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Making Art in 2017: Tina Satter on Ghost Rings

Posted August 29th, 2017

Name: Tina Satter

Company: Half Straddle

Show in 2017 Festival: Ghost Rings

Past Festival shows: In the Pony Palace/FOOTBALL

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

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

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

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

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

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2017 Festival Spotlight: Family Friendly Fare, Part 2

Posted August 27th, 2017

Just because it’s at the Fringe doesn’t mean you have to leave the kids at home. Check out some of the Festival’s productions appropriate for all ages. Bring the whole family! Check out Part 1 here.

 

A Period of Animate Existence @ Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts 
Pig Iron Theatre Company

Children, elders, and machines contemplate the future in a time of dire predictions and rapid technological change in this work of symphonic theater. How do we contemplate the future in such a perilous time, an era called the “Sixth Extinction,” when up to 50 percent of all living species might die off? An inspired, large-scale melding of music, design, and theater, A Period of Animate Existence investigates the intense, unnamable emotions that arise in a time of extinction. More info and tickets here.

 

Photo by Michael Bach.

Lost in the Woods @ German Society of Pennsylvania
A Moment for Music

Lost in the Woods is the journey of two starving children who must find their way in a world that threatens to both empower and devour them. This family-friendly romp through Hansel and Gretel’s forest is a multimedia adventure featuring classical, jazz, and pop singing, lip-sync, and dance. More tickets and info here.

 

Photo by Michael Ermilio.

 

Life Lines @ Christ Church Neighborhood House 
Tangle Movement Arts

Seven women collide and are changed forever. In this dynamic circus-theater show, strangers meet their match, empty rooms listen in, and women find their power in flight. Tangle’s acrobats climb trapezes and aerial silks as they face sudden changes, spark chain reactions, and test the hidden threads that bind us.

 

Worktable @ BOK
Kate McIntosh

We provide the hammer, you do the rest. Worktable is a live installation that takes place in a series of rooms, which visitors engage with one at a time. Having signed up beforehand for a specific time slot, you enter and can stay as long as you like. Once inside there are instructions, equipment, and safety goggles so you can get to work—it’s up to you to decide how things come apart, and how they fall back together. More info and tickets here.

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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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The Best 21st Birthday You’ll Ever Attend

Posted August 24th, 2017

The 21st Annual Fringe Festival is almost here, can you believe it? I can’t, but time doesn’t need me to believe in it to do what it does. Time isn’t Candyman, but it is about as terrifying, if not more so.

Regardless, this year’s Festival may be the largest yet with some 170+ performances shaking up our city from September 7-24 and it’s hard to know where to start. So, I’ll make it easy for you: start at the beginning.

On September 7th FringeArts will be hosting its annual Opening Night celebration here at our waterfront headquarters. The festivities kick off with a special preview performance of 17c by the world renowned Big Dance Theater, a company with a habit of dragging the past into the present. With 17c they’ve done just that, drawing from perhaps the most dedicated diarist of the 17th century, Samuel Pepys, modernizing his language, and examining the depravity of his actions through a contemporary feminist lens.

After the performance comes the party. Join us at La Peg (you don’t even have to leave the building!) for a reception created collaboratively by FringeArts’ President and Producing Director Nick Stuccio, La Peg Executive Chef Peter Woolsey, and Annie-B Parson.

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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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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. 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.

santos_72

(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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Music is the perfect metaphor for the way the universe is built: An interview with César Alvarez

Posted September 10th, 2016

The Elementary Spacetime Show is a musical comedy set in a cosmic vaudevillian game show. Featuring up-tempo music that defies easy classification, a healthy dose of the absurd, and a cast featuring UArts students, the show will have its world premiere this week as part of the 2016 Fringe Festival, a co-presentation between FringeArts and The University of the Arts. Composer and writer César Alvarez spoke with us earlier this year about the show’s premise, his inspiration, and his interests in working with music.


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(photo by Eric Wolfe)

FringeArts: Why the title The Elementary Spacetime Show?

César Alvarez: From the script . . .

