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Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category

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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2017 Festival Spotlight: Comedy and Improv, Part 2

Posted August 31st, 2017

This year’s Fringe Festival features features an abundance of comedy and improv. Check out just some of the riotous performances hitting our city next month. Find Part 1 here.

 

Elysian Fields @ The Adrienne Theater Second Stage
Philly Improv Theater (PHIT Comedy)

Like no improv you have seen before! A new dramatic one-act play channeling the works of the great American playwright Tennessee Williams is created before your eyes each night. Enter a world of tortured, desperate characters—ripe with unfulfilled dreams, desires, and the struggle to find escape from a harsh reality. The cast creates a show ripe with unfulfilled dreams, desires, and the struggle to find escape from a harsh reality. More info and tickets here.

 

Roll Play: An Improvised Adventure @ The Adrienne Theater
Roll Play

Roll Play is an improvised fantasy epic, combining the excitement of role-playing games with the spontaneity of live improv comedy. Guided by a mysterious Dungeon Master, the audience helps craft the world and its characters while dice rolls decide their fate. Join our heroes as they face mythical monsters, strange spells, ridiculous riddles, and more. Every show is a brand new adventure! More tickets and info here.

 

Dream Sequence @ The Adrienne Theater Mainstage
Cambridge Footlights/PHIT

Join “the most renowned sketch troupe of them all” (London Independent) transferring from the Edinburgh Fringe for free-flowing hilarity, excellent original writing & side-splitting character comedy. Don’t miss your chance to see this inventive new offering from the group that launched Monty Python and John Oliver! More info and tickets here.

 

 

The Flat Earth @ The Adrienne Theater Mainstage
The Flat Earth/PHIT

Favorites of comedy festival audiences across North America (multiple Best & Producer Picks), The Flat Earth return to where it all began—the Philly Fringe—and present a best-of extravaganza, showcasing material from a half decade of remarkable success: sometimes dark, often silly, occasionally experimental, and always impeccably costumed. Featuring Matthew Schmid, Jacquie Baker, Molly Silverman, Rich Lee, and Paul Triggiani. More info and tickets here.

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Dada Down South: Barry Rowell talks about his play Floydada

Posted August 30th, 2017

Barry Rowell

How do you combine dusty plains, small towns, and pre-surrealism reactionary art? In Barry Rowell’s Floydada, theater, music, and puppet projection present two sisters, one a prodigal artist who has gained fame in the big cities, the other stationary in the town for years and years. The homecoming sister brings Dada art along with her, and the two scheme to present a Dada cabaret for their small town.

Barry Rowell hails from Fort Worth, Texas, and is now the playwright and co-founder of Peculiar Works in New York City. The Obie-award winning group has been producing interdisciplinary and engaging art since 1993. The work is avant-garde in a way that mirrors the post World War I Dada movement. Dada art, poetry, and cabarets were collages of strange, mis-matching objects and images, from toys to toilets. Floydada does the same, bringing together revolutionary anti-art, a host of different disciplines (including Leila Ghaznavi’s whimsical puppet projections), and small town Americana. Barry has been writing plays for decades, and loves to bring together seemingly-disparate elements into one, cohesive work. We were able to chat with him about his origins as an artist, and the strange, wonderful world of Floydada.

FringeArts: Where are you from, and how did you first get involved in the arts?

Barry Rowell: I grew up in Fort Worth, TX, but I was born in Odessa — which is what most people picture when they think Texas: flat, dusty plains with oil pump jacks as far as the eye can see. I saw my first play, Through the Looking Glass, at Odessa College’s replica of Shakespeare’s Globe and I was hooked. My dad had done theater at Odessa College — my grandmother said that she cried and cried when he died as Lenny in Of Mice and Men “because he was just so stupid.” There were several theaters in Fort Worth when I was growing up: we saw Casa Mañana Summer Musicals, Shakespeare in the Park (you sat on a hillside and the stage was built out of an old WPA-era picnic building), and my mother worked at Texas Christian University so I got to see all of the theater department productions there. I made my professional acting debut at Fort Worth’s Stage West while I was in college. It’s always been a very strong arts community.

