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Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category

How Are You FEELing?

Posted August 18th, 2018

The Fringe wouldn’t be the Fringe without Bobbi Block. The artist and producer has been in EVERY SINGLE Fringe Festival since its foundation in 1997. This year, Block adds two more shows to her impressive Fringe resume: she’s dancing in Sylvain Emard’s Le Super Grand Continental on the Art Museum steps and producing another sure-to-be-a-hit improv theater piece by Tongue & Groove Spontaneous Theater.  

In FEEL, T&G is asking audiences “How are you feeling” and really wanting to know: they will improvise a show based on the feelings of the audience. To put the audience at ease, their offering free massages before every show. Now that feels good!

FringeArts asked Block how she was feeling, and other questions about her upcoming Fringe shows.

FringeArts: How are you feeling today and why?

Bobbi Block: Today? Today I’m feeling joyful and optimistic about my current artistic endeavors… And I’m feeling insignificant and hurt because of a friend’s inconsistent communication. You?

FringeArts: Oh, FringeArts Blog is doing just fine. Why ask audiences that question?

Bobbi Block: Well, first I’ll explain why Tongue & Groove asks that question of each other. For eleven years now, T & G begins every rehearsal and performance with an “Emotional Check-in”—we report how we’re feeling. This accomplishes two goals: 1. It “stirs the pot” of emotional fodder so that real feelings are readily available for us to use as inspiration for our improvised characters and scenarios, and 2. Sharing feelings is vulnerable, and vulnerability and transparency builds trust.

So why ask the audience? We’ve asked the audience so many questions over the years: “What secret are you keeping?” “What do you want to do before you die?” “Who are you?” The answers are written anonymously on cards and used to inspire our improvised work. We figured it was time to ask the most basic question—and possibly most difficult to answer. Most people do not get a lot of practice exercising emotional literacy. We are socialized not to talk about our real feelings—and we assume no one really wants to know. Rarely does someone ask “How are you feeling?” (unless you’re ill); we ask “How are you?” or “How ya doin?” The typical answer is “Fine,” and then we quickly move on, thinking we’ve satisfied our social connection obligation. Even if we’re craving to connect with each other, many of us follow this social norm because we’re afraid to speak the truth.

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Can You Feel the LOVE Tonight? Fringe Comes to LOVE Park

Posted August 17th, 2018

Love is in the air at this year’s Fringe Festival. It’s suspended seven feet off the ground and arranged in an instantly recognizable design. That’s right: Fringe is coming to LOVE Park.

Located in the heart of Center City, the park is home to Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE statue, which has become a symbol of the City of Brotherly Love and which serves as the photogenic entrance to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Originally laid out in 1965 as part of an urban development project by city planner Edmund Bacon (father of actor Kevin Bacon), the park was designated “JFK Plaza” to honor the assassinated president in 1967. It became better known by the moniker LOVE Park after Indiana’s famous wordmark sculpture was placed there in the late 1970s.

The park became known as a hub for Philadelphians to meet, chat, take a lunch break, go for a dip in the fountain, and hone their skateboarding skills. Situated just across from City Hall, it serves as a haven from the busy streets of the city and a resting point for workers, residents, and tourists. Closed in 2016 for a $26 million redesign, LOVE Park reopened on May 30, 2018, with a brand new look.

To celebrate the grand reopening, FringeArts teamed up with the Fairmount Park Conservancy and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (with support from ArtPlace America) to present three FREE shows by leading local arts as part of the 2018 Fringe Festival: An Unofficial, Unauthorized Tour of LOVE Park, Chichi Chip (an ode to the Gnarly), and Same Picture Different Poses.   

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Pipeline of Fun: Ants on a Log Reach Kids through Humor and Music

Posted August 15th, 2018

Folk duo Ants on a Log (Julie Beth and Anya Rose) write music for children and other childlike people, songfully advocating for positivity, social justice, and silliness. They have been featured on XPN’s Kids Corner, at the Philadelphia Folk Fest, and on radio stations around the globe. In 2016 the Ants performed their debut musical Curious: Think Outside the Pipeline, using the power of eco-feminist music and humor to encourage families to stay “curious” about alternatives to fossil fuels.

