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Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category

On the Record: Rebecca Wright on Applied Mechanics’ Latest Performance

Posted June 22nd, 2018

Philadelphia’s Applied Mechanics established itself as a Fringe Festival favorite with half a dozen shows between It’s Hard Times at the Camera Blanca in 2009 and Feed in 2016. The company will be absent from the Festival this September, but the cast of its latest offering, This Is On Record, draws heavily from 2018 Festival stars: Annie Wilson will feature in Meg Foley’s The undergird, Thomas Choinacky is part of Simpatico Theatre’s 4Solo show, and contributing writer Mary Tuomanen will appear in the Bearded Ladies’ Do You Want A Cookie?

This Is On Record displays Applied Mechanics’ signature immersive style, transforming 3,800-square-foot Glass Factory performance space in Brewerytown to tell six intersecting stories simultaneously. The show investigates the construction of cultural narratives through the lives of six different people as their paths intersect across time. FringeArts spoke to company member Rebecca Wright about the play, which opens tonight and runs through July 1.   

The cast of THIS IS ON RECORD: Alison Ormsby, Annie Wilson, Brett Robinson, Thomas Choinacky, Anita Holland and Daniel Park.

FringeArts: How does the format of the show contribute to its meaning and to the audience’s experience of watching the performance?

Rebecca Wright: This is a piece about the construction of cultural narratives and the various biases and circumstances that shape both the stories we tell and those we inherit. The parallel narrative immersive structure—where many stories are unfolding simultaneously and the audience is free to watch who and how they want—highlights how subjective storymaking is, as well as the question of how much we can and can’t control about what we see and inherit. Multiplicity is also really key here: there is not, in fact, ever one story—there are always multiple perspectives—and the structure of our work reflects this quite literally.

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People are Strange and other revelations from Josh McIlvain

Posted June 13th, 2018

FringeArts superfriend Josh McIlvain wears many hats in this week’s performance People are Strange and other revelations, serving as writer, performer, and producer. He is joined by performers Tara Demmy and Marissa Kennedy, and by writer/performer Nik Menotiades. This team of creators delivers a show that is at once funny, thought-provoking, and utterly bizarre.  

When describing the performances in People are Strange, McIlvain explains: “I think one thing that unites them is that they all involve fuckups to varying degrees, and they all have a lot of humor, though the tones and styles of the piece are varied enough to keep it interesting.”   

The show consists of four short solo performances set in different rooms of the Da Vinci Art Alliance in Bella Vista. It is a collection of moments, of the seemingly insignificant encounters of life. The audience will move between rooms of the art gallery to view the series of distinct yet cohesive performances. “As the show is made up of four separate places, we are able to create four different performance spaces,” says McIlvain. “These aren’t radical changes, but there is a pleasure in these little shifts between areas, and for the audience to be led to a new room or even part of the same room, and to encounter the next performance.”  

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Sam Tower Straps On Her Director’s Helmet For Simpatico’s Red Bike

Posted June 1st, 2018

Sam Tower is a longtime Fringe Festival favorite, having participated in at least six Festival shows since 2009. Her newly renamed production company, Ninth Planet produced Festival hits 901 Nowhere Street (2016) and Strange Tenants (2017).

This month, she’s teaming up with Simpatico Theatre as director for Red Bike, a play written by Caridad Svich that follows an 11-year-old child who, while riding a bike, discovers a world bigger than they could have imagined. We asked Sam about the play, her directing, and her newly rebranded company.

FringeArts: How did you become involved in this project?

Sam Tower. Photos courtesy Plate 3.

Sam Tower. Photo courtesy Plate 3.

Sam Tower: When Allison Heishman became the new artistic director of Simpatico Theatre, it was clear that her talents as a producer and director would support the community-centered mission of the company, and that she would continue to bring imaginative, socially driven new work to Philadelphia. Well, she decided to waste NO time in getting a new season up on its feet. She approached me as a director for Red Bike, and upon my first reading of Caridad’s play I was shook/enthralled/conflicted/inspired… all the things you want to be when beginning a new artistic process.

FringeArts: What appeals to you about Caridad Svich’s writing and this play in particular?

Sam Tower: The play is direct address from the perspective of “The Kid”, an 11-year-old. “The Kid” is a detailed storyteller, and also a dizzying narrator, taking you down winding curves and tunnels of memory, fantasy and vulnerable confessions of the pre-adolescent person. The play is cyclical, raw and poetic, and the language is so vibrant — dreamy and cutting at the same time. On first reading, I was already seeing three bodies in space as The Kid and hearing percussive musical scoring inside my head — that’s when you know you have to go for it. I quickly brought Jordan McCree and Andrew Nittoli of ILL DOOTS on board as live musicians to score this Kid’s epic afternoon on their bike.

FringeArts: How does directing this play fit into your other work?

Sam Tower: Caridad has written, “Writing for live performance is about writing for the body. It’s all in the body,” which speaks to my artistic process so directly. The rhythm and physicality of the body are integral in the work I make with actors. Athletic physicality is a vessel to be filled, a container for our deepest rivers of unexplainable expression. Those experiences must be held somehow. And in this play, they live in between the details, in lives in the long strings of broken words, they live in the music, and in the body.

