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Archive for the ‘Presented Fringe’ Category

Living a Billion Nights: An Interview with Michael and Winslow Fegley

Posted September 10th, 2017

This week sees the premiere of A Billion Nights on Earth, the latest work from acclaimed theater maker and performer Thaddeus Phillips in collaboration with artist Steven Dufala. The show—appropriate and ideal for audiences of all ages—follows a father and son as they venture into their fridge in search of a beloved stuffed whale and find themselves on a spectacular quest through space and time. With stunning scenic work by Dufala and Phillips, taking inspiration from the shapeshifting nature of Kabuki theater design, the piece is a dazzling, ever-evolving work of visual art and a touching, imaginative dive into the realms of parent–child relationships, exploring their varying perspectives on reality.

If you find the relationship between the father and son characters deeply palpable, it might be because stars Michael and Winslow Fegley are father and son. And also exceptionally talented performers. Michael Fegley has been working in theater and film for decades now, as has his wife Mercedes, and now all three of their children are following in their footsteps.

I caught up with Michael and Winslow to learn a little more about their experiences performing, how this collaboration with Phillips came about, and what it’s like living in the fantastical world of A Billion Nights on Earth.


FringeArtsTell us a little about your performance backgrounds.

Michael: I’m a member of AEA and SAG-AFTRA and have been working professionally for over twenty years. I’ve performed extensively in New York and Philadelphia in works ranging from classical to the avant-garde, including the Off-Broadway production of Small Potatoes.

Winslow: I’ve been doing plays and movies for a while now. Plus my whole family acts, and I watch them working all the time. I’ve learned a lot, and I like working with my dad.

FringeArtsIs there a strong theater or performance community in Allentown?

Michael: Allentown has the wonderful, talented people of the Civic Theatre of Allentown, where our family has been a part of productions for years. Winslow, like his sister August and brother Oakes, have all taken many turns on that stage. However, it is a non-equity house, so I have to find work in Philadelphia and elsewhere. Last year I was in the world premiere of The Ballad of Trayvon Martin at Freedom Theatre here in Philadelphia.

Winslow: I like working in Allentown, but it’s cool when we get to go to new places and work in different theaters.

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A Guide to Megapolis Audio Festival, Pt. 2: Performing Sounds

Posted September 8th, 2017

From September 16-17 the fifth Megapolis Audio Festival will descend upon Philadelphia, drawing world class musicians, sound artists, radio producers, and all around audio adepts to join the artistic frenzy that is the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Much like the 2017 Festival’s program, Megapolis’ schedule of events might appear a little daunting at first glance, so to help you navigate it we at the FringeArts Blog are going to break it all down for you into some easily digestible categories. Follow these links to Parts 1 (sound tours), 3 (workshops), and 4 (installations and digital works).

This time around we’re taking a look at a wide variety of performances happening all weekend. Though some of them have interactive elements, for the most part all they ask of you is that you soak in the sublime sonics.

 

Playing the Victim
Phoenix Lio(n)
Sept 16, 10:30am @ United by Blue, Old City
Sept 17, 3pm @ United by Blue, Old City
Two live demo performances of an installation available to the public all weekend, Playing the Victim centers on a mask that plays audio narratives about rape culture and queerness. Using augmented reality and physical computing, the mask can be used to trigger audio and visuals on various speakers and monitors. As a live demo performance, Phoenix invites audience to watch as they manipulate their memories themselves. By engaging their experiences and identity as tools for art they rework the heaviest, hardest parts of themself like pigments dragged across canvas.

 

Radio Atlas
Radio Atlas
Sept 16, 5pm @ WHYY
Radio Atlas is the English-language home for subtitled audio from around the world. For this event for Megapolis, the podcast presents a screening of some of the best foreign language radio works in the world. Among other sonic surprises, this event will premiere a Belgian radio story about a residential home for the senile where music is an important form of occupational therapy; patients who can’t remember their children can remember songs of their youth in perfect detail, a frivolous way of conjuring a merciless deterioration.
Tickets for this performance are sold separate from Megapolis weekend and day passes.

