< BLOG

Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

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.

img_8107

(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.

Read More

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.


cesaralvarez_photo-by-eric-wolfe-low-res

(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.

Read More

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.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

(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.

Read More

Exploring the contents of Room 21

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

 

bf576

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.


bf396

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.

a224_i5rcopy

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.

BF641

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.

Read More

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.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

Fringe Festival 2016 Spotlight: Shows Exploring LGBTQ+ Identity

Posted August 23rd, 2016

Check out this eclectic mix of independent Fringe shows from the artists of the LGBTQ+ community!

an obviously foggot

(Image by Geoffrey Douglas)

An Obviously Foggot @ iCandy

Poison Apple Initiative

“So you’ve got a group of people who fetishize masculinity, who’re emasculated their whole lives, and you stick them in this place with all this booze and drugs and hierarchy. What’d you think was gonna happen?” A collision of found text, broken pop, and dance parties confronting internalized homophobia in gay bars. More info and tickets here.

 

 

Photo by Monique Baron

(Photo by Monique Baron)

BIG CRUNCH @ Vox Populi

TOLVA/Sam Congdon

The world has gone rigid. Gender roles are strictly enforced by a ruthless government. There is a queer rage bubbling up through one cyborg’s circuitry, but can a single robot bring it all down? A queer sci-fi odyssey of self-discovery and rebellion blending solo performance, experimental electronic music, and video. More info and tickets here.

 

 

Photo by Steve Belkowitz

(Photo by Steve Belkowitz)

Carried Away @ JUNK Studio

Brian Sanders’ JUNK

I end up here, shame under pride, head on locker, denim near denim, skin against satin, disco within punk, leather around wrists, fist off canvas, lips about nape, hand for hand, looking back in time. I was carried away. More info and tickets here.

 

 

Read More

Fringe at 20 Profile Rundown, Pt. 1

Posted August 19th, 2016

If you haven’t been keeping up with us here at the indispensable FringeArts blog, shame on you. Where’s our bookmark? Just kidding, we love you dear reader, please don’t X us out. We get it, there’s a lot of great content out there to scroll. There’s even more not so great content, but it’s flashy and has some excellent gifs and sometimes that’s what really counts.

So in case you haven’t checked in lately we thought we’d let you know we’ve been posting some truly wonderful profiles of repeat Festival participants—veterans and newcomers alike—that you’re not going to want to miss. Learn about all the triumphs and travails of your favorite local artists, get acquainted with some new ones, and discover what goes into making the Fringe Festival the flurry of fearless creativity that it is.

Below you’ll find all the profiles that have been published thus far, but be sure to stay tuned because there’s plenty more where that came from. We’ll be posting even more of these fantastic reminiscences as we count down the days to the 20th Fringe Festival.

 

Shadow House Invites You to Its Kick-Off Party

Posted August 12th, 2016
tamworth cocktail

The evening’s signature cocktail: Tamworth Flora Gin + tonic + squeeze of lime (courtesy of Tamworth Distilling)

On Sunday, August 14th, the Philadelphia Opera Collective and PhilaLandmarks are throwing a kick-off party and fundraiser at the historic Powel House for their fourth original opera, Shadow House. Meet the show’s artistic team, enjoy live music from members of the Philadelphia Opera Collective, and take in the elegance of Powel House and its garden, all while sipping signature cocktails provided by Tamworth Distilling.

Shadow House is part-opera, part-immersive theatrical event staged in Powel House, the result of a partnership between POC and PhilaLandmarks. Conceived by PhilaLandmarks artist-in-residence and POC lead conceptual creator Brenna Geffers, Shadow House weaves together folk pieces, dance rhythms, accordion music, and opera to tell 11 stories spanning 200 years of time. Foregrounded in this work is the rich history of Powel House. “The stories that are humming around a place like the Powel House cry out to be told. So many people pass through the house, living their lives, and leaving little echoes of their existence behind,” says Geffers.  

Shadow House premieres in the Philadelphia Fringe Festival on September 9th. For more upcoming events, check out PhilaLandmarks’ event page.