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Taking Care: Nell Bang-Jensen on Pig Iron’s new show

Posted May 30th, 2018

“I was thinking about what happens in domestic spaces that is often hidden from plain sight but could benefit from being brought into the open”

Pig Iron Theatre Company is well established as Fringe Festival favorite, with Pay Up (2005, 2013) Welcome to Yuba City (2009), Cankerblossum (2010) and A Period of Animate Existence (2017) among its many memorable offerings. The company’s interim associate artistic director, Nell Bang-Jensen is a prominent figure in the Philadelphia theater world committed to expanding the boundaries of theater production and consumption. She uses models of community engagement and social practice to reimagine the way theater can include and represent the diverse community it serves.

Bang-Jensen has brought her interest in community involvement to Pig Iron Theatre’s new show The Caregivers, a play created by and starring caregivers from the neighborhood surrounding Pig Iron’s headquarters in Old Kensington, where it is on show this weekend (shows are FREE but “sold out” and waiting list–only). The involvement of real caregivers in every step of the process allows authentic, lived experiences to be revealed, and shines a spotlight on underpaid, often invisible members of the community. We spoke with Bang-Jensen to learn more about the inspiration for the show as well as the joys and challenges of putting caregivers, creators, and actors together in one room.

Nell Bang-Jensen

Nell Bang-Jensen

FringeArts: What inspired The Caregivers?

Nell Bang-Jensen: I’m serving as interim associate artistic director of Pig Iron through a grant from the Theatre Communications Group . One of my focal points of the last eighteen months was observing and working with theaters around the country (and abroad) that have radical approaches to community engagement. I think sometimes theaters use the term “community engagement”  as a blanket term that really just means trying to diversify their audiences. I’m more interested by models of civic and social practice, which go beyond questions of how to make specific productions more inclusive and accessible, and ask more broadly: how is a theater actually serving its community? How could it be? It requires us in the theater industry to step back and think more deeply about  what the form of theater specifically is primed to do.

I knew I wanted the culmination of this grant period to be making a piece with citizen artists who were both driving the content and also performing.  Pig Iron’s neighborhood [what’s known as Old Kensington] is largely residential and I was thinking about what happens in domestic spaces that is often hidden from plain sight but could benefit from being brought into the open. I also took stock of what organizations were around and noticed that almost all of them had to do with giving care: there is a Visiting Nurse Group, Hospice Center, and Children’s Crisis Treatment Center all within a few blocks of Pig Iron.

I’ve always been interested in the topic of caregiving in general, in part because babysitting and nannying were my go-to side jobs when I was starting out as a theater artist. I was always struck by the intimate acts that strangers perform for each other in these roles, for what is ultimately a financial transaction.  Many of the bonds I formed with families were intense and long lasting, and yet we don’t have many labels in our society to describe these tangential, non-familial relationships of care.

On the other end of the age spectrum, I was very close with my grandfather, who passed away three years ago. I was born on his 65th birthday and we made an effort to celebrate every shared birthday together until he died. I remember being in a hospice center with him as he died, feeling completely helpless, and being overwhelmed by the proficiency and competence of the hospice workers. They were able to provide for him in ways his family members, including myself, could not. These acts of care are profound, and yet people who perform them (who are, unsurprisingly, mostly women) are some of the lowest paid workers in our society.

FringeArts: Do you remember where you were when the idea for the show came to you?

Nell Bang-Jensen: That our capitalist society places so little value on the work of literally keeping people alive is fascinating (and utterly depressing) to me.  I was thinking about all of these things and was out getting coffee one day and came across a banner at the Lutheran Settlement House (half a block from Pig Iron). It was advertising their CARES program, a support group for informal, unpaid family members who are caring for vulnerable relatives. It was the final sign I needed that this topic was worth pursuing in this neighborhood.

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Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium Peels Back the Layers of This Absurd World

Posted May 18th, 2018

“The absurd is not in man…nor in the world, but in their presence together”—Albert Camus

Each Fringe Festival, the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium’s entry into the Fringe Festival is one of the first shows on the schedule and one of the most frequently performed. After several years exploring the works of French avant-garde playwright Eugene Ionesco (Rhinoceros [2014], Exit the King [2015], The Chairs [2016], Bald Soprano [2017]), the absurdist theater company switches its 2018 Fringe Festival attention to Tennessee Williams with a staging of his seldom-performed The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, September 4–23,  at The Bethany Mission Gallery. First though, IRC pads their Festival budget this Sunday, May 20, with a special one-night performance of Raw Onion 2018: Comfort Food.

The cast of IRC’s Raw Onion 2018: Comfort Food.

An annual tradition  at L’Etage Cabaret since 2008, Raw Onion stages commentary pieces from satirical magazine The Onion.

The show traces its history to acting classes in the early ’00s. “We began testing out material from magazines: editorials mostly, to see how the thoughts on the page held up/could be adjusted slightly for drama and comedy,” says Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium artistic director Tina Brock. “One of our favorite characters was the alter ego of Herbert Kornfeld, an employee in the accounts receivable department at Midstate Office Supply [in a fictitious Onion column]. A guy in class worked up one of Herbert’s monologues, it was ridiculous. We continued to test out this material in class, figuring out how to activate the words that were written to be read.”