Julie (a music therapist) and Anya Rose (an elementary science teacher) reworked their musical for the 2018 Fringe Festival show Music for Children and Other Curious People, performed on two dates in Fishtown and West Philadelphia. The pair spoke to FringeArts about creating a fun, socially conscious work for kids.

FringeArts: What do you like about creating theater and performing for kids?

Ants on a Log: Ants on a Log gives us an outlet for our silliness, and it’s a fun challenge to create something that is appealing to both children and adults. We love performing for kids because they are excited and curious about everything, which is how we think adults are too, but only in those rare moments when it’s deemed socially appropriate. Silliness aside, theater and music feel really important right now. This is how ideas are spread. It’s no accident that our songs are so catchy: we want you to accidentally memorize how to change the world for the better.

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The Best of J Hernandez

Posted August 11th, 2018

In 1996, Floridian Ricardo Lopez mailed a bomb to Icelandic singer Bjork, then shot himself in front of a video camera, his falling body revealing the words “The best of me” on the wall behind him. Theater artist J Hernandez takes these words as the title for his entry into the Simpatico Theatre’s 2018 Fringe Festival show, 4Solo. Cowritten with Amanda Schoonover, “The Best of Me” is one of four solo pieces by male artists contemplating masculinity in America and exploring the repercussions of our hyper-gendered society.

Hernandez spoke to FringeArts about the issues his play raises and about his experiences in Philadelphia theater.

FringeArts: What inspired “The Best of Me”?

J Hernandez: I don’t know. On accident I read the story of Ricardo Lopez which led me to the 18 hours of footage he recorded over the period of 9 months before he shot himself in front of a rolling camcorder. His isolation, his issues with mental illness, his loneliness as an artist, his struggle in finding his own cultural identity in America being a child of immigrants, and his hang ups with his own skin, it led me to believe that that Ricardo and I aren’t so dissimilar … and I found that frightening … but it’s almost typical for any Latnix man who’s felt “different” or felt that they “don’t belong.”

There’s a pecking order in the Latinx community, men, women, cat, dog, it doesn’t matter, and it takes its toll on a good number of us. Ricardo’s story isn’t wholly about a man who stalked a celebrity … stalking the celebrity gave him the excuse he needed to take his own life … you don’t see stories like this from a brown person’s perspective. It made me sad. It made me think. It made me want to sit down and write.   

FringeArts: How does it fit with the other pieces in the show?

J Hernandez: These are all pieces starring men, but the stories we’re telling aren’t what we normally imagine when we think of your standard male-driven narrative.

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Exploring Space and Race: Pratima Agrawal on Voided

Posted August 9th, 2018

The slimmest biography of Kalpana Chawla would record her as an astronaut who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster of 2003. In Fringe Festival entry Voided, writer-performer Pratima Agrawal explores Chawla’s fuller life story as the first Indian female astronaut, intermeshing her own experiences in a consideration of who gets to tell stories in theater, whose stories are told, and how do those stories and people impact our world. She asks “What is it to be an unconventional Indian woman trying to exist in a marginalizing world?”

Kalpana Chawla

Agrawal spoke to FringeArts about how she first encountered the astronaut’s story and why she decided to work it into a Fringe show.

FringeArts: What moved you about Kalpana Chawla’s story?

Pratima Agrawal: I only encountered Kalpana’s story about a year ago. I’ve been in Philadelphia for four years now and last year, I had started to become disillusioned by the scarcity of opportunities for POC performers in this city through the established theater companies. So I began thinking about creating my own work. I’d never considered doing a solo show, but my collaborator, Sarah, encouraged me to think about doing one and to brainstorm ideas.