Shadow House Kick-Off Party
Powel House Garden
244 S 3rd St
6pm-8pm
$20

Fringe at 20 Profile: Jess Conda

Posted August 10th, 2016
Above Photo: Conda with Red 40 and the Last Groovement (photo by Chris K Photography)

 

Media Fine Imaging Eternal Glamnation

Conda in BRAT’s Eternal Glamnation (photo by Media Fine Imaging)

Name: Jess Conda

Type of Artist: actor, cabaret singer

Company: freelance, free love art maker; I get down a little bit with everyone

List of Fringe shows I’ve participated in:
The Lazy Activist, BRAT Productions, 2003 – ensemble performer/creator
Pay Up, Pig Iron, 2005/2013 – ensemble performer/creator
Eye 95 Re-Tarred, BRAT Productions, 2006 – ensemble performer/creator
Armageddon at the Mushroom Village, Tribe of Fools, 2009 – ensemble performer/creator
Water Bears in Space, Transmissions Theatre, 2011 – ensemble performer/creator
Heavy Metal Dance Fag, Tribe of Fools, 2011 – ensemble performer/creator
Festival Bar, RUBA Club, 2011 – programming director
Eternal Glamnation, BRAT Productions, 2012 – ensemble performer/creator
99 Breakups, Pig Iron, 2014 – ensemble performer/creator
Purgatory, Gunnar Montana, 2015 – performer
The Lid, BRAT Productions, 2015 – ensemble performer/creator

Fringe show I’m participating in for 2016: Performing back vox and raps with Red 40 and the Last Groovement opening night of the Festival

First Fringe I attended: 2003. Highlight was was walking to rehearsal and seeing all of this ACTION, in the box office, postcards flying around everywhere, Greg Giovanni performing Noh theater in the street in a kimono, artists all a flutter with this Olde City Fringe hub bub that made me giddy to be a part of this weird and amazing new art life.

First Fringe I participated in: Ranch-O Trivio show was a game show about George W Bush that BRAT played in the street. It was memorable to see how little regular folks knew about their politicians. Some things never change…

Babydoll

Conda as Babydoll in Eye 95 Re-Tarred (photo by JJ Tiziou)

First show I produced/created at the Fringe: I was pretty proud of programming the Festival Bar in 2011, even though every day was 16 hours of hard, down and dirty work: rehearsing other shows, booking everyone for the bar, and working with the technicians to get the Festival Bar space physically ready. On Opening Night of the Festival I was sweaty, covered in saw dust, wearing electrical tape around my wrists and my phone was in my bra ringing and glowing away. I had brought this whole gown and heels ensemble to wear to host that night but I was so tired I was like, “Fuck it, this is how I’m going on stage.” I riffed about how this is what Art Warriors REALLY look like and it was one of the most connected times on stage I’ve ever experienced.

Read More

A glitch in the festival: BIG CRUNCH Comes to Fringe

Posted August 8th, 2016
160521_TOLVA_0432

Congdon as TOLVA (photo by Monique Baron)

Sam Congdon’s new solo piece, BIG CRUNCH, envisions a future world where a ruthless government strictly enforces gender roles. In this dystopian fantasy, one cyborg with a queer glitch rebels against the state enforced gender binary. “I’m inspired by the radical power of science fiction,” says Congdon. “I think especially right now we need stories of queers fighting back against the system. Science fiction allows us to both examine what things might look like in the worst case scenario future, but also how we might be able to change the world for the better.”

Congdon is a Philly based curator and multimedia artist. His work combines live performance, experimental electronic music, video, and new media. Two years ago, Congdon created the alter-ego TOLVA, “a space princess who travels the universe in an orb of vibrating color in search of the weird, the queer, and the magical.” Since TOLVA’s inception, she has evolved from an alias for Congdon’s musical work to “her own character with a developing back story and very separate personality,” says Congdon. He explains that this development has happened through performance: “It’s a process of trying things out, understanding what works and doesn’t, and building on that. I don’t think her evolution will ever really be complete.”

In BIG CRUNCH,  TOLVA performs as cyborg BC108. The robotic protagonist packages products at a make-up factory, where it obeys strict rules of gender expression. That is until one day when a “queer glitch” occurs in its programming. For Congdon, the piece explores the power of queer possibility in the face of government control. “Instead of thinking of glitches as problems that occur in a computer,” says Congdon, “I like to think of them in the same way mutations contribute to evolution in living organisms: they change and develop an entity in new and exciting ways. The ‘big crunch’ refers to the moment this glitch occurs in our cyborg protagonist.”

Audience members can look forward to spacey electronic music and a glitter-filled post apocalyptic landscape. For a peek at Congdon’s earlier work, check out this music video “faavric” by TOLVA.

