Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category

Live and in Technicolor

Posted April 14th, 2016

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

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

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

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Back to School with the Fringe Festival

Posted April 11th, 2016

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


John Bellomo and Brendon Gawel from the Ombelico Mask Ensemble

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

Kimmie D

Kimberly Dickstein directs her students on Commedia Day

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

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

Posted March 31st, 2016

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


Rhys Chatham (Photo by Paula Court)

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

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


Brötzmann and Leigh

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

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

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

Posted March 24th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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With Retroact, Tangle Remixes Its Repertoire

Posted March 14th, 2016

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

Tangle - RetroAct 2

Photo by Michael Ermilio

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

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

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The Bronx Gothic Reading List

Posted March 9th, 2016

This weekend the wildly accomplished Brooklyn-based writer and performer Okwui Okpokwasili brings her acclaimed show, Bronx Gothic, to FringeArts for what will undoubtedly be a powerful, unflinching performance. Developed through a series of residencies, the show finds Okpokwasili employing storytelling techniques that recall West African griot oral traditions as well as Victorian Gothic novels to render a portrait of two black girls on the brink of adolescence in 1980s outer-borough New York City. Through a series of notes passed between them in class, Okpokwasili probes the young friendship in all of its love, cruelty, innocence, and curiosity, as sex becomes a growing concern for both. “In popular imagination urban dwelling, gum chewing, subway hopping, loud and independent young brown girls were not the symbol of innocence that I grew up with,” Okpokwasili told FringeArts back in November. “I wanted to make an argument for a brown girl innocence, charged and precocious and dreamy.”


Okwui Okpokwasili, Photo by Peter Born

According to the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography’s website, during her time there as a Choreographic Fellow Okpokwasili explored thematic notions such as “assumptions and expectations that come with an ‘African’ or ‘African American’ subject/body, the possibilities of interchange between the performer and audience, how the performance space could be designed to reflect intimacy that is inviting but slightly unsettling, and the ways in which she might build a one woman performance piece that interrogates the possibilities and the limitations of this particular framework,” as they related to Bronx Gothic. With the assistance of director and designer Peter Born, it’s remarkable how effective she was at engaging these ideas in the show. In the aforementioned interview Okpokwasili noted, “The whole piece is about a kind of public/private space—the movement between someone presenting something to an audience and then in the midst of presenting, getting lost in the disorderliness of their memory.” Though each aspect of the show’s presentation—from its dreamlike set and lighting design, to its unsettling and effective use of movement—is integral to its power, perhaps the most vital of the thematic concerns Okpokwasili set out to explore is the interrogation of assumptions that come with an African or African American subject.

Throughout history there has been, and sadly continues to be, an alarming ignorance in mainstream consciousness of black female voices speaking to their own experiences—through performance art, through literature, through academic writing—and Okpokwasili is well aware of this shameful oversight. She provided a list of influential writings that informed Bronx Gothic, many of which speak directly to this issue or work to alleviate it. Below you’ll find the list, a mix of literature, academia, and journalism:

  • Sula by Toni Morrison
  • “Redressing the Pained Body: Toward a Theory of Practice” from Scenes of Subjection by Saidiya V. Hartman
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • “The Radical Vision of Toni Morrison” by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah for The New York Times Magazine
  • Playing in the Dark: Whiteness & the Literary Imaginations by Toni Morrison
  • “Interstices: A Small Drama of Words” from Black, White, and in Color by Hortense Spillers

I won’t be able to say with much certainty how each work influenced the show until this weekend, but until then I’d like to briefly examine the last three, each of which speaks to the need for works of art like Bronx Gothic.