I thought of this book I heard of a couple years ago called The Edge of Time, which is the authoritative biography of Kalpana’s life, written by her husband. Curious to know more about her life because of her inspiring achievement, I read the book and was intrigued by (and connected to) her experience as a very unconventional Indian woman with a passion for flying, having to repeatedly fight against expectations and norms, and then have to leave her country and make her way in a new one as an outsider. Then, of course, there’s the space accident that took her life and the aftermath of that.

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Randi Alexis Hickey on Living The Buried Life

Posted August 8th, 2018

But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life;

A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats
So wild, so deep in us

—excerpt from ”The Buried Life” by Matthew Arnold

The mid-19th century poems of Matthew Arnold have influenced generations of readers, including Randi Alexis Hickey. Arnold’s poem “The Buried Life” (and a recurring storyline in Gilmore Girls) inspired Hickey’s 2018 Fringe Festival show. She talked to FringeArts about the poem, her show, and why she loves the Fringe.

FringeArts: What was your introduction to Matthew Arnold’s poem “The Buried Life”?

Randi Alexis Hickey: When I was in high school there was a show on MTV called The Buried Life, which I loved. It was a group of guys who bought a bus, fixed it up, and went on a road trip to check things off of their bucket list. For every item on their list, they helped someone else check something off of theirs. They were obviously inspired by the poem, so I looked it up and read it in full, and I was in love all over again. At the end of my senior year it came time for us all to make our senior pages in the yearbook. My roommate tells me this is not something that happens everywhere—each graduating senior gets a page in the back of the yearbook to to pay tribute to their high school experience or do whatever they want with. Mine was simply this poem, “The Buried Life” by Matthew Arnold, and two pictures of me: a baby photo and one in my cap and gown.

The Buried Life: Randi’s yearbook page.

FringeArts: What moved you about it? Why did you think it would make for an interesting theater piece?

Randi Alexis Hickey: “The Buried Life,” for me, speaks to the elemental desires in us all. The need to find out why we are the way we are. Why we’re all here. I believe that everything happens for a reason and that we all have a purpose for our time on this planet, and our whole lives are this journey to “spend our fire and restless force / in tracking out our true, original course.”  Personally, I love to know about people. Not in a gossipy sort of wayI’m interested by people’s stories. I’m drawn to documentaries, autobiographies, and theatrical storytelling. First person storytelling is something so unique and beautiful that I’ve never gotten the chance to curate. “The Buried Life” felt like the perfect narrative guide for that kind of piece.

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The Inappropriateness of Words: An Interview with Heiner Goebbels

Posted August 6th, 2018

Heiner Goebbels is a prolific German artist, composer, and director who has created compositions and theater works for ensembles and orchestras around the world. His work often defies easy characterization, using unconventional musical composition and theatrical staging to push the boundaries of contemporary performance art.

This year’s Fringe Festival will feature two of Goebbels’s pieces: Stifters Dinge, a performative installation with no actors, only machines, sounds, and whispers, and Songs of Wars I Have Seen, a musical composition performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra and Tempesta di Mare, interspersed with text from Gertrude Stein’s World War II memoir Wars I Have Seen, recited by the members of the orchestras. Stein’s text, which uses plain language to describe her own experience during the war, is juxtaposed with orchestrations that span centuries of musical styles, played on modern and period instruments. FringeArts asked Goebbels about the many sources of inspiration for the piece, as well as the relationship between the two works he is presenting in this year’s Festival.

FringeArts: How did you encounter Gertrude Stein’s writing?

Heiner Goebbels: The first experience I had with the meditative musicality of her prose was when Robert Wilson recited some paragraphs of her book The Making of Americans during the funeral service for German author Heiner Müller. It was a moving encounter with literature, which is so hard to describe: a novel, a poem, a litany, an incantation? And with other excerpts of this book I created my music theater work Hashirigaki in 2000.

FringeArts: What inspired you to adapt her memoir into Songs of Wars I Have Seen?

