Archive for the ‘Philly arts and culture’ Category

Live and in Technicolor

Posted April 14th, 2016

As a kid there was something truly sublime about a black light. With just the flick of a switch an entire space and everything it contained could be altered. Mundane dressings disappeared in the absence of visible light as new, previously imperceptible shapes and patterns emerged. What was in reality just a dingy warehouse could be transformed into a fantastical landscape full of colors that brimmed with vivacity, setting the imagination ablaze. It inspired the kind of wonder you look back on with envy as an adult. Yet such wistful recollections lead me to wonder, why can’t that same sense of awe still be tapped? My threshold for awe might (might) be a bit higher than it was when I was ten, but surely some spectacle of ultra-violet artistry is still capable of surpassing it.

archedream in technicolorThis weekend we will all have a chance to marvel at such a work of black light performance art, as ArcheDream for Humankind brings their latest show, ArcheDream in Technicolor, to the Shiloh Baptist Church April 15-17. An exploration of the color wheel under the glow of ultra-violet light, the performance strives to expose inner and outer landscapes and archetypal emotions one color at a time.

Since 2000, ArcheDream—a Philadelphia based non-profit performance troupe—has been combining elements of theater, dance, puppetry, and visual art to create remarkable shows for all ages. Born from the vision of South African artist Alan Bell, the company was founded out of his desire to unify divided audiences in an ecstasy of wonder. Inspired by traditions of mask theater and the form’s ability to convey stories and unifying truths in fantastical ways, ArcheDream mixes dazzling art direction, whimsical choreography, and archetypal tales inspired by universal thoughts, ideas, and emotions to reach audiences the world over.

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Back to School with the Fringe Festival

Posted April 11th, 2016

Kimberly Dickstein is a high school English teacher at Haddonfield Memorial High School in Haddonfield, New Jersey. In her seven years of teaching English language and literature, she has developed a rigorous and engaging Shakespeare program of study. This year, she blew her Shakespeare class wide open thanks to one crazy show she saw at the Fringe Festival.


John Bellomo and Brendon Gawel from the Ombelico Mask Ensemble

Kimberly, also a member of FringeAxis (aka The Young Friends of FringeArts), is dedicated to seeing as many shows as she can each Fringe Festival. She spends every weekend in September at the Festival and averages five to seven shows each year—an impressive feat for a teacher at the beginning of the school year. “When I get the Fringe program, I do my best to see any Shakespeare or classics that might inform my teaching,” she says. With this goal in mind, she came upon Like a Bat Out of Hades by the Ombelico Mask Ensemble. This 2015 Fringe Festival performance fused the improvisational style of commedia dell’arte with traditional Italian puppetry to create a comic interpretation of the Greek tragedy Alcestis by Euripides. After seeing “ridiculous reimagining” of a tragic story of love and sacrifice, Kimberly worked with Brendon Gawel, one of Ombelico’s artistic directors, to bring the show to her school last October as part of her Greek Drama curriculum. For many of her students, this was their first experience seeing a professional production of any kind, let alone a Fringe performance. With Ombelico’s love for reinterpreting classic works in commedia dell’arte, she saw potential to continue this collaboration as she transitioned into her Shakespeare class in the spring semester.

Kimmie D

Kimberly Dickstein directs her students on Commedia Day

While many high school English classes study Shakespeare by simply reading Romeo and Juliet and deciphering its lofty language, Kimberly designs her curriculum around which Shakespeare plays are being performed in the greater Philadelphia area, making the course truly “page-to-stage.” In a stroke of serendipity, she had arranged the course so that her students would begin the semester studying Hamlet—the exact play that the Ombelico Mask Ensemble was in the midst of adapting for the 2016 Fringe Festival. Together, they decided to host a program on February 25th, recognized internationally as Commedia dell’Arte Day, in which the Shakespeare students would pitch their comic adaptation of Hamlet to Ombelico.

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FringeArts Flash Debates

Posted April 5th, 2016

This Saturday, April 9, Team Sunshine Performance Corp and Jacob Winterstein are convening The Society of Civil Discourse at FringeArts. All are welcome to join the Society and get in on the fun of hating on, loving, philosophizing about, and debating things that don’t matter. This night is about bullshitting your way to the top. In order to warm up our argumentative sides we decided to have a brief series of lightning debates with members of our staff on a handful of highly contested trivialities: baby carrots, winking, and hoverboards. Below, you’ll find their cases for or against their topic. Though these may not be their true opinions on these hot button issues, it’s clear they’ll be ready to square off against anyone looking to argue come Saturday night. Will you be ready?

Debate #1:


Pro: Dan, Marketing Director

Winking is a primary form of human communication and we should no sooner oppose it than other more questionable forms, like G-chatting with the coworker beside you or YouTube comments. As humans we are from time to time reminded of the acute inadequacy of words to express true meaning. Under emotion’s influence—love, disgust, surprise, fear—our faces say more and say it better than whatever clumsy collection of syllables we could possibly muster. In addition, the adaptation of the wink into popular emoticons and emojis is evidence that, as technology replaces human interaction with a digital screen, the wink is needed now more than ever.

Against: Meg, Venue and Patron Services Director

Winking: Secretive, inconclusive, cheeky. What does a wink even mean? Are you flirting? Are you suggesting an inside joke? Are you inferring that there is an unspoken agreement between us? Maybe you’re just somebody that winks a lot and there is no actual message. Either way, winking is a vague and inconsistent form of nonverbal communication. 99.9% of winking results in unclear messaging. Furthermore, it cannot ever be universally embraced, as a wide and diverse segment of the human population (up to 12%!) does not have the facial muscular capabilities to wink. It’s blinking or nothing—no one eye isolation. For that reason, winking is an exclusive nonverbal communicator, and imperfect. If a wink requires a returned wink in order to complete the exchange, there is a nearly 1 in 10 possibility that the recipient of the initial wink simply cannot return said wink. For this reason, I strongly argue against winking.

Debate #2:

Baby Carrots

Pro: Constance, Marketing Intern

Here’s the problem. When you want a snack, you want to be healthy, but there’s always things like chips and cookies that get in the way. That’s why there’s baby carrots. They’re nature’s chips. You get that same satisfying crunch but without the trouble of washing all that cheese dust off your fingers. They’re simple, they’re cheap, and they’re easy to carry around, unlike their full-sized carrot parents with that annoying tuft of inedible greenery on top. And, if people see you choosing that healthy snack option, it’s so much easier to trick people into thinking you have your shit together. When everything else in your life looks like it’s falling apart, at least you’ll have a win if you choose baby carrots.

