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Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category

Alex Tatarsky’s Americana Psychobabble: The First in a Tryptich on America’s Political Tragicomedy

Posted August 26th, 2017

Alex Tatarsky in Americana Psychobabble

Alexandra Tatarsky is an absurdist performer hailing from New York City who aims to present the current state of affairs in the United States through her mixture of performance art, theater, and clown. She studied with mask maker Stanley Sherman and attended the Pig Iron School in Philadelphia. She performs on stages, in galleries, museums, bars, and living rooms, sometimes as a mound of dirt, and once in an all-too-convincingly stunt as Andy Kaufman’s daughter. She also teaches at the School of Making and Thinking (Abrons Art Center) on Holy Fools, and at the School of Authentic Journalism in Mexico City on performance and community organizing. “I am obsessed with how a performance teaches an audience how to engage with it, and how a work can be fully alive to the particular room it’s in.” Americana Psychobabble is “an attempt to both exorcise and exercise our demons,” an examination of America’s underlying divisive hatred, feelings of abandonment, already-present absurdity, and penchant for ketchup. The show investigates the “empty trashy language careening between somewhat cogent critique and incomprehensible garble seemed to speak to the demonic complexity of the American spirit, and the ugliness that undergirds a razzle-dazzle surface.” The show is a part of the Fringe Festival as the first in what will hopefully become a triptych of performances, the second of which she began devising during the 2017 Camp Fringe. We had a chat with Alex to explore the drive behind this new work, and the path that led her to become an absurdist comic.

FringeArts: Where did you grow up, and how did you begin making art?

Alex Tatarsky: I was born and bred in New York City and was apparently singing songs in made-up languages in my stroller before I could walk, like most kids. But the first performance piece I remember was dressing up as a “butterfly-doggie” and walking around the East Village like that when I was three. So I think it’s fair to say I’ve always been interested in absurdist character work and the rich, uncomfortable spaces between categories. Venerable Philly poet CA Conrad points out that we all made art as kids and then some of us—due to resources, encouragement, delusion, devotion, or compulsion—kept making art and some of us stopped. But we all have that kid artist in us and can access it if we choose to.

As a kid I danced with the magical Lisa Pilato for many years in a church basement by the West Side highway, and played a lot of street ball—both of which contributed considerably to my later development as a performer. But my main performance education for a long time mostly consisted of hanging out in parks and watching street performers like Master Lee chop a cucumber on an audience member’s dick, or Tic & Tac the acrobatic twins gather a huge crowd with some dancing but mostly jokes making fun of each other and the audience. Along with street preachers, panhandlers, drag queens, and anybody else vigorously monologue-ing on the street, these were my performance idols. I went on to study Russian literature and spent a few years thinking about and translating Russian Jewish poetry—whose concerns around the poet/prophet/lunatic are perhaps not unrelated—and when I got back to New York I began studying commedia with master mask maker Stanley Sherman. Eventually I decided it was time to go to proper clown school and ended up in Philly to train with Pig Iron who had blown me away when another clown guru, the amazing Ed Malone, took me to see their Twelfth Night in New York and Dito’s Iazzi so delighted me that I cried. But most importantly, I love to go out dancing and I credit the club as my main influence and form of movement-based research.

FringeArts: Who are some artists that you look up to?

Alex Tatarsky: Miguel Gutierrez, Abner Jay, Trajal Harrell, the Kuchar Brothers, my uncle Miles, Richard Pryor, Dario Fo, Lenny Bruce, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Frank Wedekind, Cecilia VicuñaGershom Scholem, Aventura, Andy Kaufman, Edouard Glissant, Lucy Hopkins, Stuart Hall, Marguerite Hemmings, Grace Lee Boggs, Charlie Chaplin, Cam’ron… all extravagant thinkers pushing at the edges of their disciplines and challenging us to imagine new worlds and ways of being.

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2017 Festival Spotlight: Family Friendly Fare, Part 1

Posted August 25th, 2017

Just because it’s at the Fringe doesn’t mean you have to leave the kids at home. Check out some of the Festival’s productions appropriate for all ages. Bring the whole family! Check out Part 2 here.

 

A Billion Nights on Earth @ FringeArts
Thaddeus Phillips + Steven Dufala

A  journey into an alternative universe for audiences of all ages. A treasured stuffed whale goes missing and a portal to another dimension though the kitchen fridge sets a father and son off on a spectacular quest through space and time. Objects on stage appear to come alive and the father and son must rely on their creativity, and each other, to survive wild landscapes that open like giant pop up books. Taking from classic children’s books, kabuki stagecraft, and spellbinding theatrics, A Billion Nights on Earth is an imaginative dive into the realms of parent–child relationships, exploring their varying perspectives on reality. More info and tickets here.

 

Edge of the Rock @ The Rock School for Dance Education

The Rock School for Dance Education

Exciting, energetic young talent from around the world perform classical and contemporary vignettes that will keep you on the edge of your seat! Alumni from The Rock School go on to join the most prestigious dance companies worldwide. See the dance stars of tomorrow, today! More info and tickets here.

 

Aunty Ben @ William Way LGBT Community Center
ReNew Theatre Company

Aunty Ben is a play for children 8+ (& Adults). The story revolves around 9 y/o Tracy and her relationship with her favorite Uncle Ben, who happens to be a drag queen. Aunty Ben is a playful exploration of gender issues, acceptance, and is a celebration of diversity, dignity, and marching to the beat of your own drum. More info and tickets here.