Heiner Goebbels: I got the idea to work with some of that text for my opera Landscape with distant relatives, which I created in the context of 9/11, because of the difficulty and the inappropriateness of personal words when trying to talk about an experience of violence and disaster.

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Irish Theater Comes to the Fringe with Lay Me Down Softly

Posted August 4th, 2018

Over the last few years, Irish Heritage Theatre has dedicated itself to presenting selections from the rich legacy of theater created in Ireland or Irish Americans. The company completed a multiyear production of Sean O’Casey’s Dublin Trilogy, staged a compilation of short plays by Irish women, and put on an acclaimed version of Brian Friel’s Making History. IHT’s newest offering, Billy Roche’s 2008 boxing drama Lay Me Down Softly, marks the company’s first entry into the Fringe Festival.

FringeArts spoke to Kirsten Quinn (actor and producer) and Peggy Mecham (director and producer) of IHT about what they like about Roche’s play and why they thought it would be right for the Fringe Festival.

FringeArts: What was your introduction to Lay Me Down Softy?

Peggy Mecham: The first time I read Lay Me Down Softly was during an afternoon marathon session of reading Irish plays. It was quite entertaining and suddenly I was confronted by a play that was jarring, but in a rather quiet and unexpected way.

Kirsten Quinn: When I read the piece after Peggy sent it to me, I had just finished reading a stack of character analyses from my students. It was quite serendipitous, as I was confronted with a group of characters who aren’t really represented that often on stage. Here I was, reading some really in depth answers to Uta Hagen’s nine questions, and I started answering those questions as I read the play. Although it is not explicit in the script, I felt that my character, Lily, the ringmaster’s paramour, is someone who has continually been subjected to mental and physical abuse at the hands of an overbearing, controlling man. She is not portrayed as a victim, however, nor is she always a sympathetic figure. She lashes out at others, perhaps in response to her own lack of control. No one is who they seem in this play, and I really appreciate that.

FringeArts: What moved you about it? Why is it right for the IHT?

Irish Heritage Theatre: The complex relationships of the characters and the danger hidden in their neediness is very compelling. The play is set in 1962 in rural Ireland and each of the characters is marginalized from the social culture and place. The Irish Heritage Theatre is really committed to exploring Irish theater, not just producing the classics (although we love those too). This play is raw and the characters are rough, and living lives as outsiders. They are deeply troubled and dissatisfied with their positions in society.

Michael Toner, Ethan Lipkin, and interviewee Kirsten Quinn in IHT’s production of Molly Sweeney, 2016.

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Denise McCormack Has Some Love Stories For You

Posted August 2nd, 2018

Denise McCormack has some stories for you. Love stories.

A one-woman stand-up revisiting the secret and soulful nuances of motherhood, childhood, family, and life, Love Stories comes to the 2018 Fringe Festival with performances in Old City and Trenton, NJ. In it, McCormack brings to life literary and traditional tales to capture the essence of women’s issues and issues of the heart. She spoke to FringeArts about the power of stories.

FringeArts: How did you come up with the idea for Love Stories?

Denise McCormack: I was researching stories for an upcoming show with the theme of transformation during the upsurge in conversation about women’s issues, and I came across one of the literary tales that I ended up incorporating into Love Stories. It resonated so deeply with my own experience that I digested it and it became part of me. With that one story as a start, I felt that it was necessary to expand the performance to a full one-woman show of women’s stories, the kind that all of us can relate to and that have historically been dismissed as embarrassing or a fact of life that we must accept and live with.

FringeArts: Did you go into the piece knowing the themes you wanted to bring out, or did those themes come out in the stories you chose?

Denise McCormack: The themes are apparent in the tales. The lovely thing about stories is that we receive the messages that we are ready to hear. We view them and understand them from our individual perspectives. Sometimes, those perspectives are shared; other times, they are quite different. But that’s okay.

FringeArts: Why do we like stories?