“The Radical Vision of Toni Morrison”

Easily one of the world’s greatest living writers, Morrison has spent her entire career championing black voices in literature, first as an editor at Random House and later as the masterful writer we recognize her as today. In her recent profile for The New York Times Magazine, journalist Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah articulates the vital role Morrison and the writers she helped provide a space for in publishing serve, as well as the dire need for such a space to continue to grow. In a particularly affecting passage that seems to ring truer and truer with each passing day, she writes, “For decades Morrison has reflected back to us what it’s meant to be on the other side of this country’s approved history. When young white men again sing songs about lynching black men without being able [to] recall who taught them those songs, and the hateful origins of the N-word are erased by a convenient amnesia to allow its constant use by outsiders, who will tell the stories we don’t tell ourselves?”

Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imaginations

Morrison’s work, however, does not simply stand in opposition to outright bigotry, but rather the persistent, pervasive whitewashing that has been forever intertwined with the literary establishment, whether intentional or under the guise of sensitivity to the topic of race. In her book Playing in the Dark, Morrison argues, “A criticism that needs to insist that literature is not only ‘universal’ but also ‘race-free’ risks lobotomizing that literature, and diminishes both the art and the artist,” adding, “All of us, readers and writers, are bereft when criticism remains too polite or too fearful to notice a disrupting darkness before its eyes.”

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Revisiting the Cantina: Drunk Lion Returns to Philadelphia

Posted March 3rd, 2016

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

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

FringeArts: What spurred you to revive Drunk Lion?

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

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

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

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“Working With the Surface”: Specificity and Universality in Employee of the Year

Posted February 23rd, 2016

As theatergoers, we are trained to suspend our disbelief each time the house lights go down. Until they rise again our phones are to remain off and we are expected to immerse ourselves in the story, to embrace its world as a reality, to pretend that that woman on stage is in fact a mother of three with a heart murmur and a deadbeat husband, not the person you sat next to on the trolley last week who graciously offered you a napkin when you spilled coffee all over your sick new Spacemen 3 shirt (the napkin couldn’t save it, but it was a nice gesture all the same). It’s a sentiment that’s easier to embrace for some productions than others, but of course even the greatest works of theater cannot manage to make us forget we are witnessing just that, theater. After all, how can they expect to when the competition can be an insistent bladder or a wheezing attendee sitting behind you? More to the point though, they can never truly fool us into believing the actors are their characters.  “Blankness is, indeed, impossible,” Abigail Browde, half of the Brooklyn-based theater company 600 HIGHWAYMEN, recently told BOMB Magazine, ruminating on the misconceived notion of the actor as an empty vessel for character. “It’s a false premise to imagine that it’s possible to be blank, bare, empty. But falseness as an idea must be addressed when you’re working in theater.”


(Photo by Maria Baranova)

This weekend 600 HIGHWAYMEN bring their universally acclaimed show Employee of the Year to FringeArts, with just two performances on February 26 and 27. The work recounts the life story of a woman named J, starting at age 3 and continuing through to 80. However, what in summation bears resemblance to the journey myths that inspired it—a brisk, but affecting tale of a life marked by struggle and heartbreak—transcends its already gripping story arc when one witnesses it being told by its five performers, all of whom are under the age of 13. Blankness is obviously impossible when an eleven-year-old is narrating the concerns of an elderly woman in the first person.

J’s childhood flies by in the play’s first few minutes, a series of brief snapshots—pick-up sticks, kites, separation anxiety—before it all, quite literally, goes up in smoke. The brisk manner in which the story eclipses its performers’ life experiences may at first strike viewers as jarring, but that is just part of the show’s magic. This ever-growing age difference between subject and performers renders each detail of J’s life that much starker, the visible contrast pointing to the rift between the (assumed) infinite potentials of youth and the harsh realities that tend to quell them with a rarely glimpsed immediacy and presence. “We’re always looking to find ways to illuminate that gap between performer and character,” Browde told FringeArts in a recent interview, going on to assert, “Traditional acting asks actors to transform into a character, but in our work, we’re more interested in things that don’t easily fit together. I’m not against transformation—in fact transformation is part of our agenda—but we do it from a different door.”