 

Photo by Charley Parden.

 

PRIDE PARADE! @ Rittenhouse Square
Wesley Flash

PRIDE PARADE! is an interactive walking tour featuring historic hot spots in Center City Philadelphia. During this immersive storytelling adventure, we’ll dance, sing, and chant as we honor and celebrate out & proud ancestors who marched before our time. Join the movement — Remembering is resistance! More info and tickets here.

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The Best 21st Birthday You’ll Ever Attend

Posted August 24th, 2017

The 21st Annual Fringe Festival is almost here, can you believe it? I can’t, but time doesn’t need me to believe in it to do what it does. Time isn’t Candyman, but it is about as terrifying, if not more so.

Regardless, this year’s Festival may be the largest yet with some 170+ performances shaking up our city from September 7-24 and it’s hard to know where to start. So, I’ll make it easy for you: start at the beginning.

On September 7th FringeArts will be hosting its annual Opening Night celebration here at our waterfront headquarters. The festivities kick off with a special preview performance of 17c by the world renowned Big Dance Theater, a company with a habit of dragging the past into the present. With 17c they’ve done just that, drawing from perhaps the most dedicated diarist of the 17th century, Samuel Pepys, modernizing his language, and examining the depravity of his actions through a contemporary feminist lens.

After the performance comes the party. Join us at La Peg (you don’t even have to leave the building!) for a reception created collaboratively by FringeArts’ President and Producing Director Nick Stuccio, La Peg Executive Chef Peter Woolsey, and Annie-B Parson.

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Making Art in 2017: Jennifer Blaine on The Vicissitudes of Travel

Posted August 24th, 2017

Photo by Karen Getz.

Name: Jennifer Blaine

Show in 2017 FestivalThe Vicissitudes of Travel

Role: Writer, Performer

FringeartsTell us about your show. 

Jennifer Blaine: As a girl my family would do a lot of traveling to foreign countries, art museums, funky restaurants, and though things would sometimes go very wrong, we were always encouraged to try to find something redeeming in it all. My parents would always say as a sort of mantra, “Well honey, it’s the vicissitudes of travel!”

The travel I’m exploring in this show is about traveling through memories, personalities, and perceptions, and exploring how we define ourselves based on our relationship to whomever we love. Watching someone go through brain issues or life-threatening illness reveals that our connection with them may be precarious, which may leave us feeling vulnerable. The show asks, “What is it like to go beyond a personality to reach the person?” Karen Getz and I have created an imagined scenario with a family on a tour bus while going through the brother’s surgery. It is not just elements of my personal story, but rather an archetypal depiction of the inevitable tour bus we must all take through mortality, loss, and love at some point. It is emotionally the most intimate work I have ever created and probably my most dramatic solo show to date.

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

Photo by Karen Getz.

Jennifer Blaine: I’m so grateful to Karen Getz for guiding me through this process. She told me at the beginning that it might take a long time for the piece to emerge, but if we kept showing up it would take the form it most wanted to be. That’s new for me. I can’t believe how outrageous, heart-centered, irreverent, and satisfying the piece is! It’s been such a rewarding process collaborating with Karen because she innovates constantly and somehow as a director, improviser, and writer always has the perfect agenda for us to progress the creative work to the next step.

We are also continuing to look at how we want the audience to experience this work.  Part of how we are creating it is with a breakthrough for the audience in mind. What is the impact on them?

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Making Art in 2017: John Doyle & Bob Weick on Marx in Soho

Posted August 23rd, 2017

Bob Weick as Karl Marx. Photo by John Doyle.

Name: John Doyle & Bob Weick

CompanyIron Age Theatre/Radical Acts

Show in 2017 FestivalMarx in Soho

Roles: Director & Actor, respectively

Past Festival showsDutchman (2002), Marx in Soho (2004), The Interrogation of Nathan Hale (2004), Shakesploitation (2005), Shakesploitation II (2007), Waiting for the Ship from Delos (2008), Citizen Paine (2009), Christie in Love (2011), Fringe Wraiths [Digital installation] (2012), Found Fringe [Digital Installation] (2013), A Great War (2015), A Runaway, A Soldier and a Snowball Fight (2016), The Return of Fringe Wraiths [Digital Fringe] (2016).

FringeArtsTell us about your show.

John Doyle: Bob Weick and I decided to produce Marx in Soho in 2004 and with the gracious permission of Howard Zinn, noted author and historian, we have been presenting the play across the country for thirteen years. We are about to begin a tour to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth and this is our kickoff. We are discussing the need for humans to see themselves in community and to look past the political divide to understand the humane ideas behind Marx and more broadly, the need for a more compassionate world.

Bob Weick: Zinn wrote the play after the fall or the Berlin Wall and the proclamation that communism has failed, Marx is dead, and capitalism has triumphed. Is that true? Many would answer, yes. The play challenges that narrative. The work defends Marx from his critics and shows a surprising view of what could be . . . but has yet to be tried.

