Happy Hour on the Fringe: Producers Circle
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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Producers Circle

Posted November 21st, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, we sat down with some of the people who help give life to the arts in Philadelphia and FringeArts as an organization. Jane Pepper and Christie Hartwell are longtime Fringe fans who are also a part of the FringeArts Producers Circle, a cohort of dedicated supporters who help us present the most ambitious performances while expanding our audience and accessibility to the broader community.

Jane and Christie share their introductions to FringeArts, back when we were just the Fringe Festival, their favorite experiences over the years, and the importance of supporting the arts.

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.


[Music Intro]
Jenn: Hello and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premier presenter of contemporary performing arts. I’m Jennifer Shorstein Development Manager here at FringeArts.

Jarod: And I’m Jarod Hughes, the podcast production intern here at FringeArts. We invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversation with some of the most imaginative people in the plane of existence.

Jane Pepper posing with

Photo by Kevin Monko. Jane Pepper (right) at the 2019 FF VIP Opening Night

Jenn: Here at FringeArts, we want to acknowledge our Producers Circle members that help make everything we do here at FringeArts possible. So today we’re talking to Jane Pepper, who is a member of our Producers Circle. Welcome.

Jane: Thank you. Delighted to be here.

Jenn: So first question we always ask, what are we all drinking?

Jane: I’m drinking water and I’m thrilled to have good Philly water.

Jenn: I’m rocking a Sprite Zero today.

Jarod: I’m not having anything at the moment.

Jane: He’s a teetotaler today.

Jenn: So first question, what was the first show and or year, if you can’t remember the show, that you attended the Philadelphia Fringe Festival?

Jane: Well, you’re really stretching my memory, but I would say I was here maybe on the second or third year of your existence. And the reason I got interested in the Fringe was because I grew up in Edinburgh. And when I saw my adopted city adopting something from my native city, I thought, “I have to go and check this out.”

Jarod: That’s really cool. So you just decided to just come stop in and see a Fringe show while you were here?

Jane: Well, I started to see promotions for it during the time when you just had the one week. And there were a lot of interesting sounding things that I had no knowledge of and I thought it would be a wonderful way to try to figure out why. I didn’t know Nick Stuccio at that point, why the developer of the Fringe wanted to copy what was going on in Edinburgh.

Jarod: That’s really cool.

Jenn: Do you have any particular favorite moments from Fringe festivals past?

Jane: Yes. I became a huge fan of Junk, Brian Sanders’ Junk performances, thanks to the Fringe. And I will never forget, you did one up on Spring Garden street and all of the dancers were dressed in robes like monks and they were trampling in water and I’d never seen anything like that before. So that was the start of my interest. And I think Brian does fabulous stuff still, but that was one of my first … Probably not one of the first, but one of the shows that really sticks in my mind.

Jarod: Can you talk about initials from this year that might’ve been one of your favorites or anything you really were interested in the most this year?

Jane: Well, I like to come to the dance performances because that’s one of my favorites. And also there are always different, you always have different dance companies, And I would say Anne Keersmaeker, is that how you pronounce it? That was one of the ones that I found really interesting. I wouldn’t say it was one of the things that I was totally in love with, but the fact that they kept on doing that repetitive motion with such incredible skill was really interesting to me. And I love the way that the Fringe brings performances here for me to see very close to home that I would never see under any other circumstances.

Jarod: So when did you become a member of the Producers Circle at FringeArts and why did you decide to joint?

Jane: I guess, well, as you’ve developed your development function, you’ve introduced new ways of giving to the Fringe. And to me this was an interesting way to participate. This year, I think I sponsored Úumbal, the dance performance that went throughout the streets of South Philly, was it?

Jenn: Yeah.

Jane: Yeah, so that was interesting. And I just had a woman come up to me the other day, I didn’t know she was there, but she said, “I saw you at Úumbal.” So you never know who else is going to be in the audience.

Jenn: Wonderful. Can you tell us why you think it’s important to donate to the arts?

