Fringe at 20 Profile: Sam Tower
Name: Sam Tower
Type of Artist: Director, Creator, Producer
Company: Sam Tower + Ensemble
List of Fringe shows I’ve participated in:
Bailout!, Off-Color Theatre, 2009 – Actor
Precipice, 2010 – Director, Creator
All Places from Here, 2011 – Director, Creator
27, New Paradise Laboratories, 2012 – Assistant Director
The Adults, New Paradise Laboratories, 2014 – Assistant Director
901 Nowhere Street, Sam Tower + Ensemble, 2015 – Director, Producer
Fringe show I’m participating in for 2016: FEED, Applied Mechanics – Marketing & PR
First Fringe I attended: My first Fringe Festival was in 2009, when I was attending Headlong Performance Institute, and we saw a show almost every day of the Festival. Since then, I’ve filled every free hour of my time during the Festival with as many shows as possible. That was also the year I became a life-long groupie of New Paradise Laboratories, who produced Fatebook in the old Live Arts warehouse on 5th street – oh, and the warehouse Fringe bar that year was so so so good!
First Fringe I participated in: During the 2009 Festival, I was also performing in a ‘live action sitcom’ called Bailout! while attending school and seeing tons of shows. That Fringe was totally exhausting, exhilarating, and addicting! That year, I got to see MORE by Headlong Dance Theater and there was a moment when a dancer vacuums the rug while the radio plays on random – it destroyed me quietly and I still think about that moment to this day. I don’t think it will ever leave me.
First show I produced/created at the Fringe: The first Fringe show I was involved in producing included an installation of fabric corridors, which we were required to uninstall for 4 days in the middle of the run if we wanted to use that space. So, naturally, we agreed, and built the fabric walls to be taken down and put back up rapidly. And during the break between shows, we shot a short companion film. Our team spent the whole summer in a basement, working through the night in a crawl space, building an overly-ambitious immersive set of found objects and trash-picked speakers. It was our very first self-produced project, and looking back, we didn’t seem to need sleep that summer (just cigarettes and beer!)
The Fringiest show, venue, action, or moment I ever experienced: In 2011, I co-produced a very large-scale show in an abandoned lot next door to the newly opened Frankford Hall. The production had a full light, sound and projection installation, and was performed outside on a loading dock with a meager fence surrounding it. We had hurricanes during tech, daily lugging of 80 metal folding chairs, a dressing room made from tarp and extra beams, no bathrooms or running water — but damn! That was bold, Fringy experimentation in its purest form!
A Fringe show that influenced me as an artist: Reggie Wilson’s Moses(es) in 2013 was a stunning experience for me. The seamlessly shifting rhythms, textures, and personal narrative within this piece was captivating. The dancers’ authenticity in their bodies was strikingly real inside the poetic landscape of the composition. The nonsensical polka dot costume design (in a very bright red palette) has become a common reference between my collaborator, Emilie Krause and I, when discussing juxtaposition in garment design for the performances we create.
Example of artists I have met or was exposed to in the Fringe who I went on to collaborate with: So many of my collaborations in this city have been rooted in the Fringe Festival scene. In 2012, it was a dream come true for me to work and train with Whit MacLaughlin on 27 with New Paradise Laboratories, a company whose work has inspired me tremendously over the years. Working on 27 began my hugely influential artistic relationship to NPL, and led the way for so many amazing Fringe and off-Fringe season experiences with the company and in the Philly arts scene. (I remember feeling like a true rock star every time I got to go to rehearsal for 27 and make work in a room my mentor and some of my very best friends.)
Another Fringe inspired love story – during Fringe 2010, I saw an Applied Mechanics show for the first time, Portmaneau, at Underground Arts, and I remember I was 1000% on board with the choose your own adventure style – I remember crouching and sneaking and bending around bodies to get a closer look at all of the heroic and sinister operations taking place between the characters. I’ve followed Applied Mechanics’ work since then, collaborated with them, and joined them as an Associated Artist. I’m currently doing marketing and PR for their Fringe show this year, FEED.
The craziest idea for a Fringe show I wish I had done or to one day do: Still waiting for someone to donate a huge, historic mansion to me – complete with an old-time freight elevator and secret passageways between rooms…
Fringe notes: So many fond memories of staying up all night working on The Adults with New Paradise Laboratories in 2014 – filling the lobby of the Painted Bride with kiddie pools, tequila shots and a coffee bar – and invading Philadelphia with snorkel and flipper clad “Scuba Girls”… that was a Festival to be remembered for me.