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Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category

Mission Complete: Playwright Collective Orbiter 3 Launches Its Final Show

Posted May 15th, 2018

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

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

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

L. M. Feldman

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

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

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

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

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Death of Kings and Patriarchy: Revolution Shakespeare Reads Richard II

Posted May 11th, 2018

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

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

Revolution Shakespeare is not one of those companies.

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

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

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

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A Séancers Syllabus

Posted May 10th, 2018

Photo by Julieanne Harris

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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Wake Work: An Interview With Jaamil Olawale Kosoko

Posted May 7th, 2018

Photo by Leni Olafson

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

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

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

FringeArts: What made you think up the title Séancers?

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

Have a listen to an interview I recently did here.

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Vender Una Fantasia: An Interview With Alex Torra

Posted April 13th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The History of Cherdonna Shinatra: From Name to Fame

Posted February 23rd, 2018

Photo by Lou Daprile

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

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

Courtesy of the artist

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

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

Posted February 7th, 2018

Courtesy of the artist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Return to Semi-Innocence: A Dear Diary LOL Playlist

Posted January 19th, 2018

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

HAHA.

…ahem…

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

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

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

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

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Ready, Set, Sew: An Interview With Theatre SKAM

Posted January 15th, 2018

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

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

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

From the 2014 premiere of Fashion Machine.

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

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

FringeArts: What made clothing the right vehicle?

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

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

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Happy Hour on the Fringe With Sam Henderson

Posted December 1st, 2017

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

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

Listen below, or over at our show page.

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

Posted November 17th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy Hour on the Fringe With Jorge Cousineau

Posted November 10th, 2017

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

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

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

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

Your Record Collection Just Got a Little Saltier

Posted October 19th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted October 12th, 2017

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

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

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

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Making Art in 2017: Nick Jonczak on Doppelbanger

Posted September 16th, 2017

Photo by Robin Stamey.

Name: Nick Jonczak

Show in 2017 Festival: Doppelbanger

Role: Creator, Performer

Past Festival Show: Exile 2588 with Almanac Dance Circus Theatre

FringeArtsTell us a bit about your show.

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

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

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

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A Period of Animate Existence Reading List

Posted September 15th, 2017

Next weekend the beloved Philadelphia institution Pig Iron Theatre Company returns to the Fringe Festival with their first major work in two years, and it’s clear they put that time to good use. A Period of Animate Existence may be their most ambitious work to date, an awe inspiring large-scale piece of symphonic theater that examines the most universal, urgent issue of our time: climate change.

In an era called the “Sixth Extinction,” when up to 50 percent of all living species might die off, rather than grappling with the issue in a lecturing, damning manner, the creative team hopes to achieve something more nuanced and universally relatable. “We’ve tried hard to avoid an activist voice with this piece—we want to avoid haranguing or scolding as we investigate the landscape of emotions around climate change,” director Dan Rothenberg told the FringeArts Blog. “As we contemplate extinctions, I keep talking about emotions that I don’t have a name for. I know what grief is, having experienced the deaths of people close to me. And I know what terror is. I think finding ourselves in the middle of extinction creates feelings like grief and terror, but it’s some other emotion that doesn’t have a name.” In taking this lofty approach to the issue, the artists have most certainly done their homework, and then some.

The company has been gracious enough to share with us a list of texts that helped inform the piece. These works may help deepen audiences’ understanding of the show, but, perhaps more importantly, they will help deepen their understanding of the serious crisis we are currently living with. If confronting this harrowing information sounds daunting or terrifying or a surefire way to send yourself into fear-induced catatonia, believe me, I understand. Yet, in reading from these works, I’ve found being informed in my dread has been far more comforting than being ignorant in it. And thankfully, despite the dire nature of the situation, many of these writers chart concrete courses of action for how we might curb the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

Taking in this full picture, perhaps you’ll find yourself not quite feeling grief, not quite feeling terror, but feeling that liminal emotion A Period of Animate Existence strives to articulate.