Jane: I’m a huge art supporter in Philadelphia. I mean not financially but emotionally. And I just think this is something that brings so much to our community and it involves people from all different backgrounds, all different generations. And as I get older, I get more and more interested in seeing young people participating. And the Fringe is particularly special, I think for young people because the tickets have been kept affordable, somewhat, depending upon what stage you’re in. But I love to … I sit next to somebody who’s 40 years younger than I am and that’s really satisfying for me to see them becoming involved in the arts because I hope then that that’s a tradition that they’ll do with their families and as they grow older they too will be able to support it.

Jenn: I think you already started talking about this a little bit, but how has FringeArts impacted any aspects of your life?

Jane: Allowing me to see, as I said, performances that I would never have a chance to see, or never know about. And I would say that that’s one of the interesting things. I like to get paper catalog to go through it because I find it totally overwhelming online. And so I thumbed through and marked them up and then try to figure out, you have so much going on that you have to figure out a schedule that you can fit them all in. And so I just … It’s sort of a ritual of early, mid September when FringeArts is going on, that it’s a great time to be in Philadelphia.

Jarod: That’s really cool. So what is your favorite thing about being a Producers Circle member at FringeArts? Like what is something that you just love? Like being in the meetings or stuff like that, that you just love to do?

Jane: I just like to be part … I like to support it because to me it’s important and you can give in a lot of different ways, but to become identified with a particular event gives me satisfaction.

Jenn: Wonderful. As someone who listens to the podcast, have you had any favorite episodes?

Jane: Well, I’m fairly new to the podcast. And I did listen to some of them this summer and it intrigued me and now my memory is going to leave me but I know that there was one that I hadn’t signed up for. And after I heard the podcast, I thought, “Well, I need to go to that.” So I think it’s a great way to get people intrigued about what you’re planning to do.

Jane: And listening to the artist talk is always incredible to me because I just never understand where people have their imaginations come from. And they could be in a different part of the world and here they are talking about the performance piece that they’re going to put on in Philadelphia.

Jenn: What are some other organizations that you were involved with in locally or elsewhere?

Jane: Well, I used to work for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, so I love that. And the art museum, the Barnes, also things like the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. So there’s so many things to do in Philadelphia that it’s always an exploration. And I’ve, for example, I’ve never been to a performance of Azuka, I don’t know if that’s how you pronounce it, theater, so I’m going to do that this fall. So in Philly you can never get bored if you have enough time. There’s just an endless series of things that you could do.

Jenn : And the big question, how many shows are you able to see this festival?

Jane: Well I was away from part of it, which was dreadful, but that was what the schedule required. So I would say I saw maybe five. And then in the summer, I came to one of your circus performances. And before you did that, I had no idea that there was a circus arts school in Philadelphia. So those are the kinds of things that you introduced to me that as I say, I probably wouldn’t have known of in another situation. So keep being innovators and keep doing things that will help people who are a little more sort of out of the … I’m not part of the art scene, I would say, but you allow me to participate in that.

Jarod: That’s really cool. So you were talking about it earlier, like how … Or how has art really influenced you throughout your whole life? Like is it something that you’ve always been a part of or you just started getting into it towards like as you just continue to get older? Like how has art been?

Jane: I think … I’m retired, so I have more time. So it’s allowed me to develop more interests. I mean, before it was fairly traditional, I’d go to the orchestra, I might go to the theater a couple of times a year, but having more space in my life allows me to just experiment more. And with the Fringe, you have to experiment because there are going to be some performances that I absolutely don’t understand and it’s good that you offer talk backs and educational pieces that go with it, the podcast among other things, because then people who have a limited understanding of some of the more contemporary performances have an opportunity to grant themselves a little bit in what the artists are achieving.

Jenn: Jane, thank you so much for coming in and for being a member of our Producers Circle and appreciating and engaging with FringeArts as you do.