Catherine Porter and Nomi Tichman in Floydada

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

Barry Rowell: I’m blown away by (and a little envious of) artists whose work is intensely physical: Pig Iron, of course, Elevator Repair Service, Yanira Castro (whom Peculiar Works has produced a few times—and she’s as wonderful to work with as her work is to watch), Nicole Canuso, Geoff Sobelle, The Bang Group. I’ve had the good fortune to work with Lake Simons, a gifted performer and object theater/puppet artist here in NYC (and Fort Worth, too). My friend Howard Fishman is both a fantastic singer/songwriter and a talented theater artist—his piece about The Donner Party, We Are Destroyed, is hauntingly beautiful. We saw James Thierrée perform two years ago (he’s a choreographer and Charlie Chaplin’s grandson) and he’s amazing: it was some of the most remarkable physical performance I’ve ever seen. I wish I could write poetic plays as Ruth Margraff and Mac Wellman do. And we’ve been seeing shows in the Fringe here in Philadelphia for years and those have been some of my favorite shows ever: Bruce Walsh’s Chomsky vs Buckley 1969; New Paradise Laboratories’ Rrose Selavy Takes a Lover in Philadelphia; Across by Mark LordAnti-Salon (Antigone in a beauty salon)…I could go on and on.

FringeArts: When did you start writing plays?

Barry Rowell: My bachelor’s degree is from TCU and I did a year of graduate work at the University of Texas in Austin where I studied acting but I took as many history and criticism classes with Oscar Brockett as I could—he influenced the work I do now more than any other professor I had.

I started writing plays because I was producing a second stage series at a long-gone Off-Off Broadway company and the playwright who was supposed to write our debut show dropped out at the last minute. The artistic director said I’d have to cancel and I said, “Like hell I will.” So I made an adaptation of Dracula that combined texts from the novel, a medical textbook, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s On Death and Dying, and some of my original writing into an abstract collage piece set in a hospital in which the vampire (who never appears) symbolizes the characters’ fears of death. A year later, I went back and rewrote it (the first draft took me about 2 weeks—it was very rough!) and Before I Wake became the inaugural production of Peculiar Works Project in 1993.

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Making Art in 2017: Whit MacLaughlin on Hello Blackout

Posted August 30th, 2017

Whit MacLaughlin

Name: Whit MacLaughlin

Company: New Paradise Laboratories

Show in 2017 Festival: Hello Blackout! also screenings of O Monsters.

Past Festival shows: Curated shows: O Monsters, The Adults, 27, Freedom Club, Extremely Public Displays of Privacy, Fatebook, Batch: An American Bachelor/ette Party, Planetary Enzyme Blues, Rrose Selavy Takes a Lover in Philadelphia, The Fab 4 Reach the Pearly Gates, This Mansion is a Hole. Self-produced: Gold Russian Finger Love.

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

Whit MacLaughlin: As a company, we have been drawn to big questions from the beginning: Why is there something instead of nothing? What is the big system we’re all a part of? What does Philadelphia, as a city, as a concept, really mean? Why do we die? Questions that don’t have answers. NPL takes delight in asking unanswerable questions. It’s an obsession. Now we ask: why do we have something called a “future” that is so hard to predict? Seems like a fundamental question, but one that’s almost pure nonsense. One might be tempted to say: “What a stupid question!” Of course we have a future, but we can’t tell what it’s going to be because it’s not here yet. There’s no answer. Yet. Maybe tomorrow.

Nevertheless, almost everything we do in daily life involves searching for a way to predict what’s going to happen. What’s going to come in the mail today? Should I take that job? Am I going to be diagnosed with something bad? Who am I going to marry? We say: the fun is in the finding out! But still, it’s perplexing and frustrating, this issue of the future. Almost all Greek drama is about trying to see the future. Tiresias, the blind oracle, is in many of the plays. A BLIND ORACLE. Drama, from the beginning, has always been about the problem of a future that’s unforeseeable. Like Hamlet trying to figure out what to do to remedy his father’s murder. We’re paying close attention to a newly developing school of thought, a philosophy, called Speculative Realism. It suggests that the only absolute in the world, the only thing that must exist, is “contingency.” The world weaves itself out of a chaotic state and the things that happen don’t necessarily have a reason. May seem obvious, but we think it’s worth considering a bit more deeply, especially now that technology seems to move faster than we can, that our political life seems off the rails, that we live in a “quantum universe.” What does any of that actually mean for us on a daily basis? NPL takes big questions and blends them into a big question cocktail, then gets everybody drunk on it.