Against: Anna, Marketing Coordinator

A startling fact: There’s no such thing as a baby carrot. Baby carrots are created by the plastic surgery of ADULT carrots that were JUST FINE. Baby Carrots are the status quo and the fetishization of youth vegetableified. Baby carrots represent everything wrong with society. Instead of dipping normal, healthy, curvy carrots that are beautiful just the way they are we strip them down and cut them shorter so they all look the same. Not everything is easy to hold, chew, or fit in a snack sized Ziplock bag and that’s OK. We should be empowering our carrots and ourselves to be diverse not homogenous and slimy.

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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!


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)


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)

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Homegrown Art Is in Bloom: Spring at FringeArts, Pt.1

Posted March 24th, 2016

Ah, spring has sprung once again! Or is about to. Or already did. Oh, you didn’t get the memo? It’s winter again! Wait, never mind, it is spring. But maybe don’t get too comfortable in those jorts. Even though we can’t seem to rely on nature to be on schedule these days, you can rest assured that FringeArts will be. We’ve got an incredible spring season packed with some of Philadelphia’s most lauded, boundary-pushing artists, as well as notable guests from out of town. Here’s what’s going down at our waterfront headquarters from April to June.

Coming April 9 is a show for all the talkers, drunk debaters, sidewalk weather reporters, water cooler pundits, backseat philosophers, pseudo intellectuals, haters, hype-men, chatter boxes, gossips, and even the silent types. The Society of Civil Discourse, a co-production between Team Sunshine Performance Corp and The Philly Pigeon/Jacob Winterstein, is looking for new members and thinks you’d be a perfect candidate, whoever you are (info/tickets).

SCD-183The evening plays out in three phases. During phase one the proceedings and rules of participation are laid out and all attendees are inducted into the Society. Phase two asks Society members to voice their opinions at three designated stations: a “hater” station, an “appreciation” station, and a “mini-debate” station. Once everyone’s oratorical muscles are warmed up we enter phase three. Participants become audience for The Great Debate, where two teams—made up of professionals and a few recruited audience members—debate on an audience-selected topic. If you’re someone who enjoys passionately debating pointless topics you don’t understand or care about, you’re going to want to grab a ticket quick for this “celebration of truth-stretchers, fabricators and pseudo-intellectuals in all their misinformed glory,” as a writer for City Paper so aptly summed it up.

luisgaray.hotglue.meNext up is Maneries, our first international offering of the season from Colombian-born Argentina-based choreographer Luis Garay. A solo created specifically for and in collaboration with dancer Florencia Vecino, the show positions the body as a cipher of linguistic material. Working with iconic symbols, Vecino takes on the difficult task of embodying a universal catalogue of gestures, pictures, poses, and sculptures, utilizing her body to represent all bodies, a vessel for all manner of possible meanings, perceptions, and experiences. Garay equates her performance, the manner in which she mixes these images live, to that of a DJ, asserting, “The structure of the piece is very rigid, but at the same time it allows [the performance] to be changed every time. Maneries is also about imagination and the bodily production of imagination.”

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Get to Know Show No Show’s Gabrielle Revlock and Sasha Frolov

Posted March 22nd, 2016

This weekend marks the premiere of Show No Show, a duet created and performed by Philadelphia native Gabrielle Revlock and Russian-based Aleksandr (or Sasha) Frolov. The pair began developing the piece during a 2014 residency at the Omi International Arts Center where they first met, and fittingly it follows two characters as they get to know each other. Speaking to FringeArts, Revlock noted that the two did not strike an immediate connection in their initial exercise together. As she puts it, “It was super awkward and did not go well and so I thought okay, tried that, didn’t work, no chemistry, moving on.” Thankfully the two had another chance to work together before the residency ended and something clicked: “We found a really good chemistry and share a sense of humor. I guess that’s why it continued.”

Show No Show 2533

Photo by Hallie Martenson

These notions of chemistry and humor are central to Show No Show. This is not a mannerly, polite meeting of two strangers, maybe sharing a cup of coffee and talking about the latest Netflix show or that hip restaurant that sells $10 ramen. This is, as described on both artists’ websites, “a truth or dare using a peach, a megaphone, two chairs, and a white tablecloth.” The work charts the process of two people really getting to know each other; all the awkwardness, vulnerability, cruelty, and tenderness—and not many boundaries to boot. Unpredictable and entrancing, they use each other and the space to mine the complexities of opening oneself up to another, laying bare the hilarious, maddening, and heartbreaking feelings that come with it. Without the chemistry and comedic sensibilities Revlock and Frolov share, such powerful notions would likely be lost on most viewers, but in their capable hands it’s strikingly palpable.

Seeing as we’ll soon be witnessing Revlock and Frolov getting to know each other onstage, why don’t we all get better acquainted with the individuals? Below you’ll find a brief sampling of works these startlingly accomplished dance artists have produced. Undoubtedly there are many great things to come from both, and Show No Show is one of them. Be sure to catch it March 24-26.

Gabrielle Revlock

On her website Revlock describes her body of work as, “Projects [that] blur the line between living and performing… Imaginative and sincere, the works invite the viewer in and are intended to evoke emotional reaction and stimulate intellectual exploration. Speckled with humor and surprise, they also entertain.” While this is a pretty apt summation of her body of work—and is particularly tangible in Show No Show—it only hints at the breadth of her always surprising, genre-defying work. Here are a few recent highlights.

So You Think You Can’t Understand Contemporary Dance?

Revlock often addresses and plays with the belief that contemporary dance is inaccessible in her work and in this film commissioned by thINKingDANCE she attacks that fallacy head on. Born from her interest “in bridging experimentation and populism,” she provides a short, sweet contemporary dance primer with the help of her favorite 5 year old. The short has been translated into Italian, Swedish, Polish, Hungarian, and Russian (more on that last one later).

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The Walk Is the Work: An Interview with Ann de Forest, Adrienne Mackey, JJ Tiziou, and Sam Wend

Posted March 18th, 2016

A city is such a massive concept to wrap your head around. You can spend your whole life in one and still end up lost when you’re no more than a few miles from home. Time spent in one place does not directly translate into knowledge of it. As the demands of work, family, and home life all begin to accumulate it’s easy to lose sight of the possibilities that may be no more than a twenty minute stroll away. Walking is undoubtedly the best means we have to fully absorb our surroundings, but only if proper attention is paid. Thankfully there are people here in Philadelphia willing to go the distance and remain present.