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Life Before The Big Bang: Interview with Whit MacLaughlin

Posted August 23rd, 2017

Whit MacLaughin is the artistic director of New Paradise Laboratories (NPL), which has been astonishing audiences for years with their remarkably strange and riveting performances. The company is known for their artistic excellence in physical theater, and innovative uses of visuals, sound design, and choreography. The recipient of both Obie and Barrymore awards, MacLaughin helms Hello Blackout! NPL’s newest work, a horror-farce about a family of monsters who live before, throughout, and after the Big Bang. We were so glad to get the chance to ask MacLaughlin about how this production came to be, and how it might illuminate the world around us.

FringeArts: How did the title Hello Blackout! come into being?

Whit MacLaughin: “Blackout” has many meanings, political and otherwise: It’s what a government imposes when it doesn’t want the press to reveal a piece of news. It’s what you do to a window when you want to remain undetected by bombers flying overhead. It’s something that happens when you drink too much or when you faint. It happens in theater to punctuate the end of a scene or play. We have concocted another meaning. It’s what happens when a gust of wind blows out the candle you’re carrying, or when the batteries run out in your flashlight; suddenly, you can’t find your way. A blackout can be funny, infuriating, or frightening. It signifies that moment when you realize, again, that you can’t know what’s waiting for you in the future. Which is pretty much always.

This is in keeping with the basic notion at the heart of this current series of pieces: the world is not set, it continually evolves and changes. This is kind of a huge issue when it comes to live performance. And living in general. How much do you try to plan? How much do you make it all up on the spot? We’ve been studying ways that we try to tell the future: oracles, probability, fortune-tellers, astrology, intuition, algorithms. The fact is, there really isn’t a way to predict what’s to come with any certainty.

This truth has presented itself to us in a forceful way, recently, in our political life. We see the word “unprecedented” all the time to describe our situation.  The question: Is anything truly unprecedented or is everything? We want to make the case that everything is. Like that old Zen saying: you can’t put your hand into the same river twice. We have no choice but to get better at wrestling with unpredictability.  And, possibly, enjoying it. This is at the heart of everything we do at NPL.

FringeArts: What brings NPL back to the Kissimmee family and their adventures in the universe? What are some of the continuations from O Monsters as well as new directions that are being explored?

Whit MacLaughin: O Monsters was where the Kissimmee family first presented itself to us: a set of triplets, their carnivorous mother, and a father who vanished mysteriously some time ago. We thought it might be fun to figure out where they came from, this family of not-quite-human beings. O Monsters took place in a weird version of the present. Hello Blackout! happens in the distant past—actually, before the Big Bang. What a fun question: what was family life like before anything existed? Of course, there’s no answer, it’s like using nonsense to start a story. But that’s what creation myths do: they start with “in the beginning there was not-even-nothing.” It’s an unanswerable riddle. But we’ve challenged ourselves to imagine an answer. Imagining things that happened before there was anything requires us truly to empty our minds.

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Making Art in 2017: Lauren M. Shover on Suicide Stories: Gallery of the Untold

Posted August 22nd, 2017

Lauren M. Shover. Photo by Phil Czekner.

Name: Lauren M. Shover

Company: Elephant Room Productions

Show in 2017 Festival: Suicide Stories: Gallery of the Untold

Role: Director, Company Co-Founder and Artistic Director

Past Festival shows: This is our first!

FringeArts: Tell us about your show. 

Lauren M. Shover: It was over a year or so ago that we first started developing the idea of creating a gallery of living art to tell various stories at the same time. We at Elephant Room Productions firmly believe that every story deserves to be told. We wanted to bring that motto to play here by exploring several different relationships to one issue. We first were inspired after watching a youtube performance of “The Destruction Artist,” which is a monologue from A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer, part of The Vagina Monologues project. We were taken by the personal retelling of the story, the breaking the fourth wall and the exposure and vulnerability of the character. We thought about doing a similar project but as theatre rather than film. When it came to thinking of which topic we wanted to address it was not much of a discussion, as we all knew we wanted to talk about suicide. The most reaffirming thing about this project for us has been our experience discussing it with just about anyone and having everyone come back to you with some kind of personal connection to it. It is frighteningly common and also not discussed enough. Even within our company, we have each been touched in some way by this epidemic, even to the extent of the loss of a company member’s sister.

After the concept had become clear to us, we enlisted playwrights from our Elephant Ears Reading Series to write pieces for the production. These playwrights were not only on board with participating but most had personal testimonies to bring to the table to which they wrote about. The pieces each involve additional themes such as bullying, violence, rape, cat-fishing/cyber-bullying and more. A portion of proceeds is being donated to the American Mental Wellness Association to continue to raise awareness and aid prevention efforts for suicide and related issues. In addition, during each performance, donations will be collected for various local organizations geared towards the other various issues we are addressing.

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Making Art in 2017: Joshuah D. Simpson on It Takes One

Posted August 20th, 2017

Joshuah D. Simpson. Photo by Cass Meehan.

Name: Joshuah D. Simpson

Company: The University of the Arts

Show in 2017 FestivalIt Takes One

Role: Performer, Writer

Past Festival showsYou Can’t Put Me in a Box

FringeArts: Tell us about your show. 

Joshuah Simpson: This show came out of my problematically zealous passion for musical theater, but more specifically Into the Woods. This show has taught me a great deal about the world around me, and made me realize that in a world where we’re used to all necessary information being spoon fed to us through social media, hidden messages from shows like this are often looked over. My hope is that It Takes One reminds audiences of the connective tissue that all humans share as moving cogs in this world, and find the innate similarities between us while getting a good laugh and maybe even a few tears.

