Go Deeper Fringe at 20 Profile: Brenna Geffers

Fringe at 20 Profile: Brenna Geffers

Posted September 19th, 2016
Geffers with Actors

Geffers with Shadow House performers Anthony Crosby, Kayla Grasser, and Michael Linehard (photo by Mickey Herr)

Name: Brenna Geffers

Type of Artist: Theater-maker and Director

Companies: I am a freelance artist, but have been proud to call Theatre Exile, EgoPo Classic Theater, Thom Weaver’s Flashpoint, and Rebel Theater in NYC my artistic homes in the past. Currently I am an artist-in-residence at The Powel House with the Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks (PhilaLandmarks). I am also a member of the Philadelphia Opera Collective, which just means that I hang out with some gorgeous artists and singers for a few months out of the year.

List of Fringe shows I’ve participated in:
Mother Courage and Her Children, Wandering Rom, 2006 – Director
Planetary Enzyme Blues, New Paradise Laboratories, 2007 – Assistant Director
Masque of the Red Death, Wandering Rom, 2007 – Creator/Director
Mud, Wandering Rom, 2008 –  Director
Woyzeck, EgoPo, 2009 – Director
Marat/Sade, EgoPo, 2010 – Director
The Oresteia Project, Philadelphia Artist Collective, 2011 – Creator/Director
The Consul, Philadelphia Opera Collective, 2012 – Director
Opera Macabre, POC, 2013 – Librettist/Director
A Doll’s House, EgoPo, 2013 – Creator/Director
By You That Made Me Frankenstein, POC, 2014 – Creator/Director
Jump the Moon, Philadelphia Opera Collective, 2015 – Creator/Director

Geffers - Mud

Joe Canuso, Megan Snell, and Robert Daponte in Mud (photo by John Margolus)

Fringe show I’m participating in for 2016Shadow House, an immersive opera and theater piece where 10 different storylines across 200 years are connected by a single location. Audience members follow characters and stories by moving around the historic Powel House, chasing what interests them to put the pieces together. There is music and movement and mystery happening in all the nooks and crannies of the house. I am the creator and director for the piece and was commissioned by the Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks.

First Fringe I attended and highlight: I started seeing Fringe shows before I moved to Philadelphia, so the shows that I saw, like the epic Black Party Pink Palace and the achingly delicate Hell Meets Henry Half Way loom large in my mind. They inspired me to move to Philadelphia and be part of the strange and beautiful scene here.

First Fringe I participated in: The first show that I was actually hired to be a part of – rather than using the money I saved up all summer from shady telemarketing jobs – was Planetary Enzyme Blues with New Paradise Laboratories. I was the AD for the show and cherished every moment I was in the room with those artists; you don’t spend hours watching Mary McCool create work and leave unchanged. I learned a lot that summer, about art and collaboration and risk. I cried at the final moments of that show every time I watched it.

Geffers - Masque of the Red Death

Nick Suders, Stephanie Vaughan, Megan Snell, Davis Stratton White, Robert DaPonte in Masque of the Red Death (photo by JJ Tiziou)

First show I created at the Fringe: The first show I created for the Fringe was a show called Masque of the Red Death. Like young artists every year of the fringe, I was inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s canon: I always smile when I see the yearly Poe Piece in the guide. Mine was a sort of movement piece set at a party where Death comes at Midnight. Our shows were late, so they actually ended at midnight, which we thought was pretty bad-ass. We oversold our little 50 seat venue every night, so it was very exciting for all of us. But it was also the first difficult lady-director decision I ever made; I felt a lot of pressure to have female nudity in the piece. The actress was game for it and it felt like the “Fringy” choice to just do it. One of the actors, Robert DaPonte, who would become my best friend later on, called me and told me that I didn’t have to do that and I could let the scene speak for itself. I appreciated the advice and think about it a lot to this day.

The Fringiest show, venue, action, or moment I ever experienced: I love interesting venues and have been lucky enough to have had some great ones; the historic library at the German Society, the parlor in the Franklin Inn Club, The Rotunda in West Philly.

This year, I have an amazing historic mansion with a ballroom and chandeliers and an attic. I can’t wait for audience members to check it out. The Powel House is just dripping with stories: even the cast and I feel weird going into the master bedroom. At night, during the performances, I think audiences will really fall in love with the ghosts in the house.

Geffers - MaratSade

Jered McLenigan, David Blatt, Megan Snell, and Andrew Clotworthy in Marat/Sade (photo by Matt Sharp)

A Fringe show that influenced me as an artist: I still think NPL is the most inspiring Fringe company in town. I would love to see Freedom Club again. Or Fatebook?!  But I have learned so much from Rebecca Wright and Maria Shaplin’s work with Applied Mechanics; their bravery in exploring what live bodies in space can mean changed the rules for me. Adrienne Mackey’s Joe Hill thrilled me both years I saw it; the sounds of folk songs echoing in dark and gorgeous cell block are still very alive in my head. Last year, Sam Tower’s Nowhere Street really rocked me. Her all-women ensemble created a Noir world that was dangerous but stirring. It was damn near perfection.

Example of an artist I have met or was exposed to in the Fringe who I went on to collaborate with: I remember seeing Deb Block at the Festival Bar and just thinking “That has to be the most impressive and coolest lady who has ever strutted across this green earth.” Her awesomeness intimidated the Hell out of me; who could blame me? Those boots, right? Later, when she joined forces with Theatre Exile, my desk was right by hers and this Fringe Goddess became a human being and gentle mentor who just happened to be a goddess as well. She even performed in a Fringe show for me, The Oresteia Project and she was amazing. It’s funny, the older I get, the more important wisdom comes sneaking into my head, speaking to me with Deb’s voice. She once told me “You can have anything you want; you just can’t have everything you want” and I think about that all the time when I reach any crossroad.

The craziest idea for a Fringe show I wish I had done or to one day do: There is a show about the end and beginning of the world I have been thinking about for like ten years– but I can’t say much about it… what if you steal my idea?

But my friend Davey White and I are going to do The Importance of Being Earnest with all dogs someday. Don’t steal that one, ok?

Geffers- Dolls House

Mackenzie Maula in A Doll’s House (photo by Josh Wallacei)

Fringe notes: Don’t judge me, it was my first year here but it’s time I came clean. We couldn’t afford a sandwich board for our show. But then when we opened, audiences had trouble finding us. We were running the second half of the festival and one night, at the festival bar, I saw a stack of sandwich boards that had been returned from shows that had already closed… and my friend, Jackie Knox, and I decided it would be ok if maybe we grabbed one and ran…. We were totally going to return it after our show closed… We didn’t think anyone would get hurt. But being ladies in loud dresses leaving the festival bar at night, we were not nearly as sneaky as we thought and were immediately caught. The guys who saw us sighed and said “Just put it back” with a sort of vaguely tired and disappointed voice. I was so embarrassed that I didn’t go back to the festival bar for the rest of the festival. And felt weird the next year too. I really am not like that, I swear. And I would never, ever do it again. But I thought you should know that I am sorry.