IRC contacted The Onion for permission rights to perform pieces from the commentary section. Now the challenge lies in selecting material to illustrate the current gestalt, where real-world headlines feel drawn from the pages of The Onion.

“Since the election, selecting material for the IRC seasons (both Onion and regular mainstage season) has become a different challenge,” explains Brock. “Since the daily news is far more absurd than anything the IRC could present, the question becomes what is the response to that, as opposed to illustrating the thing. It would be a daunting task to outdo theatrically the current political situation.”

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Mission Complete: Playwright Collective Orbiter 3 Launches Its Final Show

Posted May 15th, 2018

After producing six world premieres by local writers, playwright collective Orbiter 3 brings the curtain down on its three-year project with one final play, L.M. Feldman’s A People.

“The scale of this show makes for a fitting end,” collective member Douglas Williams tells FringeArts, as he considers the company’s coda, which runs May 16-June 2, 2018, at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. “It’s a huge sprawling show, both in terms of story and production.”

“These are qualities producers often shy away from,” adds Emma Goidel, another founding member of the collective, “and ones Orbiter 3 set out to embrace.”

L. M. Feldman

Goidel and Williams are two of creative theatermakers who form Orbiter 3. They are joined by playwrights Emily Acker, L M Feldman, Sam Henderson, James Ijames, and Mary Tuomanen — some of the best-regarded theater writers in Philadelphia — and led by artistic director Maura Krause, with associate producer Erin Washburn and company manager Cat Ramirez. Over its lifespan, Orbiter 3 has produced a play by each of its playwrights, from James Ijames’ Moon Man Walk in June/July 2015 to Sam Henderson’s The Brownings (a presentation by FringeArts) in November/December 2017.

“You can judge for yourself if you think each individual production was a success,” says Williams, looking back on the company’s output. “But, in my book, they were each artistically daring and brought a new story to Philly’s stages that audiences would not otherwise have been able to enjoy.”

Several playwrights used the opportunity to produce plays unlikely to be staged by mainstream companies. Whiting Award–winner Ijames launched Orbiter 3 with a quasi rom com that inhabited a world completely populated by African American characters. Goidel’s A Knee That Can Bend looked at a circle of queer friends in Senegal. Williams chose to use an ensemble devising process to create Breath Smoke, a piece billed as “more narrative mixtape than play.” Mary Tuomanen’s Peaceable Kingdom featured a cast of eighteen.

“Outside of a theater like The Wilma, or Walnut Street, you’re not seeing a show like that get produced in Philly, and certainly not a world premiere by a local playwright,” claims Williams. “I’m just so proud we were able to take those risks and put those stories and performers on a Philly stage.”

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Death of Kings and Patriarchy: Revolution Shakespeare Reads Richard II

Posted May 11th, 2018

Whet your appetite for Revolution Shakespeare’s September show and help smash the patriarchy with a non-cis-male staged reading of Richard II, this Monday, May 14, at the Painted Bride Arts Center.

We’ve all heard the story: In Elizabethan theater, women weren’t allowed on stage, so all the female roles in all Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed by male actors (though exceptions were made for Gwyneth Paltrow). These days, some theater companies choose to revisit those troglodyte times by staging all-male versions of the Bard’s canon.

Revolution Shakespeare is not one of those companies.

For its large-scale Fringe Festival show this September 12-22, the company will present Troilus and Cressida with few, if any, actors who identify as male. The production revisits last May’s “Revolt against the Patriarchy” staged reading of the bleak Shakespearean tragedy. Monday’s reading of the beautifully poetic historical drama Richard II is also billed under the same banner.

Revolution Shakespeare presented “all-female” versions of Shakespeare’s oeuvre for several years, but they redubbed the series Revolt Against the Patriarchy “to be less binary, open it up to other voices and also rock the political a bit,” says Rev Shakes artistic director Griffin Stanton-Ameisen.

“When doing any classical text, I worry about the ways misogyny is coded into the storytelling and the language itself. Even though Shakespeare is my all-time favorite playwright, doing his work can feel irresponsible at times,” adds Hannah Van Sciver, who plays the titular poet-king in Monday’s reading. “This cast and artistic team allow me to worry a little bit less about that, as we’re actively combatting it through our casting.”

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A Séancers Syllabus

Posted May 10th, 2018

Photo by Julieanne Harris

This weekend, Nigerian–American curator, poet, and performance artist Jaamil Olawale Kosoko brings his latest work to FringeArts. Informed by the deaths of all his immediate family members, Séancers collapses lyrical poetry, movement forms, and discursive performance to explore how the American racialized body uses psychic, spiritual, and theoretical strategies to shape shift through loss and oppression.

Kosoko’s artistic practice is in many ways guided by his voracity as a reader and, in the case of Séancers, many of the works that inspired the piece were also pertinent to his grieving process, to seeing his loss in a greater context of cultural erasure and systemic oppression of Black people in America. At the top of a recent episode of Terrible, Thanks for Asking, he offered, “I think of a quote by James Baldwin: ‘You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.’ And I think really situating myself inside of being bookish has allowed me an understanding to know that my story is not particularly unique.”

