Sorority of Storytelling: Sisters Combine Choreography and Bodypainting in Paprika Plains
Natalie Fletcher and Jessica Noel are two talented creative sisters, but they’ve never performed on stage together… until this Fringe.
Fletcher, winner of the inaugural season of the body painting reality competition show, Skin Wars, will team up with Noel, a dance-theater artist who directs performance/education space and performance company Philly PACK, in an interdisciplinary storytelling performance inspired by singer Joni Mitchell’s 1977 album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter. Paprika Plains will run September 21 and 22 at 7 p.m. at the Philly PACK garage in South Philadelphia.
“This collaboration is something we’ve wanted to do for a while, but the timing was never right, until now,” said Fletcher.
Fletcher and Noel spent their childhood in Amarillo on the plains of West Texas and the sisters’ production tells a story of two sisters growing up in West Texas, finding their individual paths, but always coming back together with a common language: love. Lily Blaines-Sussman, a member of the Philly PACK company, will dance as the young dancing sister, and Noel will dance as the adult. At various times throughout the production, the dancers will pause and Fletcher will come in to the performance, painting the dancers, the backdrop, while pushing the story along.
“We are attempting to tell a story with choreography and bodypainting,” says Noel. It’s a truly interdisciplinary Fringe performance: There is also a sculptural installation, theatrical lighting elements, and live music—Philadelphia musician Heather Blakeslee of Sweetbriar Rose will play Joni Mitchell covers as the audience enters.
“We want to transport the audience to a very specific world as soon as they enter,” adds Noel. “The world is Joni Mitchell and paint. Heather and the bartenders will be painted by Natalie before the show starts. The whole project is somewhat of an installation.”
Noel founded Philly PACK in 2011 in South Philadelphia a few years after she and her husband moved to the city from Texas in 2009. “We are primarily an education center for young people who want to study theater and dance,” she says, “and we also offer space for local artistic endeavors.”
For four years Philly PACK was located on Fabric Row in a 900 sq ft storefront, but as the company began housing full-length productions (2017 Vagina Monologues, EarlieBird Productions) Noel saw that it was time to find a larger space. “When I found the garage at 233 Federal Street, it took some imagination,” she remembers. “It was being used as a garage and it had about 20 cars and a boat parked inside. But I knew the garage was our new home. We flipped the garage (pressure washing, painting, lighting, new floors, etc) in May-June 2017 and opened on July 10, 2017.”
Since opening, the PACK garage has seen over 30 productions: Aubrie Costello & Friends, EarlieBird Productions, Big Red & The Boys, Mz. Initiative, and others have produced full-length shows. The converted venue can seat 150, and proved the ideal space for the sisters’ collaboration.
“It’s the perfect venue for this piece,” says Fletcher. “We needed a ‘white box’ theater to visually tell a story with color and movement.”
Noel agrees: “Natalie’s colors, as well as the theatrical lighting really pop in the space.”
Winning the first season of Skin Wars, a body painting competition television reality show on the Game Show Network, netted Fletcher $100,000 prize money. This allowed her to fulfill her dream to travel to all 50 states in the United States and body paint two people in each state. She captured that experience in video and photography and produced an award-winning documentary, Oh Beautiful, and wrote a book by the same name. Fletcher currently resides in Oregon and has launched a career as a tattoo artist, or as she says, “providing permanent body art services.”
Noel has always been a big fan of her sister’s work, “from the moment she first picked up a brush,” as she puts it. “Natalie never just paints for the sake of painting,” says Noel. “She is always saying something, and usually her message is relevant, timely, current, and relatable to many.”
It’s a trait Noel strives for in her own art. “I never choreograph without intention behind the movement,” she says. “Like my sister, I am a storyteller. I use dance, pedestrian gesture, facial expressions and musicality to communicate to the audience. I too use personal experiences to relate to people. I always come back to ‘what am I trying to say here?’”
Performances of “Paprika Plains” will be September 21 and 22 at 7 p.m. at the Philly PACK garage at 233 Federal Street in South Philadelphia. Pre-show entertainment will be provided by Philadelphia performer, Sweetbriar Rose. After each performance, Natalie Fletcher will offer signings of her book, Oh Beautiful. She will have copies of the book available for purchase.
Her sister already has one.
What: Paprika Plains
When: September 21 + 22, 2018
Where: Philly PACK garage, 233 Federal Street (South Philadelphia)
Created by Natalie Fletcher and Jessica Noel