Jarod: And we’re back. Next, we sit down with Raina Searles Marketing Manager and Tenara Calem Audience Engagement Coordinator here at FringeArts to interview Christie Hartwell, another Producers Circle member.

Christie Hartwell laughing

Photo by Kevin Monko. Christie Hartwell (center) at the 2019 FF VIP Opening Night

Tenara: So today we’re talking to Christie who is a member of our Producers Circle. Welcome, Christie.

Jarod: Last we recall, you were talking about how you wanted it to resonate with the people. I just want to get a feel. How do you want your audience to get understanding of what you’re showing when the event happens? More so, what do you want them to experience, to take away from it all?

Christie: Thank you.

Tenara : So this is … The title of our podcast is Happy Hour on the Fringe. So of course our first question is always, what are we drinking? Knowing that it’s noon right now, I think that that answer can go to many different ways, but are you drinking anything wherever you are, Christie?

Christie: I am. I’m drinking LaCroix coconut water, which my 15-year-old son calls mom drink.

Tenara : That’s great though. I love that.

Raina: Is LaCroix a mom drink now or is it what you always drink?

Christie: No, I think he and his friends, apparently like the mothers of teenagers right now, this is the popular drink.

Tenara : Good to know. I always like a LaCroix as well, so it’s important to know what people are reading into that.

Christie: I have, seriously.

Raina: And so, I’m having a cup of peach passion tea. It’s in a tumbler that I filled all the way up and it’s definitely cool now.

Tenara : And I’m drinking nothing, I’m quite satisfied right now, so I don’t need anything to quench a thirst.

Raina: Yeah, and you have some fruit in front of you.

Tenara : I do have fruit, I have many slices of melon in front of me, which feels important. Great. So diving right in, we’d love to just talk to you about your experience with the Fringe festival and with FringeArts. So if you can think back, do you remember the first show that you saw in the Fringe festival?

Christie: I do, actually. I go all the way back to the first year of the festival. I didn’t know anything about the festival and I was seeing Melanie Stewart at the Annenberg the year before and she was performing in the first year of the festival. And I think the show might have been called something like “Trapture”? And so I followed her. I didn’t know anything about the festival. And she and a group of dancers, including Paul Turner, and I don’t remember who else, they were all bound in some way that affected how they were able to move in the space and interacting. And I learned about the festival through the program that was passed out that night. And the following year, I ended up attending eight or 10 shows and have been a huge fan ever since.

Tenara : Wow, that’s amazing that your relationship with Fringe has like been since the beginning. That’s so great. Now correct us if we’re wrong, but you actually don’t live in Philadelphia, is that correct?

Christie: Not anymore. I lived in Philadelphia until about 10 years ago. And I live in Virginia now. And when I moved away, I thought, “Wow, I’m sad to see this connection end.” But then I realized that Philadelphia is still only a short drive or train ride away. So I still come up for a couple of weekends every festival and make the connection that way.

Tenara : Well, we have to say, we really appreciate your dedication to us and being able to come even from so far away. That’s great. And you came this year for the festival, correct?

Christie: I did, yes.

Tenara : What was your favorite show that you saw this year?

Christie: Goodness, what was my favorite show? The one that was probably the most memorable was the … And I’m blanking on his name, but the former … The dancer who used to dance with Brian Sanders, who did the very bloody show in North Philadelphia. What is his name? It was a Fringe … And I’m, gosh-

Raina: Is it Gunnar Montana?

Christie: Yes, Gunnar Montana. Why can’t I think? He’s so memorable, why couldn’t I think of his name? But yes, that was probably the most memorable of the shows just because of the transporting nature of it all. But I also, the Wooster Group was the other one that really, really sent me quite a bit, the b-side.

Raina: Yeah, that was really beautiful. I do think it’s interesting though, because one of the things that I feel like we’ve seen a lot and especially that I’ve seen a lot from the marketing perspective is that so many people hear about our festival and hear about our programming through an artist. And so looking especially at our independent artists, but also the curated artists that we’re bringing in, there are people who are following an artist or have a friend in a show and so they come to see a random show in the Fringe festival and then they kind of hear about the rest of everything that’s happening after they’ve seen a show already.