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I Went to FringeArts and All I Got Was Pegged

Posted February 18th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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Breaking Down Breaking

Posted February 10th, 2016

Before we begin, let’s remove the word “breakdancing” from our vocabularies. According to practitioners and enthusiasts of the art form, the term is an ignorant one, rooted in the media’s exploitative representation of the style. It is thick with commercial connotations and an air commodification. So, trade breakdancing for “breaking,” “b-boying,” or “b-girling” instead. The exact origin of breaking does not have a single narrative, but there are two likely sources. The more obvious of the two is that the term resonates with breakbeats, the rhythmic breakdown sections of tracks DJs would loop to accompany dancers. However, DJ Kool Herc—one of if not the architect of hip-hop music’s foundational sound—pointed out that breaking was 1970s slang for “getting excited,” “acting energetically,” or “causing a disturbance,” all of which seem quite fitting for a dance style that often sees its artists bringing their performance to any public space that can contain it. Even more so when you apply them to the concept of a cypher, the circle formed by a convening audience around breakers engaged in dance battles. Spectacle has always been essential in breaking, for keeping an audience engaged and winning battles, but what happens when breakers get older and the wild kineticism they were able to achieve in their youth becomes physically reckless? Now that we’ve dropped the superfluous “—danc(e),” we can move on to Raphael Xavier.

The Unofficial Guide HHTF 2015-163

This weekend (Feb. 11-13), the renowned Philadelphia artist will bring his latest performance piece, The Unofficial Guide to Audience Watching Performance, to FringeArts and we could not be more excited. Xavier is a major figure in the Philadelphia dance scene as well as an accomplished artist across various other mediums. He’s a photographer, rapper/producer, actor, comedian, writer, and likely some other things we don’t know about, but even now as he reaches middle-age, breaking remains central to his identity as an artist. The Unofficial Guide stands as a culmination of his artistic experiences, finding Xavier drawing on them all to tell the story of an artist begrudgingly turned substitute teacher trying to properly convey his art to his class. “Bringing all my skill sets together to tell a 75% real life and 25% fictitious story actually equates to a 100% real life story from age thirteen to forty-five,” Xavier told FringeArts in a recent interview. “Each moment of my life and each moment I spend dancing on many stages around the world went into creating this work and the elements that put it together.”

To properly exhibit some of the more physically astounding, but taxing movements that become increasingly difficult with age, Xavier is accompanied by two other dancers representing his character’s younger selves. He deconstructs their movements by freezing, slowing down, exaggerating, and explaining them, all of which stands in contrast to the fast paced, frenetic energy that generally characterizes breaking, but also offers a unique opportunity to deepen one’s understanding of the nuances of an often overlooked art form. “[Other hip-hop companies] took the battle/street mentality and brought it to the stage and everything began to look the same,” Xavier noted, pointing to The The Unofficial Guide HHTF 2015-216Unofficial Guide’s freedom in exploring breaking on stage in such an instructive manner. “The structure of the work was about me telling a clear story so audiences could finally get my work.”

Though it seems prudent to leave most of the explaining to Xavier, I thought I’d share a brief explanation of the major elements of the breaking along with some illustrative videos to give you a sense of what it looks like and what to look for when watching it. These components are merely the framework of the art form upon which individual dancers build their own personal style. Before we get into it though, it seems worth pointing out that some notable breakers have objected to the proliferation of breaking videos on the internet, claiming that it has caused a decrease in diversities of styles. Rather than being influenced by their immediate breaking scenes, dancers are now being influenced by the same videos. As b-boy Luis “Alien Ness” Marinez puts it, “I’ve been all around the world, ya’ll been all around the world wide web.” So, to any potential breakers out there—and I’m sure most, if not all of you readers are—don’t let this brief crash course send you down an internet rabbit hole of breaking education. Instead, come see The Unofficial Guide this weekend to get a literal lesson from a true master of the art. Then go battle someone.