Below is a list of texts and works that inspired Kosoko to make Séancers—a mix of Black theory, poetry, performance art, and video art—along with links and quotes (some direct, some contextual) to help spark your own exploration into these illuminating sources.

 

Mumia Abu-Jamal and Cornel West, “The Empire Files: Black Radical Tradition”

 

James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket (Viewing and Reading)

“If Raoul Peck’s fiery documentary I Am Not Your Negro piqued your interest in all things James Baldwin, then try this movie as a companion piece… This 1989 documentary is full of archival footage, recordings of Baldwin reading his work, old interviews, photographs and memories from friends like Maya Angelou and Amiri Baraka. Although some scenes, like a recreation of Baldwin’s fight with his father, haven’t aged gracefully, the documentary’s focus on Baldwin’s personal and creative life humanizes this literary legend.” Monica Castillo, The New York Times

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Wake Work: An Interview With Jaamil Olawale Kosoko

Posted May 7th, 2018

Photo by Leni Olafson

Nigerian–American curator, poet, and performance artist is far more acquainted with loss than a person his age should be. At 34, he is the only living member of his immediate family. In a recent interview with the podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking, he detailed his tumultuous upbringing and the devastating losses that have marked his life. Kosoko is quick to note that his story is not extraordinary, that the pain and hardship he’s experienced is far more common than some might care to acknowledge. However, what is unique about Kosoko’s story is his ongoing journey towards “post-traumatic enlightenment,” which has seen him allowing grief to inform his artistic process and letting his work inform his healing process. “In grief work, you may know that in order to help someone move beyond a hard moment, there’s this idea of a transitional object,” he notes in the episode, adding, “That’s really what my creative work is doing for me.”

This weekend, Kosoko will bring his latest work, Séancers, to FringeArts and as the show’s title suggests it is one that approaches loss head on. Presented as a literal séance, complete with a different guest artist/theorist who helps frame the witnessing of each performance, it explores the ways in which the American racialized body uses psychic, spiritual, and theoretical strategies to shapeshift through loss and oppression in surreal and fantastical fashion. “I’m thinking a lot about trying to heal, strategies of survival that have been embedded in black thought, black life, really since black people landed on the Americas—about larger societal traumas and my own personal traumas and how they’re engaged in this dance,” Kosoko shared in a recent The New York Times profile. In this way, Séancers reaches beyond personal loss to encompass cultural loss as well, particularly those that relate to rituals, to old modes of congregating among African-Americans that Kosoko sees as extinct or dying.

Recently, FringeArts caught up with Kosoko to learn more about the theories and art that informs Séancers and what audiences can expect to witness.

FringeArts: What made you think up the title Séancers?

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko: My previous piece #negrophobia was described as a kind of séance as I toured it throughout Europe over the past couple years. It felt like a natural progression to lean more into themes of paranormal activity, loss, and resurrection as it relates to Black identities. Of course I’m also thinking a lot about Black theory, which has been incredibly healing and informative for me as a way to come to terms with personal and societal trauma. Black conceptual technologies such as fugivity (Fred Moten), afro-pessimism (Frank Wilderson), and intersectionality (Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw) have given me a deeper intellectual framework to ground the ideas and metaphors that are situated inside my new work, Séancers. Lastly, the work has literally become a way for me to stay in close relationship to my dead family. I’m the only living member of my immediate family.

Have a listen to an interview I recently did here.

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Vender Una Fantasia: An Interview With Alex Torra

Posted April 13th, 2018

Cuban President Raúl Castro’s second term is coming to a close and as such he’s preparing to vacate the office, making good on the two-term limit he set back in 2013. Though he intends to remain on the National Assembly and retain his position as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba (the country’s only legal party), for the first time since 1959 someone other than a Castro will rule the island. On April 19th, Cuba’s National Assembly will undertake the historic vote to decide just who that someone will be. The following day, as the reality of that outcome is settling in with Cuban citizens, those of us here in the island’s not-so-friendly neighbor to the north will have a chance to settle into some theater seats and get an irreverent, pointed examination of our nations’ contentious relationship.

Jenna Horton and Benjamin Camp. Photo by Kate Raines, Plate 3 Photography.

¡BIENVENIDOS BLANCOS! OR WELCOME WHITE PEOPLE! will receive its world premiere here at FringeArts on April 20th through the 28th. This new, original play from Team Sunshine Performance Corporation has been years in the making, and a true passion project for the ambitious company’s co-founder Alex Torra. Serving as the show’s lead artist and director, he was spurred to create the work in part because of his complicated relationship with his Cuban heritage. However, as the project has grown, it’s expanded its concerns far beyond the personal to encompass the long history of cultural exploitation and outsider ignorance Cuba has suffered through. Case in point, I’m embarrassed to admit just how recently I became aware that Cuba’s aforementioned vote was happening so soon. Live and learn.

Recently, we spoke with Torra to learn more about the origins of this bold, lively new play; the long journey to making it a reality, full of trips to Cuba and visa nightmares; and what audiences can expect to see onstage once the rumba beat starts.

FringeArts: Where did the title ¡BIENVENIDOS BLANCOS! OR WELCOME WHITE PEOPLE! arise from?