Christie: Right.

Raina: And so I think it’s so fantastic that you’re going out and supporting actually the curated works but also the independent works. Has that always kind of been really important for you, is seeing like as many shows as possible in the festival?

Christie: I do think it is important. I have, particularly since I’ve moved away, I do tend to see more of the curated shows because I just, I know the caliber and the quality of the shows that are brought to the festival in that way, and since my time is more limited, I tend to see more of those shows. But I almost feel like I haven’t really done Fringe if I haven’t taken more risks and if I don’t get at least one like sort of oddball clinker out there, I haven’t taken enough risks with it. So I do try to get a few random new things and discover something exciting and unusual. But the more you have your favorites out there, it’s hard to fit everything in once you’ve started going year after year, there are so many amazing local artists that do such remarkable work year after year in the festival. And then repeat artists that come back to the Fringe, Even this year again, Nature Theater of Oklahoma is a huge, huge favorite of mine. And one of my favorite Fringes of all times was the year that they did Life and Times and just how many hours spent in that extensive multi-performance. Time there in the Wilma just hanging out and eating barbecue out on Broadstreet and just being with them for so many hours of wonderful, wonderful theater. And when they come back, they’re a must do kind of thing.

Tenara: I’m curious because your … So now that you are traveling to Philly for the Fringe festival, like you said that you come for … How long do you tend to stay when you come to Philly? Like this time around to see the festival.

Christie: I tend to come at least two weekends from Thursday through Sunday. And will pack in as much as I can over the course of those couple of weekends. And some of the other very dedicated longterm fringe supporters, we tend to start texting in the summer and comparing notes on–uh, Ed in particular has his spreadsheet and starts sending it around of who’s going to see what when. So we’re running from show to show and barely having time to eat between.

Tenara: Well it sounds a lot like our schedules during that festival season . And so that sort of dovetailed into my question, which is, I know what it feels like for me as somebody who works in the organization, what it feels like to be saturated with so much performance in such a short amount of time. But I’m curious, as somebody who has been a long time supporter of FringeArts, how does it feel to be filling your time so intensely with art and performance?

Christie: Well, it is. It’s a very, it’s almost like, to use sort of a food analogy, it’s kind of like a buffet of time of when you’re kind of feasting on this a variety of things and you go from something that’s really dark and serious and gloomy and to something that’s bright and cheerful and hilarious and you laugh your head off and just something else where you’re like, what the heck is that? And it is a little bit draining at the same time as energizing. And so I tend to come away refreshed and invigorated from this period. Every September, I do make it a priority in my schedule and find that this time is something worthy of carving out a time in my life. And I’m delighted that in recent years that FringeArts has become more of a year-round type of thing, so that as my work travel kind of takes me through and around the Philadelphia area that I can pop in for a show here and there and not just in the fall type of thing.

Tenara : Right. Do you feel like the energy that you store for watching all of this amazing art, do you feel like that … Like do you see art during the year in Virginia as well or are you like, got to save it all for the Fringe festival, and anytime you’re in Philly, there’s a show there too?

Christie: Performing art is a big part of my life year-round. And any opportunity I have to see live performance, I … That it fits in my schedule, I take it. There’s something different about the festival and I feel like it being part of FringeArts and being in the midst of this, we’re watching an art form evolve. And being part of it, whether it’s taking the behind the curtain opportunities with the talk backs or interacting with the artists late night at La Peg and seeing some works that are more in process, it’s a little different than going to a performance even on a fairly regular basis through the year. And so, even though I’m a fairly regular attendee of arts performances, this is a little different for me.

Raina: So I think you may have already answered it, but just to very specifically ask, what made you decide to become a member of my Producers Circle and when did you make that choice?