The crew piled into a rusted-out car down the hill beside the Cobbs Creek woods trail (Photo credit: Sam Wend)

Swim Pony Performing Art’s Cross Pollination project is an interdisciplinary residency program funded by the Knight Foundation that brings together artists practicing different disciplines, whose creative paths would likely never cross, to investigate new methods of collaboration and artistic process. Theater artist Adrienne Mackey, Swim Pony’s founder, launched the program as a means of extending her company to reach new disciplines. Without the pressure of a pre-defined outcome, participants have the freedom to learn from each other and unlock new approaches to creating and thinking about art. Since it began in 2014, the program has paired artists from all manner of backgrounds and disciplines yielding remarkable results, the influences of which continue to reverberate in many of the participants’ subsequent work.

During the last weeks of February, writer Ann de Forest and photographer Jacques-Jean Tiziou—both drawn to Cross pollination as a means of breaking from their familiar artistic routines—along with Mackey and Swim Pony’s artistic associate Sam Wend, embarked on a project dubbed Walk Around Philadelphia. The name is literal. This group of intrepid artists followed the entire border of the city of Philadelphia completely on foot in what ended up being just over a 100-mile pilgrimage. On ApriI 27 they will be sharing stories and lessons learned from their journey at the Philadelphia History Museum. The event is free but space is limited, so RSVP here while you can. In the meantime, we reached out to the exhausted but inspired quartet to learn more about the project and experience.

FringeArts: What shared interests or ideas led to the inception of Walk Around Philadelphia?

Adrienne Mackey: We met several times before our official start of the week residency. Themes that came up were the identity as a Philadelphia artists, our sense of the city and the people within it, as well as how we personally moved through the city in our artistic processes. We had talked about the potential of something that blended the idea of process and product – creating an exploration that was as much about the journey as a particular end goal.

Ann de Forest: We all were interested in maps and mapping, as a means of defining space, of guiding people through a geographical territory, but also were intrigued by the questions maps raise. Are boundaries and borders arbitrary lines that divide people, that foster a sense of inclusion/exclusion? Another theme we discussed was “margins,” which led to us deciding to experience the city from a different perspective, not focusing on the center, but exploring what happens at the margins or edges.


A brief walk along the Fox Chase rail line, which forms a small section of the border (Photo credit: Adachi Pimentel)

JJ Tiziou: Ann and I talked about trading roles, setting up creative prompts and games, and discussed interests ranging from interfaith dialogue to mass incarceration to community interviews. But we kept on coming back to ideas of maps, neighborhoods, borders, boundaries, journeys, pilgrimages, and processions.

Sam Wend: The idea of walking continued to resonate, as did the focus on margins and interviewing people along them. Then JJ found a rough cycling route around the circumference of the city (which clocked in at a lowly 64 miles due to its compensation for accessibility), and the idea of Walk Around Philadelphia was born: it felt like the perfect combination of walking and exploring margins, with the opportunity to use meals and various stopping points as places to reflect and re-engage with people, all in all a great way to explore all of the many topics we’d been thinking about.

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With Retroact, Tangle Remixes Its Repertoire

Posted March 14th, 2016

Nostalgia is big business. It sells ad space during blocks of reruns on late-night television. It pushes drinks on club theme nights where people only want to dance to The Cure, Joy Division or Bauhaus. It’s probably mentioned multiple times in half the job descriptions at Buzzfeed. These days it’s easy to get cynical about nostalgia’s all-pervasive influence. It’s a tool that’s easily exploited, turning it from something pleasurable and personal to a hollow cash in on our shared recollections. But then there are those much welcome instances that remind you looking back can be a means of celebration, of reaffirming identity, of sharing something that remains relevant with those who missed it the first time around. Tangle Movement Arts, Philadelphia’s all-female circus arts theater company, is just about due for some of this nostalgia and this weekend they will have it. Their latest show RetroAct, a circus-theater remix of the most exciting moments from their oeuvre of aerial dance theater, comes to Christ Church Neighborhood House from March 17–19 and should not be missed.

Tangle - RetroAct 2

Photo by Michael Ermilio

Since 2011 Tangle and its ten woman company of artists and collaborators has brought multidisciplinary, multidimensional storytelling with an emphasis on queer and female experience to spaces high above any other stage in the city. Mixing traditional circus arts like trapeze and acrobatics with elements of dance, theater, and live music, Tangle tells their stories in a manner few could ever dream of imitating. “We believe that circus arts can be a powerful tool for challenging assumptions about what bodies should look like and what they can do – from floating upside-down, to subverting gender roles,” poet and performer Lauren Rile Smith, Tangle’s founder, recently told FringeArts. “Circus arts is a context in which women build muscle, men move gracefully, partners lift each other into the air, and everybody can defy gravity.”

Taking its name from the possibilities that arise when things get complicated, Tangle has produced ten full length shows, five of which enjoyed successful runs as part of the last five Fringe Festivals, and numerous pop-up projects along the way. Each highlights women’s strength and queer stories while rendering complex, oft-unspoken ideas into remarkable physical feats. The Girl’s Guide to Neighborly Conduct, which premiered at the 2015 Fringe Festival, followed six longtime housemates whose lives are quietly upturned following the arrival of a new neighbor. You Don’t Say took a dinner party setting and subverted the expected smatterings of small talk and flirtation by translating them into acrobatic explorations. Timelines looked to the past, present, and future to examine notions of time and the female body through a series of pieces that included a daydreaming 1950s office secretary, vaudevillians, and the evolution of life on earth.

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Revisiting the Cantina: Drunk Lion Returns to Philadelphia

Posted March 3rd, 2016

This Sunday Philadelphia-based writer and performer Chris Davis will remount his acclaimed solo show Drunk Lion at Tattooed Mom for a limited two night run, Sunday March 6 and Thursday March 10 [UPDATE: For those who missed it, two additional shows have been scheduled for April 12 and April 14!]. First staged back in 2012 as part of the experimental, solo performance-based SoLow Festival—which Davis serves as a coordinator for—it has since seen productions in New York, Connecticut, Louisiana, and, most recently, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival back in 2014, where a reviewer for TV Bomb gave it five stars (er, bombs), praising it as “imaginative, free-flowing story-telling of very high quality.”

In a way the play encapsulates Davis’ experiences living in the small town of Chiapas de Corzo, Mexico through the meeting of a Spanish deficient Davis and an intoxicated, sombrero-clad king of the beasts, as they converse and drink together in a cantina. Back in 2012 we interviewed Davis about the show just before its first performance. You can find that interview here. Considering the show’s success since and Davis’ continued development as one of this city’s most exciting and unpredictable solo performers, we decided to reach out again to get his current perspective on the play and learn a bit more about its background.

FringeArts: What spurred you to revive Drunk Lion?