ELEMENTARY for dealing with fundamentals
SPACE for where you are
TIME for when it all takes place
SHOW because we know you need for us to bear witness to your difficulties.

FA: What was the initial inspiration for the show?

César Alvarez: The show started as a combination of two ideas. I wanted to write a musical about a kid who was trying to figure out why there is “something” instead of “nothing” and would travel around through time and space and meet with scientists and philosophers in a sort of ontological revue. Then I wanted to make a more autobiographical piece about a kid who sat under his desk pretending to go to space and finding himself in a sort of fantastical world where he could work through his problems. My wife and I lost a close friend to suicide in 2013 and both of those ideas morphed into The Elementary Spacetime Show. Our friend’s journey to suicide and the intense depression that followed really informed the course of the piece. The question, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” became very linked to the question, “Why live when it hurts so badly?” aka “To be or not to be”

FA: What was the first song you wrote for the show—was there a particular inspiration?

César Alvarez: The first song I wrote was “When It Starts” which is about a question at the heart of the piece. Why exist? Now that song is at the end which indicates how the show starts over for the next contestant who is making the same choice that Alameda did to take their own life. The second song I wrote was “VOID”, which opens the show. “VOID” really set the piece in motion for me as it created the character of Alameda. That song came out of a really dark moment. I was so sad and dealing with profound weight of grief and hopelessness. I went down to my studio and just wrote the song in one fell swoop. It created a very clear point of dark matter from which the show could emerge.

downsized-elementary-photo-by-paola-nogueras

(photo by Paola Nogueras)

FA: Can you discuss the set up of The Elementary Spacetime Show—and how you got to that point?

César Alvarez: The show begins with Alameda attempting suicide by overdosing on pills. She collapses and finds herself in a liminal vaudevillian game show, which she has to win in order to finally enter the void. The whole piece is a bit of a catch-22. The more Alameda wants to die, the harder she has to work to beat this ridiculous game. The set up allowed me to create a non-judgmental space to explore an incredibly touchy and complicated topic. Also the game is absurd and I’ve found that the humor opens people up to the darkness of it all.

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A James Baldwin Reading List

Posted September 7th, 2016

This weekend FringeArts and The Wilma Theater will present Notes of a Native Song, a rollicking “concert novel” from Stew and Heidi Rodewald as part of the 2016 Fringe Festival. Inspired by the art and life of writer and activist James Baldwin, Stew and Rodewald, along with their musically formidable band, utilize a mix of music, video, and spoken word as they explore and celebrate Baldwin’s lasting and complex legacy. More info and tickets can be found here.


“I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for that reason I insist on the right to criticize her.”

James Baldwin said this in 1955 in Notes of a Native Son. This quotation resonates today. We are in a critical moment in America. I believe the criticism Baldwin calls us to do is shallow if it is entirely external. Baldwin’s words have fueled my vision and mission since I was first handed Go Tell It on The Mountain by my 9th grade English teacher. Baldwin is a voice that can give clarity and meaning to the beautiful struggle that is existence.

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(photo by Earl Dax)

Giovanni’s Room (1956)
The power of this book is its achievement as a novel holding universal themes. I have never lived in Paris or the South of France, but I connected directly with the main character, David. David is white, as are all of the characters in Giovanni’s Room. Baldwin takes you on a journey into the world of France he observed. Baldwin took a bold step by presenting a gay love story between David and Giovanni to the world in the mid-twentieth century. Anyone who reads Giovanni’s Room feels as if the are walking next to each character and taking in every moment. It is a powerful and painful story. The book will make you take on a deep existential and introspective journey. You will be changed forever.

Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953)
Baldwin takes us into the complex world of John Grimes. He is a young man trying to find his way in life. This search is the foundation of much of the Baldwin’s writings. The book is set in Harlem in 1935, with flashbacks to the days of slavery (which we must remember are not so far behind us). When we meet James Grimes, he is desperate for the love of his father. Themes of religion, race, and coming-of-age are all intertwined into the story. John’s need for his Father’s love reveals a story of an empty search that has complications beyond the son’s existence.