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The Art of Revolution

Posted January 26th, 2016

Revolutions, as we know them, only earn such a distinction when they yield results, i.e. political and social upheaval. Failure garners these movements different labels: uprisings, revolts, terrorism. History is inevitably written by the winners, but thankfully we have art to help clarify some important points left out of these accepted narratives. This is where renowned Chilean playwright Guillermo Calderón’s new play Escuela, gracing the FringeArts stage January 28-30, comes in. With the play, Calderón brings to light the paramilitary groups who fought against the regime of Augusto Pinochet, an oft forgotten piece of Chilean history, likely because of its lack of a conclusive finale. The 1988 plebiscite and democratic election that followed overshadowed their efforts with a façade of freedom, despite the many marks of Pinochet’s malicious junta still embedded in the government (including the man himself). Though Chile found itself a more peaceful nation in the election’s wake, this new calm did little to erase the traumas of the past.

la moneda under fire

La Moneda, Chile’s presidential palace, under fire during the coup d’etat that put Augusto Pinochet in power, September 11, 1973

From 1973 to 1990, Augusto Pinochet ruled as military dictator of Chile. He rose to power in the wake of a 1973 US-backed military coup, which toppled the previously elected socialist government and left its leader, Salvador Allende, dead by his own hand as bullets and explosives rained down on the presidential palace. This showing of extreme force was a fitting lead-in to Pinochet’s reign, a time characterized by an unprecedented campaign of political genocide. Approximately 200,000 Chilean citizens were exiled, 28,000 tortured, 2,279 executed, and 1,248 “disappeared.” A recent, shocking on-air radio confession by a former military conscript under Pinochet helped elucidate one method the military employed to effectively erase the remains of those perceived opposition they executed without restraint: dynamite. This systematic brutality carried out by the regime is unfathomably horrific and for the majority of Chileans the suffering endured under his regime remains in such visceral forms as physical scars, alienation from their homeland, and a baffling amount of unanswered questions about just what happened to their loved ones. Sadly, restitution and answers have been sparse over the last forty years. “Our national institutions failed to deliver timely justice for human rights violations so the arts have tried to deal with the trauma by addressing the subject from every angle,” Calderón, whose uncle was killed under the Pinochet regime, stated in a recent interview. He added, “Theater has become a way of exploring that trauma and also a slight consolation.”

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

Photograph: Valentino Saldivar

Escuela, however, strives for more than mere consolation. In the aforementioned interview, Calderón spoke of the radical leftist fighters the work portrays and their subsequent erasure from history: “Many people [who] sacrificed fighting the dictatorship with all means possible could not find a political or social space in the neoliberal and restricted democracy that emerged after the free elections. That generation disappeared into oblivion when their radical energy became a liability for the new democratic process. Escuela tries to bring back to life their methods, ideas and portray their ultimate defeat. Theater can rewrite history and that’s something we actively try to do onstage.” Despite the fact that the narrative of these groups is a largely forgotten and unrecorded one, don’t expect Escuela to be conjecture-based historical fiction. In a recent interview with FringeArts, Calderón revealed that, in crafting the play, he invited people who had engaged in urban guerilla warfare during the late 80s to rehearsals and had them recreate the lessons they were taught under circumstances similar to that of the play. These lessons, along with countless political discussions with the cast throughout the process, helped shape what we will see onstage.

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Always Keeping Score: Baseball in Japan, South Korea, and the United States

Posted January 20th, 2016

Back in November, the World Baseball Softball Confederation—a recent merger of the older International Baseball and International Softball Federations—held the first ever Premier 12, an international baseball tournament featuring the twelve best-ranked national baseball teams from around the world. A replacement for previous international baseball tournaments, it was viewed by many as a bid by the WBSC for the inclusion of baseball/softball in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after the events were unceremoniously removed from the 2012 games, the first cuts from the Olympics since Polo in 1936. Of the twelve teams who competed in the Premier 12, Japan went in ranking number one and the US sat at number two. South Korea was ranked eighth of the twelve. So imagine the surprise when Korea unseated Japan during the semifinals with a last minute, come from behind four point rally, making the final score 4-3. [You can watch some highlights below. South Korea turns the tides around the three minute mark.]