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

Joshuah D. Simpson. Photo by Ethan Abrams.

Joshuah Simpson: I have undergone a lot of changes this year as a theater artist, the most important being the realization that none of us are held to any one position in the grand scope of theater. There are so many roles to take on, and realizing that I’m capable of more than just one or two things really turned me around a bit. More specifically to this show, before this year I had only ever been a spectator of cabarets, but have found myself taking a more and more of an active part, and finding a new love with in the theater world that I’m really excited to share with the Philly community.

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Making Art in 2017: Carl(os) Roa on Andean Mountains (Montañas Andinas)

Posted August 18th, 2017

Carl(os) Roa, practicing the ancient art of ruanamancy; Photo by Talia Mason.

Name: Carl(os) Roa

2017 Festival ShowAndean Mountains (Montañas Andinas)

Role: Writer, Performer

Past Festival showsAE$OP and Parts: A Speed-Through, both of which were produced by the Drexel Players. Shout-out to my alma-mater: Drexel University!

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

Carl(os) Roa: I have an obsession with Google Maps, globetrotting, and geography. I spend some of my downtime exploring different cities with Google Street View, and it didn’t take me very long to discover that you could explore much of Colombia, where my family lived. And I started thinking a lot about giving tours of Colombia live via projection. But ultimately, I knew that these tours were largely limited to my own understanding of Colombian culture, having grown up here in the States. My experience was radically different from one who grew up in a place like Bogotá or Medellín. That in itself became artistically salient to me, these big questions of: How do people of a diaspora access a culture that they’ve been displaced from? Where do we go when the map is missing pieces?

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

Performing at SoLow Fest. Photo by Annemarie Branco.

Carl(os) Roa: I think my experience with the Headlong Performance Institute really twisted my artistic brain. I spent four months hanging out with dancers, visual artists, community organizers, and even electronic musicians – people who forced me to think in a very different way about me and my work. I’ve been eternally grateful for these interdisciplinary discoveries.

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Finding Reality in a Dream: Alison Hoban of the Found Theater Company

Posted August 18th, 2017

Adrienne Hertler, Joe Wozniak, Kristy Joe Slough, Ciara Collins, Matt Lorenz, and Joe Palinsky in Game Show Show.

Working in the surreal world between dreams and reality, the Found Theater Company presents their eighth original Fringe Festival show this September. The group works as a collective in Philadelphia, and devises works like this year’s Game Show Show around a central theme, such as the televised game show. While the premise is light, it’s used as a vehicle to a comment on the current state of disarray that the United States continues to fall into. “Found always works inside of this kind of in between world, where we straddle reality and a dream state,” says director Alison Hoban. “We’re (hopefully) able to take the audience to heightened, otherworldly places, while also being able to reach them as people with real human experience: heartache, love, success, failure.” Founded under the direction of Felipe Vergara, the company creates their shows by using a theme and building a narrative step-by-step, a process that has evolved over time. Alison Hoban has been with the company through it all, as their elected director after Felipe. I talked with her about her artistic roots, and how this show came to be.

Kristy Joe Slough in Game Show Show.

FringeArts: Where did you grow up, and how did you first become involved in the arts?

Alison Hoban: I’m from Wayne, PA, right outside of the city. My family wasn’t involved in the arts, but my parents always encouraged creativity throughout my life. They made it possible for me to take dance classes and be involved in theater from when I was young. I took and taught dance lessons through school. I spent a few summers at Upper Darby Summer Stage. But I really fell in love with theatre at Radnor High School under the direction of Mary Anne Morgan.

FringeArts: Who are some artists that you look up to?

Alison Hoban: Oh man, there are so many! I feel overwhelming lucky to be a part of the Philadelphia theater community. There are some amazing makers creating new works here. I was in the first class of The Headlong Performance Institute in 2008 and met a lot of them there. Headlong Dance Theatre has been a long time favorite. Seeing the care they take of themselves and each other during the creation process was inspiring. That was the year I saw one of Nicole Canuso’s works (Wandering Alice) for the first time too and it blew me away. It remains one of my favorite things I’ve seen in this city. I always look forward to seeing what other makers in the city are into and am always excited to see new works by Lightning Rod Special, Almanac, Sam Tower + Ensemble, the Philadelphia Opera Collective and so, so, so many others.

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Making Art in 2017: Noa Schnitzer on The Currency of Belief

Posted August 16th, 2017

Noa Schnitzer. Photo by Heather Dawn Sparks.

Name: Noa Schnitzer

2017 Festival Show: The Currency of Belief: Trapeze and Spiritual Comedy

Role: Creator, Performer

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

Noa Schnitzer: I am engaged in exploring the intangible elements that make up the gap between who we are and who we want to be, as a solo entity and as a community. To begin illuminating this gap is to understand where we come from as individuals. In this show, religion and gender are put under my artistic microscope. I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish community and decided to stop practicing at the age of eighteen. Over the years, prayers from this past pop up in my mind and stay with me for days. The fact that fifteen years later these prayers have an  involuntary voice in my mind got me thinking about the strength and significance of prayer, practice, and identity in community. In The Currency of Belief, the voice of prayer holds space for the hidden seams in this one life I am exploring: my own. Through these illuminations a question arises, Is there anything that prayer is not?