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Exploring the contents of Room 21

Posted September 2nd, 2016
Above image: Ensemble view, Room 21, south wall, The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 2016.

 

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Amedeo Modigliani, 
Italian, 1884–1920. 
Reclining Nude from the Back (Nu couché de dos), 1917.
 Oil on canvas,
 25 1/2 x 39 1/4 in. (64.8 x 99.7 cm).
 BF576, The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Image © 2016 The Barnes Foundation

On September 9, Jace Clayton (aka DJ /rupture) will premiere his latest work Room 21 at the Barnes Foundation as part of the 2016 Fringe Festival. Co-presented with the Barnes Foundation and curated by Lee Tusman in collaboration with Ars Nova Workshop, the site-specific performance is an inspired musical response to the artworks of Room 21 at the Barnes Foundation and Albert Barnes’ extensive record collection. Joining Clayton is an ensemble of more than a dozen musicians, including the Prometheus Chamber Orchestra, banjoist Ben Lee, Ethiopian Musician Gezachew Habtemariam and Pianist Emily Manzo, all wearing custom costumes handcrafted by fashion designer Rocio Salceda of Prellezo. This is a remarkable one night only event, an inspired engagement with one of Philadelphia’s most storied institutions. For more info and tickets click here.


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Austrian. Christ Carrying the Cross, c. 1460. Tempera and oil with gold and silver leaf on panel, 29 3/8 x 51 1/2 in. (74.6 x 130.8 cm). BF396, The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Image © 2016 The Barnes Foundation

When Jace Clayton first found himself in Room 21 of the Barnes Foundation he was struck by what seemed to him an extremely personal organizational logic. It’s a well known fact that Albert Barnes held strong to his personal, cultivated aesthetic theories, but never imposed them on his visitors beyond his arrangements. Presenting his collection without the curatorial commentary museum attendees often expect, he created spaces for viewers to approach each piece free from explicit outside mediation. Room 21, Clayton found, encapsulated this kind of aggressive formalism. With one hundred and thirty pieces contained within its four walls, the small space intermingles renowned masters and unidentified artisans, the functional and the ornamental, the sacred and the profane.

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Possibly Bamana or Marka peoples. Mask, late 19th–early 20th century. Wood, resin, 24 x 7 5/8 x 6 7/8 in. (61 x 19.4 x 17.5 cm). A224. Photo © 2016 The Barnes Foundation

One of the room’s most famous work, Amedeo Modigliani’s Reclining Nude from the Back, hangs adjacent to and across from various Northern European religious paintings possibly dating back to the 15th century. Directly across from the nude by the young artist of whom Barnes was an early champion, is the large tableau Christ Carrying the Cross. This juxtaposition may have offended some of the foundation’s Christian visitors, and it’s amusing to imagine Barnes finding a punkish glee in creating it. Still, one must assume he knew exactly what he was doing as such curation is in line with his formalist leanings. It requires of viewers to divorce any beliefs they may hold that are irrelevant to the physical work itself.

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William James Glackens. 
American, 1870–1938
. Eight Figures, c. 1910
. Black crayon with gouache on brown wove paper
, 12 1/8 x 14 3/8 in. (30.8 x 36.5 cm)
. BF641, The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Image © 2016 The Barnes Foundation

It is in part this disregard for context that makes the foundation, and Room 21 in particular, such an anomalous gem among other art institutions. Where most curate their collections around specific artists, movements, or mediums, here visitors are treated to a trove of fine art and meticulously crafted objects from all over the world, side by side. In Room 21 alone, displayed among three separate cases are numerous 19th–early 20th century figures, masks, and tools from various African ethnic groups; adorning the wall space around notable paintings are an assortment of ornate bolts, keyhole escutcheons, tools, hinges, and latches, among other functional objects; and there are also elegant, handcrafted chairs placed around the perimeter. The space feels relative to how people let art inhabit their lives, which stands in opposition to much traditional curation that aims to convey contextual and historical narratives alongside the art. The only hints of narrative that exist in Room 21 suggest something far more personal.