Chris Davis: I love to revive shows. And Sunday, March 6th, is my birthday, so it’s a present to myself. Thursday, March 10th, is not my birthday, but Tattooed Mom’s offered me two shows and it’s my favorite bar in Philadelphia besides Quig’s.

FA: This was the first play you wrote and performed in. Back in 2012 you noted how you’d been avoiding combining those pursuits, but felt it was time to flip the script, so to speak, and merge the two. Since then you’ve toured two additional successful solo shows, Violence of the Lambs and Bortle 8. What about your experience with Drunk Lion encouraged you to keep exploring self-penned solo work?

CD: Drunk Lion started as a very difficult experience. I had no idea what I was doing. It was too long and I sweated profusely during the show. It gave me anxiety. But I kept doing it and each time I learned more about the play and what I was trying to say. Somewhere along the way I became comfortable with the idea of being a ‘solo-performer.’ I like solo-work for concrete reasons: the autonomy it gives me, the flexibility of schedules, and the ability to travel. There are many abstract reasons, too many really. Ultimately, I love to entertain.

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I Went to FringeArts and All I Got Was Pegged

Posted February 18th, 2016

What are your plans for this Friday?
If you answered anything other than getting pegged, you’re wrong.

Oh wait, sorry, I meant Get Pegged Cabaret. Though, by all means, feel free to get pegged too. Just make sure you do it after FringeArts’ newest, naughtiest addition to its late night programming.

Hosted and co-curated by John Jarboe, an accomplished Philadelphia actor and founder/artistic director of The Bearded Ladies Cabaret, Get Pegged is poised to make the La Peg stage Philadelphia’s home for raunchy, taboo-busting, transgressive performance. And don’t expect to simply sit back and passively enjoy the ride, by the way. Jarboe cites cabaret’s prioritization of the artist/audience relationship as his biggest impetus for exploring the form’s possibilities. “Cabaret, good cabaret that really forces the whole audience to be there with each other and the performer is radical nowadays,” he recently told FringeArts. While that absence of engaging cabaret is a real shame, like a hole in the landscape of contemporary performance, expect Get Pegged to plug that hole. If you need further evidence, let’s get acquainted with the performers of the series’ inaugural bash.

A keyboardist and the in house music director/composer for the Bearded Ladies, Heath Allen has made a name for himself as one of the city’s most versatile composers and bandleaders. He remains one of area’s best kept musical secrets, with even Fresh Air host Terry Gross asserting, “Most cities have composers and musicians who are extremely talented yet are unknown outside that city. One of those composers in my city, Philadelphia, is Heath Allen.” Recently, he helped compose the music for Andy: A Popera, and collaboration between The Bearded Ladies and Opera Philadelphia.

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Winter at FringeArts lights up the waterfront

Posted January 13th, 2016

Communications Intern Hugh Wilikofsky shares his comprehensive guide to the FringeArts Winter season.


As we gear up for our first show of 2016, we at FringeArts simply cannot contain our excitement over our entire upcoming winter season. Literally. It is tearing us all apart. We’ve been screaming about it at the top of our lungs for some time now and the neighbors hate us. This excitement needs an outlet. So, I am going to do my professional duty and alleviate at least a little bit of that need by clueing you all in to the future goings-on here by the waterfront.


Photograph: Moon So Young

First up, showing January 21-23 is Toshiki Okada’s latest play God Bless Baseball. A collaboration between Japanese and South Korean actors, the play follows two girls as they attempt to comprehend their countries’ favorite pastime with the help of a man who understands the game but despises it, and another who thinks he’s Japanese baseball star Ichiro Suzuki. However, despite the men’s best efforts, the girls continually frustrate their explanations, slowly teasing out just how deeply rooted the game is in the everyday life of Japanese and South Korean people.

Though most contemporary Japanese theater rarely makes it outside of the country (as far as I know, though I’d be happy to be wrong on that one), since 2009 Okada’s work has received regular productions here in the US. His oeuvre is said to represent Japan’s “lost generation,” the group most affected by the Japanese recession of the 1990s and this is perhaps part of why he has found an audience here, in the wake of our own Great Recession. Characterized by the idiosyncratic vernacular of Japanese twentysomethings, his vérité writing style is in some ways akin to that of renowned American playwright Annie Baker, but his use of disjointed and abstract choreography based on exaggerations of everyday gestures imbues his works with a quirk all his own. On top of the Philadelphia premiere of God Bless Baseball, FringeArts will also be hosting a reading of Okada’s The Sonic Life of a Giant Tortoise directed by Pig Iron Theater Company artistic director Dan Rothenberg on January 18.

Escuela, La Dirección y dramaturgia está a cargo de Miguel Calderón, se presentará en la sala N° 2 del teatro de la Universidad Católica a las 22 horas, en el marco del Festival Internacional Santiago a Mil. En Santiago; 20/01/2013 FOTÓGRAFO: * VALENTINO SALDIVAR*

Photograph:  Valentino Saldivar

Next up, showing January 28-30 is Chilean playwright/director Guillermo Calderón’s latest play Escuela. Set in Chile in the late 1980s, amid the tumultuous transition between the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and the dubiously regarded democracy that followed, a group of left-wing university students receive secret paramilitary training in the living room of a fellow dissident. Hiding their identities with hoods to ensure none of them can betray their revolutionary comrades, these intellectuals awkwardly learn skills essential to guerilla warfare, such as proper crawling and rifle cleaning methods, in the hopes of overturning a corrupt regime, all while grappling with the chilling realities of staging a violent insurgency.Calderón has made a name for himself with plays grounded in times of violent turmoil and political upheaval, using dangerous and unstable settings as a jumping off point for larger universal themes, and Escuela sits well within this established style while taking it somewhere new. Instead of the surrounding violence haunting the onstage proceedings, as it did in Calderón’s first play Neva, it is brought to the forefront in Escuela as we watch its characters preparing to engage with it. In an interview with FringeArts, regarding the political implications of his new work Calderón asserted, “Politics is a combination of emotions and rationality, and that is what Escuela tries to convey and push to its limit.”

Kicking off February is a multimedia performance from composer Daniel Wohl, who previously graced the FringeArts stage last year with a multi media performance of his album Corps Exquis. This time around the Paris-born composer will be presenting his latest full-length album, Holographic, accompanied by an excellent line up of musicians and video art projections from LA-based artist Daniel Schwarz.

Wohl has garnered acclaim for works in which the acoustic and electronic blend into each other: a resonating snare drum becomes a low unnerving drone, percussion and electronic noise crash into a joyous cacophony, and synthetic pulsations elevate the steady bowing of strings to a higher plane. The result is immersive, slyly disorienting music that seeks to close the gap between the chamber groups of concert halls and academia , and electronic experimentalists pushing sonic boundaries in basements and warehouses. This is a one night only event, so mark your calendar for February 5.

