Homegrown Art Is in Bloom: Spring at FringeArts, Pt.1
Ah, spring has sprung once again! Or is about to. Or already did. Oh, you didn’t get the memo? It’s winter again! Wait, never mind, it is spring. But maybe don’t get too comfortable in those jorts. Even though we can’t seem to rely on nature to be on schedule these days, you can rest assured that FringeArts will be. We’ve got an incredible spring season packed with some of Philadelphia’s most lauded, boundary-pushing artists, as well as notable guests from out of town. Here’s what’s going down at our waterfront headquarters from April to June.
Coming April 9 is a show for all the talkers, drunk debaters, sidewalk weather reporters, water cooler pundits, backseat philosophers, pseudo intellectuals, haters, hype-men, chatter boxes, gossips, and even the silent types. The Society of Civil Discourse, a co-production between Team Sunshine Performance Corp and The Philly Pigeon/Jacob Winterstein, is looking for new members and thinks you’d be a perfect candidate, whoever you are (info/tickets).
The evening plays out in three phases. During phase one the proceedings and rules of participation are laid out and all attendees are inducted into the Society. Phase two asks Society members to voice their opinions at three designated stations: a “hater” station, an “appreciation” station, and a “mini-debate” station. Once everyone’s oratorical muscles are warmed up we enter phase three. Participants become audience for The Great Debate, where two teams—made up of professionals and a few recruited audience members—debate on an audience-selected topic. If you’re someone who enjoys passionately debating pointless topics you don’t understand or care about, you’re going to want to grab a ticket quick for this “celebration of truth-stretchers, fabricators and pseudo-intellectuals in all their misinformed glory,” as a writer for City Paper so aptly summed it up.
Next up is Maneries, our first international offering of the season from Colombian-born Argentina-based choreographer Luis Garay. A solo created specifically for and in collaboration with dancer Florencia Vecino, the show positions the body as a cipher of linguistic material. Working with iconic symbols, Vecino takes on the difficult task of embodying a universal catalogue of gestures, pictures, poses, and sculptures, utilizing her body to represent all bodies, a vessel for all manner of possible meanings, perceptions, and experiences. Garay equates her performance, the manner in which she mixes these images live, to that of a DJ, asserting, “The structure of the piece is very rigid, but at the same time it allows [the performance] to be changed every time. Maneries is also about imagination and the bodily production of imagination.”
The show’s title, Garay pointed out in a recent FringeArts interview, is not a derivative of manare (ways of), but rather a concept drawn for Giorgio Agamben’s book The Coming Community: “Maneries is one place, like a fountain, from where all possible forms emanate. Maneries embraces both universal and particular at the same time, like an example. In each example the ‘universal’ is contained. So Maneries is a collection of examples.” This stark and surreal examination of the body’s capabilities and limitations from one of South America’s most promising young choreographers will be accompanied by the music of DJ Mauro Ap and takes the FringeArts stage April 14–16 (info/tickets).
Closing out April is a FringeArts world premiere from stalwart Philadelphia theater company New Paradise Laboratories (NPL). O Monsters follows the Kissimmee family, triplets who live in a mansion made of numbers under the watchful eye of Moth—perhaps their mother, perhaps something else. Moth rules the household using an equation from an arcane poem, an equation that prevents the house from collapsing on top of them. Speaking with FringeArts, NPL artistic director Whit MacLaughlin cited mutation, unprecedented life forms, and non-human points of view as inspirations for the show and its title. “What effect does monstrosity have on this world?” he posited. “We are creating a family of monsters who don’t really know that that’s what they are. . . . The thought sneaks up on them. Like it sneaks up on me when I realize that my actions really do have an effect on people who live halfway around the world. Imagine being a monster without knowing it.”
In developing O Monsters, NPL is working with composer Bhob Rainey who’s mining the math generated by various phenomena—the electrical behavior of squid neurons, the data output of the Chicago Commodities Exchange, the near misses of the earth by meteors over the past 100 years—to compose original music that will inform the work. “We’re treating Bhob’s music like spontaneous expressions of something in-the-world that can be used to choreograph out-of-this-world stage action.” NPL has been experimenting with the music as a prompt for stage action, yielding “some very fun things” as MacLaughlin puts it. “Ultimately, we are exploring something we haven’t quite found a name for yet. Symphonic theater might be a good name for it.” Whatever the ensuing mutations of O Monsters may be, you should be sure to catch it April 22–24 and 26–30 (info/tickets).
Kicking off May is an updated remount of one of the biggest hits of last year’s Festival. Underground Railroad Game comes to the waterfront May 11–16 and 18–21 (info/tickets). Created by Jenn Kidwell and Scott Sheppard in association with Lightning Rod Special, the play finds the pair playing middle school teachers tasked with running their school’s Civil War learning project. They divide their students—the audience—into Union and Confederate soldiers charged with capturing or assisting runaway “slaves”—black baby dolls hidden around the school. Based on Sheppard’s Hanover, PA middle-school experience, the show strikes its gleefully troubling tone from the titular game as well as the teachers’ taboo-busting, sex-forward relationship set against modern day America and the Antebellum South. In a recent interview with FringeArts, Shepperd stated how their goal was to make a piece of theater that “provokes and confronts audiences about the state of racial politics in contemporary America.”
“I wanted this piece to create a sense of unsettling delight in the audience,” he continued. “I enjoyed the piece most when it triggered laughter and immediately a reflective discomfort around that laughter.” So what does this mean for the remount? Will those of you who were lucky enough to witness it the first time around be treated to anything new? As Kidwell informed us, “We’re planning to deepen some moments and unapologetically take them further,” adding, “This will mean relinquishing a need to be opaque.” If you didn’t catch it the first time around, and even if you did, be sure not to miss out on what Newsworks critic Howard Shapiro dubbed, “Hands-down the best piece I’ve seen in the Fringe Festival this year and in many years.”
Check back next Thursday for Pt.2! We’ve got two more FringeArts world premieres from Philadelphia-based artists, along with three incredible performances from some unparalleled musicians to give you the lowdown on.