 

Blevin Blectum / Radio Wonderland
Blevin Blectum & Radio Wonderland
Sept 16, 8pm @ WHYY
An evening of performances from two esteemed artists with unparalleled creative visions.
Blevin Blectum is a Providence-based interdisciplinary artist who combines sound, imagery, and costume to create eccentric and mesmerizing performances that explore everything from science fiction to ornithology. She has been performing and touring extensively since 1998, and when she’s not working on her own music she’s creating sounds for Hasbro Toys.
Joshua Fried, aka Radio Wonderland, turns live radio into recombinant funk, with a boombox, Buick steering wheel and four old shoes. Robert Barry, a writer for the esteemed music publication The Wire, described his works as, “Rather like Negativland remixed for a house party…undeniably fun.”
Tickets for this performance are sold separate from Megapolis weekend and day passes.

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Recollections of Home from Geoff and Stefanie Sobelle

Posted September 7th, 2017

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

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

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

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2017 Festival Spotlight: FringeArts ~After Dark~

Posted September 7th, 2017

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

Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret @ FringeArts
Martha Graham Cracker

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

KINK HAÜS @ The Latvian Society
Gunnar Montana

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

 

 

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A Guide to Megapolis Audio Festival, Pt. 1: Great World of Sound

Posted September 6th, 2017

From September 16-17 the fifth Megapolis Audio Festival will descend upon Philadelphia, drawing world class musicians, sound artists, radio producers, and all around audio adepts to join the artistic frenzy that is the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Much like the 2017 Festival’s program, Megapolis’ schedule of events might appear a little daunting at first glance, so to help you navigate it we at the FringeArts Blog are going to break it all down for you into some easily digestible categories. Follow these links to Parts 2 (performances), 3 (workshops), and 4 (installations and digital works).

First up we have a set of interactive and experiential pieces that take participants out of the studio and around the city. All of the events below are free with a Megapolis Festival pass and begin at PhillyCAM (699 Ranstead St) before spreading out from there.

 

An Urban Mushroom Forage
Katya Gorker & Elana Gordon
90 minutes / Sept 16, 10:30am
This sound walk presents a conceptual and sonic spin on a mushroom forage, integrating prompts and creative sound design to guide listeners through Philly’s urban forest. Gorker, a Moscow-born filmmaker based in Philadelphia who has spent years exploring the connection between mushroom foraging and identity and meaning among the Russian Diaspora, narrates the walk. She’ll introduce participants to fellow immigrants, foraging for mushrooms and their own sense of place in this new world. Participants will also here from John Cage and other cultural luminaries on the art, philosophy and science of foraging.

 

Stalking Wild Sounds
Lexie Stoia & Toby Kaufmann-Buhler
120 minutes / Sept 16, 12:00pm
90 minutes / Sept 17, 11:30am
Imagining a future where nature has reclaimed our environment, Columbus-based artists Lexie Stoia and Toby Kaufmann-Buhler send participants out into an entirely alien environ. Using a provided audio player and field guide, participants will start at PhillyCAM, travel through the formal landscaping of Washington Square Park, and make their way back to the station. A real-time science fiction journey with the sounds of “alien” flora and fauna, participants will find themselves immersed in this sound work that maps onto their surroundings.

 

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Ambivalent Cosmic Matter: An Interview with Bhob Rainey

Posted September 6th, 2017

Bhob Rainey is an artist that should need no introduction, and yet, here we are. Over the course of the last two decades he has tirelessly pushed against established musical idioms—with consistently revelatory, mind-melting results—like few contemporaries. In the process he has collaborated with some of the most innovative composers and musicians working today, and even helped define the lowercase movement in non-idiomatic music with Nmperign, his seminal duo with Greg Kelley.