Alex Torra: Back in 2015, I had an opportunity to travel to Cuba for the first time. It was a super intense and difficult trip for me – for many Cuban-Americans, we only understand Cuba through the things our parents tell us and from photos or videos. To see it with your own eyes is a whole different experience.

I was really taken aback by how many of my interactions were tourism-based, and how much of the culture I was seeing was focused on getting (at that time) white tourists to have a great time and spend money. I kept having the strangest sensation – that Cuba was selling itself. I saw this phrase “Rentar Una Fantasia” on the back of a taxi. It clobbered me. Cuba has opened its doors to tourists, and now, tourism serves as one of the largest sources of revenue for the country. Cuba openly caters to tourists, and especially tourists from wealthy majority-white nations, to come and partake of the island and culture. It’s for the sake of survival, for sure, but it makes me deeply uncomfortable.

Idalmis Garcia. Photo by Kate Raines, Plate 3 Photography.

In my research, I discovered that this is a recurring theme in Cuban history. There is desire/repel quality to the way Cuba has dealt with foreigners. It goes as far back as La Conquista, where the Native people of the island, at some moments, welcomed Spanish strangers to the “New” World before they were enslaved, tortured, converted, and poisoned by European sicknesses. Then, in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Cubans, who had achieved independence from Spain had begun to welcome Americans. The Americans, in the early 20th century, used Cuba as a new marketplace and the island, especially Havana, became a kind of playground for the mafia, Hollywood, and tourists. When Castro came into power, many Cubans were happy to see the Americans go, but then the country became reliant on the Soviet Union. After the fall of Russian Communism, Cuba opened up to tourism for the first time in 40-50 years, welcoming European and Canadian tourists, and now, Cuba has opened up and is welcoming American tourists.  It’s a powerful and complicated story, of both revolting against these outside forces and also welcoming them in.

FringeArts: How has your identity and relationship with your heritage informed the piece from its conception?

Alex Torra: It was the starting place for the project. We’ll see how much of this finds its way into the final performance, but a big complication for me is my white Latinoness. I present white (some say I “pass” as white), but I’m part of a Latinx minority group. As a first generation Cuban-American, I was encouraged to find success by my parents and community, and so I set out to do that. Along the way I deleted my Miami accent, I went to theatre schools that focused on American and Euro traditions of theatre where the work was made for primarily white audiences, and I worked hard to fit and succeed. I “whitened.”

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The History of Cherdonna Shinatra: From Name to Fame

Posted February 23rd, 2018

Photo by Lou Daprile

This weekend, Seattle-based dancer and choreographer Jody Kuehner, aka Cherdonna Shinatra, will take the stage in all her queer drag glory for Clock that Mug or Dusted. It’s sure to be a wild ride, one filled with live installation art, dance, birthday cake, found objects, and a commentary on all things queer feminism. While getting ready for Ms. Shinatra to perform, I feel it’s important to discuss where her stage name derives from and the journey she has gone through to make it to this point.

The first artist in her name is none other than Cher, the Goddess of Pop, known for songs like “I Got You Babe,” and she’s “got” the queer community on her side. Cher has become a gay icon, in part through her son Chaz, but also for her sense of style and fashion. Drag queens—specifically Chad Michaels and Charlie Hides from RuPaul’s Drag Race—have imitated her, feeling that her struggle and story relates to their coming out processes. Madonna, the other half of Cherdonna’s namesake, is another another legend worth talking about. The Queen of Pop, known for bestsellers including “Like a Virgin,” is also considered a gay icon. She was introduced to the queer community as a teenager, and since then, has been a welcome presence. Like Cher, many drag queens have imitated her, seeing her journey to stardom as very similar to their struggles. And then we have Frank Sinatra who, while not necessarily a gay icon, was a legendary singer known for classics like “My Way.” Adding his name at the end of her stage name cements Cherdonna Shinatra as the legend that she is. In discussing the origin of her character, she also offers, “I feel like Cherdonna is an extension of myself in a way that’s not like an ‘other’… For me it’s a heightened version—more or less myself, or my less censored self.”

Courtesy of the artist

Cherdonna’s work has been shown in every major venue in Washington State and all over the country, but she hasn’t always been alone in the spotlight. From 2008-2013 she performed with Ricki Mason, also known as drag king Lou Henry Hoover, as “The Cherdonna and Lou Show.” The character of Cherdonna started with Lou in this cabaret-style series of performances which often included dance, theater, drag, burlesque, glitter, and featured celebrity impersonations, including an infamous Sonny and Cher routine. Both artists would transcend their queer identities with how they presented themselves on stage—Cherdonna with her long legs, platform heels, big blonde hair, and copious makeup and Lou as a petite drag king wearing a neat mustached face and all. In a 2016 interview, Kuehner commented on her and Mason’s stage duo’s gender play, noting, “We’re both queer people, and we had started diving into more work about gender and gender play… Over the last six years, it’s been diving in more. I got hooked, and just felt there was so much to explore in it.” Kuehner performing drag as the gender that she identifies with is a revolutionary concept, as it transcends what the audience expects from drag.