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Mr. Darby Goes to New York: Double Time, All The Time

Posted July 7th, 2015

langston actingLangston Darby is continuously working. “Double time. All the time,” Darby comments as we recently talked on the phone one afternoon. Born in Laurel, Mississippi, Darby is an actor based in Philadelphia. This September, after completing an apprenticeship at the Walnut Street Theatre and growing into one of the strongest actors in the Philadelphia theater scene, he is departing for the Atlantic Acting School in New York on a full scholarship. “The Atlantic Acting School is tailor made for what I was looking for.”

Langston photoThe decision to venture to New York was a difficult one. At first, Darby expresses his anxieties about the full-time conservatory program. He asks, “How much will this sustain me after?” As our conversation continues, however, Darby reveals his sadness for leaving Philadelphia. “It’s a dagger in the heart,” Darby remarks as his describes the close relationships, personal and professional, he has gained over the past five years. Philadelphia has become Darby’s supportive web. After finishing his apprenticeship at the Walnut Street Theatre, Darby was offered a position teaching acting to children. “No matter the profession, everyone who teaches their craft for the first time talks about how they have to reconsider everything that they’re doing to make someone else understand. Teaching acting has made a lot of my work much more specific,” Darby says as he talks about his growth through teaching. Darby has also began comedy improv through ComedySportz Philadelphia. Improv has influenced the young actor to take acting risks. “I realized how even my scripted work could benefit from me letting go more and really focusing on what is going on around me moment-to-moment. Not only do I listen better, I now have a sense that my next line adds to the scene.” The opportunities in Philadelphia, from picking up improv techniques with ComedySportz Philadelphia and later Bright Invention to teaching to struggling with Uncle Tom’s Cabin: An Unfortunate History, have contributed to Darby’s larger growth.

“Philly taught me that you don’t need to be in LA, that you don’t need to be in New York.” After a successful last season full of tremendous opportunities, Darby fears that he is leaving at a vital time in his career. While he is upset to leave, he believes more training in New York is the next step in his path.

Langston 2The Atlantic Acting School’s Full-Time Conservatory is offering two full scholarships for the first time. Darby will be attending the Atlantic Acting School on one of these scholarships. He had determined that he did not want an MFA, but instead was attracted to the rigorous training from actors and actresses within the industry, that the Atlantic Acting School offered. “Now that I am at this stage, I can take more ownership over the things I want to learn,” Darby mentions. He is interested in the school’s primary acting technique, Practical Aesthetics. First encountering Practical Aesthetics in A Practical Handbook for the Actor, and gravitating toward the technique’s concrete and literal essence, he will apprentice himself to the technique for the next two and a half years. Beyond Practical Aesthetics, Darby also strives to “fill in the gaps of my training.” Darby is drawn to the multilayered aspects of theater, such as voice-over, television, movies, and dancing. He says, “I am going to take advantage of every morsel of information.”

Darby has started a campaign to raise money and support for his upcoming experience. While Darby is receiving a scholarship, New York is still expensive. “Why should I receive any support?” Darby initially questions as we talk about his fundraiser. The hard working actor constantly considers his privilege and opportunities, however, as our conversation goes on, his perspective shifts. He shares, “I should not need to feel guilty for gaining resources.” Similar to the way theater companies raise money for new projects, Darby started this fundraiser to gather help from his surrounding communities to fund his upcoming endeavor. Instead of feeling guilty about asking for help, Darby has begun to embrace his campaign. “I’m going to ask for what I want.” 

After unpacking his larger anxieties about leaving Philadelphia at a time when he is rapidly growing, Darby has one last anxiety: the potentially long and unfamiliar commute.

You can learn all about Langston’s work on www.langstondarby.com. If you’d like to give to his Indiegogo fundraising campaign, go to: life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/support-langston-s-big-step.

–Courtney Lau

Supper, People on the Move: The Physicality of Migration

Posted June 15th, 2015

img_9727Supper, People on the Move reveals the traces of migration on the body. For the show, choreographer, Silvana Cardell and her dancers have been exploring the layered and physical experiences of immigration. Cardell inspirations include works of 15th century and post-modernist art. “The Last Supper has a strong emotional component: all the subjects—even though they are celebrating a ritualistic dinner, Passover—are placed in twisted and bent ways which expresses an awareness about the turn that their lives are about to take,” says Cardwell. She is also drawn to more recent artworks and stated, “Then the rest of the title: People on the Move was inspired in Porter Series by artist William Kentridge; one of the sections that I call “balance” is inspired by these paintings that have human silhouettes carved into a map, silhouettes of people travelling—they are on the move, carrying everything they have on their bodies.”

img_9755Silhouettes are black. They allude to unclear, shifting, or hollow identities. Cardell refers to her identity and the notion of “in between.” She explains, “In between places, cultures, languages. Constantly translating thoughts in both languages, dreaming in English, speaking Spanish, thinking in Spanish and speaking English. In between is the overlap, where many people live.” In 2002, Cardell moved to Philadelphia to gain her masters in choreography at Temple University and to avoid political turmoil in Argentina. While she originally planned on returning home after school, she remained in the US. The transition between homes was marked by two cultures, conflicting sensations, and physical suffering. Cardell sums up her duel experiences, “Even though we arrived to the US with a university fellowship and work offers, we had financially lost many resources, and relocating the family was hard. Even though I am grateful for all my new friends, my kids’ great education, and the many professional opportunities Pablo and I have had, we paid a big price for them, financially and emotionally. Once more I feel in between being grateful for the cultural immersion and regret for all our losses.”

supper_bw_img_94701Cardell has since embraced her identity grounded in transition. “Supper is a return to myself, to the beginning, to my core. Supper starts with my own my departure; I am now ready, after many moves, to live with my decisions. I am examining the impulse to move away—changing culture, language, territory—as a search.” Instead of longing for a community she has left behind or feeling frustration for the one she has entered, she celebrates the space where seemingly distant cultures touch. She says, “In transit, in between, that is how I felt for years. I have to admit that perhaps that was an interesting practice for me, it taught me to be in the moment. I find that the best response in dance and performance is when you are alert, in the moment, ready to go. For me it has been living in the overlap of culture and places. After a while you became a dual citizen, you are able to navigate comfortably both cultures, there is certain richness about that experience.” Cardell copes with the transition between places by locating home. Her dance performances have shown us that home is within the physical body. “Immigration and moving is a constant search and recreation of home: Home is an endless space where place, family, relationships, and endless memories collide. Right now, my home and country are my body, where many experiences collide.”

