tyranny, and corruption to postcolonial Africa with the help of its astonishingly talented cast and stunning set designs that make the show just as much a work of visual art as it is of theater. Be sure to check out the many ancillary events related to the show as well.

In anticipation of these exciting performances, dramaturg Meghan Winch has provided FringeArts with a timeline of  Congolese history—from the 13th century to present day—sourced from Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja’s book The Congo from Leopold to Kabila.


1400 – 1885
The Kongo kingdom of Central Africa is a prosperous, major force in the region based in agriculture and trade. 1482 brings the Kongo’s first contact with European explorers. Over the course of the next 400 years, the kingdom breaks up into autonomous chiefdoms.

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King Leopold II

1885 – 1908
King Leopold II of Belgium claims the Congo as his own private territory. The Congo is a major source of rubber and other valuable minerals, and the Congolese people are subject to a number of atrocities in order to harvest and export these resources. Beginning in 1891, several local uprisings are fought and repressed, including the Shi kingdom’s resistance (1900-1916) and the Luba-Katanga kingdom’s rebellion (1907-1917).

1908 – 1960
King Leopold cedes his claim to the Congo to Belgium, making it a colony. The effort to assimilate educated Africans into European culture includes the establishment of the “social merit card” and the “matriculation system,” which amounted to making a tiny Congolese elite into honorary Europeans. Established in 1950 to promote Kongo language and culture, Abako (the Alliance of Bakongo) eventually becomes a political force supporting Congolese independence. Workers’ strikes and anti-colonial protests culminate in a 1959 Kinshasa uprising for independence, leading to more rebellions and war throughout the Belgian-controlled region. Belgium agrees to complete independence for the Congo as of Jun 30, 1960.

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The Embedded Joy of The Elementary Spacetime Show

Posted September 15th, 2016

“How can we look at one of the most terrible things that happens in our society and try to find some hope, some way of thinking about it that doesn’t gloss over it but also doesn’t send us all spiraling into sadness?” writer and composer César Alvarez ponders. We’re discussing the great challenge at the heart of his latest production, The Elementary Spacetime Show, a musical that grapples with teen suicide and the difficult questions of existence that arise in the face of an enigmatic universe. Oh, and it’s also a vaudevillian comedy set in an absurd cosmic game show.

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(photo by Paola Nogueras)

So, how does an artist best address such difficult subject matter with enough gravitas and humor to leave audiences feeling changed for the better? The answer, as Alvarez sees it, lies in the show’s form itself. “No other form has the embedded joy that a musical has, the antidote to that kind of sadness,” he asserts. There’s no doubt that The Elementary Spacetime Show possesses this sense of joy with it’s enthusiastic young cast, uptempo music, and dazzling gameshow set, but in talking with Alvarez it becomes clear just how joyous realizing this show has been. Developed largely in conjunction with the University of the Arts and sporting a cast featuring wildly talented UArts students, the show is the product of a radical experiment in combining education and new musical development. Through its success, Alvarez has helped chart a new path for how great, unconventional musicals like it can get produced.

As an artist-in-residence at UArts, Alvarez and former director of the Brind School Joanna Settle launched Polyphone back in 2015. Conceived as a forum to explore the musical’s creative future, the annual festival creates much needed space for forward-thinking new musicals to develop. Five concert productions are mounted in just six weeks time with the help of UArts students. It’s an intensive process, but one that affords each creative team invaluable time and resources to hone their shows and work on their craft, and it’s time they’ve taken full advantage of. “For every single show there’s been all sorts of new songs written, new things added, huge changes, different big conceptual risks taken, and the students get to be in the room for all of that and be a part of the process,” Alvarez says.

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