Posts Tagged ‘600 Highwaymen’

“Working With the Surface”: Specificity and Universality in Employee of the Year

Posted February 23rd, 2016

As theatergoers, we are trained to suspend our disbelief each time the house lights go down. Until they rise again our phones are to remain off and we are expected to immerse ourselves in the story, to embrace its world as a reality, to pretend that that woman on stage is in fact a mother of three with a heart murmur and a deadbeat husband, not the person you sat next to on the trolley last week who graciously offered you a napkin when you spilled coffee all over your sick new Spacemen 3 shirt (the napkin couldn’t save it, but it was a nice gesture all the same). It’s a sentiment that’s easier to embrace for some productions than others, but of course even the greatest works of theater cannot manage to make us forget we are witnessing just that, theater. After all, how can they expect to when the competition can be an insistent bladder or a wheezing attendee sitting behind you? More to the point though, they can never truly fool us into believing the actors are their characters.  “Blankness is, indeed, impossible,” Abigail Browde, half of the Brooklyn-based theater company 600 HIGHWAYMEN, recently told BOMB Magazine, ruminating on the misconceived notion of the actor as an empty vessel for character. “It’s a false premise to imagine that it’s possible to be blank, bare, empty. But falseness as an idea must be addressed when you’re working in theater.”


(Photo by Maria Baranova)

This weekend 600 HIGHWAYMEN bring their universally acclaimed show Employee of the Year to FringeArts, with just two performances on February 26 and 27. The work recounts the life story of a woman named J, starting at age 3 and continuing through to 80. However, what in summation bears resemblance to the journey myths that inspired it—a brisk, but affecting tale of a life marked by struggle and heartbreak—transcends its already gripping story arc when one witnesses it being told by its five performers, all of whom are under the age of 13. Blankness is obviously impossible when an eleven-year-old is narrating the concerns of an elderly woman in the first person.

J’s childhood flies by in the play’s first few minutes, a series of brief snapshots—pick-up sticks, kites, separation anxiety—before it all, quite literally, goes up in smoke. The brisk manner in which the story eclipses its performers’ life experiences may at first strike viewers as jarring, but that is just part of the show’s magic. This ever-growing age difference between subject and performers renders each detail of J’s life that much starker, the visible contrast pointing to the rift between the (assumed) infinite potentials of youth and the harsh realities that tend to quell them with a rarely glimpsed immediacy and presence. “We’re always looking to find ways to illuminate that gap between performer and character,” Browde told FringeArts in a recent interview, going on to assert, “Traditional acting asks actors to transform into a character, but in our work, we’re more interested in things that don’t easily fit together. I’m not against transformation—in fact transformation is part of our agenda—but we do it from a different door.”

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Winter at FringeArts lights up the waterfront

Posted January 13th, 2016

Communications Intern Hugh Wilikofsky shares his comprehensive guide to the FringeArts Winter season.


As we gear up for our first show of 2016, we at FringeArts simply cannot contain our excitement over our entire upcoming winter season. Literally. It is tearing us all apart. We’ve been screaming about it at the top of our lungs for some time now and the neighbors hate us. This excitement needs an outlet. So, I am going to do my professional duty and alleviate at least a little bit of that need by clueing you all in to the future goings-on here by the waterfront.


Photograph: Moon So Young

First up, showing January 21-23 is Toshiki Okada’s latest play God Bless Baseball. A collaboration between Japanese and South Korean actors, the play follows two girls as they attempt to comprehend their countries’ favorite pastime with the help of a man who understands the game but despises it, and another who thinks he’s Japanese baseball star Ichiro Suzuki. However, despite the men’s best efforts, the girls continually frustrate their explanations, slowly teasing out just how deeply rooted the game is in the everyday life of Japanese and South Korean people.

Though most contemporary Japanese theater rarely makes it outside of the country (as far as I know, though I’d be happy to be wrong on that one), since 2009 Okada’s work has received regular productions here in the US. His oeuvre is said to represent Japan’s “lost generation,” the group most affected by the Japanese recession of the 1990s and this is perhaps part of why he has found an audience here, in the wake of our own Great Recession. Characterized by the idiosyncratic vernacular of Japanese twentysomethings, his vérité writing style is in some ways akin to that of renowned American playwright Annie Baker, but his use of disjointed and abstract choreography based on exaggerations of everyday gestures imbues his works with a quirk all his own. On top of the Philadelphia premiere of God Bless Baseball, FringeArts will also be hosting a reading of Okada’s The Sonic Life of a Giant Tortoise directed by Pig Iron Theater Company artistic director Dan Rothenberg on January 18.

Escuela, La Dirección y dramaturgia está a cargo de Miguel Calderón, se presentará en la sala N° 2 del teatro de la Universidad Católica a las 22 horas, en el marco del Festival Internacional Santiago a Mil. En Santiago; 20/01/2013 FOTÓGRAFO: * VALENTINO SALDIVAR*

Photograph:  Valentino Saldivar

Next up, showing January 28-30 is Chilean playwright/director Guillermo Calderón’s latest play Escuela. Set in Chile in the late 1980s, amid the tumultuous transition between the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and the dubiously regarded democracy that followed, a group of left-wing university students receive secret paramilitary training in the living room of a fellow dissident. Hiding their identities with hoods to ensure none of them can betray their revolutionary comrades, these intellectuals awkwardly learn skills essential to guerilla warfare, such as proper crawling and rifle cleaning methods, in the hopes of overturning a corrupt regime, all while grappling with the chilling realities of staging a violent insurgency.Calderón has made a name for himself with plays grounded in times of violent turmoil and political upheaval, using dangerous and unstable settings as a jumping off point for larger universal themes, and Escuela sits well within this established style while taking it somewhere new. Instead of the surrounding violence haunting the onstage proceedings, as it did in Calderón’s first play Neva, it is brought to the forefront in Escuela as we watch its characters preparing to engage with it. In an interview with FringeArts, regarding the political implications of his new work Calderón asserted, “Politics is a combination of emotions and rationality, and that is what Escuela tries to convey and push to its limit.”

Kicking off February is a multimedia performance from composer Daniel Wohl, who previously graced the FringeArts stage last year with a multi media performance of his album Corps Exquis. This time around the Paris-born composer will be presenting his latest full-length album, Holographic, accompanied by an excellent line up of musicians and video art projections from LA-based artist Daniel Schwarz.

Wohl has garnered acclaim for works in which the acoustic and electronic blend into each other: a resonating snare drum becomes a low unnerving drone, percussion and electronic noise crash into a joyous cacophony, and synthetic pulsations elevate the steady bowing of strings to a higher plane. The result is immersive, slyly disorienting music that seeks to close the gap between the chamber groups of concert halls and academia , and electronic experimentalists pushing sonic boundaries in basements and warehouses. This is a one night only event, so mark your calendar for February 5.

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