Though he has sought interdisciplinary collaborations throughout his career, his commitment to such projects has deepened as of late, particularly in his ongoing partnership with New Paradise Laboratories. This week sees the world premiere of NPL’s latest show Hello Blackout! and—as he did with the show’s predecessor O MonstersRainey has been composing original music essential to the development and execution of the piece. However, unlike last time around when the sublimely unsettling score was prerecorded and blasted through the theater, Rainey has drafted an ensemble of distinguished and versatile musicians—as comfortable in the world of classical music as they are in the deepest ends of the avant-garde—to help shape and execute his idiosyncratic vision. “We had this idea that it’d be fun to find musicians who could stimulate Bhob to even greater heights of sonic experimentation, so he has assembled a unique ensemble, a quintet,” NPL artistic director Whit MacLaughlin recently told the FringeArts Blog. “They’re some of the finest instrumentalists of alternative timbres in the world. I’ve been to the sessions and am always having my mind blown as this music comes together.”

I spoke with Rainey last year ahead of the premiere of O Monsters, but seeing as his compositional approach has changed, I had to touch base to learn about the unprecedented sounds that engulf the Kissimmee family before, during, and after the Big Bang.


FringeArts: You crafted the music for O Monsters by harvesting data from various phenomena and translating those numbers into long, very compelling, very alien musical events. How has your compositional approach changed since then in order to fit the world of Hello Blackout?

Bhob Rainey: The data sonification from O Monsters was largely used to find “shapes” of events that, while they might have beneficial or catastrophic effects, exist in spite of us. A lot of that music was meant to be a confrontation with a world that is utterly ambivalent towards the people in it and that only happens to be hospitable by chance. Why not follow this thought a little further and say that this ambivalent cosmic matter is also us—our bodies, our consciousness? Part of the human experience, I think, is a struggle between what we strongly feel is our “self” and this ancestral, non-human dust that’s already operating by the time we get names and ideas and desires, etc.

The philosopher Emmanuel Levinas had a pretty succinct, everyday take on this nameless companion. Speaking of insomnia, he said, “I do not stay awake: It stays awake.” He’s not merely talking about “the unconscious.” He’s trying to capture an anonymous life that persists even in the basic matter that composes us. And while the “it” is not an ethical being, I think that any kind of large-scale, inter-being “goodness” involves an engagement with this non-personal part of our existence. The problem is, not only is it difficult to think clearly about what an engagement of this kind entails (without falling into some kind of dogmatism), it is also easy to get devastatingly lost in the process. So, if the music for O Monsters was largely oriented towards an ambivalent, sometimes sublime cosmos, my thoughts for Hello Blackout are directed towards how this cosmic matter plays out within us.

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Rosas dances Coltrane: Interview with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker + Salva Sanchis

Posted September 3rd, 2017

“For dancers, improvising should be the norm rather than the exception.”

Choreographers Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Salva Sanchis bring their full evening dance work A Love Supreme to the 2017 Fringe Festival. Four dancers surrender themselves to John Coltrane’s spiritual ode to divine love, his 1965 jazz masterpiece A Love Supreme. The album was revolutionary for its carefully balanced interplay between improvisation and structure. Likewise the choreographers create improvised and composed materials, interweaving and absorbing them into one another, for the performances.

In addition to jazz music, the practice of improvisation has always occupied a distinct space within the choreographic oeuvre of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Rosas. Salva Sanchis—who studied at PARTS (Performing Arts Research and Training Studios) from 1995 to 1998—was himself a privileged witness to that very evolution: he performed as a dancer in the 2003 Rosas creation set to Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew, and in 2005 as dancer and co-choreographer in Desh, a piece based on Indian music and John Coltrane’s “India“. More than ten years after the presentation of the piece in a diptych with Raga for the Rainy Season, De Keersmaeker and Sanchis have undertaken a reworking of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, turning it into an evening performance now danced by a wholly new cast of dancers.

Interview by Michaël Bellon.

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker: Taking on A Love Supreme fits with the idea of revisiting, and rewriting, Rosas’s repertoire for a new generation of dancers. We did the same thing with Rain (the piece from 2001 that we picked up again in 2016 with an entirely new cast). In 2005, Salva and I conjointly choreographed A Love Supreme and since then he has frequently used material from the piece in his classes as a teacher at PARTS. What is interesting about the piece, in addition to its intrinsic connection with this milestone of 20th-century music, is the way it combines improvised and written choreography.

