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Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category

A Good Balance of Comfort and Discomfort: An Interview with Steven Dufala

Posted September 12th, 2017

This week, two Philly Fringe favorites are returning to the Festival with two very different shows. Absurdist theater artist Geoff Sobelle will mount HOME on September 13, an ambitious new piece that ruminates on the transitory nature of dwelling, the impossible structural demands of a house, and the absurdity of making a home. Meanwhile, on September 14, theater maker and performer Thaddeus Phillips will premiere his latest work, A Billion Nights on Earth, a fantastical show for all ages that dives into the realms of parent–child relationships, as pair stumble through alternate realities in search of a beloved stuff whale. Though both of these shows are starkly different, they do have one thing in common. That would be artist Steven Dufala.

Dufala has been creating work in a variety of media for decades now. He has regularly collaborated with his brother Billy, under the name The Dufala Brothers, and together their work—often humorous, hyperbolic reimaginings of everyday or iconic items—has been exhibited widely. They’ve also organized absurdist artistic happenings, including a toilet-trike race through Old City during the 2005 Fringe Festival.

Recently, Steven Dufala has lent his exceptional talents to some ambitious works of theater, designing sets and making some larger than life visions a reality. Perhaps most notable among these collaborations was his work on Geoff Sobelle’s widely lauded show The Object Lesson, which had its premiere during the 2013 Fringe Festival and has since been taken all over the world. Turning theaters into storage spaces with boxes stacked high to the ceiling and filled with the usual household wares, the kind of miscellanea that does little but collect dust but somehow stays with you for years, as well as some more surreal keepsakes—”moss to mystic” designated actual moss with a strong whiff of incense, “acorn collection” ought to be self explanatory—his design and installation work on the show was critical to achieving its uncanny yet strikingly down to earth vibe.

We recently caught up with Dufala to learn more about his artistic practice and what it’s been like splitting his time between these two aesthetically divergent shows.


FringeArtsTell us a bit about your background. 

Winslow Fegley in A Billion Nights on Earth

Steven Dufala: I grew up in south Jersey, the middle of five boys in a creative household. Our parents were pianists and teachers, and all the brothers make things. So I’ve always been making things.

FringeArtsWhat was the Philadelphia arts community (or communities) like when you first arrived at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts? 

Steven Dufala: I used to like to say the scene was mostly living rooms and basements, and I guess that’s still kind of true, but everything was really DIY. Pig Iron was making shows in basements, the best music was at peoples houses, the best parties, the best art shows didn’t really look like shows, but were kind of one or two night show/parties. Old City was kind of too fancy, and no one really went north of Spring Garden. 

When I got to Philly, I didn’t go straight to the academy, I was at UArts for two years in film and animation. That basically cracked open a whole world of creativity I’d never really explored and that’s why I went to PAFA—to try and get a better foundation for making things in general.

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2017 Festival Spotlight: Created by People of Color, Pt. 2

Posted September 12th, 2017

Disrupting the pervasive whiteness of Fringe, these artists are breathing fresh air in to the new works scene in Philadelphia with these exciting Festival offerings!

We Shall Not Be Moved @ Wilma Theater
Opera Philadelphia

What’s at stake here is America and its future. Who’s invited to participate?

On the run after a series of tragic incidents, five North Philly teens find refuge in an abandoned house in West Philadelphia at the exact location that served as headquarters of the MOVE organization, where a 1985 standoff with police infamously ended with a neighborhood destroyed and eleven people dead, including five children. This self-defined family is inspired by the ghosts who inhabit this home and begin to see their squatting as a matter of destiny and resistance. The group, named the Family Stand, is headed by self-appointed leader Un/Sung, and crosses paths with Glenda, a Philadelphia police officer, whose encounters with the family leads to a standoff that could threaten to repeat history. A co-presentation with Opera Philadelphia. More info and tickets here.

 

Andean Mountains (Montañas Andinas)
Carl(os) Roa, José Avilés, Elyas Harris

Andean Mountains is a digital journey through the mountains. Above all, it is a piece about personal geography: the way we relate to our place of origin versus where we’ve relocated. Featuring a performance by a juicy Colombian bear, the piece is both a Google Street View tour as well as an exploration of culture loss. More info and tickets here.

 

Urgent Care: A Social Experience @ The Colored Girls Museum
The Colored Girls Museum

The Colored Girls Museum takes community matters into her own hands converting the three-story Victorian memoir museum into a Social Care Experience. Her new exhibits redefine the concept and practice of “urgent care” from triage to aftercare. Curators, artists, and ordinaries construct Colored Girlhood as an imaginative and powerful space. More info and tickets here.