Besides his independent work, Congdon is a founding member of the curatorial collective SuperObject. The collective celebrates queer experimental theatre and performance art by emerging Philadelphia artists. Two SuperObject co-founders, dramaturg JD Stokely and costume designer Najee Haynes-Follins, are collaborators for BIG CRUNCH. Congdon is also joined by musician Stephen Piccarella, and cinematographer Max Gideon Basch.

BIG CRUNCH premieres in the 2016 Fringe Festival this September at the 319 Performance Space at Vox Populi. A limited number of zines featuring local artwork can be purchased to accompany the performance.

BIG CRUNCH
Vox Populi’s 319 Performance Space
N 11th and Wood Streets
Sept. 15 and 22 at 8pm
Sept. 16 and 23 at 9pm

—Hannah Salzer

Seeing Philly through Rockstar Eyes

Posted July 25th, 2016

catgif“Hi, I’m Ryan, and I am a human being,” Sonia Petruse says as she begins any performance of Sonia as Ryan, Ryan as Drag. Ryan is Ryan Adams, the prolific singer-songwriter and 90s heartthrob, or as Sonia affectionately refers to him, DRA (his full initials, David Ryan Adams). For the past year Sonia has been singing, blogging, taking photos and surrounding herself with domestic objects posing as Adams—inspired by a Halloween costume she created seven years ago. This fall she brings Adams to the Digital Fringe in a video created with Laura Storck. She fondly recalls specific teenage memories associated with every DRA record, “before listening to Ryan and his other bands like Whiskeytown and Sad Dracula, I could never turn to one artist for so many different emotions,” Sonia recalls.

“I look back to times I was sheltered by his albums: Love is Hell through college, Jacksonville City Nights through the loss of my childhood home, Cardinology when I was lost in LA, III/IV after a breakup and Cold Roses forever.”

Sonia confesses that she finds most forms of fandom horrifying. Why? “We are in a strange part of human history, where celebrities are treated like gods,” she muses. While Sonia is undoubtedly a fan of Ryan Adams and performs drag as admiration, she wants to honor him as a human and an artist rather than a deity, saying “I’m a big supporter of Ryan, just like I’m a big supporter of my friends and peers within art.”

Ryan in front of 7-11

Sonia as Ryan in front of 7-11, his favorite store

Sonia reconstructs elements of Adams’ life masterfully, with impeccable attention to detail. She performs with what she refers to as “Ryan props”: stuffed cats, a peace flag, a crocheted blanket and boxes of Cheez-Its. Sonia isn’t just emulating Ryan, she says “[it’s] one of my missions with this performance, to mesh dialogue of my own with Ryan’s, because I find similarities in our personal memoirs.” In conversation, Sonia affectionately uses the plural “we” to describe herself and Adams, almost as old friends. 

Read More

What Was Said

Posted June 19th, 2016

This Monday, June 20, FringeArts and the Ars Nova Workshop present a rare North American performance—and the first in Philadelphia—from esteemed Norwegian jazz musician and composer Tord Gustavsen, accompanied by his long-standing drummer Jarle Vespestad and vocalist Simin Tander. The trio recently released their debut, What Was Said, on the venerable ECM Records to much acclaim, with one critic from The Guardian noting, “The mixture of the instrumentalists’ distilled reflections with Tander’s palette of hummed tones, sighing note-bends and pristine inflections represents a beguiling new Gustavsen collaboration “

While Gustavsen and Vespestad’s well established musical rapport has been widely lauded, perhaps the greatest revelations to be found on What Was Said are in the spellbinding vocal stylings of Simin Tander. Regarded as one of European jazz’s brightest young voices, the German-Afghan singer previously released two albums with her quartet—2011’s Wagma and 2014’s Where Water Travels Home—that established her as a polyglot whose tireless creativity is matched only by her stunning voice. While her debut found her singing in English, Spanish, and her own improvised language, she expanded her repertoire to include Pashto on her follow up, describing the album as “a journey – to myself, through the world of my emotions and thoughts and to my Afghan roots.” Doing so not only expanded her vocal palette, but helped to spark the collaboration that would eventually become What Was Said.