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Nowhere to Hide: PAC’s Iphigenia At Aulis

Posted August 30th, 2017

Pictured: Nathan Foley, Tai Verley Credit: Daniel Kontz Design

The Philadelphia Artists’ Collective is joining us this festival with their take on the strong and dynamic Greek Drama Iphigenia At Aulis. To help bring this classical piece to life they will hold it aboard the USS Olympia where both audiences and actors alike will be face to face in the intimate and unique space. Recently we reached out to Dan Hodge, the director of Iphigenia At Aulis, to get his thoughts on a few topics regarding the piece.

FringeArts: What attracted PAC to this particular piece

Dan Hodge: Iphigenia has actually been on our short list for several years. In Clytemnestra, it has one of the greatest leading female roles in Greek Drama and offers something substantial and rewarding for all of the central figures in the play. With its tense gender politics and the focus on personal sacrifice balanced against blind nationalism and warmongering, this seems like a really excellent piece to be exploring right now. The human costs of waging war are thrown into incredibly sharp relief when one has to choose the sacrifice of a child before the military can depart. It’s pretty strong stuff.

FringeArts: What do you feel are the main topics and themes brought up in Iphigenia at Aulis

Dan Hodge: It ultimately all comes back to family and trust. At the center of the piece we have this very tight family unit that is torn apart thanks to a hunger to maintain the pride of a country. We see how the women struggle to find agency and power in a social order stacked against them. And the choices they make are challenging and surprising.

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Making Art in 2017: Tina Satter on Ghost Rings

Posted August 29th, 2017

Name: Tina Satter

Company: Half Straddle

Show in 2017 Festival: Ghost Rings

Past Festival shows: In the Pony Palace/FOOTBALL

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

Tina Satter: When I started Ghost Rings I had this very early writing of two girls discussing banal and existential questions. In this very early draft they each had an animal that operated as their “Private Inner Being”—one girl had a deer and the other had a seal—but I wanted to play with the idea that these weren’t actually cute, cuddly animals. They were kind of crass, and direct, and not necessarily mean, but didn’t always offer great advice. They sort of actually operated like “mean girls.” The deer in particular even wanted to talk about sex and stuff.

At the same time Half Straddle composer, Chris Giarmo, and I had been discussing doing a project that really focused on singing. We always have original music, scores, and often songs in our shows, and usually these are performed by a mix of untrained and trained singers. Chris had recently 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 and idea. From the beginning, we were like, “Maybe it’s a fully sung-through piece?” but didn’t have any idea what that would mean for us. We also knew from the beginning we wanted to work on it with Erin Markey who has an incredible voice and stage presence, and we’d been collaborating with her for a while at that point. At the time I knew of the actor Kristen Sieh, who’s outstanding, but I didn’t know she was a singer. Then sometime in 2012 I saw her in a show where she sang and she suddenly seemed like the perfect person to play opposite Erin.

Meanwhile, I was honing and refining the writing between these two characters, then called Samantha and Kristen, and their Private Inner Beings (Seal-y and Deer). In the writing they had become these best friends who also have a deep romantic connection. As they grow one truly wants to have a baby with the other so she sets this intention that she is pregnant and it comes true. At the same I was going through all this stuff with my actual sister who I’d always been super close to, but there were pretty intense things she was going through and we were estranged. I couldn’t help putting really direct and personal writing about my sister in the show. It made sense in a way since I would be onstage drumming anyway.

So, I was working on how to make those two distinct aspects of text work together—and then I remembered that when we were really little my sister and I had a “band” with a friend—a fake band obviously, but for a moment in time we took it really seriously. That became this really perfect through-line for Ghost Rings—to re-create a band now as an adult and artist to frame these memories and new stories.

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2017 Festival Spotlight: Family Friendly Fare, Part 2

Posted August 27th, 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 1 here.

 

A Period of Animate Existence @ Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts 
Pig Iron Theatre Company

Children, elders, and machines contemplate the future in a time of dire predictions and rapid technological change in this work of symphonic theater. How do we contemplate the future in such a perilous time, an era called the “Sixth Extinction,” when up to 50 percent of all living species might die off? An inspired, large-scale melding of music, design, and theater, A Period of Animate Existence investigates the intense, unnamable emotions that arise in a time of extinction. More info and tickets here.

 

Photo by Michael Bach.

Lost in the Woods @ German Society of Pennsylvania
A Moment for Music

Lost in the Woods is the journey of two starving children who must find their way in a world that threatens to both empower and devour them. This family-friendly romp through Hansel and Gretel’s forest is a multimedia adventure featuring classical, jazz, and pop singing, lip-sync, and dance. More tickets and info here.

 

Photo by Michael Ermilio.

