Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Ben and Sydney Camp
On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, listen to Team Sunshine Performance Corporation artist Benjamin Camp discuss getting older with his four year old daughter Sydney, featuring some dynamic costume changes and a rendition of Let It Go from Frozen. Read more about The Sincerity Project #3 (2019), running June 4–8 at FringeArts. Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.
Feature Photo by Jen Cleary. Pictured: Ben and Syndey Camp in the second iteration of The Sincerity Project (2016).
Conversation with Ben and Sydney Camp
Tenara: Hello and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe! FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premiere presenter of contemporary performing arts. I’m Tenara Calem, Audience Engagement Coordinator at FringeArts. I invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence.
Here at FringeArts, our new works series dedicated to local Philadelphia artists called High Pressure Fire Service (or HPFS) is in full swing. At the time this episode comes up, Pig Iron Theatre Company’s A Hard Time will be wrapping up, and you can actually still buy tickets for A Hard Time. It wraps up this Sunday, May 12, and then we’ve got two more HPFS shows going through June. But before we head on into this week’s episode, I’m joined by a very special guest. Special guest, can you say who you are?
April: Hi I’m April Rose, and I’m the Fringe Festival Coordinator.
Tenara: Amazing. So April, you’re joining me today to let our listeners know about a special program that they can be a part of, correct?
April: Yes! So this is a program that we’ve created this year to make up for some losses in microgrant opportunities for artists. So there’s lots of artists participating in the Fringe Festival, and we want to make sure they have access to funding, so we created something called the 2019 Independent Artist FestiFund. So – fun combination of Festival Fund.
April: So we are crowdsourcing funds and working with some community partners to fundraise for independent artists participating in the festival. Artists can register to be supported by the FestiFund on our website under the Artist Resources tab. We ask you to go to festifund.wedid.it. The Independent Artist FestiFund is a project of Culture Trust Greater Philadelphia – so we thank CultureTrust. Go online to donate and if you’re an artist, head to our website to see how you can apply for some funding.
Tenara: Amazing! And when is the Festival registration deadline for independent artists for the Fringe Festival?
April: Independent artists should register by June 3rd. If you’re still looking for a venue, things like that, I can certainly help you, so hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can help anyone out interested in registering.
Tenara: June 3rd is coming up! Oh my gosh, so many things going on.
April: Yes, and there’s lots of ways you can participate – as a visual artist, as a digital artist, you can register your poetry performance. It’s not just theater and dance.
Tenara: Awesome. Thank you April! So now we’re going to zoom back a bit to High Pressure Fire Service, out of Fringe Festival land and back to HPFS. I want to give some context about this podcast episode, which you will notice has a bit of a different tone. So we’re gearing up for Team Sunshine Performance Corporation’s third installment of their 24 year performance experiment, The Sincerity Project. The show, which draws material from its creators real lives, follows the seven-person ensemble through the passage of time. As the piece reflects on aging and growing older, we thought it might be interesting to get one of the creators, Ben Camp, in conversation with someone who’s at a very different life stage than he is – namely, his four year old daughter, Sydney.
So in this episode you will hear many things – cats, some tunes from Frozen, four year olds leaping around the house, Sydney’s mom, and tricycles. Listen in on the sweet pre-school musings on what it means to be older, and also to be Elsa.
Sarah (Sydney’s mom): But this is one of the harder things to do on a kid’s head.
Sarah: Play what, what are you asking, Sydney?
Sydney: I was asking play.
Sarah: Like do you want to play? Instead of me doing your hair?
Sydney: Uh huh.
Sarah: Okay, guess what, I’m going to be done in about one minute. Can you wait one more minute?
Ben: You can say, good job, mom, thanks for your help.
Sydney: Good job, mom.
Sarah: You’re welcome, kiddo.
Tenara: Have you ever seen your mom or your dad perform in a show at FringeArts before?
Ben: Did you see me in a show one time?
Tenara: What show was that? Do you remember?
Tenara: What was it like watching your dad perform in a show?