Around the time of Where Water Travels Home’s release, Gustavsen was exploring Sufi poetry for a project with Iranian singer Mahsa Vahdat. When Tander’s album came to his attention he was instantly drawn to her singular voice and Pashto singing, and a collaboration was soon arranged. Though there was initially no defined direction for the project, it wasn’t long before the two began drawing from the poetry of Sufi mystic Jalal al-Din Rumi and Norwegian hymns of Gustavsen’s childhood as source material for the album’s lyrics. The hymns were translated to English, reinterpreted and amended to better fit Tander’s personal aesthetics, and then translated to Pashto by Afghan poet B. Hamsaaya. “We wanted someone not only who can translate the lyrics but who also has a sensitivity for poetry, especially Pashto, which is a different universe when you translate,” Tander told All About Jazz, adding, “You cannot just translate word for word—you have to get the context.”

Read More

Fringe at 20: Aaron Cromie

Posted June 8th, 2016

Name: Aaron Cromie

Type of Artist: Multidisciplinary theater artist

Lautrec in Window

The Body Lautrec. Photo by JJ Tiziou.

Fringe shows I’ve participated in:
First Festival Volunteer Coordinator, 1997
Son of Fantoccini, Mum Puppettheatre, 1998
I Was A Teenage Fantoccini, Mum Puppettheatre, 1999
Across, Big House Plays & Spectacles, 2000
The Story of Your Life, Threadbare Theatricals (self-produced), 2000
Hotel Obligado, Hotel Obligado, 2001
Contagion, Hotel Obligado, 2002
Contagion 2.0, Hotel Obligado, 2003
Two Hats, Two Heads, with Dave Jadico, 2003
The Foocy, workshop reading with Ugly Stepsister, 2004
Punchadelphia, Self-Produced Punch & Judy Show, 2005
Eye-95, Re-tarred, with Brat Productions, 2006
Afoot!, The Brothers Cromie, 2007
The European Lesson, Jo Strømgren Company, 2008
Afoot!, The Brothers Cromie, 2009
Afoot!, The Brothers Cromie, 2010
A Paper Garden, Mary Tuomanen/Aaron Cromie, 2011
Saint Joan, Betrayed, Mary Tuomanen/Aaron Cromie, 2013
The Body Lautrec, Mary Tuomanen/Aaron Cromie, 2014
The Swamp is On, Pig Iron Theatre Company, 2015
The Light Princess, workshop presentation with Ugly Stepsister, 2015
There might have been a couple more collaborations in there—I feel like we are all helping each other find/make/give feedback on each others’ developmental work each year—so I might have left out some things.

2016 Fringe show I’m participating in: Exile 2588 with Almanac Dance Circus Theatre. I am writing and performing the original score to Almanac’s new piece with my acoustic music duo Chickabiddy (with Emily Schuman).

Chickabiddy

Chickabiddy. Photo by Hannan Van Sciver.

First Fringe I attended: The very first one. Probably the highlight was seeing Dan Froot play sax naked. A good start to the first 20 years. Lines were out the door at Christ Church Meeting House. And I ran around a lot finding volunteers to cover shifts—we learned a lot that first year.

First Fringe I participated in: I was volunteer coordinator for the first festival, but the next year I got to perform with Mum Puppettheatre. The memorable moment was making people laugh by standing still in a stupid hat.

First show I produced/created at the Fringe: The first show I did myself was a teeny puppet show in the box office of the National Building—remember that place?—called The Story of Your Life in a shared space with a woman who knitted herself naked from a single length of yarn which made up the dress she was wearing/making.

Read More

Mood Music and Mind Control at SoLow Fest

Posted June 8th, 2016

musictolaugh1Music accompanies modern life, whether it’s a new band your friends like, the on-hold music of doctor’s office or half your office going to see Beyoncé last Sunday. But what happens when music takes control?

“In the digital age, we are inundated with the subliminal effects of music and media. Being affected by these stimuli is a part of our modern life that we take for granted,” says physical theater artist Lesley Berkowitz, co-creator of Music to Laugh To, a clown show set to premiere at The Whole Shebang June 16th as part of SoLow Fest.

Hank Curry was reading the dramaturgy notes for a Fringe show last year, and he read that Muzak was designed to stimulate productivity in the work place. The notion that music was “scientifically” designed to have manipulative effects fascinated him, inspiring him to approach Lesley with the idea of a clown show. Hank and Lesley researched early Muzak and watched silent film era clowns, exploring people’s desire to control others through music. The music for Music to Laugh To was composed with the intention of imitating the Muzak style. (The composer, Andy Thierauf, is also performing a solo concert called The Post-Modern Percussionist in SoLow Fest.) As for the show’s title, Berkowitz and Curry were searching for something that could evoke the essence of mood music albums of the 1950s. “This one made us laugh,” they explain.

