Fringe at 20 Profile: Lauren Rile Smith
Name: Lauren Rile Smith
Type of Artist: Trapeze artist and circus-theater producer
Company: Tangle Movement Arts
List of Fringe shows I’ve participated in:
Ampersand, Tangle Movement Arts, 2011 – Producer/Performer
You Don’t Say, Tangle Movement Arts, 2012 – Producer/Performer
Break/Drift/Resist, Tangle Movement Arts, 2013 – Producer/Performer
Loop, Tangle Movement Arts, 2014 – Producer/Performer
The Girl’s Guide to Neighborly Conduct, Tangle Movement Arts, 2015 – Producer/Performer
Fringe show I’m participating in for 2016: I’m producing and performing in Tangle’s 2016 show, Surface Tension, at Neighborhood House Sept. 14-17. We use trapeze and aerial silks to get under the skin of a Tinder date turned rocky relationship, an advice columnist who could use a taste of her own medicine, and a well-mannered office worker who snaps under pressure. It’s a circus-theater exploration of how much we see past the surface of other people—how much can you really know someone—at home, in the office, 20 feet in the air?
First Fringe I attended: The first Fringe show I saw was 2008’s The Destruction of the City, and Also an Itinerary for Visitors, a show that was collaboratively devised by the theater ensemble Ad Hoc, using found text and live music and puppetry to evoke the ruins of Pompeii. I went to the performance because I had friends in the company, but also because I was curious about this multidisciplinary ensemble-generated devised-theater thing– what was it like? I was a writer and editorial assistant, just beginning the slow pivot in my life that eventually transformed me into a trapeze artist and ensemble-based circus-theater producer. True to its name, Ad Hoc only ever produced that one show, but the taste of freedom and magic potential I got from that Fringe show has inspired me ever since.
First show I produced/created at the Fringe: The Fringe Festival was the platform that launched my circus-theater company, Tangle Movement Arts, in 2011. On fire about the radical potential of circus performance, I wanted to make a feminist circus-theater show that mixed techniques from aerial acrobatics, dance, theater, and queer storytelling. I gathered a group of likeminded troublemakers and we worked obsessively for most of a year to create Ampersand. I had never produced a show before, but had this deep sense that it was possible. Sometimes I felt aware that I was re-inventing the wheel over and over, but that almost made me proud—say what you like, this one’s MY wheel!
Finding a venue was our epic quest; there are not many spaces where aerial rigging is possible in Philly, and there were fewer in 2011. I felt like I walked all over the city, politely explaining my show to skeptical landlords over and over. We finally connected with Philadelphia Soundstages, an amazing videography studio in Kensington. Their space is 100 feet long—I signed the contract with pride and then thought, “Okay, now I have to fill this giant space with audience members.” At that time most Philly audience members had no idea what aerial dance was or what to expect from a circus show not aimed at kids. But we sold out our first weekend of performances, and haven’t looked back since! Philadelphia Soundstages was our FringeArts home until this year, when we will instead be performing at Neighborhood House in Old City.
The Fringiest show, venue, action, or moment I ever experienced: Tangle’s aerial dance theater is right at home in the Fringe—from our unusual genre of circus arts, to our queer/feminist storytelling, to the nontraditional venues we tend to occupy. But nothing feels more Fringey to me than the rush of alternating performing in your show and watching everyone else’s. Last year on one packed day, we went from a tech rehearsal for our show The Girl’s Guide to Neighborly Conduct, to go watch Sit Down. Stand Up, a dance-theater tribute to Radiohead at Philly PACK, to passing out flyers for an hour on South Street, and finally to sneak into the standing-room-only audience for Hannah Van Scriver’s 50 Days at Iliam at Asian Arts Initiative. I love the way the Festival gets me to me zigzag between different neighborhoods, communities, and kinds of art in those packed three weeks!
A Fringe show that influenced me as an artist: Some of my favorite FringeArts shows from festivals past include Brian Sanders’ JUNK’s Sanctuary (2010), whose joyful invention and confident physicality bridged dance and circus arts; Leah Stein Dance’s Hoist (2011), whose site-specific dance peeled back the mechanical history of its venue; RealLivePeople’s Would I lie to you? (2014), which incorporated frank confessions, sly improvisations, and stunning duet work to investigate human falsehoods; and Found Theater’s City of Woes (2015), whose original live music and noir-flavored physical theater evoked hell on earth, and how it can be escaped.
The craziest idea for a Fringe show I wish to one day do or to have done: I have the persistent fantasy of an outdoor aerial dance performance entirely staged on building scaffolding on a construction site in Center City. One of my favorite pop-up shows Tangle has done was Passages, at 30th Street Station. Disguised as commuters or construction workers or tourists or businesspeople on their lunch break, performers one by one emerged from the crowd to perform “undercover” as ordinary passers-by. I’d love to tap into that urban-circus energy in an even more bustling and unexpected environment!