Denise McCormack: Stories are powerful. They reflect who we are and instruct us in how to deal with our everyday situations. They allow us to understand that everyone is afraid, that others have survived our dilemmas, that we are, each of us, human.

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Werewolves, Mimosas, and Late Night Fringe: ON THE ROCKS Uncorks its Latest Show

Posted July 31st, 2018

“Bring your beer, bring your Mike’s hard lemonade, bring your vodka lemonade, bring your regular lemonade, bring Beyonce’s Lemonade
—Jenna Kuerzi, cast of WOLFCRUSH (a queer werewolf play)

A lot of work goes into each Fringe Festival show. There’s a long process of writing, casting, fundraising, finding a venue, rehearsing, marketing, and countless other tasks before an audience ever arrives.

ON THE ROCKS, the Fringe-tastic theater collaborative of Haygen-Brice Walker and Elaina Di Monaco, knows how the process works. The company’s been a fixture of late night Fringe at the last few Festivals, with their Dead Teenager Trilogy (The Bride’s a Cunt…, 2017; Birdie’s Pit Stop…, 2016; Spookfish, 2015) deconstructing millennial culture in a series of rambunctious, rambling, in-your-face BYOB plays.

Last week saw the cast of ON THE ROCKS’ 2018 Fringe Festival production, WOLFCRUSH (a queer werewolf play), gather for the first time for a full read-through. Conflicting schedules meant the team had to get together at 9am on a Saturday, but mimosas (heavy on the bubbly, light on the OJ) helped fix the mood. They shared some photos of the first rehearsal.

Hannah Van Scriver, José Raúl Mangual, and assistant director Rose Slavin in rehearsal.

“We all met bright and early in my living room, stocked up on caffeine (and champagne!) and spent the whole afternoon together filling in this world that Haygen-Brice made for us to play in,” says Di Monaco. “We had an incredible dramaturgical discussion afterwards about queerness, small towns, werewolf mythology, and the character web that builds the play.”

Director Elaina Di Monaco at rehearsal.

The rehearsal was the first gathering after casting, but it’s not the start of the process. “Elaina and I have been developing this play for more than two years now and the evolution of the play is deeply rooted in the feedback and suggestions that I get from these guys,” says Walker. “I’m in a lot of writers’ groups and playwrights’ collectives and I find people constantly balk at ‘prescriptive feedback’. I want it. I’m like: ‘No, tell me exactly what you think should happen,’ and if I don’t like it, cool, I won’t use it. I think Elaina and my willingness to let everyone take initiative and speak up makes our room really special and bad-ass.”

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Edinburgh Bound: Chris Davis on Returning to the Mother Fringe

Posted July 30th, 2018

Chris Davis knows his Fringe Festivals.

The writer-performer is a stalwart of the annual Fringe Festival in Philadelphia, with his imaginative one-man shows (One Man Apocalypse Now, 2016) and modern adaptations of classic literature (Anna K, 2014) proving among the Festivals’ most popular and talked-about productions. But the locally based artist has also travelled his comedic solo shows to festivals across the United States and beyond, from Texas to Maine, from Pittsburgh to Edinburgh. 

Davis returns to this year’s Philadelphia Festival with The Presented, a world premiere play about what it means to be a “chosen” artist in the theater world. First, though, he’s off to the Mother Fringe, the Edinburgh Fringe (August 3-27), with his bilingual semi-autobiographical travelog Drunk Lion. Chris gave FringeArts the low-down on performing at the world-famous festival.

FringeArts: When did you go to your first Edinburgh Fringe?

Chris Davis: I first attended Edinburgh Fringe in 2014. When I went there I knew almost nothing about the festival or its importance, only that it was very big. The idea came when Brad Wrenn of the Berserker Residents said something like “hey you do solo shows you should take your show and do the Free Fringe festival there this year.” Neither Brad nor I had attended the fringe before, but I decided to take his advice and go. I still miss that first year because I had no expectations about anything and there was a certain freedom in that.

FringeArts: What surprised you most about the festival?