FringeArts: How have your interests in or approach to art making changed in the last year? 

Photo by Abigail Bell, Michelle Bates and Heather Dawn Sparks.

Noa Schnitzer: I am more proactive in reaching out to people that I want to collaborate with. The thing that I always need to practice accepting is that my art is important, and while conventional parameters of success are an amplifier for my ego, I am the main amplifier of my ideas.

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East Meets West, Old Meets New: The Dreamlike Beauty of Hua Hua Zhang’s Experimental Puppetry

Posted August 16th, 2017

Hua Hua Zhang with a puppet from White Nights

You enter a room and are surrounded by translucent white. There are strange, undulating formations, and a strange, ghostly light filters down from a hidden source. You feel as if you are on the surface of the moon. Welcome to White Nights, the newest production by Hua Hua Zhang of Visual Expressions. Hua Hua has been working in puppetry for more than thirty-five years, creating productions that are unique in their style and dazzling in their beauty. She aims to combine Eastern and Western art in her work, as well as old traditions with contemporary styles. Her work breaks the boundaries that have defined puppetry for generations, combining it with poetry, visual art, dance, theater, and music. White Nights is an experimental work, a series of dreamlike scenes that can be interpreted in a multitude of ways by the audience, all aiming for a path toward peace of mind. A half-an-hour preview of the show is being shown during the 2017 FringeArts Festival. The final show happens in November.

Images in White Nights make use of individual characters, some of them curious, others in love, others lonely. Produced in the large gallery space of the Asian Arts Initiative, the setting is a giant desert, based on the Chinese poem Night. The audience sits on the ground, around a small “pool of water,” surrounded by pods that serve as Chinese lanterns and shadowy silhouettes from Chinese ink paintings, as well as symbols of a moon and a sun. The puppeteers perform around the audience, who may interact with their movements. Musicians Bhob Rainy and Gamin Kang are also present, playing live music and interacting with the narratives. Four puppet performers, who have been trained in the style developed by Hua Hua, use the stylized movements of traditional Chinese performance, but use the puppets in an entirely different way, showing their entire bodies and moving with their objects. Interactions between the performers and the audience, and between the puppet performers and their puppets, cause constant questioning of their roles: the performer wonders, “Am I manipulating this puppet, or is the puppet manipulating me?” while the audience asks, “Am I watching the show, or am I a part of it?”

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The Making of Ghost Rings: Interview with Tina Satter

Posted August 8th, 2017

“There had to be a real patience and generosity on their part. But that kind respect and assuming the best intentions of all involved is always the key to a collaboration as full-on as this was.”

Tina Satter is the artistic director of the Obie-winning theater company Half Straddle. Her work has been described by The New York Times as a “vitalizing blend of coziness and estrangement, weirdness and familiarity.” Her new show, Ghost Rings, coming to the 2017 Fringe Festival, is no exception. Drawing from events of her own life, she uses the format and flow of a pop concert to create a work of theater. On stage the band is made up of two women singers, an additional musician, and Satter herself on drums. Also present are two puppet “Private Inner Beings,” Deer and Seal-y. As the two characters grow up, the show examines their intense relationship, and the oscillating dynamics within deep connections between two people. We had a conversation with Tina Satter about her inspiration for Ghost Rings and the process of putting it together.

FringeArts: Do you remember how the title Ghost Rings came into being? Do you remember where you were?

Tina Satter: Yes, in 2011, I was at a three-day silent writing retreat in upstate New York facilitated by the incredible playwright Erik Ehn. It was through the Pataphysics Playwriting Workshops. I generated some writing there that I’d had no pre-plan for, and it was taking shape in its earliest forms as a conversation between two young women, I didn’t know yet if they were sisters or friends or romantic partners —and in this early writing they were discussing basic things like borrowing a sweater, but then also asking each other dark existential questions—and in that first writing I remember having this thought that there was this kind of candy these girls would eat—I imagined it as pale purple circles and I called the candy Ghost Rings. And then I must have left the retreat titling all that early writing, draft, whatever it was, Ghost Rings, because when we showed the earliest versions of it at CATCH in June 2012, the whole thing was then called Ghost Rings.

FringeArts: Can you discuss the basic creative and narrative starting point for the show?

Tina Satter: Well, I had this very early writing of these two girls discussing these banal and existential questions, and in this very early draft they also each had these inner animals—one girl had a deer who was their corresponding inner animal, and the other had a seal. But I wanted to play with the idea that these weren’t actually cute, cuddly animals—but that they were kind of crass, and direct, and not necessarily mean, but maybe didn’t always offer great advice, that they sort of actually operate like “mean girls” and that the deer in particular wanted to talk about sex and stuff.