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Making a Radical Mess: An Interview With Jody Kuehner aka Cherdonna Shinatra

Posted February 7th, 2018

Courtesy of the artist

Cherdonna Shinatra is a drag queen who’s not a drag queen. Not in the way we’ve come to expect, anyway. She’s the alter-ego of Jody Kuehner, a Seattle-based dancer and choreographer, and a queer woman. That last bit makes Cherdonna—a simple, brilliant portmanteau of icons Cher and Madonna—a bit of an anomaly in the world of drag, as does her penchant for dipping her creative toes in the worlds of performance art, experimental theater, and contemporary dance.

Over the last several years Cherdonna has evolved from a cabaret performer with her former artistic partner, drag king Lou Henry Hoover (played by dancer Ricki Mason), to one of Seattle’s preeminent boundary pushing performance artists. She’s created evening length performances like Worth My Salt and more recently Kissing Like Babies; she regularly performs with drag artists like former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant BenDeLaCreme, Kitten LaRue, and the aforementioned Hoover; and she recently “crashed” a production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House at Washington Ensemble Theatre. And that’s simply scratching the surface.

Her solo piece, Clock That Mug or Dusted, rolls strains of all her artistic endeavors into one. Then through some paint. And maybe a birthday cake. Kuehner has described the work as a “conceptual and inspirational homage to feminist performance artists” and an artistic dare to “find what present day queer/drag feminism might be.” It’s a search left open-ended by the show’s improvisation-friendly structure and reflective of Kuehner’s own avoidance of easy categorization. We caught up with her recently to learn more about the piece’s origins, its challenges, and why she’s looking for a “might be” rather than an “is.”

FringeArts: What made you think up the title Clock that Mug or Dusted?

Jody Kuehner: The title came out of a drag saying that you’ve “clocked” something, meaning you’ve noticed something you like or dislike or generally want to bring attention to. This work is largely improvisational so the idea of noticing things as they come, “clocking” every moment is central. Giving “face” aka “mug,” means giving attention to. Dusted coming from the idea of putting on your face, “being dusted,” and also it’s used as a word to mean being under the influence or even death—“turning to dust.” All these layers are in the work.

FringeArtsHow was creating Clock That Mug or Dusted an artistic leap or creative challenge to you?

Jody Kuehner: Using so many materials continues to be a creative challenge. Not knowing exactly how they will play in the space or what I will be inspired by, it changes with every show. The materials add a whole new cast member to the piece. I like the risk in that. It’s an unknown.

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Return to Semi-Innocence: A Dear Diary LOL Playlist

Posted January 19th, 2018

Oh the early 2000s. What a time to be alive. Y2K was in our rearview mirrors and the freeze dried foods from our techpocalypse bunkers were in our children’s lunch boxes. Wayward boy bands roamed the earth hoping to strike a chord with young audiences, relying only on their good looks, dance moves, digitally-tweaked vocals, and focus-grouped personas. And an upset in the Presidential election had our country more politically polarized than ever before. Thank goodness that’s all over.

HAHA.

…ahem…

Anyway, this month FringeArts presents an encore presentation of AntiGravity Theatre Project‘s 2017 Festival hit Dear Diary LOL. Born verbatim from the real-life tween-teen diaries of middle school girls from the early 2000s, most of whom are in the show’s actual cast, this comedic theatre performance plumbs these once heavily guarded tomes for all the earnest desires, deepest fears, secret shames, and terrible poems that often come part and parcel with coming-of-age.

The concept of the show first came about during a fortuitous trip home for lead artist Francesca Montanile Lyons. At the time she was attending Pig Iron’s Advanced Performance Training School and had recently been tasked with devising a show as a lead artist. Montanile came across her middle school diary and found inspiration—or rather, deep, utter embarrassment—in its content. “Obviously it was the thing I had to bring in front of an audience,” she recently told FringeArts. She soon found that many of her classmates had similar diaries and similarly mortified responses to them in the harsh light of hindsight and from there the project began to grow.

While most of us would be equally aghast at having our own inanimate confidantes unearthed and their contents aired for anyone to hear, the intrepid ensemble of devisers fearlessly bare these texts and explode the material with moments of direct address, music, dance, and physical comedy, colliding the melodramatic musings with the inherent humor found in their earnestness. The result is a light-hearted, intimate glimpse of the ways these young girls come to understand the world around them, form a self, and use their voices as they experiment with their malleable identities and budding adulthood.

Since nothing triggers memory and nostalgia quite like music, Montanile has shared a playlist that embodies the spirit of that period in the ensemble members’ lives, a veritable early aughts megamix. Stream below or over at Spotify, and catch Dear Diary LOL when it returns for a limited engagement, Jan 25-26, here at FringeArts.

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Ready, Set, Sew: An Interview With Theatre SKAM

Posted January 15th, 2018

Since its founding in 1995, Victoria, BC’s Theatre SKAM has built a strong reputation for their innovative theatrical works. From intimate, elegant plays to boundary-pushing site-specific performances, they always seem to be actively widening the scope of what a contemporary theater company can, and should, do. Case in point: Fashion Machine.

SKAM will bring this widely acclaimed theater/design/education project to FringeArts later this month. Gathering a group of 28 local children, ages 9-13, SKAM artists will lead these budding fashionistas through a few days of intensive training and teaching. They’ll learn about the history and current state of fashion, play some drama games, and, most importantly, learn all the fabrication skills they’ll need to invite a handful of lucky audience members into the Fashion Machine. From January 23-27, these children will take the outfits of seven brave (and willing!) audience members and, over the course of an hour, transform them into something entirely new.