Read More

Emmanuelle Delpeche Talks Immigrant Life and Spinning Records

Posted June 6th, 2016

“There is a poetry of the exiled that I want to share.” Emmanuelle Delpech

Emmanuelle Delpech is a native of France who has been a longtime performer, teacher, director and deviser of theater in the Philadelphia area. For her newest theatrical creation, Spinning Immigrant, Delpech brings audiences into the lives of immigrants in Philadelphia. Through audio interviews, and set up as DJ Babtoue, she reveals the secrets, regrets, and joys of those who are from somewhere else. We caught up with Delpech to find out more about Spinning Immigrant and her love of deejaying.DSC_1477-1

FringeArts: Why the title Spinning Immigrant?

Emmanuelle Delpeche: Well, I am an immigrant and when I thought about it, I was just starting to get interested in deejaying, aka spinning. Also spinning is a sensation, like my head is spinning, and I definitely have felt like a spinning immigrant in many situations. And I know others have too. So it’s a play on word. It’s kind of the essence of the show. I think as immigrants we always navigate different waters, worlds and it’s complicated. It’s like nausea, you actually might not throw up so will never get the relief. You just don’t feel good. You’re spinning on an endless dilemma.

FringeArts: Tell us about some of the steps from initial inspiration to production?

Emmanuelle Delpeche: I have always been an immigrant, and my identity is rooted in the fact that I am French but more specifically that I am a French woman in the United States and in Philadelphia. I meet easily with other immigrants, and I get along with them often quite quickly. We share an instant intimacy, even if we just met. That’s rarer with Americans. Somehow we are united by the fact that we are foreign, and we therefore feel similar things and have a similar eye on American society. We observe people and their habits. We notice differences because we are different. While I am interesting to Americans, I am French, an actor but other immigrants are invisible. They are unknown, and sometimes people don’t even know where one’s country is on the map. I am tired of that. I want people to have a voice, to be seen and to be understood. There is a poetry of the exiled that I want to share with the American audience. It might tap into their own feelings of exile.DSC_1502

FringeArts: How did you start deejaying?

Emmanuelle Delpeche: Deejaying is a thing I went to because I am an immigrant. I don’t think I would have gone there if I was in France. I am not sure why, but being here gives me the audacity to try new things and deejaying is part of one of these things. It’s also ok for a woman who is 42 to do that, nobody questions me, nobody is judging me, people are rather seduced and encouraging, which isn’t always the case in France.

I want to take a trip into people’s hearts and minds and joys and questions. I want to share that with the audience so they might become visible. I am a body for these voices. I want to be more and more intimate with my own struggle and by interviewing people and spending time with their story, I might understand mine better. I also want to make visible intimacy and how that is actually what matters. And when you are not “home,” it is quite hard to find. You seek it, you look for the familiar, the known. I have been here for a long time but it took me very very long to feel safe and at ease. To feel at home again.

Read More

A Crash Course in the Works of Chatham, Shea, and Dahl

Posted May 19th, 2016

Next Tuesday FringeArts, in collaboration with the Ars Nova Workshop, hosts one of the most important figures in contemporary music accompanied by two of the most wildly accomplished and versatile musicians working today. The powerhouse trio led by Rhys Chatham, featuring drummer Kevin Shea and bassist Tim Dahl, will delve into the murky sonic depths of post-punk and return with something that will no doubt rock you in your seat (tickets/info). Minds will be blown. Maybe a few ear drums too.

Each of the performers have tirelessly explored so many varied sounds throughout their prolific careers it’s difficult to grasp the breadth of their achievements. Below you’ll find a brief introduction to just some of the boundary-pushing work these three have created over the years.

Rhys Chatham

In 1971 Chatham premiered Two Gongs, one of the best examples of his early work. Featuring Chatham and Fluxus affiliated sound artist/composer Yoshi Wada on a pair of large Chinese gongs, the piece showcases the duo’s incredibly precise and controlled drumming, as well as Chatham’s mastery as a composer. What may seem like an improvisation is actually a carefully calibrated piece, each strike composed and working to achieve the piece’s rapturous effect. It’s hypnotic, it warps your sense of time, it’s really damn loud, and in it one can hear early strains of all noise music to come. Like the ebbs and flows of a raging sea or the chaotic abandon of a blustery storm, the piece tosses about its listeners and leaves them in a state of awe.