To level with you, I have no particular interest in baseball. I had no idea that a) the Premier 12 was happening, b) there was an international baseball/softball governing body, and c) baseball/softball had been in/booted from the Olympics. Still, the South Korean victory struck me as notable beyond all of its classic underdog story touchstones. Following the completion of the tournament, many South Koreans criticized the WBSC for showing favorable bias towards co-host nation Japan’s team. Whether there is weight to these accusations remains to be seen, but regardless, the dispute brings the opposition that has existed between Japan and South Korea for decades to the baseball diamond, much like Toshiki Okada’s new play God Bless Baseball, showing here at FringeArts January 21-23. A collaboration between Okada and actors from both Japan and South Korea, the play finds two young women struggling to understand the game that looms large over their respective countries’ consciousness with the help of two men, one with nothing but contempt for it and the other with nothing but reverence.

Actors in God Bless Baseball all wear the number 51 on their back - the same number worn by famed Japanese baseball player Ichiro Suzuki.

Actors in God Bless Baseball all wear the number 51 on their back – the same number worn by famed Japanese baseball player Ichiro Suzuki.

Though his new work is centered around the favorite pastime of both countries involved, in an October article in The Japan Times, Okada admitted, “I’ve always had a negative image about baseball myself, and many of the play’s plots stem from my own feelings and experiences,” adding, “I’ve been wanting to publicly announce my negative view through my work for a long time.” Spoken like a true dramatist. But God Bless Baseball is far more than an artist’s gripes against an institution that, in his opinion, takes attention away from more worthwhile endeavors. In the play, baseball and “baseball culture” are front and center, but it’s the turbulent relationship between Japan and South Korea—as well as the looming influence of the United States—that hangs heavily over the proceedings. “I think I’ve finally succeeded in dealing with the two countries’ historical controversy without writing directly about historical incidents or subjects,” Okada told The Japan Times.

Japan-South Korea relations have been troubled for decades now, marred by territorial disputes, disagreements on trade, and unreconciled views of the two countries’ shared histories. Based on a 2014 BBC World Service Poll, 19% of Japanese people view South Korea’s global influence as positive while 28% view it negatively. Similarly, 21% of South Koreans view Japan’s influence positively, while a staggering 67% take the negative view. The United States has a vested interest in seeing relations between the neighboring nations open up, as trilateral cooperation among the three of them becomes increasingly important to the US in the face of North Korean threats and aggressive movements from China. Late in December of last year, the two countries reached a landmark settlement in the hopes of finally putting to rest the vitriolic conversation surrounding “comfort women”—women, a large percentage Korean, forced to work in Japanese military brothels during WWII—with Japan contributing one billion yen to a fund for the surviving elderly victims in exchange for South Korea’s agreement to refrain from criticizing Japan over the issue, as well as the removal of a statue memorializing the victims that currently sits in front of the Japanese Embassy in downtown Seoul. Though this settlement marks a major stride in relations between the two nations, some have suggested the rift is rooted in something less tangible than past atrocities.

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Winter at FringeArts lights up the waterfront

Posted January 13th, 2016

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


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


Photograph: Moon So Young

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

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

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

Photograph:  Valentino Saldivar

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

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

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

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Closing Time

Posted September 19th, 2015

thadeus-copy1And so it winds down. I feel like this go-round of the Fringe Festival has been particularly terrific. Martha’s closing up late night (sold out, sorry) but there are still seats for ALIAS ELLIS MACKENZIE at 2:00 and 8:00 pm today.

As we reach the end of the road, let’s have a little Leonard Cohen to bring us home, shall we? It’s been grand, friends.