Recently we spoke with two of the projects core artists, Matthew Payne and Shayna Ward, to learn more about how this wild work came together, the benefits of working with children, and the experience of the performance.

From the 2014 premiere of Fashion Machine.

FringeArts: How did the idea for Fashion Machine first come about?

Matthew Payne and Shayna Ward: In 2009 SKAM co-presented the show Haircuts by Children in Victoria by a Toronto company called Mammalian Diving Reflex. We were in the room as children participated in training sessions with a professional hairstylist. It was remarkable to see children grasp concepts quickly while having a blast doing it. Seeing that spark made us want to embark on something equally audacious in spirit.

FringeArts: What made clothing the right vehicle?

Matthew Payne and Shayna Ward: We wanted to try something where the training session made more of an impact than the 2 two-hour sessions the kids received in Haircuts by Children before they started giving free haircuts to people.

As it turns out, remaking someone’s outfit is harder than cutting their hair. Fashion Machine requires more training (12 hours). Part of that time is spent discussing where our clothes come from, the state of the fashion industry, and how new clothes are presented to the public. So the kids who train with us learn how images are manipulated and what they can do to break or better this cycle.

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Happy Hour on the Fringe With Sam Henderson

Posted December 1st, 2017

The latest episode of our newly launched podcast is available for streaming! This episode features a conversation with playwright, performer, and theater technician Sam Henderson. Henderson has appeared on stages or worked behind the scenes at theaters all over the city. He is a member of the self-sustaining producing playwrights collective Orbiter 3, a group focused on sustainability and empowering the playwright as lead artist by embracing administrative and fiscal responsibility in the pursuit of the artistic growth of its members.

The conversation touches on Henderson’s history working in theater throughout the city as well as his latest play, The Brownings, an immoderate re-telling of the great love of the 19th century. This unconventional, rudely comic exploration of the purpose of art and the nature of love runs here at FringeArts from Dec 1 – Dec 9.

Listen below, or over at our show page.

One Long, Horrid Writer’s Retreat: An Interview with Sam Henderson

Posted November 17th, 2017

The love affair and marriage of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning is one of literary history’s favorite romances. It’s not hard to see why. The narrative of two brilliant artists who could articulate their love for each other, wring beautiful verse from it better than just about anyone is certainly an enchanting one. Of course, when are relationships ever that perfect?

From Nov 29–Dec 9, FringeArts will present The Brownings, the latest play from and in conjunction with the acclaimed Philadelphia producing playwrights collective Orbiter 3. Written by Philadelphia playwright and performer Sam Henderson, The Brownings is an immoderate retelling of the titular couple’s famous relationship, with all the fighting and weird sex and drug abuse they didn’t teach you about in school. Though, perhaps there’s a reason for that. We should be sure to reemphasize the terms immoderate and retelling. We spoke to Henderson back in August about the play’s origins and taking some artistic liberties with these famous, oft-idealized figures.

FringeArtsWas there any incident in particular that spurred the creation if The Brownings

Sam Henderson: I was homeless, but staying with friends. I’d spent some time in a psych unit about three weeks earlier, where I’d received really good health care for the first time in about a year and a half. My life was beginning to improve after a long decline. My friends had provided me with a huge, stand-mounted map of Australia for privacy, and I used to just stare at Australia and write plays.

I was struggling to understand myself in the light of my diagnosis of type II bipolar disorder, and my coming to God: two recent, wholly unexpected events that brought meaning to all this personal chaos, if not comfort.

I was deeply under the influence of Mary Tuomanen’s Marcus/Emma, which was still unproduced. I wrote the first seven scenes of The Brownings very quickly as a joke to crack Mary up, and I was surprised when she encouraged me to keep going, since The Brownings is such a rip off of Marcus/Emma.

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Happy Hour on the Fringe With Jorge Cousineau

Posted November 10th, 2017

FringeArts is excited to announce the launch of our very own podcast! Hosted by our Communications Director Hallie Martenson, Happy Hour on the Fringe is our chance to sit back, relax, have a drink, and chat with some of the most imaginative artists in the world.

This premiere episode features an in depth conversation with Subcircle co-founder Jorge Cousineau. The Dresden-born, Philadelphia-based artist has worked as a theater designer for the last two decades with many of this city’s—and others’—most lauded theater companies, receiving widespread acclaim for his imaginative integration of technology into many performances.

The conversation covers a wide-range of topics including Cousineau’s beginnings in theater, his relocation to Philadelphia, some of his most memorable projects, as well as the concepts behind and his work as a live sound designer for Subcircle’s latest show, HOLD STILL while I figure this out (coming to FringeArts Nov 16-18). You can hear snippets of this sound work, generated during rehearsals, throughout the episode.

Check out the trailer for HOLD STILL while I figure this out below and find more info and tickets here.

Your Record Collection Just Got a Little Saltier

Posted October 19th, 2017

This Friday night, FringeArts’ monthly series of sexy, satirical, queer, and tantalizing cabaret returns to the La Peg stage to kick off it’s fall season. Hosted by Bearded Ladies Cabaret artistic director John Jarboe and co-presented by the William Way LGBT Community Center, this season of Get Pegged features some powerhouse performers from Philadelphia and New York.