Immigration is a physical transition as much as a mental one. Cardell described the dancing in Supper, People on the Move and said, “The goal is to expose noisy departures, bumpy beginnings, bodies exhausted by gravity pulls, contorted balances and extended suspensions in the nether world of being other.” Cardell’s movement concentrates on physical reactions of the body as they switch environments and the objects, like legal papers, that clutter the immigration process. Her dancers recreate the strenuous physicality of moving and each performer houses a different immigration story within their body.

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Almanac Presents Leaps of Faith and Other Mistakes

Posted June 8th, 2015

“We want audiences to be engaged in every moment, but we also want them to feel like anything can happen at any moment.” 

JennaSpitz-1What happens when we trust too much? Come see Leaps of Faith and Other Mistakes to find out.

Philadelphia’s Almanac Dance Circus Theatre brings Leaps of Faith and Other Mistakes to the ecclesiastical confines of the Sanctuary Space at Fleisher Art Memorial, June 24–28. This is the company’s second full-length undertaking, after last year’s Communitas. Almanac is the resident company at the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts and are artists-in-residence and Mascher Space Cooperative. Early stages of the show began with a residency in Montreal with Cirque du Soleil’s Jerome Le Baut and Cirque Eloize’s Robert Bourgeoisie.

Mixing acrobatics, theater, circus, dance, and music, Leaps and Faith and Other Mistakes tells the story of four hobbyists who form an isolationist seafarer cult. Through powerful levels of trust, exceptional acrobatics, and the help of their trusty sofa, the four individuals journey to a greater world. The show is created by performers Nicole Burgio, Nick Gillette, Ben Grinberg, and Adam Kerbel, along with writer Josh McIlvain of SmokeyScout Productions and music by Patrick Lamborn, who also performs live. We gathered a few of the Almanac gang—Ben Grinberg, Nick Gillette, Adam Kerbel—to talk to them about their upcoming show!

JennaSpitz-4FringeArts: What’s this show about?

Ben Grinberg: It’s about what happens when we trust ourselves, and those around us, too much. It uses partner acrobatics, which demands levels of physical trust that would be insane to normal people—even sometimes those in committed relationships—as a lens for this. What is the difference between that kind of conviction and the convictions of a religious zealot? A cult-leader?

Nick Gillette: It’s about four people taking the hard road towards something bigger than themselves. Each one of them has an individual reason to leave everything behind for a new world.

Ben Grinberg: Oh yeah, the play is about the four of us forming an isolationist seafarer cult, leaving the world behind, taking new names, and freeing ourselves.

FringeArts: With a little less than 4 weeks to go, what are you working on to get the show ready?

Nick Gillette: We’ve created a ton of material and now have the task of sorting it into a cohesive whole. Much of the next few weeks will be spent ordering scenes and acrobatic phrases and seeing how it feels as a whole piece. With so many facets and modes of performance, we want to really craft a satisfying ride through the different styles.

Ben Grinberg: For this piece, we want audiences to be engaged in every moment, but we also want them to feel like anything can happen at any moment. To do that requires a lot of sculpting.

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Six choreographers’ take on Antonia Z. Brown’s dance

Posted June 4th, 2015

“Changing motivations and goals quickly will be a big challenge for me in performing one section and then the next. I also think those shifts will be some of the most interesting parts.”

Choreographer and dancer, Antonia Z. Brown presents her dance One Dancer, Six Choreographers in SoLow Fest on June 20 and 21 at 7:30pm at Mascher Space Cooperative. Brown’s solo dance is rooted in a creative game of telephone. She began  by choreographing a five minute solo for herself. After, she passed her dance off to a new choreographer and then the choreographer passed what they had done onto another choreographer to remake the solo and on and on. Altogether, Brown transferred the dance to five choreographers, Nora Gibson, David Brick, Christina Gesualdi, Gina Hoch-Stall, and Jumatatu Poe, and each had two hours to alter the most recent version of the solo. In SoLow Fest, Brown will be performing the six iterations in order. We caught up with Antonia Z. Brown for a few questions.

SoLowFringeArtsWhat is it like to work with the different choreographers?

Antonia Z. Brown: In this project, I get to work with a lot of interesting local choreographers whom I admire. I know them from different contexts, some have been my teachers and mentors, some I connected with after falling in love with their work, and one of the choreographers is a fellow coordinator at my artist-run studio Mascher Space Cooperative. Going through the process of working with each, one after another, I get to inhabit very different performative qualities, aesthetics, and interests. Changing motivations and goals quickly will be a big challenge for me in performing one section and then the next. I also think those shifts will be some of the most interesting parts, the transitions from the world of one piece to the world of the next.

FringeArts: How has your original choreography changed? Can you expand on the concept of “remixing?”

Antonia Z. Brown: I think this structure of remixing is an interesting way to play with authorship. Each choreographer takes on complete authorship in their own section—even their ways of running a rehearsal are notably different—but at the same time the material they are working with is recycled. There is something unprecious about it, no one can say the work is completely their own, and at the same time each new author takes on full responsibility for their bit and makes their mark with inextricable clarity. The concept of the remix is my own, but once I set the wheels in motion I give up my say over where the piece goes next.

FringeArts: What made you want to show this work in SoLow Fest?

Antonia Z. Brown: SoLow Fest was one of the main sparks of inspiration for this piece. Remix Festival, put on jointly through Mascher Space and fidget in 2014 by Annie Wilson, was another. I wouldn’t think of performing a solo show on my own. This is actually quite an unusual piece for me. There is something satisfyingly clever about SoLow Fest though, as a super low budget festival and place for experimentation. If I house my art in my own body then I can simply perform it myself, it can be completely self-reliant. Getting these five other choreographers involved, I can perform on my own, but at the same time not be alone in it.

Thank you, Antonia! Can’t wait!

One Dancer, Six Choreographers
Saturday June 20th, 2015 at 7:30pm
Sunday June 21st, 2015 at 7:30pm
Mascher Space Cooperative
155 Cecil B Moore (Kensington)
Pay what you wish, suggested $5-10

SoLow Fest www.solowfest.com

—Courtney Lau

Sebastian has a new show

Posted May 14th, 2015

Sebastian (aka Sebastian Cummings aka Sean Cummings) is debuting his new show Showbiz, May 21–23 at the Adobe Cafe (1919 East Passyunk Avenue), which he describes as “part theater, part concert special, part social commentary extravaganza.” In response to his experiences as a performer, and to the performing arts and the entertainment and news industry in general, Sebastian takes his wicked sense of humor towards the role the media plays in how we interpret the world and “the people that roam it.” In additional to Sebastian, the cast includes actors Anna Michael, Kelly McCaughan, and Icon and dancers Lainey Johnson and Patience Owen.