 

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A House is Merely a Container

Posted September 11th, 2017

This is a guest post written by writer, editor, critic, and professor Stefanie Sobelle. She is also the dramaturg of HOME, the latest work from Geoff Sobelle. Her book The Architectural Novel is forthcoming from Oxford University Press, and her criticism has been published in Bookforum, the Financial Times, BOMB, Words Without Borders, Jacket2, and the Review of Contemporary Fiction.


What do we mean when we call a place “home”? Home might be the place where we live. It might also be, in game terms, the place we are trying to reach—the goal. We often associate with “home” concepts of comfort, safety, family. When we add an article, home can become more dire: they took her to “a home.” Home is not a house per se; a house is merely a container. It holds residents and furnishings, performances and privations. A house has identifiable limits—walls, doorways, staircases. A house can be discomfiting, sinister, cold, hostile, welcoming, familiar, secure. A house can be empty or full, dead or alive. A house can even be a dream.

We clean these houses to ward off chaos from the outside world; we remodel them and decorate them to bring them closer to our idea of who we want to be; we move into them and out of them; we buy them and we sell them; we take them and we lose them; we raise them and we raze them; we rent them and are rent from them. More often than not, these days at least, a house is often constructed by unknown contractors before we arrive, and destroyed by unpredictable forces after we leave, as if by magic. Its builders and demolishers are faceless and nameless. Its systems are complex and often mysterious.

We live in these houses alone and with others. Geoff and I each rent small Brooklyn apartments minutes from one another, small enclaves in larger houses populated by owners we call friends. But we grew up sharing spaces—bathrooms, backyards, garages, bunk bed hideaways, hillside forts, paper castles, bookstore attics, witchy ponds, and station wagon waybacks. We share so many memories of these childhood spaces—they tell us who we are and who we’ve been—and so we always feel a bit unsettled when we discover where those memories diverge.

I suppose we are all haunted by our memories of previous houses we have inhabited and of the traces left behind by those that came before us. In turn, we haunt those that come next, and this can be true whether the house takes the form of a single family dwelling, an apartment complex, a hotel, a bivouac, a congress, a prison, a theater. But home is less a material thing and more an idea, an experience, a feeling, an illusion. James Baldwin writes in his beautiful brief novel Giovanni’s Room that home can also be a person, or at least how we feel when we see or think of that person. “Perhaps home is not a place,” he writes, “but simply an irrevocable condition.”

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2017 Festival Spotlight: Created by People of Color, Pt. 1

Posted September 11th, 2017

Disrupting the pervasive whiteness of Fringe, these artists are breathing fresh air in to the new works scene in Philadelphia with these exciting Festival offerings!

 

To My Unborn Child: A Love Letter from Fred Hampton @ Iron Age Theater
Philadelphia Ethical Society

Murdered by Chicago Police at 21 as he lay by his pregnant lover, visionary Black Panther Fred Hampton preached a humane, compassionate revolution against racist brutality, child hunger, poverty, and capitalism. Fred cries, “Power to the People,” in Rich Bradford’s world premiere play reviving a critical voice for justice. More info and tickets here.

 

Mujeres @ CHI Movements Art Center
Gavino + Carbonell

Mujeres is a compilation of dance works by female choreographers, Gavino and Carbonell. Gavino’s HERstoryexplores pre-colonial matrilineal bloodlines from the perspective of an indigenous Filipina. Carbonell’s Milk delves into motherhood, investigating sustenance passed from mother to child. More info and tickets here.

 

Cotton & Gold @ Circle of Hope
AMH Productions

Writer/director Alyse Hogan explores history to tell this story of struggle, healing and resilience. Through Afrofuturism, the town of Tulsa is re-imagined from the forgotten history of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Black Wall Street. Join Loron Sr. as he escapes to an economically advanced Tulsa, searching for answers to save his hometown of Rankin from the watchful eye of COINTELPRO. More info and tickets here.

 

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Making Art in 2017: Nate Barnett and Nick Schwasman on Wedgwood on the Green

Posted September 11th, 2017

Image by Jordan Schellinkhout.

Name: Nate Barnett and Nick Schwasman

Company: Drip Symphony

Show in 2017 Festival: Wedgwood on the Green

Role: Co-Directors, Performers

Past Festival Shows: Millennia, Damn Dirty Apes, Pay Up!

