Fringe at 20 Profile: Corinna Burns
Name: Corinna Burns
Fringe shows I’ve participated in: Wow. A lot.
A series of short plays produced by the now-defunct Brick Playhouse performed at the now-defunct Old Original Bookbinders, 1996
Bartleby the Scrivener, the Madmen, 1998 – actor, creator
The Trial, 1999 – adaptor, director
Live at the Apollo Diner, Theatre Exile, 1999 – performer
Live Girls, 2000 – co-creator, performer
Brinksmanship!, Termite TV, Bad Penny Productions, 2001 – co-creator, performer
Little/Yma, Weak Chin Productions, 2004 – actor
Pay Up!, Pig Iron Theatre Company, 2005 – performer, creator
Isabella, Pig Iron Theatre Company, 2005 and 2013 – performer, creator
Oedipus, Emanuelle Delpeche at FDR, 2008 – actor
Purr Pull Reign, Johnny Showcase, 2009 – Lady Dancer
Raw Stitch, Jackie Goldfinger, 2012 – actor
The End of Hope, the End of Desire, [ad hoc theatre project], 2013 – actor
99 Breakups, Pig Iron Theatre Company, 2014 – performer, creator
2016 Fringe show I’m participating in: I’m not signed up for anything (so far) this year! But that just means I can go see more stuff!
First Fringe I attended: I’ve been Fringe-ing since the beginning. I remember doing these little plays at Bookbinders while people ate their three-course lunches and thinking how exciting it was that Philadelphia now had this special time of the year when people could think about performance in new ways. Even though in that year, that particular project wasn’t super boundary-pushing, we were still performing new plays for an audience of people that would otherwise never have been exposed to them. And in the early years, the Fringe office was on Vine Street and the Fringe Bar was at what I think was a Turkish restaurant across the street, and everything was performed in Old City, so there was a closeness to everything. You’d run from show to show to show because you really could. And everyone would gather at the bar to dance and talk at the end of every night.
First show I produced/created at the Fringe: The first show I produced entirely on my own was an adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial, performed by three actors at the Museum of Jewish American History in their old space. What is most memorable to me about that experience: the number of people who are willing to help you for free! I think the museum gave me the space for free, and the actors basically donated their time, although we split the profits at the end. And that people who don’t know you will come to see your show!!! I’ve never not had audiences for any of my Fringe shows, even the ones that I thought were a disaster and I didn’t want anyone to see (Live Girls)!!
The Fringiest show, venue, action, or moment I ever experienced: I think I’ve been blessed to be in some of the Fringiest of the Fringe, but I’d have to say that the experience of performing Oedipus at FDR down at FDR Skate Park would top the list. Pure magic. Walking the edge of the bowl in a red satin dress with Pearce Bunting as the blind Oedipus holding on to my yards-long train, audience seated in the other end of the bowl, the chorus of skaters swooping through the space like bats, and the intimacy of all the sound happening through headphones because the atmospheric noise of being under I-95 made it otherwise impossible to hear anything—being so far from the audience but able to whisper in their ears. I feel so blessed to have been a part of that show.
Also performing as a naked corpse in Pig Iron’s Isabella—it would take us two hours two apply the body makeup for a 70-minute show. When we were done we’d have to stand under the fluorescent lights of the performance space and our awesome make-up person, Lisi Stoessel, would inspect us. “Your lividity needs to be splotchier.” “Your scrotum is too white, you need to yellow it down” was a common note to the guys. Sound was also an issue in that space so we women had cornrows woven into the back of our hair so they could attach and hide mic packs, and the men had wigs made to look like their own hair so that they could do the same—how else can you plant a mic pack on a naked body? My entrance was from behind the audience where one of the firewatch people would have to sit and there’d always be this moment where I’d have to disrobe before entering and I could always feel the firewatch people working real hard to be cool about it and just keep working on their crossword puzzle or whatever.
And one more! Our production of Brinksmaship! a show about corporate downsizing, in which we divided the audience and fired half of them at the end of the show (along with two of the characters). We gave them a severance package that had a video that we made called “How to Cope with Downsizing,” a commemorative pen, and a pin that said “Don’t Take it Personally.” My friend Kurt Runco and I played the two characters who got fired and we would all get booted out the back door of the Shirley building at 2nd and Callowhill, and he and I would declare we were going to get a drink and storm off around the block so the audiences would be stranded and confused about what to do next—just like real downsizing! I saw Kurt recently and he reminded me that Teller came to see it. He said the first time he ever heard Teller speak was after the show, and it was to congratulate him on the great work!
A Fringe show that influenced me as an artist: So many! One that comes to mind: Tiny Ninja Theatre’s production of Macbeth using vending machine toys on a tabletop. One man acting all the parts. One of the best productions of Macbeth I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen the Patrick Stewart version! Made me think hard about how much you can do with so little.
Artists I have met or was exposed to in the Fringe who I went on to collaborate with: Boy this is tricky – it’s all such a melting pot of direct and indirect connections at this point. Something that comes to mind is that Tom Reing started Inis Nua Theatre Company by doing only Fringe shows, and now has a multi-year history of producing full seasons in its own space, and I’ve been fortunate to be a frequent collaborator with that company. Fringe has given people a space and audiences that have helped so many companies grow like that.
The craziest idea for a Fringe show I wish I had done or to one day do: Something suspended from the Ben Franklin Bridge? Truly, I have a hard time coming up with something that would top some of the shows I’ve already done.
Fringe notes: Since Prince’s recent passing, I’ve been reminiscing about 2009’s Purr, Pull, Reign, the Johnny Showcase extravaganza in which I was one of his Lady Dancers. It was the first year that I was in a show that “won Fringe.” I know, I know! Nobody wins the Fringe! That’s not the way to think about art! (but we totally won Fringe that year). It was so great to be with a group of people working so hard to make something delightful. Maximum fun. But totally rigorous. And the energy of the audiences coming along on that joyride. Such a gift! Thank you FringeArts for making my life so rich!