Sydney: Um. I think it was fun.
Tenara: You think it was fun?
Sydney: And just like a little boring because we didn’t get to play!
Tenara: Yeah, that’s tough.
Ben: That can be a real problem with shows.
Sydney: I go to Elaina’s show with Nana one time and when I just got to sit it was boring but when Nana let me take off my shoes and get to dance and like play during the show, it was more fun.
Ben: My sister Elaina, her show had a sensory-friendly/relaxed performance evening and that was lots of fun.
Sarah: Alright Sydney, guess what. You did it. You have double braids that look incredible.
Ben: They do look incredible!
Tenara: That’s so good!
Sydney: I’m the teacher, you two are the students.
Ben: So Sydney, let’s do a couple more questions and then we’ll play school or we could try to do them at the same time, but if we could do at least one more question before we play school, that might be good.
Sydney: …How was your day?
Tenara: Oh that’s a really nice question to ask, my day so far has been pretty good, but I actually have a question to ask you.
Tenara: Well, this is an interesting moment, right, because your dad is working on a show that as far as I know right now they’re talking about getting older, so I thought maybe I could ask you some questions about getting older. Do you remember being a baby?
Tenara: What do you remember about it?
Sydney: It was fun.
Tenara: It was fun? What was fun about being a baby?
Sydney: Because I love crying.
Ben: Yeah, when you pretend to be a baby now, you do a lot of crying.
Tenara: You remember crying when you were a baby? What’s the first thing you remember?
Tenara: Crying? Ben, what’s your earliest memory?
Ben: My mom – [to Sydney] I see you, you’re sitting on the table, I’m letting you get away with it. My mom was an opera singer, and she was in an opera in which someone utilized a firearm and she passed away. And 30 seconds later, in the opera, she is resurrected.
Sydney: I’M ON THE TABLE.
Ben: I see that. But I, I became hysterical.
Sydney: MAMA, I’M ON THE TABLE.
Tenara: How old were you?
Ben: Like two and a half or something? I became hysterical and they had to take me out, and so I never saw the part where she was resurrected. So I remember being in the car with my like – I don’t remember who it was, with someone in my family, but not my dad – being sad that my mother was gone forever, but also being happy that I was allowed to play with the steering wheel. So that’s my earliest memory.
Tenara: So both of your earliest memories are crying.
Ben: Yes! I was hysterical. And then my mom came back and I was like, I was super thrilled.
Tenara: I bet.
Sydney: Would you like to play?
Tenara: You wanted to play school? You wanted to be the teacher. Is that something you want to do when you get older?
Tenara: Have you thought about it at all?
Tenara: Sometimes it’s okay not to think about it.
Ben: What kind of things do you like to do, Sydney?
Sydney: Um play fair!
Tenara: Play fair? Like play like you’re at a fair? Is that what you mean? What kind of things are at a fair that you like to play with?
Ben: How many fairs have you been to? When did you start going to fairs?
Sydney: Let’s play!
Tenara: I know, you really want to play. You’re really jonesing to play.
Sydney: Let’s play doctors!
Ben: That’s far more common than teacher. Go get your doctor kit, Syd.
Sydney: I can’t get down.
Ben: Well, you got up, so you gotta figure out how to get down. One time, like a year and a half ago, I mentioned like, ‘oh when you’re a grown up and you don’t live with us, you can get whatever pet you want’, and she like, totally teared up and was like, ‘I’m not going to live with you?!’
Tenara: Yeah, I used to get scared about moving away from my parents and living somewhere else.
Ben: With this economy, you’ll never move out! Sydney, can I ask you a question? Do you remember when you were in a show with me? When we were in a show together and we were kind of like under the stage? And we would peak in and see the people getting ready? And sometimes you got to eat a donut? And then we went onstage and we waved at the people and you got to hang out with Aunt Rachel? That was in the second version of the Sincerity Project.
Ben: You don’t remember that?
Tenara: I remember seeing that show, Sydney, but it was for one of the performances that you weren’t there.
Sydney: Were you there?