Christie: I don’t remember when I decided to make that choice. Probably early on when Producers Circle started and as I was able to participate. I think this is the work that FringeArts is doing is very important to Philadelphia, is very important to arts in general, nationally and internationally. And I think I feel very privileged to be able to support in a small way that happening. And I get a lot out of it. And then I feel like the arts in general, the performing arts in general, I worry that it’s operating at the extremes or has been operating at the extremes. It’s either on the one hand, very plastic and commercial and yet … I mean, I love the Nutcracker as much as anybody else, but it’s very plastic and commercial and canned and exactly the same, or so ridiculously studious and serious only for the intelligentsia and very serious theater students and very rich philanthropists on the other end. And there’s no room in the middle for the average Joe or people who could have their lives enriched by performing art. And I feel like FringeArts does that. And even though probably the audiences and the participants aren’t as diverse as what you’d like them to be, eventually, I think they’re far more diverse than what you see in the traditional American theater, commercial theater in other places. And I think that’s a really fantastic and encouraging thing.

Raina: Yeah. Well, I think it’s also great to hear about all the connections that you’ve made with other people in the Producers Circle, sharing your schedules and coordinating and getting together. Did you know a lot of the other people involved when you first joined the Producers Circle or are those friends that you made through FringeArts?

Christie: They’re absolutely friends I made through FringeArts, people that you start seeing the same faces around at various things year after year. There’s Shelley Green is one person who about eight or 10 years ago, I didn’t know her at all. And all of a sudden, one year we had virtually identical schedules and kept walking into the theater and oh my gosh, there she is again. And so we started chatting and now we see one another every year and chat again.

Tenara : So you’ve already spoken a little bit about this, but maybe if we can sort of revisit that part of the conversation, but can you talk about why you personally feel like it’s important to donate and support the arts? We’re getting ready to do some big end of year appeals and we want to make sure that people know that the work that we do is totally … It’s not possible without other people’s support. So yeah, we’d love to hear from you about what motivates you to support the arts.

Christie: Well, I think the arts, I feel like creativity and … Arts is a way to dig into things that are important in life. And I see as you experience, if you look at September festival time, unintended themes emerge based on what’s going on in society around us because the artists are influenced by what’s going on in the world around us and they are working on and cracking open in a different way, important themes, whether it be the impact on technology. And I remember very vividly the post-911 world that very next year and acceptance of the LGBTQ community and other things like that that come along. And I feel like the creative arts is an important venue that contributes to our world and contributes to our society. Not as this separate bubble that exists in a box over here that’s this nice adjunct that we do as entertainment, but it’s a critically and vitally important part of life.

And so the more that I work in healthcare, and so the health and wellbeing of people, and I work in children’s healthcare and I want children to grow up in a world that has that and their health and wellbeing is inspired by their ability to have creative outlets and to be able to express themselves creatively. And so, the more that we have organizations like FringeArts that are taking creativity and the arts into the broader world and the broader forum, the better we are as a society and a community. And so I think it’s really important that all members of society are supporting

Tenara : Yeah, I can’t remember which country I read about this in, I think it’s either the UK or Canada, but they recently published like a lot of research and information about exactly what you were talking about, the relationship between the arts, arts programming, arts education, and on holistic health within kids but also just like their general population. And sort of the conclusion that they came to was that the arts are a part of health and wellbeing and it’s just, it feels like that’s something I’d really like to see more of in our community, and understanding that we need to support and invest in our arts communities because they contribute to overall health and wellbeing.

Christie: Right, right. Well, and even, I think of like the very first piece that he brought to the festival about the man caring for his aging father. And that is part of the cycle of life that every human being deals with and just kind of see that in a different way and experience that in a different way and how what a human story that is and told out and an ability to kind of learn something and experience something in a really non-traditional way that without FringeArts working their way up to that, I’m not sure that Philadelphia was probably ready for until you’d done some groundwork, prepping for him, relatively speaking. That’s a really important story and a really important message.