Chris Davis: The quality of the artists that participate. It still surprises me. In every show I see here I find something to love about it, and that’s a rare quality. Also the number of people who attend these shows is phenomenal. It never seems that theater is cool except to small niche audiences in the States; in Edinburgh it feels like everyone, from all walks of life, is excited to engage in live art happening around them. I love it.

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E-A-G-L-E-S: Tribe of Fools Offers a Philly Special This Fringe

Posted July 27th, 2018

The WORLD CHAMPION (!!!) SUPER BOWLWINNING (!!!) Philadelphia Eagles began training camp this week for their TITLEDEFENDING (!!!) 2019 NFL season. Philadelphia theater company Tribe of Fools is also putting on the pads and dusting off their playbook preparing for their 2018 Fringe Festival offering Fly Eagles Fly.

Tribe of Fools’ highly physical, enchantingly visual brand of theater has ensured high scoring wins at recent Fringe Festivals, with Two Street  – A Tale of Star-Crossed Lovers (2014), Zombies … with Guns (2015), Antihero (2016), and Fishtown – A Hipster Play (2017), taking the proverbial football and driving it into the proverbial endzone. It’s football for real this year with new work about Eagle fandom as physically daring as it is poignantly relevant. Tribe of Fools artistic director Terry Brennan spoke to the FringeArts blog about the show, the company’s process, and the EAGLES WINNING THE SUPER BOWL. [Editor’s note: the Philadelphia Eagles won Super Bowl LII]

FringeArts: A number of your shows have hit on Philly institutions: the Mummers, Fishtown hipsters. Where does your inspiration generally come from for your work?

Terry Brennan: I went to school in a place called the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre. At Dell’Arte they had a philosophy called “theater of place.” It’s the idea that you should make art about or inspired by the place where you live because your audience will appreciate it more and because theater is a social art and therefore if it’s social it should reflect society. I love Philly — I didn’t grow up here but I love it. I see so much of the human condition in the specific people that you’ll only find in Philly and I want to share that. I want to share what’s great and terrible and funny and sad about the specific types of people that only Philadelphians know.

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Challenge and Care: An Interview with Tania El Khoury by Monica Uszerowicz

Posted July 24th, 2018

In Tania El Khoury’s immersive installation and theater piece Gardens Speak, 2014, audience members put on raincoats and enter a cemetery where they are given a card written with an Arabic name. Matching it to a tombstone, they lie in soft graves of dirt, ear to the ground, and listen to a story whispered from beneath the soil, told by the dead themselves. If they wish, they can leave a note in response, folded and buried.

These narratives are reconstructed from the families and friends of the deceased, all of whom were dissidents of President Assad who were killed during the uprising in Syria and buried in home or community gardens. Syrian cemeteries are often too full, and large funerals became potential regime targets, putting grieving families at risk. Gardens Speak was developed in 2014, a response to the struggle against Assad’s dictatorship and the collaborative, protective relationship between the living and the dead. Piecing these histories together, El Khoury renders physical the idea that the ground beneath our feet contains multitudinous, literal lives.

Born in Lebanon, El Khoury is based between London and Beirut, where she cofounded the performance collaborative Dictaphone Group. During this year’s Miami Art Week at the Fillmore Miami Beach, and as presented by MDC Live Arts, she will share Gardens Speak and As Far As My Fingertips Take Me, 2017, another participatory project. [These works are presented in the series ear-whispered: works by Tania El Khoury as part of the 2018 Fringe Festival.] Here, audience members allow their arms to be drawn upon by El Khoury’s collaborator, Basel Zaraa, who remains unseen behind a wall. I understand listening and touching as their own kind of dissidence, as both art form and intentional practice. Horror and confusion on a mass scale are heartbreaking, then numbing; it is easier to understand sociopolitical upheaval when you are connected, heart-to-heart, to another story.