Tenara: I was there, but it was for one of the performances that you weren’t there for. There was a pillow, instead!
Ben: Oh that’s right. Was it during the day, or was it late at night?
Tenara: It was like 11:30, it was one of the late night performances. And I was like oh, look at the pillow that’s supposed to be Sydney.
Ben: You don’t remember that because it was over two years ago. So you were only one and a half. You were very small.
[Sydney coughs. A cat meows.]
Ben: Ah, the sounds of my house. Coughing, meowing, the dishwasher.
Sydney: Now I’m a bad guy.
Tenara: Sydney, do you ever think about what your dad might have been like when he was three years old?
Tenara: Did you know that your dad used to be three years old?
Ben: Did you know that I used to be a kiddo?
Tenara: Have you seen pictures of him when he was a kid?
Sydney: Did I?
Ben: Maybe only a little, like at Nana’s house or at Granddad’s house.
Sydney: How old was I then?
Ben: Good question. I don’t really remember a specific incident, so I don’t know.
Sydney: [to Tenara] Do you know?
Tenara: I have no idea.
Ben: Yeah, I think maybe not a lot of pictures. It’s kind of hard to imagine that your parents were kids, huh?
Tenara: Let me ask you another question. Do you like getting bigger?
Tenara: What’s your favorite thing about getting bigger?
Sydney: Um…look how strong I am! [flexes her muscles]
Tenara: Whoa so strong!
Ben: Wait, show me again.
Sydney: [flexes her muscles]
Ben: So strong. How did you get so strong?
Sydney: Cause I’m three and a half.
Tenara: How strong do you think you’re gunna be when you’re four?
Ben: When’s your birthday?
Sydney: March 8th.
Ben: And on March 8th how old will you be?
Ben: That will be very exciting.
Tenara: That’s big. That’s really big.
Ben: Do you think we will have a birthday party?
Ben: What friends should be at the birthday party?
Sydney: Everyone but not the bad guys but Gray.
Ben: Okay. So not the bad guys but yes Gray.
Tenara: (to Ben) Do you still have birthday parties?
Ben: For myself? I love birthdays. I think birthdays are great.
Sydney: You should come to my birthday!
Ben: I will absolutely come to your birthday.
Tenara: That’s so nice to invite Dad to your birthday!
Ben: Thank you for the invitation. I definitely plan to attend.
Sydney: Let’s go upstairs to play now!
Ben: Well, I think we’re going to hang out downstairs because Tenara’s still here. I love birthdays, I think birthdays are the best. I think everyone should get a week during their birthday. Sydney, do you remember when you saw me pretending to be somebody, and I was pretending to be someone angry? Remember that part?
Sydney: Tell me about it.
Ben: So I was onstage and I was pretending to be very angry and you thought that that was an exciting part.
Sydney: Who were you?
Ben: I was playing Fidel Castro. In an unlikely turn of events.
Sydney: Who were you in the game?
Ben: When I was in the play? I was pretending to be a person named Fidel Castro. He’s a famous person from another country, and I was pretending to be that person but it was more complicated than that.
Tenara: He’s pretty famous for being pretty mean and angry.
Ben: And that show was about 90 minutes long, and she made it through 35 or 40 minutes of it, which is pretty good!
Tenara: That is pretty good! Which is your favorite kind of show to watch, Sydney, is it one where your parents are on stage or one where you get to watch with your parents in the audience?
Sydney: With my parents in the audience. [climbing on Ben] Okay! Grab on! Pull it off!
Ben: What’s your favorite show that you’ve ever, ever seen?
Sydney: Um, Elaina’s show that I went to with Nana, it was cool.
Ben: That was cool? What was cool about it?
Sydney: STOP IT.
Ben: I’m doing what you told me to. You’ve gotta be more specific about your instructions.
Sydney: STOP IT.
Ben: But you have to tell me what you want.
Sydney: BUT I WANNA GO DOWN.
Ben: Oh. Well, thank you for communicating that. I can’t read your mind. What was your favorite part of Elaina’s show?