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

Nick SchwasmanWedgwood started as poetic memoir that Nick wrote in 2014. We mounted it in the 2015 Solow Festival as a live radio play. Now we’re collaborating with a variety of artists to create a fully visual show. The story deals with a group of young men who are discovering dark truths about their supposed masculinity as they approach the threshold of adulthood. We tell the story in and out of the round: the audience is seated in a circle of swivel chairs. A narrator sits in the middle, but all around is the world of Wedgwood. They choose what they do and do not see.

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

Courtney Cooke and Devin Preston. Photo by Nate Barnett.

Nick Schwasman: I think the two of us are feeling like we are coming out of a part of our life where we were holding tight to our training and technique. We spent quite a few years admiring the complexities of artistic traditions, studying in discipline and reverence, the music of Leonard Bernstein, poems of WB Yeats, artists whose work have become sturdy pillars by now. I think lately, we’re less interested in the classic stuff, we’ve become obsessed with experimental techniques. For us, the clearest way forward to making new and better art is by bringing an almost scientific attitude towards its creation—testing new ideas rigorously, imagining future possibilities based on experience. It’s the artists that have done this whom we most admire, and how we intend to move forward.

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

Posted September 10th, 2017

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

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

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


FringeArtsTell us a little about your performance backgrounds.

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

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

FringeArtsIs there a strong theater or performance community in Allentown?

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

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

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Making Art in 2017: Sonya Aronowitz on #CocktailPlays

Posted September 8th, 2017

Sonya Aronowitz. Photo by Marv Kaplan.

Name: Sonya Aronowitz

Company: Juniper Productions

Show in 2017 Festival: #CocktailPlays

Role: Producer

Past Festival shows: This is our first production!​

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

Sonya Aronowitz: I founded Juniper Productions this year to be a new independent “spirit” in the performing arts. I’ve written plays myself and know how difficult/impossible it is to have work produced. Our starting point is serving emerging talent, in particular playwrights, by providing more development and production opportunities. At the same time, I want to open up theater to more audiences by making work in places where people gather anyway. The short play format allows us to introduce a new audience to several emerging playwrights in one evening of performance. So, in short, the questions I seek to answer are: How do we introduce a broader public to the great talent we have in Philadelphia? How do we continue to cultivate and sustain our theater artists?

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Recollections of Home from Geoff and Stefanie Sobelle

Posted September 7th, 2017

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

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

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

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2017 Festival Spotlight: FringeArts ~After Dark~

Posted September 7th, 2017

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

Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret @ FringeArts
Martha Graham Cracker

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

KINK HAÜS @ The Latvian Society
Gunnar Montana

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

 

 

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Making Art in 2017: Dawn Falato and Karen Getz on The Gorgeousity

Posted September 7th, 2017

(Left to right) Dawn Falato and Karen Getz

Name: Dawn Falato and Karen Getz

Company: The Gorgeousity (produced by Chalk, Chair and Broomstick)

Show in 2017 Festival: Gorgeousity – The Army of Love and Art

Karen Getz Past Festival shows: Suburban Love Songs, Disco Descending (Dawn was also in these shows); as ensemble member in Lunchlady Doris, Cecily and Gwendolyn’s Fantastical

Dawn Falato Past Festival shows: St. Anthony’s Body (a solo show); as ensemble member in It’s So Learning, The Ballad of Joe Hill.

FringeArts: Tell us about your show.

Dawn Falato and Karen Getz: Our show is a “play romp” for grown-ups—a musical wrapped inside an informal party.

We wanted to make a creative respite—a place to drop responsible, adult “skins” at the door for a couple of hours. We were interested in making a safe, inviting experience to sing, dance, play, and color for everyone who came to our event. We also wanted to make an instant community, with no “us” and “them.” It was important to us that the experience traveled easily, didn’t hold us back with production costs and could be experienced in almost any location.

Our main questions were: Could we could craft a truly immersive musical experience around our own strengths that would also naturally invite the audience in? How does the experience get crafted so that the participants’ input is genuinely significant to the outcome of the show?  Could we ask people to sing and dance and play act without any performative or creative pressure?

It took us about three years to craft both the musical that is the center of the experience and to craft the means by which audiences can step into that musical as themselves, without performative pressure or cynicism. And we added home cooked food. And crayons.