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Puppet slams, Faust, and Ghost Stories: Interview with Leila Ghaznavi

Posted July 31st, 2017

Leila Ghaznavi in the 2016 Puppet-delphia Fringe

Leila Ghaznavi is the founder of Leila and Pantea Productions, a theater company with an unconventional approach to contemporary drama. She puts her training in mask and puppetry to use in her productions, often using light and shadow as tools for storytelling. The daughter of an Iranian immigrant—and a Daughter of the American Revolution—her multicultural background often comes through in her original plays based on social issues. One of these plays is Silken Veils, which was nominated for the Best New Work award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Her work is often interdisciplinary, combining puppetry and theater with her wide range of other skills, including aerial dance and clown. “When creating work, I pull from my toolbox whatever I need to tell the story the story I want to tell,” says Leila. “I’m always interested in how to tell a narrative story but in a different way.” This year, she is producing three different shows in the Fringe Festival. The Puppet-delphia Puppet Slam brings puppeteers from Philadelphia and beyond together for a night of whimsy, beauty, and raucous fun. The other two shows couldn’t be more different. In one, she partners with Broderick Jones, a New York based puppeteer, to create Ubu Faust, a literature-based but rambunctious one-man-show. In the other, she is reinventing The Turn of the Screw by creating a minimalist set that makes use of darkness as a shadow of mystery to tell the story. I had a chat with Leila about how she came to work as a puppeteer, and what it’s been like producing all of these shows for the 2017 Fringe Festival.

FringeArts: What has it been like producing so many shows for this year’s Fringe Festival?

Leila Ghaznavi: Leila and Pantea Productions is producing three separate events for the Fringe this year. A ghost story called, The Turn of the Screw, written by Henry James and adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher, a raucous puppet farce called Ubu Faust created and performed by Broderick Jones, and the second Puppet-delphia Puppet Slam, which is a cabaret composed of short puppet works, from the poignantly beautiful to the bawdy and comedic. The puppet slam will feature both local and out of town artists.

The Turn of the Screw

What makes all three shows Leila and Pantea Productions is the use of puppetry and the delving into how to use shadow and light as a story telling mechanism. The Turn of the Screw is a ghost story with a minimalist set. Light and shadow create a world that is unseen but literally haunts the stage. Ubu Faust is the complete opposite, a one-man puppet show from New York City-based performer Broderick Jones, it mishmashes puppetry and literature together to create its own unique, irreverent identity. Poetry has always been a prevalent theme in my own work, so I was excited by this chance to present a new artist to Philadelphia that takes these great works of literature and creates his own unique spin! I first premiered the Puppet-delphia Puppet Slam two years ago and it was a great hit! What I love about puppet slams is that you never know what you will see. They are a smorgasbord of puppetry and the short acts involved can range from little gems of beauty, to down-in-the-gutter dirty, to witty and charming. We are currently pulling together the acts for the slam. It will be a mix of local Philly artists and out-of-towners.

This is actually the first year where I will not have a lead role performing in the Philadelphia Fringe, because I will be touring to the Edinburgh Fringe in August. So instead, I decided to produce three shows and appear in Peculiar Works’ Floydada show instead! Although, I will definitely be in the Puppet-delphia Fringe Slam, so keep an eye out for me!

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Textbook Definition of Life: Interview with Dan Rothenberg of Pig Iron

Posted July 13th, 2017

“I think the question ‘Does a machine have a perspective?’ is another way of asking the question ‘What is alive and not alive?'”

Brilliant in their innovation and shining in their craft, the Pig Iron Theater Company has earned its accolades for its artistic excellence. The recipient of several Obie awards, the company never fails to amaze in its fresh, interdisciplinary takes on current events and social themes of the human experience. Dan Rothenberg is one of the founders and artistic directors of Pig Iron, producing their newest work, A Period of Animate Existence. This production has amounted to a huge collaboration between actors, musicians, and a number of choirs, culminating in a show about the human experience of climate change, in the form of a symphony. We caught up with Dan to find out about how the idea for this show came about, and what it’s been like to put it all together.

FringeArts: How did the title A Period of Animate Existence come into being?

Dan Rothenberg: Troy Herion proposed this title.  He looked up the word “life” in the dictionary.  It is a textbook definition. We were working with a few different sources of inspiration: Alan Watts, who talks about “the rocks peopling” as a way of imagining the beginnings of life on Earth, and understanding that we organic creatures are made out of exactly the same stuff as inorganic rocks. We looked at Richard Dawkins and “the Selfish Gene,” which talks about humans as big lumbering robots “operated” by genes within us.  This grade-school question: “what’s the difference between alive and not-alive?” remains elusive for both scientists and philosophers, even today.

FringeArts: How did you go about gathering your key collaborators, what were the artistic conversations you were hoping to foster between not just them and Pig Iron, but between each other?

Dan Rothenberg: Some of the collaborators are folks I’ve worked with before for years, like Tyler Micoleau (lights) and Nick Kourtides (sound). These are people I trust who have contributed to some of the Pig Iron work I am most proud of. I am working with the librettists Kate Tarker and Will Eno, and with choreographer Beth Gill, for the first time. We were looking for artists who take on big ideas and who care about form. People who make work in which the form is front and center.  Especially with choreographer Beth Gill, I wanted somebody with a deeply mathematical mind. Someone who sees the poetry in mathematics, since I feel that this piece is about seeing the world in terms of fundamental forces rather than as a set of relationships between people.

FringeArts: What prompted the five movements structure?

Dan Rothenberg: Gustav Mahler said that a symphony must be like the world, containing everything. So the five-movement structure is a symphonic structure. It’s our own “13 ways of looking at a blackbird.” A deliberate effort to get at something that’s too large to get your head around, by coming at it from five very different angles.