By 1976 Chatham’s work began to be shaped by the burgeoning punk rock scene. Chatham began exploring intersections of minimalist composition and punk rock instrumentation which in turn led to his most influential work, Guitar Trio. Consisting of three guitarists, a bassist, and drummer, the piece’s deceptively simple structure belies its unprecedented brilliance. “In this century (the 21st), it has never taken more than an hour to teach G3 to everyone’s satisfaction and comfort level,” Chatham wrote to performers in his 2007 tour of the piece. The framework he lays out for performers provides enough room for each to incorporate touches of their personal style, which has in turn led to more enthralling variations of the piece than would seem possible. It still stands as a perfect entry point to minimalism, punk, and no wave, a genre which Chatham helped kick start.

Read More

Rapid Oscillations Between the Sacred and the Profane: an interview with Bhob Rainey

Posted April 25th, 2016
Rainey at a rehearsal of O Monsters First Draft (courtesy of New Paradise Laboratories).

Rainey at a rehearsal of O Monsters First Draft (photo by Kate Raines, plate3.com).

This week sees the premiere of New Paradise Laboratories’ O Monsters First Draft (tickets/info), marking the company’s second collaboration with award-winning composer, saxophonist, sound designer Bhob Rainey.

Rainey’s career is marked by a tireless push against preconceived notions of what music is and how it can affect listeners, and he has over 30 record releases to show for it. After earning a master’s degree in music composition from New England Conservatory (where he studied with musical luminaries Joe Maneri, Paul Bley, Ran Blake, and Pozzi Escot) he founded Nmperign with trumpeter Greg Kelley in 1998. The highly influential non-idiomatic improvisation duo have been integral to the development of the lowercase and electroacoustic improvisation genres and have to date collaborated with a veritable who’s-who of twenty-first century music innovators. In 2000 he founded The BSC, an octet of acoustic and electronic improvisers, as a means of exploring the dynamics of large group improvisation. Throughout his career he has sought interdisciplinary collaborations.

Though it is often the case that a composer’s work is done merely in service of a production, Rainey’s work on O Monsters First Draft has played an integral role in crafting this new work. “We’re treating Bhob’s music like spontaneous expressions of something in-the-world that can be used to craft out-of-this-world stage action,” Whit MacLaughlin, NPL’s artistic director, told FringeArts back in February. “Ultimately, we are exploring something we haven’t quite found a name for yet. Symphonic theater might be a good name for it.”

We caught up with Rainey to learn more about his background and his work on O Monsters First Draft.

FringeArts: Were you raised in a musical household?

Bhob Rainey: Not really. My dad is something of an aficionado of certain music, mostly blues and jazz, but I don’t recall him sharing a lot of that when I was young. My mom would often play one side of a Barbara Streisand record followed by a side of Barry Manilow. No one in the family really knew what it was like to be a musician. It is very much to their credit that they didn’t disown me when I decided to go the music route. I got to know a lot of music through endangered species like radio, record stores, and libraries. I was usually attracted to things that seemed to push boundaries, though it took a while for my idea of boundaries to grow large enough to be interesting. In truth, so much of the richness of my musical experience as a kid came from going to a public school with a good music program. It’s unforgivable how much of that has been taken away.

bhob-non-event

Rainey at work.

FringeArts: Growing up in Philadelphia, were you involved with any of the city’s music scenes?

Bhob Rainey: I didn’t get involved with any significant music scene in Philadelphia until the mid-90s. This was the jazz scene in ’94–’95. The scene was generationally and racially diverse, so there was a lot of sacred knowledge being passed around. I grew a lot from the experience and am deeply appreciative of the musicians I played with. You had a few downtown clubs like Zanzibar Blue and the Blue Moon, plus the old Ortlieb’s and some more neighborhood-y clubs like Natalie’s in West Philly. I played with Orrin Evans, Edgar Bateman, Mike Boone, Byron Landham, Duane Eubanks, Mickey Roker, and some other scene heavyweights like Bootsy Barnes and Larry McKenna. Byard Lancaster was helpful to me early on, introducing me to other players like Lucky Thompson and being generally—and somewhat aggressively—supportive. I don’t think I ever thanked him to the degree I would have liked, and I regret that now. I was playing out most nights of the week, and I loved it. But it ultimately wasn’t my voice. It was a voice I had learned and enjoyed using. It was a tradition for which I had and still have a deep respect. But I had something else that I needed to do, and that’s when I left for Boston.