Sydney: My favorite part was when Elaina got to be in there.
Tenara: Seeing Elaina onstage?
Sydney: Uh huh!
Ben: If Elaina hears this she will melt. I think Elaina liked having you at the show too.
Sydney: Now pull up!
Ben: You want me to pull up now? Sydney, I have one more question for you.
Ben: Who’s your favorite character to pretend to be?
Ben: I knew you would say that.
Tenara: Elsa from Frozen?
Ben: Can you show us some Elsa?
Tenara: Oh yes please yes please.
Ben: Can you show us some Elsa?
Tenara: Elsa’s the one with the magical powers, right?
Tenara: Okay. I saw that movie once or twice.
[Sydney goes to her costume drawer to prepare for Elsa]
Ben: So Sydney’s favorite thing to do right now is costume changes. On an average day she changes into probably 10 outfits and costumes. It can get up to 20 or 30. It’s constant.
Tenara: How many costumes do you have in there, Sydney?
Sydney: A lot!
Tenara: A lot. How many costume changes have you done in a row?
Ben: I guess Bienvenidos was a lot of costume changes. Cause most of the Team Sunshine shows weren’t costume heavy until Bienvenidos. So that was the most costume changes I’ve ever done in a long time.
Tenara: So I asked Sydney what her favorite thing about getting bigger was and she said it was getting stronger, but I want to ask you what your favorite thing is about getting older.
Ben: That’s a harder question from this age. I don’t know that I am getting stronger. For me personally – and I don’t think this is going to be true for everybody, but I have felt like a parent since I was 14.
Tenara: Are your siblings younger?
Ben: Yeah. But – we didn’t get along, it wasn’t like that. It was just something in my brain that self-categorized as like, parent for a long time before I had a kid, and so for me getting older and having Sydney has been living into an identity that I already secretly was in. For the listeners, Sydney has arrived in a princess dress on a tricycle. Are you gunna do some Let It Go?
[Sydney changes her dress again]
Tenara: And we’re back to another costume change.
Ben: Yep, another costume change. That dress was just for that entrance on the tricycle. Mission accomplished.
Tenara: So, growing into this role of a parent.
Ben: Yeah, I feel like I was meant to be 35 and a parent.
Tenara: This is your golden age?
Ben: I wonder. I wonder what will come next. I don’t know, I’ve always known I wanted to get here. To like, 35 with a 3 year old. I’m like, this is right. So I don’t really know what comes next.
Tenara: Wow. I feel like a lot of people don’t have that experience – like, they might be 35 and have a 3 year old and they’re like, wow how did I get here? Or at least that’s the cultural narrative.
Ben: Yeah, that is the cultural narrative. I don’t feel that way. I was like, how do I get to here? And I had a strategic plan, and it worked. But I think that’s also just what I bring to the table. Perhaps unusual.
[Sydney re-enters in an Elsa dress]
Tenara: Wow, that Elsa dress is beautiful.
Ben: That one’s common.
Tenara: When I was Sydney’s age, my Elsa dress was a Snow White dress, and I did birthday parties number 2, number 3, number 4, and number 5 in that Snow White dress.
Ben: Amazing. When I was Sydney’s age, I didn’t care about costumes at all, and would wear whatever was presented to me. But apparently my mother always used to say that I was going to be an executive or a director because I would never play by the rules presented, I would always adapt them and tell everybody how the rules should change.
Tenara: What do you think she’s going to be? When she gets older? If your mom can say what you were gunna be.
Ben: Maybe a gymnast – she lives to climb and jump, she lives for it. But I think – honestly, she’s incredibly observant, she just notices so much. She’s incredibly argumentative – she like gets the loopholes. She sees systems. Honestly, I think lawyer would be a great fit. She’s very observant. And she can really pick your argument apart. She’s very compelling. But I could also see her in journalism.
Tenara: I was going to say – observant, maybe science.
Ben: Yes, also science. We do lots of experiments. I could see her in science, or engineering. She likes to build and she likes to construct things. Really, anything but the arts would be great.