Salva Sanchis: When we were working on Bitches Brew, we used to listen to Miles Davis a lot. We therefore inevitably developed a fascination with the role that Coltrane played as a musician in the Miles Davis Quintet. Davis and Coltrane admired each other very much, yet they were at the same time very different. Miles is about simplicity, Coltrane about expressive excess and energy. On the whole, A Love Supreme is more suitable for a dance performance than a simple collection of songs. The music possesses a structure with a beginning and an end, thus offering a kind of dramaturgical accessibility.

Michaël Bellon: Were you already a “jazzman” when you got involved with Rosas’s jazz-based projects?

Sanchis: I was a fervent jazz-adept before we started on the piece, definitely. I have always been interested in different kinds of music, but in the period before and during Bitches Brew, I happened to be sharing a flat with two jazz students. I learned a lot from them. Within their discipline, they were wrestling with the same things I was in my dance training. Take improvisation for instance. Dance shares a relationship with every musical genre since the two media show a strong mutual compatibility. Yet what is so interesting about jazz is how the practice of improvisation has always been at the very core of the genre. That has always fascinated me, mainly because my experience with improvisational practices in dance was only in an infant stage at the time. As a choreographer, I found it difficult to justify the use of improvisation, whereas for jazz musicians this has always been the norm.

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Music Engenders a Feeling: the Musical Inspirations of Ghost Rings

Posted September 1st, 2017

Next week theater maker Tina Satter and her New York-based ensemble Half Straddle will return to Philadelphia with Ghost Rings, part of the 2017 Fringe Festival. The show explores exceptionally close friendship, non-heteronormative romance, female families, and so much more. Oh yeah, and it’s a pop concert.

Half Straddle are no strangers to integrating original music into their shows, but with Ghost Rings, they decided to up the ante. “[Half Straddle composer] Chris Giarmo, and I had been discussing doing a project that really focused on singing,” Satter recently told the FringeArts Blog. “Chris had expressed that he wanted to experiment with making music out of our collaboration that was more challenging and really required very, very good singers to do it and I loved that challenge.” To help realize this goal, Satter looked to a variety of musical sources for inspiration. Whenever it struck, she’d pass the song to Giarmo, explaining what it was about the particular track that caught her attention, and he’d take that influence into consideration as he composed.

Satter was gracious enough to provide us with this short playlist with some of those inspirations. Though the sounds on the list may be varied, they are all bold in their vision, defiant in their aesthetic, and unapologetically female. The music of the show reflects the sonic diversity to some degree, and yet it’s all remarkably cohesive, unified by its absurdly talented band/performers—featuring Satter and Giarmo, and fronted by Erin Markey and, for this iteration, Amber Gray—and the hilarious and heart-wrenching narrative at its core, one that could only have been conveyed through such a theatrical song cycle. As Satter put it in an earlier interview, “Music engenders a feeling you can’t even name in your body, heart, and brain. Watching these people onstage not just creating narratives and drama but all this live melody really paired with the content of the show and our holistic approach to it from the earliest stages.”


“The Weakness in Me” by Joan Armatrading

She is the best. Hands down. The storytelling and direct shot of recognizable emotion in this song in particular is very inspiring always. Her music is a constant overarching thing to look to in making music, work, and life in general—so even if not direct at all in a given project we make—looking for our version of the emotional unlocking, storytelling, and melody for a given piece always starts with looking to Joan.

 

“The Eye” by Brandi Carlile

Cannot remember how I first came to this music. But I heard a song somewhere in the summer of 2015 and then looked up the singer. I had never heard of Brandi Carlile. But I started to get so into some of her songs, and was sending them compulsively to Chris saying there was something about this sound that felt like it could work in parts in our approach to Ghost Rings. Then I learned she was this out lesbian in country music and married to a woman and had kids with her, and it felt even more right that she was embedded in some way in this piece we were making in part about queer family-making.  “The Eye” in particular did influence our final song “Not Here”—both in the lyrics I wrote and Chris’s music approach to it. I think Chris’s incredible drag alter-ego, Kimberly Clark, now also covers some Brandi Carlile when she performs.

 

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Making Art in 2017: Whit MacLaughlin on Hello Blackout

Posted August 30th, 2017

Whit MacLaughlin

Name: Whit MacLaughlin

Company: New Paradise Laboratories

Show in 2017 Festival: Hello Blackout! also screenings of O Monsters.