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Sifting through sounds from the bench: An interview with Jena Osman

Posted September 2nd, 2016

Jena Osman is a renowned poet and editor. She has published numerous books and chapbooks and was the co-founder/co-editor of the award-winning literary magazine Chain with Juliana Spahr. Osman currently teaches in the MFA Creative Writing program at Temple University. 

Her 2014 book Corporate Relations draws directly from landmark Supreme Court cases to examine and unpack “corporate personhood”—the notion that privately owned corporations should be extended the same rights as individual citizens—revealing its century long development in a manner that is at turns illuminating, humorous, disturbing, and beautifully lyrical. You can check out the book’s opening poem here and purchase a copy from the venerable small press Burning Deck here.

Corporate Relations served as inspiration and source material for Ted Hearne’s stunning composition Sound from the Bench, which will be performed by Philadelphia’s acclaimed new music chamber choir, The Crossing, here at FringeArts on September 11 as part of the 2016 Fringe Festival. FringeArts recently spoke with Osman about the origins of Corporate Relations and her collaboration with Hearne.


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Jena Osman (photo by Amze Emmons)

FringeArts: What spurred you to write Corporate Relations?

Jena Osman: When Citizens United won its case in 2010 it dawned on people (including myself) that corporations had just won a constitutional right—freedom of speech. There was general political/media outrage about corporations being given rights reserved for people, that the ruling suggested that corporations actually were people. Because this seemed like such a crazy idea, I started to look into it and I discovered that corporations had been racking up a series of constitutional rights since the mid-19th century. I’ve always had an interest in objects that seem human (puppets, automatons, computers that play chess, etc.), and corporate personhood fell in line with that fascination.

FA: How did you arrive at the book’s hybridized form?

Corporate Relations is organized around twelve Supreme Court cases that grant corporations constitutional rights. After reading each case, I pulled out phrases that felt particularly “human” to me; the phrases are in the order in which they appear in the case, and the spacing of those found poems was determined by where the phrase fell on my printed out page of the case. The court case sections are broken up by a series of poems that try to further investigate the increasingly blurry boundary line between the human and the machine; they consider automata, the John Henry story, Fritz Kahn’s amazing illustrations of the human body as a factory, the mechanics of ventriloquism, Frederick Winslow Homer’s “scientific management” strategies, etc.

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Fringe Festival 2016 Spotlight: Messing with Shakespeare

Posted August 25th, 2016

Drawing inspiration from the immortal works of the Bard of Avon, these shows provide fresh interpretations for the well trodden material. If you’re looking for unique perspectives on some of Shakespeare’s classics, be sure to check them out!

bedlam

(photo by Rachel O’Hanlon-Rodriguez)

Bedlam: Shakespeare in Rehab @ St. John the Baptist Church
Manayunk Theatre Company

Bedlam: Shakespeare in Rehab takes everything you know about classic theater and turns it on its head. Shakespearean Heroines are ripped out of their respective stories and thrown into a haunting, run down institution. Characters and audience alike are immersed in a world of mental health. More info and tickets here.

omeletto body

(photo by Oreste Montebello)

Omeletto: Like Hamlet, Only Scrambled @ Liberty Lands Park
Ombelico Mask Ensemble

Told through the lens of commedia dell’rte, the story of Hamlet gets a deconstructed re-imagining that only Ombelico Mask Ensemble can deliver. Come and see your favorite commedia characters’ (Arlecchino, Pantelone, Capitano, and the rest) take on the Bard. Performed in English, Italian, and French. More info and tickets here.

ophelia fringe

 

Drowning Ophelia @ The Iron Factory
Ensemble Atria and EagerRisk Theater

Jane doesn’t know what to do with the literary character who has taken up residence in her bathtub. She doesn’t want Ophelia interrupting the obsessive order of her life with obnoxious songs. Ophelia doesn’t care about what Jane wants, only what she needs. But, how do you move on when reconciliation is not an option? More info and tickets here.

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