And there just so many different avenues and ways we’re talking about health. But if you’re talking about education, the Elevator Repair Service’s take on Gatz or take on Hemingway, that like is a much more sort of interesting and vibrant way of experiencing literature than maybe another dry reading of a book that you might hear of somewhere else. And so just adding so much more richness to the way that we layer in things that are part of our history. I just, I get so much out of it from so many different ways and I wish more people would plug in. I’m always shocked when I come to Philadelphia and I get off the train at 30th street and hop in the cab and people don’t even know the festival is going on. And I’m like, how is that possible?

Tenara : Well, you’re doing some very vital work to make people aware.

Raina: Yes, please keep telling all of your taxi cab drivers. I like, yeah, that’s where I work, it’s FringeArts. So we don’t want to keep me for too long, but one of the questions that we normally close out with when we’re speaking to artists is their highbrow and lowbrow inspirations for making art. And so I’m wondering for you if there are one or two maybe more shows, because you’ve already mentioned so many, but if there are any shows that have really inspired you in various ways and made you take something back in your life or really reflect on something that you’ve seen throughout the years?

Christie: Well I’m not sure so much … I think some favorites, I guess, I’ll take it more in that way, Jerome Bell is one that I was really, the show must go on was one that so inspired me, kind of the the artist in every person of everyday movement and how breaking down that fourth wall and making the entire venue part of the experience part of the performance and breaking down that performer versus audience member in a way that was beautiful and a little bit uncomfortable because one of the things that I thought was so interesting was in the talk back after the show must go on. One of the young performers who I think was a university of the arts student was talking about being a little bit taken aback or uncomfortable that the audience was like moving around or doing stuff in reaction to one of the songs where she felt as though … Like, I mean she didn’t express that quite this way, but that according to the rules they were supposed to be watching the performers, play by the rules as the audience member.

And I thought it was so interesting because this was coming from a very young person and I thought, she’s been programmed in her education and her teaching where he as a choreographer is blowing this up yet she’s responding from a very traditional dancers kind of kind of perspective. And it’s like wow, what an interesting kind of dynamic on that. And it gave me much more food for thought because I loved the performance and it gave me some food for thought and then her comment in the talk back also gave me some more food for thought. So it was interesting.

Tenara : That’s awesome.

Raina: Yeah.

Tenara : We like Jerome Bel over here.

Raina: Big fans.

Christie: Yeah, and another favorite that’s just Jo Strømgren, and that made up language, fun stuff with The Convent was just like so, how like transported to like take you away from your reliance on the English language and just to like get such a fabulous story out of it. I think I went to The Convent three times because I loved it so much.

Tenara : Wait, say the title again. The Convent?

Christie: The Convent.

Tenara : Man, I love it when you have to go see, I’ve done that before. I’ve seen a show once where I was like, well got to see it again.

Christie: Yes, indeed. Yeah, I think I skipped something else. So I probably missed something wonderful but I had to go back.

Raina: I had a friend in 2017 when we did HOME by Geoff Sobelle, I remember I was seeing it for the Saturday night performance and she couldn’t make it, so she went to go see the Friday night performance, but then she ended up canceling her plans the next day and seeing both the Saturday matinee and the Saturday night performance because she loved it so much. And when I saw it, I was like, I wish I had done what she did and like come back three times so I could see all the different perspectives. So it was a show that like you just had to see more than once and then get a feel for everything that was going on on stage.

Christie: I know. My sister missed it. She often comes up, she lives here in Virginia and she often comes up with me, and that was one that she missed and I was, I said, “Carrie, you missed a good one.”

Tenara : Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Christie, for joining us for this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe.

Christie: Well, thank you. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it. It’s always fun to reminisce and think back and I look forward to my next Fringe [crosstalk 00:36:21].

Tenara : We look forward to seeing you around the theater. Thank you again.

Christie: Thank you.

Tenara : Bye, Christie.

Christie: Bye-bye.

Jenn: Thank you for joining us for this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe. Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and download the FringeArts app. Visit fringearts.com to see all of our upcoming programming. Thank you for listening.

[Exit music]

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