 

Life Lines @ Christ Church Neighborhood House 
Tangle Movement Arts

Seven women collide and are changed forever. In this dynamic circus-theater show, strangers meet their match, empty rooms listen in, and women find their power in flight. Tangle’s acrobats climb trapezes and aerial silks as they face sudden changes, spark chain reactions, and test the hidden threads that bind us.

 

Worktable @ BOK
Kate McIntosh

We provide the hammer, you do the rest. Worktable is a live installation that takes place in a series of rooms, which visitors engage with one at a time. Having signed up beforehand for a specific time slot, you enter and can stay as long as you like. Once inside there are instructions, equipment, and safety goggles so you can get to work—it’s up to you to decide how things come apart, and how they fall back together. More info and tickets here.

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Making Art in 2017: Brad Baron on Last Ditch Playlist

Posted August 26th, 2017

(Left to right) Ross McCorkell and Brad Baron. Photo by Joseph Prestamo.

Name: Brad Baron

Show in 2017 FestivalLast Ditch Playlist

Role: Writer, Co-Director, Performer

Past Festival shows: No past FringeArts shows. However, Last Ditch Playlist was presented as a part of the 2017 Capital Fringe Festival in Washington DC this past July. It’s NYC run occurred at Theaterlab between August 17–20. Last Ditch Playlist is my Philly debut as an actor and playwright.

FringeArtsTell us about your show.

Brad BaronLast Ditch Playlist, in a nutshell, is the story of my first breakup. The play begins (spoiler alert) the morning after the ties between Aaron and Wes have officially been severed. From there, the audience is catapulted into a whirlwind of Aaron’s memories, both real and invented. He searches for an answer to the question “where did I go wrong?” to the tune of a playlist on shuffle. The play is called Last Ditch Playlist for a number of reasons. Some of those reasons I’ll leave for you to discover, but I’ll say this much: When you recall the memories of someone, you don’t necessarily do so chronologically. You remember people and events out of order. The order may be arbitrary, like a music playlist on shuffle. And music jogs memories. So this play’s “concept,” if you will, is the marriage between memory play and randomized music playlists. Bursts of music are triggering, and so are these memories of Aaron and Wes’s broken relationship.

(Left to right) Ross McCorkell and Brad Baron. Photo by Joseph Prestamo.

Although this could be considered a “gay play” since it follows a romance between two men, it is important to recognize that there are many aspects to this relationship that are not unique. In fact, it should be relatable to anyone who has ever been in a relationship. There will always be aspects to gay relationships that make them special and unlike other kinds of relationships, but if “love is love,” then that love should be universally recognizable to anyone who has ever experienced it regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation.

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Making Art in 2017: Bobbi Block on Tongue and Groove

Posted August 26th, 2017

Name: Bobbi Block

Company: Tongue & Groove Spontaneous Theater

Show in 2017 Festival: Tongue & Groove (that’s what’s listed in the Guide, tho the name of our show this year is QUESTIONS)

Past Festival shows: We’ve produced shows in the Festival for 9 years! Last year: Before I Die…; the year before that, a collaboration with blues dancers called Groove, and many others!

FringeArtsTell us about your show.

Bobbi Block: Tongue & Groove is unscripted theater inspired by personal information anonymously submitted by the audience. Our mission is to create theater that combines the dramatic integrity of playwriting with the playful tension of improv. Through collaborative inspiration with the audience, we examine authentic relationships, and perform emotionally dynamic, physically intimate, serio-comic theater . . . that happens to be improvised!

The concept for creating T&G came from working with and teaching all different forms of improv: games, longform, Playback (communal storytelling). I was inspired by the work of world-class Chicago improvisers TJ & Dave who create beautiful one-act improvised plays that are both funny and dramatic. I wanted to create a hybrid of all those improv forms, and I wanted to explore regular realistic relationships. Ten years ago, when I founded T&G, I was tired of seeing improvisers avoid being vulnerable on stage—like they would be just about to kiss and then suddenly they make the whole thing surreal or into a wacky joke. There’s a place for that in the improv world—I love performing short-form games that are wacky—but I wanted to see if improvisers could explore human relationships more authentically.

After we honed our style (called Actors’ Improv), we realized that we wanted more interaction with the audience so we started asking them to anonymously reveal personal information (written on index cards and submitted pre-show). We found the collaboration and intimacy with the audience very fulfilling, and the audience loved seeing a piece of their real life turned into instant art. So now we combine our emotionally-grounded work with collaboration/intimacy with the audience.

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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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