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Geoff Sobelle comes HOME for the 2017 Fringe Festival

Posted June 30th, 2017

“The physical space is definitely a character. It is meant to connote all of the phases of construction/finish while also allowing for a more poetic space where people can reflect their own experiences.”

Geoff Sobelle. Photo by Jauhien Sasnou.

Geoff Sobelle is described by many, including himself, as a theatrical “absurdist.” Fascinated with “the sublime ridiculous,” Sobelle presents surreally old-fashioned stage effects and fantastical approaches to showcasing seemingly mundane parts of life. Beginning his career as a magician, and now actor, director, and producer, Sobelle’s works act as grand and genius illusions, earning such praise as the Bessie Award, the Edinburgh Fringe First Award, and the New York Times Critics Pick. In HOME, coming to the 2017 Fringe Festival, the audience will witness the life cycle of a house, built on the staged during the show, and its many inhabitants over time. HOME is focused on the human experience of location, especially what makes a house into a home. We chatted with Sobelle about the making of his latest production.

FringeArts: Do you remember how the title HOME came into being?

Geoff Sobelle: The first working title was “House and Home.”  I was/am interested in the difference between those two words. How we confuse them. My sister—with whom I lived for the first seventeen years of my life or so—is the dramaturg on this project. She 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!

House and Home eventually became shortened to HOME because it became more and more of what I was curious about—the comfort and also the alienation of something called home. Coming back to home can be like a warm bath, but also can be strange. And then—if not a place—what is home? This piece seeks to awaken that question in the audience.

FringeArts: How are you working with audience participation?

Geoff Sobelle: That’s a great question, and really at the heart of this project. I wanted to make a really large group piece—like 35 people or so—to have a kind of view of people and their acts of dwelling like you’d watch an ant farm. Something zoological. And also different time periods—all of the residents of a given address over time—but all there at the same time. Chaos! But I could not at first really conceive of how to effectively tour with such a large company. I have an ongoing passion/confusion/obsession with working with an unprepared audience. I think that it can often be awful, but that there might be a way—if great care and respect is taken—that it might be very beautiful. I am hoping that each person has an extraordinary experience and kind of forgets that they are in the midst of a performance. And that really is the point—when we are engaged in the act of living—maybe we lose track . . .

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Everyday but Amplified: an interview with Faye Driscoll

Posted April 12th, 2017

Called by one journalist “the most promising performing artist of her generation”, and “one of the most original talents on contemporary dance scene” by another, Faye Driscoll has struck a nerve. But where does she source her deeply original work?  The New York-based choreographer gave us the lowdown on her newest work, making its FringeArts debut on Friday, April 14, Thank You For Coming: Play.

FringeArts: What is the idea behind the series Thank You For Coming?

Faye Driscoll: Thank You for Coming is the umbrella title for three distinct works. Each work manifests as radically different from the others, but they are all connected by the same question: How is making and experiencing live performance already a collective and political act? How can I make this politic more felt?

For me as a title Thank You For Coming presupposes that one is in fact there. It’s both a reminder and a gratitude in advance for this presence. The title first came to me while sitting in a taqueria in San Francisco.

FringeArts: And what made Play the right choice for the second installment?

Faye Driscoll: The ideas driving Play were present when I began Attendance—the first of the series—but I put many of them aside as Attendance took shape. Each work is a like a branch of a big weird tree: the branches look really different at the ends, but have similar roots. So when I began Play all of the concepts around storytelling, language, voice/body collisions, and ruptures were all there, ready to be grabbed and sunk into.  Each distinct work in the series is simultaneously its own thing and a longer conversation among the works. Because of how I am developing the series, several formal explorations that don’t make it into one work will sprout out in the next. Part 3 will likely have many of the ideas that didn’t make it into Part 2.

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Justin Jain is here to school you: Interview with Justin Jain

Posted March 7th, 2017

Way back in November, Berserker Residents co-founder Justin Jain—who can also be seen on just about any stage in Philadelphia—took the time to answer a few questions about their upcoming work at FringeArts It’s So Learning.  

FringeArts: What was the moment that you realized, we can make this into a show?

Justin Jain: This show was a bit of a departure for us in terms of the content-container conversation. All of our past shows began with a spark of an idea for content: “Let’s make a show about a Giant Squid!” or “What if the show itself was a post-show talkback?!” This one, however, was approached form-first. Back in 2014, we began daydreaming about performing a script written entirely by school children. That was kind of our entry point into this whole adventure. But the deeper we chased that rabbit—the more we realized other groups and organizations were already doing this (most of the time, better than we could)—groups like Philly Young Playwrights and The Mantua Project. So that led us to a left turn of instead of writing with kids, how about writing about kids—about childhood, about school. We started to bounce around ideas of other elements we’d like to bring to the table—the current state of American education, breaking theatrical form and conventions, playing with Bouffon. These all started to seep into the mix.

Coming fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, our artistic sensibilities were changing. We saw so many comedy pieces that were daring their audiences to participate in ways that we tend to shy away from as American Theatre makers. So that was in the mix too—how far will an audience go in playing with us? How can the dare be a part of the narrative?

FringeArts: Can you describe the stage/setting, and what it has allowed you do play with creatively?