Is Your Coke And Grass Worn Out From Traveling?

Posted September 17th, 2015

grassandcokeFolks have gotten obsessed with Narcos lately–and hey, did you know that Pride of Philadelphia (and, ok, Bogota too) Thaddeus Phillips has a small part? He has a bigger one in ALIAS ELLIS MACKENZIE, up now through September 19th.

Anyway, I came across an article on AdWeek last night about folks at the The World’s Best Ever, who pulled together unbelievably ridiculous–and real–ads marketing cocaine paraphernalia.

What world could have created such beautiful ads? What was that world like? Read Thaddeus’s interview with John Timpane at the Inquirer over here. Then come see the ALIAS ELLIS MACKENZIE. It’s here all week. Tickets here.

“Underground Railroad Game” on Radio Times Today!

Posted September 8th, 2015

Underground RR Game DypticheditedshirtTop of the morning to you! Underground Railroad Game has been in the works for a while, and premiered in its full glory here at the 2015 Fringe Festival. It’s also a “huge hit,” and wildly interesting, according to just about everybody.

Fresh off their audio diaries for WHYY’s Morning Edition, Jenn Kidwell and Scott Sheppard are slated to talk Underground Railroad Game on Radio Times today, live, in hour 2 (11:00 am). If you miss it, audio usually goes up in the afternoon. But you won’t miss it, right? Right.

Jo Strømgren on “The Doll’s House”

Posted September 4th, 2015

StromgrenFor9-4A while back, Festival information manager extraordinaire Josh McIlvain caught up with Jo Strømgren about A Doll’s House, which opens tonight. Advance tickets for tonight and tomorrow afternoon are sold out, but tix for Saturday night and Sunday afternoon are still available. And hey, it’s at our pretty new(ish) home! Catch up with Jo below, about what it means to interpret and interpolate Ibsen today.

Why did you feel compelled to do a version of A Doll’s House? And now that you’re in it, what has emerged as the most compelling aspect of doing it?
A Doll’s House is probably the most frequently performed play in history, which means that audiences around may be familiar with the story or at least the theme. Common references are always good for directors as it allows them take the audience on off-piste hikes without necessarily causing confusion. In other words, a classic can often give more artistic freedom than new plays.

How are you treating the script? And what does this allow you to do?
A classic text, like Ibsen, can easily become archaic if one has to much respect for the words. By not treating it as literature but as spoken dialogue, I have of course made major changes. Nevertheless, I feel this production is far more true to the original text than many other versions of the play. I have not made major cuts, nor have I chosen to focus on certain scenes to pursue statements or interpretations. It’s Ibsen to the core, and he is not a hostage for my own personal ambitions and ideas. I hope the balance between respect and disrespect will be appreciated.

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Adrienne Mackey on Fear and Pleasure in Performance Life

Posted September 4th, 2015

stars surviveWe’ve been running a number of pieces on the artistic life lately, in the context of After the Rehearsal/Persona. To wrap them up, we reached out to Philadelphia’s own Adrienne Mackey, who’s been involved with all sorts of wonderful, adventurous, collaborative and indeed critical work on her own and with her company, Swim Pony. She wrote movingly for us about life as a theater artist and how theater forms and informs the lives of those who create it:

By Adrienne Mackey

There’s a common stereotype of theater artists as loud, brassy, attention-loving people. This image that those who would associate themselves with the stage must be naturally larger than life, filtered down from Broadway’s multimillion-dollar enterprise all the way through the nooks and crannies of high school musical theater, is a false one, I think. I think this size and showiness is a put-on. I think it hides a deeper layer, one that is common in a great number of theater makers, of uncertainty and fear.

For a lot of us who actually go on to make a career in the arts, theater begins as a kind of training ground for being human.