FringeArtsHow have your interests in or approach to art making changed in the last year?
Dawn Falato and Karen Getz: Our mission had long been to create a two-plus-hour, joy-filled respite from the dividing ideologies and relentless pressures of being an “adult” in our society. It now seems more important than ever to get small groups of grown ups in a room together to remember how to create and play, release the tensions of the day and see each other as fellow human beings, just like ourselves. It’s far harder to demonize people you don’t know when you are looking them in the eye and pretending to be enchanted, human-geese together.
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Ambivalent Cosmic Matter: An Interview with Bhob Rainey

Posted September 6th, 2017

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Making Art in 2017: Rebecca Katherine Hirsch on Bad Activist

Posted September 6th, 2017

Photo by Kevin Watkins.

Name: Rebecca Katherine Hirsch

Company: Humble Mumbles

Show in 2017 FestivalBad Activist: Sex Politics, Palestine and You

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

Rebecca Katherine Hirsch: On one hand, this show is an eros-drenched saga of scapegoating and shame. On another hand, it’s a specific plea to my fellow Jews of America to rethink about our diaspora relationship to Israel! It comes from life: my travels to Palestine/Israel which have contained many complicated situations such as romances, apocryphal conversations, and what someone who inspired this play once called “solidarity sex—sex born of the struggle.”

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

Rebecca Katherine Hirsch: My interests in trauma, representative sexuality, Zionism, and feminism have, over the years, crystallized, solidified, fragmented, evaporated, and reconvened, among other things! The two relationships featured in this play—one unequal Jewish–American friendship, one unequal American–Palestinian romance—have happened and re-happened and the experiences have altered the art (and vice versa).

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Making Art in 2017: Sarah Carr on Mistress of the Maze

Posted September 5th, 2017

Sarah Carr. Photo by Chris Hallock.

Name: Sarah Carr

Company: WeftWorks

Show in 2017 Festival: Mistress of the Maze

Past Festival shows: None: this is my first!

FringeArtsTell us about your show.

Sarah CarrMistress Of the Maze explores the ancient Minoan myths and rituals that inspired the classical Greek tale of Ariadne, Theseus, and the Minotaur. I am an anthropologist as well as a dancer and fiber artist, and I have always been fascinated by the Bronze Age civilizations.

The Greek version of the tale of the Labyrinth is well known, but it reflects the values and concerns of the ancient Greeks: there’s a strong brave man to save the day (Theseus), a monster to slay (the Minotaur), and a princess (Ariadne) to be carried away when the task is complete. However, this well-known tale was crafted roughly two millennia after the Minoan palaces on Crete were abandoned. It is an appropriation of Minoan icons and symbols that retains almost nothing of the original context.

Minoan culture was starkly different than Ancient Greece. Images of warfare, so common in Ancient Greek art, are nearly absent in Minoan art. Minoan culture was mercantile, trading with and adopting influences from the lands surrounding the ancient Aegean. Minoan religion does not feature any clear depictions of male deities. Images of goddesses, and women interpreted to be priestesses, abound. Ariadne, rather than a princess awaiting her prince, was likely Labrynthinos Potnia. She was a goddess whose sacred symbols included the Labrys, the double-headed axe for which the Labyrinth is named, as well as the horns of the bull, the snake, and the honey bee. In this work, I am attempting to reclaim the identity of Ariadne, to create dances that feel like rituals dedicated to the principle of feminine power that was so very important in Minoan culture. It is not meant to be a historical reenactment, as the production uses very stylized masks and costumes. I wanted instead to capture the essence of this culture and pay respect to their myths and symbols.

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Composing for the Future: Interview with Troy Herion

Posted September 5th, 2017

Troy Herion is a composer and filmmaker whose works unite contemporary music with visual arts through film, theater, dance, and concert music. His  compositions range from classical and avant-garde orchestral music to intricate and melodic electronic scores. He has teamed up with Dan Rothenberg (director) and Mimi Lien (design) for Pig Iron Theatre Company‘s A Period of Animate Existence, which has been dubbed “a work of symphonic theater” and premieres at the 2017 Fringe Festival. Period is structured as five moments and tackles questions about the future of life in such turbulent times. It also features more than 80 performers including  children and elders, as well as The Crossing, Contemporaneous, and members of the Philadelphia Boys Choir & Chorale and Philadelphia Girls Choir, and Philomusica. Troy shared some of his thoughts with us on the creation of A Period of Animate Existence earlier this year.

FringeArts: What does the title A Period of Animate Existence mean to you? And how did you first respond to it?