Tenara: Maybe this is a reductive question, but what kind of life do you hope she leads? What kind of person do you hope she grows up to be?
Ben: I mean, I hope she’s as brave and confident and powerful as she is now. I hope the world doesn’t break her down at all. Cause she’s doing pretty darn well. But when I say that I hope she’s not in the arts, I only mean that if the state of the arts in this country continues. I mean honestly, I wouldn’t advise young people to go into the arts right now.
Sydney: YOU GUYS ARE ANNA AND GO INTO THAT MUDROOM HOUSE OVER THERE TO PLAY THE GAME TOO.
Ben: We’re going to have a tiny bit more conversation.
Tenara: I know, it’s so boring.
Ben: It’s boring. Such is the way. Grown-ups like to talk to one another. It’s how we play. Weird, huh? Will you sing a little bit of Let it Go?
Tenara: Please, please, please, please, please?
Sydney: When you guys go into the Mudroom House.
Tenara: Then you’ll sing?
Ben: Good negotiating.
Tenara: What if I go into the Mudroom House, Dad stays here with the microphone, and you sing?
Ben: If Tenara goes into the mudroom, then will you sing a little bit of Let it Go?
Tenara: Okay cool I’m gunna go to the Mudroom House right now. Okay I’m in it!
Sydney: She’s the Anna and we’re the Elsa’s.
Ben: Perfect, let’s sing Let it Go together.
[Sydney brings Ben a glove.]
Ben: Thanks for this glove.
Sydney: Put it on.
Ben: This glove does not fit me.
Sydney: I think it will, try it on.
Ben: Um…what if I just put in on my fingers like this?
Sydney: No, I think it can fit you.
Ben: That’s as much as it’s gunna go on, sweetheart.
Sydney: No, I know it can fit you. I know. Try it on.
Ben: Baby, look at how big my hand is and look at how big this glove is.
Sydney: Okay, I’ll try to help you.
Ben: I really appreciate it, I just don’t think it’s a matter of desire, I think it’s a matter of physics.
Sydney: Let’s try together. Put your thumb in.
Ben: I don’t want to break this glove, sweetie.
Sydney: It’s not gunna break. It’s not gunna break, honey. You have to be in there.
Ben: That’s as much as it’s gunna go. I promise you.
Sydney: No, it’ll go more if we do something.
Ben: I have 35 years of glove experience and I’m telling you –
Sydney: Okay THERE’S your glove on.
Ben: Perfect. Alright, should we sing together?
Sydney: No I can’t, I have to put my glove on. Or maybe you’ll be an Elsa without a glove.
Ben: All that work and you just took it right back off?! Okay, I’m an Elsa with no gloves.
Sydney: You’re the partner Elsa.
Ben: Okay. I’ll always be your partner, Elsa baby.
Sydney: Thank you, partner Elsa.
Ben: You’re welcome.
Sydney: We will always make ice and snow for people except our sister Anna for people to play on and our sister Anna.
Ben: That’s very kind of us.
Sydney: We will always do that.
Ben: Even when you’re old?
Sydney: You will still be my partner Elsa.
Ben: Great. Ready to sing?
[Sydney and Ben sing Let it Go from Frozen.]
Sydney: Hey, where is she?
Tenara: I’m here, I’m playing with the cat but I’m listening. Do you want me to stand up?
Ben: Yeah, you need the audience. Let’s just go to the chorus! Do you know what the chorus means?
Ben: It means the ‘let it go’ part. Ready? Let it goooo. What are you doing, kid? For the listening audience at home, she’s in a full Elsa dress, including tiara and gloves. She’s using her ice powers to freeze Tenara. And I think she’s looking for her tricycle, though it’s not clear.
Tenara: Thank you for joining us for this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe. Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, and download the FringeArts App! There’s still a couple more chances to catch Pig Iron Theatre Company’s new piece, A Hard Time, running through May 12th. Buy tickets for this and for Team Sunshine’s The Sincerity Project at www.fringearts.com. Thanks for listening!