Past Festival shows: Curated shows: O Monsters, The Adults, 27, Freedom Club, Extremely Public Displays of Privacy, Fatebook, Batch: An American Bachelor/ette Party, Planetary Enzyme Blues, Rrose Selavy Takes a Lover in Philadelphia, The Fab 4 Reach the Pearly Gates, This Mansion is a Hole. Self-produced: Gold Russian Finger Love.

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

Whit MacLaughlin: As a company, we have been drawn to big questions from the beginning: Why is there something instead of nothing? What is the big system we’re all a part of? What does Philadelphia, as a city, as a concept, really mean? Why do we die? Questions that don’t have answers. NPL takes delight in asking unanswerable questions. It’s an obsession. Now we ask: why do we have something called a “future” that is so hard to predict? Seems like a fundamental question, but one that’s almost pure nonsense. One might be tempted to say: “What a stupid question!” Of course we have a future, but we can’t tell what it’s going to be because it’s not here yet. There’s no answer. Yet. Maybe tomorrow.

Nevertheless, almost everything we do in daily life involves searching for a way to predict what’s going to happen. What’s going to come in the mail today? Should I take that job? Am I going to be diagnosed with something bad? Who am I going to marry? We say: the fun is in the finding out! But still, it’s perplexing and frustrating, this issue of the future. Almost all Greek drama is about trying to see the future. Tiresias, the blind oracle, is in many of the plays. A BLIND ORACLE. Drama, from the beginning, has always been about the problem of a future that’s unforeseeable. Like Hamlet trying to figure out what to do to remedy his father’s murder. We’re paying close attention to a newly developing school of thought, a philosophy, called Speculative Realism. It suggests that the only absolute in the world, the only thing that must exist, is “contingency.” The world weaves itself out of a chaotic state and the things that happen don’t necessarily have a reason. May seem obvious, but we think it’s worth considering a bit more deeply, especially now that technology seems to move faster than we can, that our political life seems off the rails, that we live in a “quantum universe.” What does any of that actually mean for us on a daily basis? NPL takes big questions and blends them into a big question cocktail, then gets everybody drunk on it.

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Making Art in 2017: Tina Satter on Ghost Rings

Posted August 29th, 2017

Name: Tina Satter

Company: Half Straddle

Show in 2017 Festival: Ghost Rings

Past Festival shows: In the Pony Palace/FOOTBALL

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

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

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

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

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

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The Best 21st Birthday You’ll Ever Attend

Posted August 24th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Posted August 20th, 2017

Name: Annie-B Parson

Company: Big Dance Theater

Show in 2017 Festival: 17c

Role: Co-Creator, Co-Director, Choreographer

Past Festival shows: Plan B (2004)

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

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

Photo by Ian Douglas.

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

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

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

Photo by Jeff Larson.

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

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Big Dance Theater takes on Samuel Pepys: Interview with Annie-B Parson

Posted July 18th, 2017

“In the last few years, what has become important is the uncensored rendering of his bullying, his shame around his behavior and yet his complete lack of awareness of the violence of his actions.”

Annie-B Parson. Photo by Ike Edeani.

From Mark Twain to Euripides, Big Dance Theater is well known for their innovative and unexpected ways of using of literary sources for inspiration. Diligent but whimsical in how they combine the old and the new, they’ve been called “historically promiscuous” by producer David White. In their latest creation, 17c (coming to the 2017 Fringe Festival), co-artistic directors Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar took the diaries of Samuel Pepys as the source of inspiration and investigation in this ensemble work of dance, theater, and music. Throughout 17c, a distinctly feminist voice is interwoven with his words, gathered from the writings of his contemporary, and from a desire to give voice to those who are historically voiceless, most notably Pepys’s wife. We caught up with Annie-B Parson about the inspiration and process of creating 17c.

FringeArts: Do you remember how the title 17c came into being?