Troy Herion: When you look up the word “life” in the dictionary, one of the definitions you will find is: “a period of animate existence.” Our piece looks at the concept of life from a zoomed out perspective—one that tries to consider where life came from and where it is going. When I think of the dictionary definition of life—a “period” of animate existence—the word period implies something with a beginning and an end. The period of my own life is barely conceivable—to think I have a beginning and an end. But when I zoom out and think about the period of life on earth, or life in the universe, the origins and the future trajectory of this continuum of life are entirely beyond my imagination. When we consider the idea that life is a continuum, that all living things on Earth are part of an unbroken chain going back to the first emergence, and continuing into the future from generation to generation, then the period of animate existence is really on a timescale beyond comprehension.

FringeArts: How do you incorporate or consider the other artistic processes happening on this show when composing?

Troy Herion: I’m sort of obsessed with the ways music combines with things like images, environments, and story. I tend to work holistically by imagining music in some sort of context, which has led me to some more interdisciplinary projects like my visual music films. I’m interested in synesthesia, and I experience music as a very tactile thing. Sounds have color and weight, they can travel like objects in space with momentum and friction. So my music is definitely inspired by colors, textures, brightness, and movement. A Period of Animate Existence is a unique project in that we are writing (and revising) the music, story, choreography, and visual design simultaneously. I tend to be inspired by a concept or an image from Dan or Mimi, and then will write an unfinished demo of music. We then try to combine the music and design sketches, so that each can be influenced by the other.

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Making Art in 2017: Michaela Shuchman on Airswimming

Posted September 5th, 2017

(Left to right) Michelle Johnson and Michaela Shuchman. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Name: Michaela Shuchman

Company: Half Key Theatre Company

2017 Festival Show: Airswimming

Role: Performer

Past Festival shows: Scarlet Letters with Ross & Diggs

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

Michaela Shuchman: Set in 1920s Ireland, Airswimming by Charlotte Jones is based on the true story of two women imprisoned in a mental hospital for daring to challenge society’s definition of womanhood. Forgotten by the world, Dora and Persephone come together for one hour each day to clean and find connection. Through sheer force of will, friendship, and a penchant for Doris Day, they redefine their world and resist confinement for over fifty years. Airswimming explores female identity and friendship at a time in Irish history when mental health and women’s issues converged. Jones takes the imagined circumstances of two real imprisoned women and asks: How do we express and accept ourselves when our freedoms have been taken away? How can finding connection with another person help us better understand ourselves? What does Doris Day have to do with any of this? Airswimming speaks to the desire in all of us to be free from societal constraints, to dance and be weird and wacky with our best friends, and to find meaning in the most unexpected of places. 

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Making Art in 2017: William H. Gaffney IV on A Fable for the Living

Posted September 4th, 2017

Name: William H. Gaffney IV

Company: Group IV Productions

Show in 2017 Festival: A Fable for the Living by Kevin Brockmeier

Role: Director

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

William H. Gaffney: AFFTL is a short story, found in a collection of short stories called The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier. The story was first presented to me by someone whom has since passed away, which has taken a huge part in the conception of this piece. In “A Fable for the Living” a woman attends a concert with her fiancé after an afternoon of bickering and arguments. He begins to cough into his sleeve and excuses himself. A great amount of time passes and she becomes wary of his return and, going to the lobby in search for him, she finds him dead on the floor. Beside herself, she spends the next few weeks, months even, attempting to contact him in some way. Ultimately, she gains this contact and out of love for her he convinces her to join him. The concept of the piece isn’t one correlating to suicide. The concept strictly revolves around the idea that we live in a multi-realm existence, an endless fire escape of trial and tribulation. Is death the be-all and end-all of existence, or existence on earth? When we die, is it not possible to move from one realm to another or do we stop in time and never live again? A Fable for the Living offers a comforting approach to life and death.

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

William H. Gaffney: Our mission states that we create plays that reflect the current social, economic, and political state of our audiences. I think this past year’s political environment has changed the majority of people’s view on art, whether creating or not. I believe I feel more passionately than ever before to provide hope and a speck of wisdom in a time that has been layered over in clouds of smoke. Art is not only meant to inspire an individual, but to stir a reaction, question, and begin a dialogue between a community of people, like-minded or not. I take the streets into my rehearsal space/development more often now. I think about what I’ve seen, what’s going on in the news, what’s happening in my neighborhood and I apply it to whatever work we’re doing that day. I hope this connection between the make-believe and realities of our world help develop an even more affective and considerate approach to the story of A Fable for the Living.

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Making Art in 2017: Justin Jain on These Terrible Things

Posted September 3rd, 2017

(Left to right) Bradley Wrenn, David Johnson, Justin Jain. Photo by Kathryn Raines.