Vibrant Matter
Jane Bennett

Renowned political theorist Jane Bennet—known for her focus on nature, ethics, and affect— examines the active participation of nonhuman forces in natural events. Exploring just how political analyses of public events might change were we to acknowledge that agency is not strictly human, she suggests that such a change in perspective might provide impetus for more responsible, ecologically sound politics.

 

Key Writings
Henri Bergson

French philosopher Henri Bergson was an influential thinker of the early 20th century, one who recognized his time as a distinctly new and modern age, and in turn helped shape its intellectual discourse. At the core of his philosophy is his concept of Duration, a theory of time and consciousness, but most pertinent to the show is his concept of élan vital, his explanation for evolution (a relatively new concept at the time) and the development of organisms which essentializes life into “mobility itself.” This collection assembles Bergson’s most essential writings, including excerpts from Creative Evolution.

 

The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable
Amitav Ghosh

Acclaimed Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh takes to task our inability to grasp the scale and violence of climate change, particularly in terms of what he sees as an imaginative failure of literary writers. Arguing that the extreme nature of climate events make them resistant to contemporary modes of thinking and imagining, he sees this as connected to the fact that politics and literature have become matters of personal moral reckoning rather than a platform for collective action. They are therefore, at the moment, unequipped to deal with what is truly the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. It’s not all doom and gloom though, as Ghosh sees the climate crisis as an opportunity for us to imagine other forms of human existence. He sees no better realm to address this task than in the world of fiction.

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Making Art in 2017: Ryan Rebel on WILD, A Clown Western

Posted September 15th, 2017

Name: Ryan Rebel

Company: Shoe Box Company

Show in the 2017 FestivalWILD: A Clown Western

FringeArtsTell us about your show.

Ryan RebelWILD is a devised clown show set in the dusty world of the Western. I can’t say exactly where that concept came from beyond the strong desire to work with clown. The juxtaposition of the earnestly goofy clown form with the steely seriousness of the Western planted itself in my mind and refused to leave. As we move forward with the project, one of our main concerns is injecting life, warmth, and thoughtfulness into a tired genre riddled with outdated social norms.

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

Ryan Rebel: I’ve spent my life being careful and planning ahead. I tend towards introversion and social anxiety; planning is a way of protecting myself against the unexpected. Delving into the world of WILD has been a deliberate way to force myself to be spontaneous. Clown work cannot be planned; it is utterly anchored to the present. To do clown is to be open and reactionary. This year has been an exercise in minimizing expectations so as to maximize sensitivity.

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Making Art in 2017: Talia Mason on Onion Dances

Posted September 14th, 2017

Talia Mason. Photo by Irina Varina.

Name: Talia Mason

Show in 2017 Festival: Onion Dances

FringeArts: Tell us a bit about your show.

Talia MasonOnion Dances is an autobiographical solo examining the role that memories play in shaping one’s past, present, and future. It is is equally interested in how we remember and how we forget our inherited stories. There is dancing, storytelling, singing, reminiscing, and lots of questioning. Onion Dances is a work of dance theater that digs into what it means to be Jewish, and what it means to be a Jewish American during a Trump presidency. The world of the piece is gauzy, dusty, wrinkly, weathered, stinky (loaded down with the smells of time), and honest.

The concept for the piece came out of my time at the Headlong Performance Institute. One assignment was to create a constellation—an array of unrelated things that connections could eventually be drawn between. I had a sliced onion and a photo of my grandfather in my constellation. The rawness of the onion and the peculiarity of my grandfather’s expression made me want to learn more about my roots and my family’s journey to the United States in the 1870s. The piece developed from there.

Photo by Talia Mason.

Throughout the process, I have asked myself lots of questions: What does it mean to be a Jewish American? Does being a Jewish American mean the same thing for different generations? Why do we remember certain details and forget others? Why did Jews migrate across the United States when the large Jewish hubs were Manhattan, Baltimore, and Philadelphia? What did my ancestors like to eat? What traditions did they have that they then passed down? How do I know if what I remember is right or wrong? What happens to the people and events that we forget? How can a personal story become universal to audiences? How can this piece be accessible to Jews and non-Jews alike? I find myself trying to tackle some of these questions by using my family’s direct experiences as evidence as well as imagining what things may have been like for my ancestors in the 1870s.