Annie–B Parson: The titling of this piece has been an epic story. As the world has changed around us during the two-year span of creating it, the title has changed at least twenty times! Lists and lists of ideas for titles have been generated and circulated; they have ranged from a title which puts pressure on the piece to prove something, to a title that sounds great to see and say, to the simple naming of a fact. On the day the deadline came to title it for the premiere, we liked the simple efficiency of 17c, which supports the formal nature of the material as well. And, as one work is always a response to the work that precedes it, 17c was reactive to our last title, which was cumbersome and obscure.

FringeArts: What first drew you to Pepys as material that might work for the stage?

Annie–B Parson: As someone who is hyper-generative, I am always drawn to others who are also can’t stop making things. Pepys had to write, he was miserable when he missed a day, and this act of getting it down, of recording every little boil on his body, every encounter and feeling around the encounter, made me feel a kinship with him. And, it was amazing when first encountering these diaries, that 350 years ago, dance and theater were so valued. Eureka! I felt vindication in this figure who found dance a worthy daily practice, who valued the dance in theater, and who felt dance would better his standing. And, I loved that this person was so enamored of theater that he would need to quit it from time to time, much like he would quit drinking! I was also drawn to how contemporary he seemed, how trendy, so involved with his clothing, fretting about each outfit—when to wear a new coat, in what situation his new sleeves would have the best effect, etc. This was my first reading of the diaries about ten years ago.

Pepys.

But in the last few years, what has become important is the uncensored rendering of his bullying, his shame around his behavior and yet his complete lack of awareness of the violence of his actions. The absence of the voice of his wife Bess disturbed me more and more, and I began to suspect that he had burned her diaries, thereby silencing her to history. I searched for a female theatrical voice from that time to balance and testify to a feminism that was occurring then, but has been lost. This led me to the obscure radical feminist writer, Margaret Cavendish. To my delight, Pepys had encountered her a few times on the street, as she was a bit of a bad-girl celeb.

Margaret Cavendish.

FringeArts: What made the other source materials you brought into the show—namely Margaret Cavendish’s play—work for you?

Annie–B Parson: I have always dragged the past into the present, as one cannot exist without the other. David White called the work of Big Dance  “historically promiscuous”—and it’s true. I am not interested in linear reality as such, but in a relational reality, one that is elastic and poetic. I read quite a few women’s plays from that time, hoping to stage a play within a play. Margaret Cavendish’s work leapt out at me for its directness and its politics. Cavenidish’s writing was underground at the time, her plays were “closet plays” meaning there was no intention for them to be produced; as a woman, this was an impossibility. But she sustained a prolific writing life and her work speaks to her radical feminist stance. I feel she is owed many, many productions of her work to right the inequality of exposure, and our rendering is part of that re-balancing. It’s not that different today by the way. We are now seeing a few women playwrights on Broadway, and personally, though my work is produced, I am erased in subtle but systemic ways. I feel a kinship with Cavendish for sure.

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Inhabiting habitus

Posted September 23rd, 2016

There’s something special happening across the street from FringeArts. habitus, organized by the Fabric Workshop and Museum and part of the 2016 Fringe Festival, is on view now at Municipal Pier 9 until October 10, free and open to the public during scheduled hours. Visitors have found themselves enraptured by the dreamlike beauty of this interactive interior landscape. Here are just some of the recent posts showing off the serene spectacle of this must visit installation.

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Horsin’ Around at the Navy Yard

Posted September 22nd, 2016

Tonight Julius Caesar. Spared Parts will have its Philadelphia premiere as part of the 2016 Fringe Festival, but yesterday there was some important, neigh vital, preparation to tend to for this play from revered Italian theater artist Romeo Castellucci. You see, this provocative and surreal meditation on power and our collective reliance on a societal scapegoat requires a little nonhuman assistance to fully realize.

No, a goat would be too on the nose, c’mon. We’re talking horses. I even did the “neigh” thing back there. You thought it was just a typo. Nope. Clumsily placed horse pun. I’ll do my best to restrain myself from here on out.