Read More

World Premieres and World-Class Music: Spring at FringeArts Pt.2

Posted March 31st, 2016

Last week we previewed some of the exciting things that are happening here at FringeArts in the next two months—the first half of our spring season—but believe it or not there’s more to look forward to. Believe it!

paula-court-1-extralarge_1279140200752

Rhys Chatham (Photo by Paula Court)

Late May sees two separate performances from near-mythical figures of modern music, both presented in partnership with Philadelphia’s Ars Nova Workshop. First up is the Rhys Chatham-Tim Dahl-Kevin Shea Trio. Chatham is a composer and performer from New York City who cut his teeth in the music world as a piano tuner for minimalist icon La Monte Young before performing in various groups. His work has always been indebted to his avant-garde forebears, but he was also heavily influenced by the emerging punk rock scene in the late ’70s. He in turn influenced musicians whose work would soon be pegged as No Wave through seminal works like Guitar Trio and his time as the first music director of the legendary lower Manhattan art space The Kitchen. Since the early 2000s he’s settled in Paris and has been composing works for three to 400 guitars, as well as a host of other instruments.

Tim Dahl is an accomplished electric and double bass player, vocalist, keyboardist, and composer best known as the bass player and co-composer of the noise-rock band Child Abuse and Lydia Lunch’s Retrovirus. He’s performed with a legion of legendary of musicians, including Yusef Lateef, Archie Shepp, Eugene Chadbourne, Tatsuya Yoshida, John Zorn, and Marc Ribot. Kevin Shea, who has been dubbed “the best drummer in New York” by The Village Voice, is a member of the acclaimed avant-garde jazz quartet Mostly Other People Do the Killing. He’s been in numerous other groups and collaborates frequently, compiling a resume that, much like Dahl, reads as a who’s who of forward-thinking music greats. Catch these three powerhouse musicians on May 24 as they delve into and distort the post-punk instrumental. (info/tickets)

pbhll

Brötzmann and Leigh

You would be wise to return the following night for a performance from two musicians with a masterful talent for improvisation, taking the stage with their seldom-paired instruments of choice. Peter Brötzmann and Heather Leigh are bringing their tenor saxophone and pedal steel guitar, respectively, May 25. The two have been touring together  to much acclaim, with one reviewer for London Jazz News commenting, “Their 90 minute set at Café Oto was remarkable for the flux of the structures that defined the emerging musical forms and for the intuitive daring with which both musicians imprinted their presence on the dialogue.”

Brötzmann, a painter by trade, is a giant of European free jazz, and avant-garde jazz and free improvisation in general. His legendary second album, Machine Gun, remains a ferocious and imposing work and stands as a document of the formation of the European free improvisation scene. He’s led numerous influential recordings and served as a member of such blistering groups as Last Exit and Die Like a Dog. Leigh is a Houston-bred coal miner’s daughter based in Glasgow who wields the pedal steel guitar like no one else. With echoes of American folk traditions, avant-garde jazz, and the furthest extremes of noise experimentation present, she renders her instrument’s voice into expressive wails and lilts that belie its oft-typecast laid back country image. Her latest album, 2015’s I Abused Animal, received universal acclaim and landed on many critics’ and artists’ year-end best lists. This rare live collaboration is not to be missed by any adventurous music listener. (info/tickets)

Read More

The Riot of Spring

Posted March 29th, 2016

Everyone loves a good scandal and the riotous 1913 premiere of The Rite of Spring was easily one of the biggest in the history of twentieth century art. The orchestral-choreographic work—­a collaboration between composer Igor Stravinsky, choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky, and Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes—portrays rituals of pagan Russia. Though its structure is episodic, the work as a whole is unified around, as Stravinsky put it, “the mystery and great surge of the creative power of Spring.” Perhaps spurred by the avant-garde nature of the music—with its dissonance and pulsing rhythm—or the shocking choreography—eschewing ballet’s expected gracefulness for sharp, jerky movements—the audience quickly began laughing, shouting, scuffling among each other, and hurling objects at the orchestra. The performance forged on despite it all and the furor eventually died down. Initial reviews were mixed.
Below, check out a 1989 recording of a performance from the Joffrey Ballet with Nijinsky’s choreography left fully intact.

This Friday April 1, Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret returns to FringeArts for a performance dubbed Rite of Spring. Will there be a riot down here at the waterfront?