Fringe at 20 Profile: Meghann Williams
Name: Meghann Williams
Type of Artist: director, burlesquer, writer, props maker, teller of dirty jokes
Companies: I am one-half of Chlamydia dell’Arte: A Sex-Ed Burlesque (with Gigi Naglak) and was a co-founder of Flashpoint Theatre Company (RIP)
Fringe shows I’ve participated in:
Fatboy, Brat Productions, 2007 – assistant director, stage manager
Chlamydia dell’Arte: ASex-Ed Burlesque, 2009 – creator, performer
Chlamydia dell’Arte: MORE Sex-Ed, 2013 – creator, performer
Zombies…With Guns, Tribe of Fools, 2015 – guest zombie
2016 Fringe show I’m participating in: None this year, looking forward to seeing some of my favorite companies and performers and hopefully discovering some new weirdos to love.
First Fringe I attended: Corinna Burns mentioned my first Fringe show in her interview – Tiny Macbeth. It was 2002 or 2003, back when everything happened in Old City and everyone wanted to hang out at the Fringe bar every night to see what was up. I was so excited to see something so small and so smart and as bizarre as Macbeth performed by one man, a desk lamp, and a legion of toys. I wish I could remember the performer or company name.
First Fringe I participated in: I worked at the Fringe before I participated as a performer. I was the Volunteer Coordinator in 2004, the year the name changed to Live Arts and people were just losing their minds about it for some reason. On my first day of work the entire staff went out to see a workshop showing of Pig Iron’s Hell Meets Henry Halfway. I fell pretty deeply in love with every person in that cast and had the distinct feeling that perhaps I wasn’t actually cool enough to work for this organization. Beyond that memorable first day, working with the Fringe in 2004 was how I met some of my absolute favorite people and I’ll forever feel like it was a charmed time.
First show I produced/created at the Fringe: Gigi Naglak and I premiered the original Chlamydia dell’Arte show at the 2009 Fringe. CDA is a vaudeville-style burlesque (skits and scenes and fan dancing and strip tease and songs) where every section deals with different elements of sexual education in a fun, engaging way. There is a recurring CDA sketch called Cooking with Wine, which is basically a couple of boozy morning show hosts demonstrating different techniques (oral sex techniques in the 2009 iteration of the show). My incredibly supportive parents came to the show and I was a little nervous about how they’d like Cooking With Wine. When I asked my dad what he thought of it he paused for a moment and then said, “You know, Meg . . . you put a dildo in a room with that many people and someone’s gonna suck it.” Words to live by.
The Fringiest show, venue, action, or moment I ever experienced: We did MORE Sex-Ed Burlesque (our 2013 iteration of CDA) at The Dive, which is an, ahem, cozy dive bar in South Philly. It was kind of dirty and kind of small and kind of exactly right for our show and definitely what I think of when I think “Fringe.” There was a moment during the strip tease one night (a historical exploration of women’s undergarments to Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time,” naturally) when the speakers cut out. We could still sort of hear it but the audience couldn’t. Our amazing stage manager, Mel Leeds, had taken off her pants in the booth as a joke so she couldn’t go fix the speaker. Gigi ran into “the back” (aka behind a sheet we hung) to jiggle the wires and I made the audience sing along with me. That’s probably the Fringiest moment – stripping in a dusty bar while 30 people shout-sing Cher at you, your best friend, and your pants-less stage manager. It’s basically everything I ever wanted.
A Fringe show that influenced me as an artist: Applied Mechanics’ Portmanteau and Holly’s Dead Soliders by Chris Davis, Bruce Walsh, and Doug Williams both really helped me mentally break out of the presentational kind of theater I’d been trained to do and figure out how to gravitate more toward an active audience experience. Also, Applied Mechanics introduced me to the idea of always giving the audience food or beverage which can make it an even more personal experience—I’m not just seeing this piece, I’m tasting part of it. HDS directly inspired me to do shows in my house and not to be too precious about it.
An artist I have met or was exposed to in the Fringe who I went on to collaborate with: Becky Wright is the first person who comes to mind. Years after I first met her and saw her work she directed a solo show I did in my house that was for one audience member at a time. Genius, brilliant director and all-around remarkable human being. I cannot overstate what a treasure Becky is to the Philadelphia theater community.
The craziest idea for a Fringe show I wish I had done or to one day do: Gigi and I sometimes talk about doing a one-off where we do all of the CDA shows in order back-to-back. That would be more than 4 hours of material, so I think we’d need to provide snacks.
Fringe notes: I was just talking about this with a friend. I saw Young Jean Lee’s Songs of the Dragon Flying to Heaven when it was in the Festival in 2007 and oh my god I haaaaated it. But! It has stayed with me so profoundly since that time; I think of it every time I am putting together new work, hoping to make something even a fraction as resonant. I wish I could go back in time and re-watch it now that I’m not some 27-year-old idiot version of myself who doesn’t know what good is.