October’s featured performers include a “stripped down” assemblage—if that means acoustic or naked is being left unanswered—of Philly’s favorite musical misfits ILL DOOTS, performing two tight sets of original tunes and covers around the notion of “Passion.” Where that will take them is anyone’s guess, all they’ll say is, “We’ll experience several forms of passion together that culminates into what we can only hope is a sweet release.”

Salty Brine in Second Hand News, a reinterpretation of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours through the lens of sensationalist news and gossip.

This month’s other featured performer, the out-of-towner of the bunch, is New York cabaret artist Salty Brine. Astute Fringe attendees may recognize him as the boisterous but wise host from the 2016 Festival hit The Elementary Spacetime Show, but the talented actor and playwright has made his name as an inventive cabaret artist as well for his own ongoing series, Salty Brine’s Spectacular Living Record Collection, which he’ll be performing an excerpt from at Get Pegged. Journeying into the heart of popular music and consciousness, Salty takes classic albums from legendary artists and twists them in style and form, building spectacular and unexpected theatrical worlds for these well known works to inhabit. These are places where they can be appreciated in an entirely new light and he can weave his own personal, historical, and fantastical narratives into our shared musical history.

The first installment of the series, Abbey Straße, took the music of The Beatles’ Abbey Road and reimagined it as a scandalous German cabaret styled in the spirit of Brecht and Weill, Marlene Dietrich, Ute Lemper, and others like them.

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There’s Nothing Called African Music: A Conversation with Olivier Tarpaga

Posted October 12th, 2017

“Dance and music are one in our tradition, and they come in one body.” This is what Burkina Faso-born dancer, choreographer, musician, and composer Olivier Tarpaga offers when asked about the relationship between the two mediums in his latest show Declassified Memory Fragment. Positioned as an “open letter” to life in a few African nations that have experienced cultural and political tumult over the last several decades, the piece opens tonight and runs from Oct 12-14 here at FringeArts. As the dancers move throughout the performance space, a group of virtuosic musicians play from the sidelines, informing the dancers’ movements and energies. “Live music affects everything and the dancers feel different and create different when the music is live,” Tarpaga asserted in a previous interview. Live music has always been a hallmark of Baker + Tarpaga Dance Project, likely because music has always been a hallmark of Tarpaga’s life.

Growing up in Burkina Faso, Tarpaga didn’t have to look far to find great music. His father was a saxophonist and the leader of Supra Volta, a popular band that played West African musics with modern instrumentation, even a rhumba influence. They were active throughout the ‘60s, soon after the country gained its independence from France, and often played for heads of state and dignitaries. They were based out of an empty bedroom inside the Tarpaga household, and young Olivier couldn’t help but be drawn to their infectious tunes.

“I’d just walk there and listen to them, and they’d all walk out—somebody was smoking a cigarette, everyone was talking—and then I’d go in with my brothers and we’d start banging on everything. I was always on the drums.” In the ensuing chaos things would get broken, and as a result he was often in trouble with his father. Even so, he simply couldn’t get enough. “Music was an addiction,” he said, and though he’d repeatedly beg his father to teach him to play, he’d always be told to study his math and science, that music would have to wait. Even when his father was teaching Tarpaga’s brothers to play saxophone—despite their total lack of interest—he was still pushed to focus on math and science. Nowadays, he’s the only musician in the family.

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Making Art in 2017: Nick Jonczak on Doppelbanger

Posted September 16th, 2017

Photo by Robin Stamey.

Name: Nick Jonczak

Show in 2017 Festival: Doppelbanger

Role: Creator, Performer

Past Festival Show: Exile 2588 with Almanac Dance Circus Theatre

FringeArtsTell us a bit about your show.

Nick Jonczak: This show is probably the most personal and definitely the gayest piece I’ve ever created. About three years ago, a man broke up with me by saying, “I think I could love a version of you, but I don’t think it’s a version you want to be…” which is kind of a terrible thing to say to someone. At that point I was really consumed by what the best “version” of me is and how I could manifest-build-shape-sculpt-summon that facet of me into being. I became really aware of how this man and many others had shaped the way I hold and use and think about my body, and I also became really aware of how I, like so many other gay men I know, pursue men who look similar to themselves. Doppelbanger tries to tackle these ideas through a collection of stories from my life where I was left wondering: do I want to be him, or do I want to be with him?

FringeArtsHow have your interests in or approach to art making changed in the last year? Have you found yourself taking anything new into consideration?

Nick Jonczak: I’m absolutely terrified of solo work—this is the first public solo show I’ve ever performed—so I’ve really come to rely on my director, Vanita Kalra, for her amazing sensitivity and sensibility to help me understand the core of the piece, which has definitely evolved over the past year. Originally I was much more concerned with the piece as a reflection of the LGBT community, but, with Vanita’s invaluable guidance, the piece has shifted to a much more personal reflection on formative experiences. I tend to be pretty skeptical of performances that rely heavily on personal narrative, so in making this piece I’ve had constantly, gently give my self permission to make the content about me—and trust that it will resonate with audiences. Trust is hard!

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