But yes, a horse. Turns out Gala wasn’t the only Festival show that required some local casting. Meet Pete, the horse (and Shane the person). img_4919

As our intrepid production crew was preparing the set inside Building 694 of the Navy Yard, Pete swung by to see if he had what it took to land the role of a lifetime. A vast, mostly empty warehouse previously used as a food sorting space for the navy way back when, Building 694 is just a short stroll away from the Navy Yard’s main entrance, past a fleet of decommissioned navy destroyers. It’s also the perfect space to amplify the sounds of the subtle, but essential movements at play within the show. That, and the click clack of hooves.

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Ah yes, the familiar sights of the theater.

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The exterior of Building 694…

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An International Message for World Theatre Day from Brett Bailey

Posted September 22nd, 2016

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


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

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

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

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

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Memories of Dance: An Interview with Faustin Linyekula

Posted September 21st, 2016

Faustin Linyekula is a renowned Congolese dancer and choreographer, and the founder of Studios Kabako, based in Kisangani. Le Cargo, Linyekula’s first and only solo dance piece,  finds him adopting the roles of storyteller and dancer in tandem as he leads his audience on an arresting and deeply personal journey to his homeland—a country marked by decades of violence and unrest that persists to this day—in search of a dance from his childhood that has since been erased. FringeArts recently spoke with Linyekula about the origins of the piece and the role of the storyteller in performance.


FringeArts: What is the origin of the title Le Cargo

Faustin Linyekula: Le Cargo was initially the title of a carte blanche given to me by the Centre National de la Danse in France in 2003. We proposed, over 4 days, a cargo full of artists and artistic proposals from the African continent. I wanted to call it “Cargo nègre” but it was too polemical for a public institution. I kept this title for the solo. It refers to the idea of (shameful?) trade, (easy?) exoticism, travel, and to this journey into my oldest memories of dance.

Le Cargo, ChorÈgraphie et interprÈtation : Faustin Linyekula Studios Kabako - crÈation 2011 - Centre national de la danse

Faustin Linyekula in Le Cargo (photo by Agathe Poupeney)

FA: Can you discuss some of the background of the piece?

Faustin Linyekula: I have never made any solo. Until today, I have only created this very solo simply because I believed and I still believe that the whole point of making work is not to be alone. It’s actually to try and find a place where you share something with people. You doubt together. You dream together.

So it was only in 2011 that I created my first solo. This was my way of celebrating the tenth anniversary of our company, the Studios Kabako, in the Congo. So it was a way of asking myself, “What’s next?”

FA: How did you transform so much personal and national memory and history into art? 

Faustin Linyekula: I don’t have so much imagination, so I take what is around me, what life gives to me.

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Tales of darkness shot through with light: Brett Bailey & Third World Bunfight

Posted September 21st, 2016

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


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Brett Bailey (photo by Nicky Newman)

Brett Bailey and his company Third World Bunfight have been making iconoclastic, politically-charged theatre in South Africa since 1996. Driven to tell “tales of darkness shot through with light” and inspired by what he calls the “addictive funkiness” of African aesthetics, his work concerns Africa’s post-colonial dynamics and the historical and contemporary relations between Africa and the West. His work is eclectic in style and syncretic in form, weaving together African spirituality, a fascination with pop culture, a strong visual design drive, the belief in theatre as a communal space of potential and transformation, and an acerbic political critique. Utterly intolerant of cruelty, oppression and injustice, he believes that theatre has to be rooted in social and political issues, serving a purpose other than pure entertainment, without being the slave of such agendas. And finding a balance between social critique and aesthetic beauty and atmosphere in a work is his constant goal as a theatremaker.

He plays in worlds of risk and liminality, where ritual meets theatre and ceremony and presentation collide. “Liminality, the sacred, places of paradox and confusion, border zones where anything can happen, contested territory and risk are the areas I like to work in,” he says. He aims to inject spirit into theatre and to “unpick the threads” of fear and racism that divide people.

Born in 1967 as a privileged child of apartheid, Bailey studied drama at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and graduated in 1991 into a transforming political climate. After a year of spiritual searching in India in 1994, South Africa’s transition year, he joined the New Africa Theatre Project, whose goal it was to create work that spoke to the burgeoning new democracy. In 1996, Bailey immersed himself in Xhosa ritual, folklore, and performance, training with and living at the rural home of sangoma (traditional healer) Zipathe Dlamini in Port St. Johns in the Transkei.