In middle school I was shy and intensely quiet. My mother likes to point out how all the pictures I drew of myself in this phase of childhood show a figure with massive eyes that take up half of my face and a tiny and tight little mouth. I was a thinker, an over-feeler, a not-quite-sure-how-to-connect-with-the-world-around-me-er. I was fundamentally uncomfortable in my own skin, uncertain about how to express the person I felt myself to be, afraid of showing too much lest I do it wrong.

After the jump, theater and transformation:

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Under the Spell of Ivo van Hove, Ingmar Bergman Has His Say

Posted September 1st, 2015

Persona2By Randy Gener

Forget the sanctified Image Maker. Don’t bother to bone up on Ingmar Bergman’s films before seeing Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s raw and urgent twofer, After the Rehearsal/Persona, which will have its U.S. premiere in the 2015 Fringe Festival in Philadelphia. What’s the point of seeking to certify a heartbreaking work of stagecraft by comparing it to Bergman’s cinema aesthetics?

Allow me to press the point. Shortsighted comparison freaks come in two rabid forms. Film devotees tend to hate on Bergman movies-to-play forays because they can’t help but be sincere to a thudding fault. And then there are bleary-eyed critics — Christopher Isherwood’s New York Times review of van Hove’s Cries and Whispers being a prime example — who lazily argue that “Bergman’s use of dramatic magnifying close-ups is more or less impossible to translate effectively.” To which we can only say, well, duh. What of it?

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Tonight! Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium Opens “Exit the King”

Posted September 1st, 2015
The Royal Scam: (clockwise from left): Patricia Durante as Queen Marguerite, Robb Hutter as King Berenger, Anna Lou Hearn as Queen Marie, Jenna Kuerzi as Juliette in Eugene Ionesco's classic.  Not pictured: Susan Giddings as The Doctor, Bob Schmidt as The Guard. Photo by Johanna Austin.

The Royal Scam: (clockwise from left): Patricia Durante as Queen Marguerite, Robb Hutter as King Berenger, Anna Lou Hearn as Queen Marie, Jenna Kuerzi as Juliette in Eugene Ionesco’s classic. Not pictured: Susan Giddings as The Doctor, Bob Schmidt as The Guard.
Photo by Johanna Austin.

One of my favorite groups of absurdists (and the one that gives me the greatest problems with proofreading) is back! Tonight, the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium returns to preview its latest dive into the absurd with Exit the King. The play opens Wednesday, September 2 and runs through September 20.

First staged on Broadway in 1968, New York Times critic Clive Barnes called Exit the King a “masterpiece . . . incomparably, Ionesco’s greatest work.” Exit the King tells the story of megalomaniacal ruler whose incompetence has left his country in near ruin. Despite the efforts of the Queen and the loyal members of his court to help him reconcile his remaining time, he refuses to relinquish control, attend to matters at hand and make peace with his destiny. The play saw few productions in the 40 years following its 1968 premiere until a stunning Broadway production in 2009, directed by Neil Armfield, featuring Geoffrey Rush in the lead role for which he won the Tony Award for Best Actor. The critically-acclaimed revival also featured performers Susan Sarandon, William Sadler, Lauren Ambrose, Andrea Martin and Brian Hutchison.

Exit the King was conceived during a period of illness when the author was consumed with fears of death. The playwright’s inspiration was borne from a childhood obsession that one could avoid being sick and simply live forever: “I told myself that one could learn to die, and that I could learn to die, that one can also help other people to die. This seems to me to be the most important thing we can do, since we’re all of us dying men who refuse to die. This play is an attempt at an apprenticeship in dying.”

Watch the beautiful cast pose below, while thinking about how to die lively, and think about which show you’re going to hit up. (Pro tip: opening night (Wednesday, September 2, aka tomorrow) has “wine and such.”)

Exit the King preview is tonight at 7:30 pm ($10-15). Opening night is tomorrow at 7:30 pm ($20-25; 9:00 party), and then runs Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:30 pm, through September 20. All shows at Walnut Street Theatre Independence Studio on 3, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. Tickets here.