Sebastian on Broad.

We caught up with Sebastian to ask him a few questions about the show, but to get a good flavor of what to expect, enjoy the hilarious video he made for his successful fundaraising campaign. As Sebastian points out in the interview below, he made sure that he had fun throughout the whole process of making this show.

Fringe Arts: What are the origins of Showbiz?

Sebastian: Showbiz is a “line,” as in geometry; it has infinite points, continuing forever. This “line” started with my experiences post college, navigating both the theater world and the queer world and ranging from things as obvious as the lack of roles available to anyone who has my skin color to the one dimensional nature of performance in the gay scene. All these observations gathered over the years and, for the most part, remained unchanging. Occasionally, the line that is Showbiz would intersect with another line; the media, expanding my thoughts. One needs only a day of listening in to the “media hotline” to notice patterns of how certain bodies are discussed, it’s like the media’s only purpose is to perpetuate stereotypes. Whether it’s the plethora of rappers talking about drugs and money, how a number of feminists doing all they can to alienate and reduce black women, or the “thug” campaign the media uses to describe pretty much any black man. First, I find it wildly uninspiring, second, I can’t fathom why we would even try to reduce anyone to one idea, we’re complex beings, and third, how is this dialogue shaping the way people think? So, I came up with an idea to call the system out.

Fringe Arts: How have you gone about putting the show together?

Sebastian: The text started with a parody of the news, I was writing one day to humor myself and I wrote what would eventually be my Kickstarter video. I thought it was hilarious and insightful. The rest of the script had already been written, in the sense that it happened in real life. As far as the world of the show, I watch interviews. I watch a lot of interviews. Interviews with actors, writers, anyone who has something real to say about overcoming struggles in life and in furthering their career and what happens in my mind is when I project into the future, thinking about things I want, I think of myself in the future explaining how I got there in an interview. And Showbiz is that story. When it comes to music, I just start making, I don’t have a goal to make something that sounds like “this” or what have you. I just create and when something feels right, it feels right. Over the past four years, I’ve made  around 150 songs and I used my favorite ones. “Queer Night Out,” for example, was a joke. I made the music and thought how it resembled some uninspiring pop song and I turned on the mic and just started singing, being silly, trying to entertain myself and the finished product is what came of that. It’s a nice departure from a lot of the songs I had made before it, which are heavier.

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So Much To Do This Weekend!

Posted May 27th, 2014

What’s come to our attention:


27, New Paradise Laboratories

Remember New Paradise Laboratories’ hit performance 27 in the 2012 Fringe Festival? Whether you missed it the first time or are eager for more, 27 returns Thursday, May 29th through Saturday, May 31st at the Painted Bride Arts Center, 230 Vine Street. Members of the “27 Club” of talented musicians who passed away at the age of 27—Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and Jimi Hendrix—explore purgatory and deal with a new arrival to their group. Questions of musical genius, mortality, and the afterlife coalesce in this performance pulsing with music composed by guitar prodigy Alec MacLaughlin. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door, and can be purchased online.


Kate Aid of Tangle Movement Arts. Photo by Michael Ermilio.

Looking for some circus arts this weekend? The Porch at 30th Street Station has been showcasing a series of dance and physical theater performances this spring and summer. On Saturday, May 31st at 2pm and 4pm, the Porch will come alive with acrobats and aerial dance in Tangle Movement Arts’ free performance of their new and original work Passages. The urban circus-theater will explore daily life in urban Philadelphia and play with the idea of 30th Street Station as a public center for Philadelphia. The rain date is Saturday, June 8th. More information can be found at: www.tangle-arts.com


Performers in CATCH Takes Philly

After you leave 30th Street Station, head over to The Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N American Street at 8pm on Saturday, May 31st, for the explosion of performance events that is CATCH Takes Philly. Usually confined to Brooklyn, this weekend CATCH joins Philadelphia’s Thirdbird for a night of dance, theater, video, performance, and beer. CATCH Takes Philly will feature Tei Blow, Cara Francis, Meg Foley, Groundswell Theater Company, Cynthia Hopkins, Jaamil Kosoko, No Face Performance Group, Brain Osborne, Matt Romein, and Saúl Ulerio. Tickets are $15 at the door, beer included.

Round off your weekend by attending the culmination of a year of research into voice and movement improvisation by the Leah Stein Dance Company on Sunday, June 1st, at 5pm. The renowned composer Pauline Oliveros developed the deep listening method of incorporating environmental sounds into musical performance, and has been working with the Leah Stein Dance Company to explore the relationship between deep listening and movement. Oliveros, Stein, seven dancers, and seven singers will conduct a free performance, panel discussion, and opportunity for audience participation at The Performance Garage, 1515 Brandywine Street, this Sunday. More information can be found at: www.leahsteindanceco.org.

Leah Stein Dance Company conducing research with Pauline Oliveros.

Leah Stein Dance Company conducing research with Pauline Oliveros

–Miriam Hwang-Carlos

Other Blogs: Lessons From Newt Gingrich on How to Make America Love Performing Arts

Posted August 21st, 2013
Good people.

Good people.

A few months ago, Phindie.com, a new website covering Philadelphia theater and arts, re-publsihed an old blog post of mine from 2011 titled Lessons from Newt Gingrich: or how we in the theatre and dance communities can stop acting like losers and learn to make the nation love us. The article (originally published in the currently dormant theppaa.org), spurred by going through an old stack of New Yorkers and reading a profile of John Bohner, details his mentor Newt’s rise to prominence and his ability to change the course of a defeated Republican Party largely through rhetoric and looks to apply that same thinking to the performing arts. Rereading the article recently, I thought, wow, there’s some pretty good stuff in there that continues to be super-relevent.

Lessons from Newt poses a number of the following questions: “How often have you heard that performing arts are dying, that we’re a niche market, that you can never make a living off of it, that we’re a charity case? That dance and theatre will never be the way it used to? Have you ever caught yourself saying, as an excuse for some failure or inability to accomplish a simple task or even some slightly unseemly arrangement in your programming: well, you have to understand, that’s life in the performing arts.”

And goes on:

“Do you accept as given that theatre and dance will never be as culturally or socially as relevant as TV or film? Has it ever bothered you, that whether through foundation giving or corporate giving or the generosity of patron saints, that you have geared your programming, and by dint your organization, to appease the money that comes from those aforementioned sources, as oppose to appeasing your artistic vision and audiences? Yet you still make the spurious claim that you are not commercial because you have sold out to your funding “partners” as oppose to Dentyne?”

