Fringe at 20 Profile: Dito van Reigersberg
Name: Dito van Reigersberg, sometimes Martha Graham Cracker
Type of Artist: Actor/Cabaret Performer
Company: Pig Iron Theatre Company, Co-Founder
This is a partial list of Fringe shows I’ve participated in:
Cafeteria, Pig Iron, 1997 (First Fringe!) – Charlotte the cafeteria lady
The Lorca Cycle, Pig Iron, 1999 – Federico
Shut Eye, Pig Iron, 2001 – Clark
Hell Meets Henry Halfway, Pig Iron, 2004 – Henry
Isabella, Pig Iron, 2007 – Angelo
Welcome to Yuba City, Pig Iron, 2009 – Tom White/Joaquin
Takes, Nichole Canuso Dance Company, 2010
Oedipus at FDR Park, 2010, – Messenger
Twelfth Night or What You Will, Pig Iron, 2011 – Orsino
Zero Cost House, Pig Iron, 2012 – Present Okada
Pay Up, Pig Iron, 2013 – Scene 21
Fringe show I’m participating in for 2016: I’m mostly watching this year but then closing the festival with a Martha Graham Cracker show at FringeArts on the 24th of September, with some special guests I’m very excited about. I’ll also be doing sprints to prepare for scaling the steep seating risers of the FringeArts theatre. I have lovingly dubbed those FringeArts stairs “the K2 of alternative theatre.”
First Fringe I attended and highlight: I moved to Philly just in time for the first Festival in 1997. During that first Fringe I remember meeting the incredible members of Headlong Dance Theater and New Paradise Labs, who by now have become lifelong friends (I think Whit McLaughlin let us Pig Ironers watch a dress rehearsal of Gold Russian Finger Love, a sort of James Bond fantasia which was deliciously odd and unforgettably beautiful); I guess that was the moment I realized that, as the Talking Heads might say, “this must be the place.”
First Fringe I participated in: So when we arrived in Philly in 1997, we had rehearsed all summer at Swarthmore College to make a wordless piece about the American life-cycle called Cafeteria. The piece is set in junior high, a corporate and then a retirement home cafeteria, and all the dramatic action in the show is told in movement. We had no audience in Philly, no sense of what kind of reach the Fringe might have, and also we had this new, weird, hard-to-categorize piece to try to sell. Thankfully we were veterans of the Edinburgh Fringe, so we shamelessly flyered for the show all over town like mad people and hoped for the best.
We were nervously prepping for the first performance in the giant cavernous theatre at the Seaport Museum, imagining we might be doing the show for ten or twelve people when our stage manager walked up to us backstage. “We’re going to have to hold curtain for a while,” she said. “Why?” we asked, thinking something technical was amiss. “There’s a line of audience around the building and down the block, waiting to get in,” she said. What a welcome to this great city of risk-taking audiences. We held for about 15 minutes and then performed for a huge, warm crowd who were totally receptive to our brand of weird. It was an auspicious start.
The Fringiest show, venue, action, or moment I ever experienced: Man, there are so many to choose from. Certainly it was a game-changer doing Pay Up in a giant warehouse painted entirely white with a giant cast of performers dressed in white jumpsuits like a clan of economic-behavior scientists/oompah-loompahs. That show trained me in how to perform interactively with an audience, and to perform sensitively and confidently together with a cast of 30.
I might choose Explanatorium by Headlong as one of my favorites as an audience member. It’s another kind of interactive performance work that aimed to evoke the uncanny in our universe, and as I moved around the domed space of the Rotunda with the performers I remember feeling the right kind of overwhelmed, even while being guided through the piece so elegantly by skilled performers. It was a piece that opened my eyes and expanded my feeling of being alive in an evocative, poetic, reverberant way.
A Fringe show that influenced me as an artist: I loved two other Fringe pieces that blurred the line between reality and performance, all the while casting the audience as very active watchers/participants. One was a piece called Small Metal Objects from Back to Back Theatre from Australia; we watched the piece on bleachers facing a segment of street in West Philly (I want to say 40th street just south of Walnut) and eventually we saw the performers emerge (their dialogue transmitted to us on headphones) out of the real life bustling in front of us.
In a similar vein, the choose-your-own-adventure piece Cell, also by Headlong, confused and delighted me and made me look at the entire city as a kind of amazing performance to be scrutinized, relished, and chased after.
Artists I have met or was exposed to in the Fringe who I went on to collaborate with: I think my Pig Iron cohort Quinn Bauriedel and I both saw this crazy piece called Our Little Sunbeam by Dayna Hanson, a stellar choreographer with a company called 33 Fainting Spells, during the festival in 2003. Many years later she joined forces with us to choreograph 99 Breakups.
We also met the Rude Mechs of Austin, TX at the Fringe when they did their Method Gun here (who can forget the incredible pendulum finale in that show?). Since then Pig Iron and the Rudes have gotten to workshop ideas and collaborate many times, and they really feel like ensemble-theatre comrades for us. I even got to fill in for one of the roles in their LARPing adventure piece, Now Now Oh Now, when they brought it to FringeArts a couple of years ago.
The craziest idea for a Fringe show I wish I had done or to one day do: These are all barely formed ideas, but I think I’d like to do an interactive piece called “Trump Coaching Sessions” in which the audience is cast as political advisors and they have to coach someone portraying Donald Trump before a big debate.
I think I stole this idea from someone but I think it would be fun to do a piece that involves a lot of members of the community called “Pratfall! in Rittenhouse Square” in which every day of the festival at, say, 2:15pm, many people carrying many gigantic packages and boxes and plates begin a pratfall fiesta.
Fringe notes: One of my most incredible memories of any festival was a moment during Oedipus at FDR Park. I played the small role of the Messenger and my job was to announce, in a kind of ethereal, sung-through way, that Oedipus had finally died and the gods had taken pity on him and we could rejoice. Fellow actor James Ijames and I were sharing a wireless mic pack, and he had fallen during a previous scene; what we didn’t realize when he handed it off to me is that something about the mic had gotten switched off or damaged or something.
When I appeared as the Messenger at the back of the skate bowl under the highway, my mic wasn’t picking up my voice at all. With audience at about 100 feet away and with all that ambient noise, there was no way to make myself heard. I was suddenly in an actor’s nightmare and didn’t know what to do. I felt totally foolish and hung out to dry in front of hundreds of people by the vagaries of sound technology.
Luckily, however, the sound designer of that show was my friend and Pig Iron comrade James Sugg. He realized immediately what had happened with the mic and quickly flipped through his copy of the script. He then began to ventriloquize for me, speak-singing the entire speech of the Messenger into a mic at the soundboard while I moved like a marionette to the welcome sound of his voice.
Oh James. Thank you for saving me, old pal.
And thank you FringeArts. There aren’t many cities like Philly, there aren’t many arts communities like this one, there aren’t many incubators of new work and fosterers of ensemble that can compare to FringeArts.
One of my lifelong dreams, to sing as Martha Graham Cracker while accompanied by a classical string quartet, came true a few years back because the Fringe made it happen. So many dreams of mine have come to life under the auspices of this festival.