Justin Jain: The piece takes place in a laboratory called The SimEdu Center, and is loosely inspired by some of our team’s experience as standardized patients for different medical schools. As an SP, you become a fake patient for med students to practice different cases. We daydreamed about how this idea could be twisted for the classroom—is there a way to build a simulation machine to train students for maneuvering the labyrinth of the American k–12 school system?

Because we thrust our audience into this simulator, we want them to feel as off-balance as possible. The playing space and audience space are one in the same. When the audience first enters, there’s no chairs but merely a grid of scattered numbers on the floor. As audience members come in, they are greeted by SimEdu Center technicians (the cast), who then give each member a series of coupons that will be used in the show. I’ll keep the rest as a mystery, but suffice it to say, starting with this level of audience engagement sets the tone for what is to come.

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It’s So Learning is BERSERK! Interview with Bradley Wrenn

Posted March 6th, 2017

Bradley Wrenn, co-founder of The Berserker Residents, was kind enough to sit down with the FringeArts team and talk about how they’re revamping It’s So Learning to reflect our new, terrifying political climate.  The theater-maker, clown, and deep thinker gave us a lot to chew on!  Read on, and join us at the end of the week for the newest iteration of It’s So Learning!

FringeArts: What was the moment that you realized, we can make this into a show?

Bradley Wrenn: The original impulse came from working with children as writers. We were delighted by their complete lack of regard for narrative rules and structures. But after a fair amount of exploration we found it to be a bit of a one trick pony and struggled to find a way in which it could be sustained over a full-length production. But we continued to follow the thread and found ourselves making material about school. About the emotions conjured at school. The anxiety, dread, joy and terror.  It’s So Learning is a show about the audience’s journey. A wild ride that dredges up all those strange icky feelings that institutionalized education has wrought.

FringeArts: Can you describe the setting?

Bradley Wrenn: It’s So Learning is 55 child sized classroom chairs surrounded by 4 black boards. It allows for a frenetic theatrical experience. The audience is made to twist and turn to keep up. Action happens constantly around them at all corners of the performance space. The audience is the main character in the piece. When making the piece we were always tracking their emotional journey. The performance is an entire emotional educational journey packed into 70 min.

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All or Sans Everything?

Posted February 1st, 2017

Lightning Rod Special is no stranger to innovation—their most recent work Underground Railroad Game just wrapped a wildly successful stint in New York after two sold-out runs here in Philadelphia.  Founding company members Alice Yorke and Scott Sheppard were kind enough to sit down to chat about the genesis of their new world premiere,  Sans Everything – a collaboration with Strange Attractorrunning at FringeArts February 9-11.

FringeArts: What was the initial inspiration and where did that take place for Sans Everything? And what was the moment that you realized this could be made into a full-length show?

ALICE: A few years ago Aram Aghazarian (of Strange Attractor Theatre Co.) visited Pig Iron’s Dan Rothenberg while Dan was in New York City working on a production of As You Like It in New York. The studio was in a crazy high-rise building and the rehearsal room was tense–everyone was angry at each other but still working, still doing As You Like It. Aram talks about looking out the window at the vast sky and while listening to AYLI. The absurd thought struck him, “As You Like It in space.” Not setting AYLI in space, but doing it in space–more to the point, a big, outside force compelling a group of people to do it. That maybe there was some voice forcing you to do something frivolous as if it was serious. Though it would be easy to make this prompt a high-camp romp, the show has taken on real themes of life and death, due in no small part to the fact that we took a year-long hiatus from the piece when Rebecca Noon (of SATC) was diagnosed with cancer. When we returned to the piece last year, we wanted to make a show that didn’t acknowledge that directly but that explored questions Rebecca had been asking herself– why do we artists DO this? Why do we make new work and, even more so, why do we return to centuries old work when we have boundless creativity available to us? For us in Lightning Rod Special, those questions were just the kind of juicy, investigative line of thinking we love sinking our teeth into.

SCOTT: On a legendary day in Alaska, when Strange Attractor Theatre Co. was dreaming up ideas for future shows, Aram Aghazarian, resident provocateur, proffered a mystifying dare: “What about, As You Like It…in space?” As absurd as this idea sounded, over the past few years Strange Attractor Theatre Co. and Lightning Rod Special stirred this mad dramaturgical cocktail until an alluring logic began to form. As the groups obsessed over 1970’s sci-fi films, the singularity, and the themes of As You Like It, we began to dream up a world. As it does for so many readers, Shakespeare’s “All the World’s a Stage” soliloquy compelled us, and we began to imagine it as a sometimes brilliant, sometimes faulty guidebook for non-human life to understand humanity. This made us wonder, what if in the future, disembodied artificial intelligence decided to return to the relative simplicity of the human form. What would surprise “them” about experiencing life at such a slow place from a fixed and carnal point of view? What if they unabashedly fell in love with the nostalgia of humanity? What if they fell in love with theatre? With Shakespeare? When we peer into the future, we are always, inevitably, examining something from our past.

FringeArts: Tell us about the world of Sans Everything. What do you  find compelling about this world?

SCOTT: The world of Sans Everything is alien, stark, and working desperately to be human. The timbre is that of a thriller, but it wavers with tense fragility between the comedic and the uncanny. We witness all the things that make us human: rage, fear, passion, love, and art, but they are enacted by beings who do not fully understand human life. The characters’ struggle is both deeply empathic and terrifyingly unfamiliar.

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