Fringe at 20 Profile: Adrienne Mackey
Name: Adrienne Mackey
Type of Artist: Theater and lately interdisciplinary
Company: Swim Pony Performing Arts
Fringe shows I’ve participated in:
A Portrait of Dora as a Young Man, Stolen Chair Theatre Co, 2003 – actor
Hell Meets Henry Halfway, Pig Iron Theatre Company, 2004 – assistant director, sound operator
Like Ink and Paper, 2004 – director
Bardo, Leah Stein Dance Company, 2005 – production manager and vocalist
The Ballad of Joe Hill, 2006 – director
recitatif, 2007 – director
Echo, Tribe of Fools, 2007 – director
The Giant Squid, The Berserker Residents, 2008 – director
Purr, Pull, Reign, Johnny Showcase and the Lefty Lucy Cabaret, 2009 – director
Lady M, 2011 – director
The Ballad of Joe Hill, 2013 – director
It’s So Learning, The Berserker Residents, 2015 – outside eye – fringe
Also a past LAB fellow.
2016 Fringe show I’m participating in: Possibly working with Mary McCool on her in-progress piece. Still not definite . . .
First Fringe I attended: My initial experience with Fringe was in 2000 as a first semester freshman in college. I was only weeks into school, living away from home for the first time and so excited to see what Philly’s arts scene had to offer. I remember taking the train into Philly with some guy on my hall named Dima who I barely knew. We picked a show at random—all I remember about it was that it was a middle-aged woman in a tutu who took off all her clothes halfway through the show. I had no idea what was happening and I remember feeling both overwhelmed and extremely cool to be doing something so weird. Later that same festival I saw a play in a karate dojo in which actors were trapped in a scene with their own feelings portrayed by other actors wearing black and white mime makeup. Sort of Marcel Marceau meets No Exit by way of Pirandello. I remember thinking, “I could do that.” Two years later I was in my first fringe show.
First Fringe I participated in: While I was still a junior in college I acted in a show called Portrait of Dora as a Young Man that explored Freud’s famous case of Dora, one of the few women who ever rebelled against his analytic theories. We rehearsed an entire summer together at Swarthmore College—a mix of folks who had just graduated and a bunch of us still in school. We lived together and worked together in this commune-style experiment in creative collaboration. I played Herr K, a neighbor to the young troubled girl, I think, it’s all a blur now and designated this mostly using an old fedora and trying to talk in a low voice.
What a gorgeous mess! I broke up with my boyfriend, the director, near the end of the process and half of us ended up furious with each other because we would rehearse all day and then have to go home and sleep 10 people in a tiny house with no room to get away from each other. I remember taking the train into Philly from Swarthmore and setting up a dress form mannequin in the courtyard of the old National Museum of American Jewish History (behind the bank on 5th and Market). I did an entire scene puppetting that inanimate mannequin while playing a German man named Herr K. Dear god, we had no idea what we were doing—all the actors wore khaki pants and either a forest green or maroon long sleeved shirt and did vocal warm ups outside the museum’s entrance as homeless people passed by looking at us in mild horror.
First show I produced/created at the Fringe: The Ballad of Joe Hill in 2006 was the first full production I ever created. It was an insane undertaking and I really credit Sean Kelley at Eastern State Penitentiary for launching my artistic career. He took a huge chance on a group of young creators who were super passionate about Joe Hill’s story and music. Working at Eastern State completely transformed my ideas about theater—how a space can become a character in the work you create. The moment I remember best from that first version was packing away the props, costumes and risers for the last time—we had to set up and take down every single object each night—and thinking, “Oh my god. We actually did it. We made this piece and people loved it. This crazy thing in a dirty prison was glorious and I cannot wait to do it again.” The moment I walked out of Eastern State that night I knew I needed to do the show again. It took until 2013 to get back to a remount but we did it.
The Fringiest show, venue, action, or moment I ever experienced: I remember in 2005 working for Leah Stein Dance Company on Bardo, hauling giant pieces of wood around an empty lot, running up to the balcony of Broad Street Ministries and singing an Italian aria during the show, then running back down at the end to haul all the giant pieces of wood back inside.
That year I went to the Fringe bar, I think it was the one on American Street with the two different rooms, almost every night. I loved feeling like I was in the midst of this teeming sea of art makers. I remember that was the same year I met JJ Tiziou and there was a picture of me, sweaty and coming right off a performance but beaming in the dim light of the festival bar. Two nights later I saw that same photo projected up on the wall of the bar and it made me feel like I wasn’t just on the outside but a tiny part of that amazing theater scene.
A Fringe show that influenced me as an artist: In 2008 I saw Accidens (matar para comer) at the Icebox. I still talk about this show all the time. It was so simple—a man contemplating a live lobster hanging from a string while the audience listened to its heartbeat. I remember sitting and waiting, terrified, for its inevitable death. When the performer finally released the lobster, brought it over to the large table, cut it in half and began cooking it as a video displayed a story about a seemingly random near death experience, I remember thinking that this show would stay with me forever.
I don’t know that I had ever seen a piece that worked quite like this—so much about my own reflection on this very simple structure, about the meaning of life and how humans hurt each other in ways that are both mental and physical. I walked away trying to decide the meaning I took from witnessing this interaction and talking with the person I came with and the two of us taking completely opposite messages away from the same experience. I can explain the literal action of what happened in less than a paragraph but what one believes the piece is “about” is so much more complex.
Artists I have met or were exposed to in the Fringe who I went on to collaborate with: I don’t know that I ever met anyone at the Fringe and then collaborated but I met a lot of people because I was in prep for Fringe and needed an artist to fill a slot. For so much of my early career the Fringe was the venue that I had to express my ideas. I didn’t produce outside the festival and so the lead up to it became the time of year that I met new creators and tried out new projects. So many companies—Tribe of Fools, Leah Stein, The Berserker Residents, Johnny Showcase—were companies or creators I vaguely knew but working with them on Fringe shows was the way that we began to truly collaborate.
The craziest idea for a Fringe show I wish to one day do or to have done: My partner Brad Wrenn and I have long wished to do a show called The South Philly Cat Tour. In it, one is led on a guided tour of all the cats in South Philly, conveniently placed in windows for viewing, and given vital info like name and favorite treats. At some stops we might get to meet and pet the cats. Each audience member gets a pair of cat ears they wear for the duration. At the end the audience turns a corner and a horde of performers wearing furry dog suits appear. They then start chasing the audience. That’s the end of the show.
Fringe notes: During Purr, Pull, Reign in 2009 I pulled several all-nighters during tech week at the Latvian Society working to finish everything, in particular the tricky blacklight section of the light design, before performance. I would rehearse all afternoon and then tech all night until around 4 am and then drag myself home for a few hours of sleep before going to work. By the time we got to the opening night I was tired, semi-delirious and a nervous wreck. I warmed up the actors pre-show, sent them to places and then realized I was so physically jacked up that I couldn’t take actually watching the show because I was so nervous about wanting it all to go well. I bought a beer from the Latvian Bar and stood underneath the audience risers and listened to the performers and the audience laughing hysterically and told myself it had all been worth it.