Who should come to the rescue of this dilemma? Newt Gingrich, that’s who! To quote from The New Yorker profile upon which Lessons is based:  “After Newt Gingrich served a few terms as a member of the Republican minority in Congress, a circumstance he detested, he devised a plan to achieve what most of his colleagues could scarcely conceive—a Republican majority in the House. Gingrich believed that the G.O.P. had been the minority party for so long—ever since the first Eisenhower Administration—that Republicans had lost the ability to imagine themselves as anything else.” (My emphasis.)

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In a Bathtub Reading Moby Dick, Live!

Posted August 20th, 2013
Artwork by Eric Scotolati, Graphics by Daniel Kontz

Artwork by Eric Scotolati, graphics by Daniel Kontz.

Spend the day in the bathtub and you can gain a lot of things. Peace, stillness, fingers like a pack of California Raisins, and a reasonably sanitary body.

Known for its adventurous refurbishings of classic works, Philadelphia-based theater group The Renegade Company presents their latest in the 2013 Fringe Festival when they undertake the grand theatrical experiment of seeing what a good, long soapy soak in the bathtub can do for the iconic literary masterpiece Moby-Dick. An equally brilliant and wayward path to deeply existential quandaries surrounding love and loss, Bathtub Moby-Dick observes a heartrendingly nude and vulnerable Robert (Ed Swidey) alone in his bathtub.  Jobless and recently divorced, disillusioned and overwhelmed, Robert escapes to the diversions of Herman Melville’s tale of the great white whale, and finds himself steeping deeper and deeper into the turbulent psyche of Captain Ahab. Before hopping onto the boat and into the bathtub, FringeArts wanted to get inside the head of  The Renegade Company’s founding artistic director, Mike Durkin, and get an idea of what’s going to be going down in that bathroom come September.

FringeArts: When and where did your interest in theater begin?

Mike Durkin: I was in ninth grade and a girl I had a crush on signed up for drama club. I’d thought I’d impress her by signing up, as well. It didn’t work. Fourteen years later and I’m creating works that involve the classics and iconic works and re-imagining them.

FringeArts: How did The Renegade Company get started?

Mike Durkin: In the summer of 2008 I had a tomato, which caused the formation of my company. I don’t usually eat tomatoes, but one summer afternoon I decided to have a BLT. I was in New York at the time and that was the summer there was an outbreak of salmonella in tomatoes. Yada yada yada, I got salmonella poisoning. I was delirious and was in a waiting room in Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn and sweating, and contemplating my existence. Through my delirium, I was thinking about plays I’d like to direct. I thought about Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi. I realized that I liked that play and I’d like to direct it one day. I’d really like to direct it. Why shouldn’t I direct it? I’m going to direct it. Then, I started musing on creating theater. I’d love to form my own company someday. That’s what I wanted to do. I was fortunate enough to spend about nine months traveling around the country seeing all types of theater in various cities, formulating a company. Five years later, The Renegade Company is producing two works a season.

FringeArts: How did you settle on the group’s mission of re-imagining classic stories?

Mike Durkin: I’ve always been fond of adaptations and the classics, and I’ve always been fond of The Food Network. After watching many shows about reinterpreting classic dishes, I thought about how I could do that with theatrical works. Anyone can do a production of a classic story, whether the production is good or bad is beside the point, but how can we understand those stories through a different lens? How can we use the music of Woody Guthrie and union workers of the 1930s to understand the story of Prometheus, giver of fire? If I compared Renegade to a certain kind of food it would be Korean tacos; a little bit of one type of food mashed up with another style of food to create something new and exciting and different. That’s kind of like Renegade.

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Montreal’s FAQ Circus Collective is Coming to Germantown and Now You Know

Posted August 8th, 2013

IMG_0962 - CopieThe circus arts are alive and well and Frequently Asked Questions Circus, an American contemporary circus collective based in Montreal, is transporting their exhilarating blend of modern and traditional techniques to Philadelphia this weekend to make sure you’re in the know. A consortium of friends, classmates, and co-workers, each member uplifts their extraordinarily unique physical abilities–acrobatics, aerials, juggling, clowning–as a medium for deeply personal storytelling. Aiming to stretch, bend, and break the conventions of what goes on under the big top, FAQ Circus delves into every avenue of performative spectacle  from contortionist tricks to trapeze work to Chinese hoops to dabbling with cucumbers. Presented by the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts (5900A Greene Street), the company enlightens Philadelphia audiences to the exciting, transformative nature of circus with their debut production, Now You Know, showing this Friday at 7:30pm and Saturday 2:30pm and 7:30pm. FringeArts had a chat with co-creator/manager Lindsay Culbert-Olds to get her perspective on circus arts, the mission of FAQ Circus, and what’s in store for the show.

FringeArts:  How did this all get started?

Lindsay Culbert-Olds: FAQ started as a group of all American circus performers who were raised in American youth circus programs and ended up moving to Montreal for a higher level of circus arts that was there that we hadn’t found in the US. We all had a dream of performing in the US, but because of the lack of circus culture we all ended up in Montreal. As FAQ, we want to come back to help a larger circus culture grow in the US.

FringeArts: Why call yourselves Frequently Asked Questions Circus? 

Lindsay Culbert-Olds: We thought for a long time about what to call ourselves, and then we all settled on Frequently Asked Questions because when people find out we do circus, there are always these frequently asked questions . . . “Oh, you’re in the circus, what is that like? Are there lions? Is there a tightrope?” Frequently Asked Questions reflects the goals of the company. We want to answers those questions, and we answer them by the way perform.

FringeArts: What was the creation process like, reconciling with traditional and contemporary modes? What can we expect the result to be at the show?

Lindsay Culbert-Olds: We all grew up in the traditional circus style and want to stay faithful to those things we love–there is trapeze, tightwire aerials, acrobatics, and there are clowns. What we found in Montreal was all types of dance-based circus, theater-based circus. We want to do something that’s not just for tricks, but still have that joyful entertainment value. We worked together all year experimenting. In the show, individual members will each have a number. What we want to do is portray ourselves and our stories with circus arts. Although we don’t have a director, we are a group of people working together, and we want people to see cohesiveness, how much we love circus, and just how proud we are of what we do.

Thanks Lindsay, excited for the show!


Buy your tickets!

Philadelphia School of Circus Arts

5900A Greene Street

Shows Friday, 8/9/13 at 7:30pm and Saturday 8/10/13 at 2:30pm and 7:30pm
Check out the video below of FAQ doing their thing!

-Maya Beale