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Embracing the Chaos with Jeffrey Cousar

Posted September 13th, 2017

This year storied and beloved Philadelphia theater company New Paradise Laboratories have returned to the Fringe Festival with one of the most enigmatic and exhilarating shows you’re likely to see this month.

Hello Blackout! picks up well before the events of NPL’s previous Fringe-presented work O Monsters. That show followed the seemingly human, but exceedingly alien Kissimmee triplets and their mother in the present day. This time around we are with them at the beginning of, well, everything. Taking place before, during, and after the Big Bang, Hello Blackout! unfolds like a compellingly surreal take on the creation myth, where all conventions are thrown aside in favor of inviting unlimited possibility with open arms. It is at times deeply unsettling, at others riotously funny.

In dipping into the past, NPL has resurrected the family’s previously absent patriarch to reveal just what became of him. Taking on this demanding role of the father/king and joining the cast on their ride through the beginning of all things is performer Jeffrey Cousar. 

A Philly native, Cousar began his performance training very young, first attending Philadanco as a child and later, at 13, moving on to Freedom Theatre. After graduating from the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, he started working professionally as an actor.

He first became involved with NPL earlier this year, performing in their immersive detective adventure Gumshoe. The interactive mystery took audiences throughout the Free Library as they were trained to be agents of the “Bureau of Mysteries” by various agents. Cousar played the role of Saiph, an agent who specialized in secrets and conspiracies. “I had to take into account the fact that there was no buffer between me and the audience,” Cousar explained, describing the considerations required for executing the site-specific piece. “I could improv working as a colonial merchant in Old City, but Saiph also had specific text to relate to the audience. Doing that in a space where someone could interrupt you mid-dialogue keeps you alert.” While that piece required quick thinking and a strong awareness of his surroundings, Hello Blackout! presents a wildly different set of challenges.

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Making Art in 2017: Barry Rowell on Floydada

Posted September 13th, 2017

(Left to right) Nomi Tichman and Catherine Porter. Photo by Peculiar Works Project.

Name: Barry Rowell

Company: Peculiar Works Project

Show in 2017 Festival: Floydada

Role: Co-Founder, Co-Artistic Director

Past Festival shows: This is our first time bringing a show here—but we’ve been coming to see the festival since 2000. One year, we managed to see 10 shows in 3 days . . . but we were younger then.

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

Barry Rowell: I was driving in West Texas about 25 years ago and saw the road sign for Floydada—yes, it’s a real town—and I told my wife, Catherine Porter, that I should write a Dada play set there. The idea changed a lot over the years but eventually it became a play about two estranged sisters opening a Dada cabaret in 1927 rural Texas. We also explore the creative impulse: I think everyone has it and most of us find some way to channel it. Finally, it’s about two middle aged women—one with a lifetime of stifled desires, another who can no longer follow hers—and the joy they find in creating art that frees them both.

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

Catherine Porter. Photo by Peculiar Works Project.

Barry Rowell: Peculiar Works is constantly exploring new ways to create our work. We’ve recently begun to focus on creating more physical performance—our partner, Ralph Lewis, is using his circus training for his next project; Catherine is developing a solo piece inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Orlando to take on traditional gender roles. We’re also looking at the audience/actor relationship. I’ve been working on a site-specific play for bars that would incorporate the audience, allow actors to interact with them one-on-one, and incorporate them into multiple narratives woven through the evening. We’ve done a lot of promenade performance, where audience follow actors through a show venue, and we’re always honing that: what worked last time and what didn’t, when we can make the audience’s experience more theatrical or heightened and when it should be more intimate and naturalistic, how we can craft surprises and excitement into their journey to give them a unique adventure.

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