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Meet the Cast of Macbeth

Posted September 20th, 2016

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


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Owen Metsileng (photo by Nicky Newman)

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

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Nobulumko Mngxekeza-Nziramasanga (photo by Nicky Newman)

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

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Otto Maidi (photo by Nicky Newman)

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

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Interior Landscapes: An Interview with Ann Hamilton

Posted September 20th, 2016

Ann Hamilton is a visual artist known for her large-scale multimedia installations, flowing fabrics and the immersive atmosphere of her work. Hamilton has filled Pier 9 along the Delaware River with a field of spinning curtains, creating an interior landscape within which, suspended in time, a visitor can be both lost and held. habitus, organized by the Fabric Workshop and Museum and part of the 2016 Fringe Festival, is on view now, free and open to the public during scheduled hours. habitus also includes a corresponding exhibition of historical objects—including literary commonplace books, textile sample books, dolls, and needlework portfolios—at The Fabric Workshop and Museum from Saturday, September 17, 2016 to Sunday, January 8, 2017. We caught up with Hamilton earlier this summer to discuss her interest in fabric, Philadelphia’s textile history and the character of Pier 9.


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Ann Hamilton (photo by Michael Mercil, courtesy of Ann Hamilton Studio)

FringeArts: What was the inspiration for this installation?

Ann Hamilton: The Fabric Workshop and Museum began as a place for making. Initially they made a home for students, interns and artists to silkscreen. Pulling color across a screen transformed the surface of a white cloth.  The process repeated made a whole room and changed the way you feel. It is an institution that like FringeArts trusts artists and believes in the power of acts of making and transformation and this is an inspiration.

More specifically, the Fabric Workshop and Museum is rooted in the history of cloth, textile related processes and productions. They make a place for artists to explore and extend their vocabularies, to ask “what-if?” My history also begins with a cloth on my lap and so this project began in response to our shared legacy and collaborations by exploring Philadelphia based textile collections and local industries who have been in production over several generations. Littlewood Dyers does vat dying of raw fiber for a whole host of clients including the intense purple in a Disney costumes and the deep blue/black of Navy wools. The several hour tour of Littlewood, a highlight along with the loom and weaving production at Langhorne Carpet Company—where the scale the reeling of thread and the looms that have been in operation for decades—are inspiration for several project to come. Watching a raw material become a single thread, join other thread to become a warp or weft of a cloth or carpet holds for me all the possibilities for making; sewing and writing are for me two parts of the same hand. In the former the hand directs with subtle sureness a needle through a cloth up, down, up then down again and again and again, a running succession, the trail of thread making one out of what was once two. The pace is regular like walking, like writing. It keeps the body busy so the mind can wander.

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Ann Hamilton, (habitus • doll ) Doll, 1800–1820. Papier-mâché; Wood; Linen; Cotton; Paint; Silk. Courtesy of Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, Gift of Katherine Gahagan, Michael H. du Pont, and Christopher T. du Pont in memory of A. Felix du Pont, Jr., 1999.19.1.

I have long been drawn to textile sample books—the cloth fragments, the hand written notes, the folio sized pages, their gorgeous unintentional compositions, and find in them a relation to the fragments of writing, inspiring to the collector, intentionally gathered into a commonplace book. The liquidity of the copied out text in the handwritten books, or the cut and paste of more contemporary versions are sources stitched into thinking just as the bits of cloth pasted into the textile books imagine a larger cloth or garment. We were shown beautiful swatch, sample, and dye books in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection, Winterthur Library, and Philadelphia University whose archives contain so much of the city’s textile history. The project will include examples from each of these collections. As well as commonplace books from Rosenbach Library, the Philadelphia Free library and others. The history and tactility of these objects began the project.

FA: What was the process from initial idea to installation? 

Ann Hamilton: A project always begins with an intuition, a hunch, a half formed question – these direct the research and through an associative and often circuitous process the project forms from trying to understand them. The challenge is to trust the process and remain open to change, to keep putting your needle down into the cloth and see what is drawn up from underneath. I suppose it is a little like fishing. You have to wait and see what you will find and in waiting you have to pay attention to everything.

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