Photo © Jacques-Jean Tiziou / jjtiziou.net
Pig Iron Theatre Company with the University of the Arts
"One of the few groups successfully taking theater in new directions."
The New York Times
"In Pay Up, you are buying, you are choosing, you are getting cheated, you are winning the game. These kinds of emotions turn out to be much more potent than any fiction I can concoct."
Dan Rothenberg, director of Pay Up
Asian Arts Initiative
1219 Vine Street (map)
$25 / Members save 30%
Student and 25-and-under tickets $25
Past Festival shows include
Zero Cost House (2012), Twelfth Night, or What You Will (2011), Cankerblossom (2010), Welcome to Yuba City (2009).
Photos © Jacques-Jean Tiziou / jjtiziou.net
Step into a labyrinthine, choose-your-own adventure about buying and selling everything under the sun. Philadelphia's premier physical theater company re-imagines its 2005 show, post financial crisis style. Part circus, part laboratory experiment, part shopping experience, Pay Up is a pay-as-you-go race against the clock to pick what plays you want to see.
You are given plastic booties, five one-dollar bills, and led into all-white warehouse space that has been converted into eight experimental labs/performance rooms, along with hallways, a gathering space, and backrooms. With a loudspeaker announcing the rules, and at times breaking its own rules, you get six chances to choose one of eight shows, each costing $1. Enter a room, sit in a chair, put headphones on, and watch the show. Repeat. But choose wisely and make sure you get there before the big buzzer goes off. Or else.
Interview with director Dan Rothenberg
FringeArts: How did Pay Up come about?
Dan Rothenberg: Way back in 2003, the Public Theater invited Pig Iron to workshop some Shakespeare plays. We quickly settled on Measure for Measure, a non-masterpiece—Fringe audiences will remember that this eventually turned into our morgue-based installation Isabella in 2007.
But Measure for Measure also features an underground economy of tapsters and prostitutes, and the fundamental trade at the center of that play is an offer from a judge to commute a man's death sentence if his sister has sex with him. Sex for death. So we started doing improvisations around trading and money. And we were fascinated for days about what happens when money changes hands. Relationships come into focus. Sometimes the buyer gains status, but sometimes she loses status. And the particular moment of money changing hands—there's a moment where the breath is held, where the whole universe stops. This is how our R&D process works—like all the discoveries made in materials labs while scientists were actually looking for something else. We were looking for a way to do Measure for Measure, and we stumbled onto this rich territory of buying and selling.
FringeArts: What were the origins of the show's structure?
Dan Rothenberg: We had very little idea what it was we were unleashing. We almost lost our nerve once or twice. We didn't realize that the emotion in Pay Up lives in a different place for the audience than in a traditional play. In a regular play, you go and get invested in the stories of the characters and your emotions rise and fall as you come to care about these fictional people. In Pay Up, you are buying, you are choosing, you are getting cheated, you are winning the game. These kinds of emotions turn out to be much more potent than any fiction I can concoct.
We realized it was working when people began behaving very strangely—trying to steal money, throwing money on the floor, couples breaking up because the time pressure revealed some deep fault line in their relationship . . . time limits and buying opportunities and changing the rituals around money turns out to be potent stuff.
FringeArts: What do you hope to play around with this iteration of Pay Up?
Dan Rothenberg: We really wanted to revisit the changed economic landscape of America, since the last time we did this piece was before the housing crisis and banking crisis of 2007-2008. But the weird thing is how much things haven't changed since 2005. Since the play is about very basic impulses—and technically about a couple of people who taught monkeys how to use money!—we are finding most of the material we made in 2005 and 2008 is still relevant. We've got a few surprises to roll out, for sure, but the Pay Up art-product remains fundamentally the same, like margarine.
FringeArts: What is the job of the director for a show like this?
Dan Rothenberg: With thirty-two people in the cast, sometimes I'm cheerleading for a large group musical number, sometimes I'm working closely on a duet which features the micro-choreographed movement synchronized to audio, and sometimes I'm training people in the "feel" of audience interaction, which ends up feeling like training people to be Mickey at Disney World.
The piece can't be viewed all at once, it has 8-14 "modules" that run simultaneously. So I actually have a directing team—Alex Torra is associate director; Dito van Reigersberg, as my oldest collaborator and mind-melded friend, is a shadow director; Mandy Schoonover is choreographer. Basically I run around like a crazy person keeping track of all the moving parts.
FringeArts: What do you hope to learn from the show this time around?
Dan Rothenberg: Oh, let's just hope no one gets hurt. It's a madhouse in there.
About Pig Iron
Founded in 1995 as an interdisciplinary ensemble, Pig Iron Theatre Company is dedicated to the creation of new and exuberant performance works that defy easy categorization. In the past 16 years the company has created 24 original works and has toured to festivals and theaters in England, Scotland, Poland, Lithuania, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Romania and Germany. The body of Pig Iron's work is eclectic and daring. In 2005, Pig Iron won an Obie Award for Hell Meets Henry Halfway, an adaptation of Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz's novel Possessed; in 2008, Pig Iron won a second Obie for James Sugg's performance in Chekhov Lizardbrain. Pig Iron calls itself a "dance-clown-theatre ensemble," and their focus moves from character to space to contact with the audience. Individual pieces have been called "soundscape and spectacle," "cabaret-ballet," and "avant-garde shadow puppet dessert-theatre." Pig Iron has a hard time sitting still.