Name: Justin Jain

Company: The Berserker Residents / The University of the Arts

Show in 2017 Festival: These Terrible Things

Role: Co-Creator, Performer

Past Festival shows: With Berserkers: The Jersey Devil, 2007; The Giant Squid, 2008; The Annihilation Point, 2009; The Talkback, 2014; It’s So Learning, 2015; I Fucking Dare You, 2016; It’s So Learning, 2016 (part of FringeArts winter season)

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

Justin JainThese Terrible Things is our subversive comedic response to contemporary American theater values. We’ve dredged up the work of the (fictional) god-like playwright, Lord Ham Hillerson. His work spans centuries and the variety of work he’s produced emulates those of classic playwrights we revere today—Shakespeare, Beckett, Williams, Mamet . . . to name a few.

These Terrible Things in rehearsal.

The conversations we’re having in the room center around why we produce some works that are consistently problematic—for their misogyny, racism, clunkiness, or for just being over-produced. Why it is so hard for new voices and plays to get attention or funding? Why do we revere the classics as “better”? We are also stoked about this collaboration with UArts because another thread we are chasing are the dangers of educational theater training. The guru and student relationship is one we are excited to explode.

Of course, it would not be a Berserker show without some kind of twist. Let’s just say there’s something much more sinister at play in this piece than meets the eye. That when we look in the shadows we see that all artists deal with the same demons. That sometimes bad ideas need to die. And that what we do as theater artists is all just make-believe.

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2017 Festival Spotlight: Apocalyptic Visions

Posted September 2nd, 2017

In these turbulent times, artists in the Fringe Festival are using their mediums to present worst case scenarios for our unpredictable future. Check out the horrifying projections of reality coming to our city at this year’s Fringe!

 

AMERICANA PSYCHOBABBLE @ Berks Warehouse
Alexandra Tatarsky

A delirious anti-narrative of American emptiness, violence, and nonsense—part exorcism and part enema! With styrofoam wings, Xmas lights, and ketchup. “Phyllis Diller meets Artaud!” “Like Kellyanne Conway woke up from a coma after overdosing on sleeping pills and reading too much Gertrude Stein.” AMERICANA PSYCHOBABBLE exists somewhere between irrational healing ceremony, sad clown song, dance in the abyss, and desperate diatribe to take back ecstatic nonsense as an act of resistance. More info and tickets here.

 

Every Day APOCALYPSE! @ The Collective
Lone Brick Theatre Company

The death rays and nukes of outrageous fortune are aimed squarely at a struggling theater group when an irate son of God condemns the company to face a new apocalyptic scenario every day, for eternity. Can they learn to get along in order to save the world, not to mention the world’s worst production of Hamlet? More info and tickets here.

 

GATZ @ Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre
Harrison Stengle

Philadelphia, year 2025, the tempo of the city had changed sharply. The buildings were higher, the parties were bigger, the morals were looser and the kush was cheaper, the restlessness approached hysteria. From the makers of the off-off Broadway show Sword of the Unicorn comes GATZ a Great Gatsby modernist parody. More info and tickets here.

 

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Music Engenders a Feeling: the Musical Inspirations of Ghost Rings

Posted September 1st, 2017

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

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

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


“The Weakness in Me” by Joan Armatrading

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

 

“The Eye” by Brandi Carlile

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

 

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Making Art in 2017: Harrison Stengle on GATZ

Posted September 1st, 2017

Name: Harrison Stengle

Company: Thinking about establishing a company called “Macho Goat.” As of right now it is just me.

Show in 2017 Festival: GATZ

Role: Writer, Director

Past Festival showsSword of the Unicorn (which is going to New York)

Julie Stackhouse, Jesse Bradley, Jonny Long, Jenna McLaughlin, and Lamar Bumbrey in rehearsal.

FringeArts: Tell us a bit about your show. 

Harrison Stengle: GATZ is a post-apocalyptic, vaporwave infused, interracial, post-modernist parody of the original work by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It tackles the themes that are presented in the original book as well as some that might not have been seen before. For example, Gatsby and Daisy’s interracial relationship is a major theme as well as white privilege. The idea is to twist the symbolism of the original story in a way that younger audiences can better associate with.

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

Harrison Stengle: I am mastering non-subliminal surrealism/symbolism. I want audiences to understand the collective unconsciousness. This can be very difficult to achieve. Understanding the science of it has been something I will continuously develop and strive for.

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