— Monica Uszerowicz

Monica Uszerowicz: You developed Gardens Speak in 2014. Americans have the forced context of both Trump and new refugee crises through which to view seemingly everything. How has the project’s meaning grown for you since its original impetus, if at all?

Tania El Khoury: I see Gardens Speak in the political context of Syria rather than the American context. What the piece does now, almost four years later, is remind us that what we perceive as a “war” in Syria started as a legitimate and popular uprising against a four-decade-long dictatorship. It also reminds us of the root of the displacement of Syrians, which we’ve been witnessing in the form of large numbers of refugees. The stories in Gardens Speak speak volumes about the responsibility of the Syrian regime in turning a peaceful uprising into a violent war, and in displacing people locally and internationally.

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Necessity is the Mother of Invention: The 2018 Philadelphia Women’s Theatre Festival

Posted July 20th, 2018

The Philadelphia Women’s Theatre Festival is back for its fourth season, and this year’s theme is Motherhood in Theater. The PWTF is partnering with Parent Artist Advocacy League (PAAL) to present four staged readings and a children’s play written and directed by mothers, and exploring the joys, complexities, and challenges of parenthood.

Cofounders Polly Edelstein and Christine Petrini have each been involved in theater locally and around the world for many years, and in 2014 they graduated together from Villanova University, earning masters of arts in theater. That same year, they decided to confront the lack of opportunities for women in theater, onstage and off, by founding a festival highlighting women’s voices and perspectives that are often misrepresented or left unheard.

Co-founders Polly Edelstein and Christine Petrini (center) promote the 2016 festival

 

The inspiration for this year’s theme comes from seeing the work parents do to juggle art and life. “Last spring we co-hosted a panel on motherhood in the arts with Rachel Spencer Hewitt of PAAL. It was such an inspiring panel that opened our eyes to how talented parent artists are, not only as theater artists but as humans able to take on the many different responsibilities of parenthood and making art,” says Edelstein, artistic director of PWTF and creator of 2011 Fringe Festival show Trappings. For the 2018 festival, Edelstein and Petrini hope to give an artistic platform to parent artists, as well as to provide the resources and support needed for successful art production.  

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Does It All Add Up? Trey Lyford on The Accountant

Posted July 18th, 2018

Trey Lyford’s distinct brand of physical theater has impressed Fringe Festival audiences in all wear bowlers (2005), Amnesia Curiosa (2006) and Elephant Room (2011). He returns to the Festival this year with The Accountant, a new interdisciplinary theater piece that follows the story of a middle-aged office clerk stuck in the tedium of life, fusing physical theater, humor, and illusion to create a “dreamscape of memory and loss.”

Lyford’s latest work will give audiences the chance to ruminate on their own lives, to think about the people who have come and gone, who have touched them in different ways. In witnessing the accountant coming to terms with the loss in his life, viewers are immersed in Lyford’s humor, slapstick, and illusion while reckoning with their own experiences. We asked Lyford about how the show has evolved since its conception and about the many performance forms that make up this innovative piece.

FringeArts: What was the initial inspiration for The Accountant?

Trey Lyford: The piece has been a long time coming . . . I originally thought of the show when I was temping in New York City in my early twenties. I was working at a pretty normal office, with glass-fronted offices that surrounded a pool of partitions for all the assistants in the middle. I was walking around delivering mail and one of the offices was completely dark and had an old man hunched over his desk. There was a lamp and he had stacks of paper surrounding him, floor to ceiling. It was right out of a Dickens novel and totally out of place in the modern office building. I have no idea what he did, or what his title was, but I felt like he had a secret doorway into another world under his desk. I have never been able to shake that image.

I came back to this idea (and also to one of my favorite Beckett pieces, Krapp’s Last Tape) when I started hitting middle age. This isolation really began to speak to me when my life was hit with five important deaths within two years. The people who were sick or dying and the people who they left behind all had to take stock, look back at their lives and put it all together somehow. I was in awe of that space. The moments of total clarity, beauty, and sorrow.

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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.

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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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