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Happy Hour on the Fringe: High Pressure Fire Service (HPFS) Preview – BONUS Episode!

Posted February 25th, 2020

Health and safety are our number one priorities here at FringeArts, and in compliance with CDC recommendations for staying safe during the Covid-19 pandemic, we will be postponing our 2020 High Pressure Fire Service presentations. More information will be available soon about when HPFS will take place. Happy Hour on the Fringe will continue to come out with podcast episodes about our artists and community partners, so don’t fear — FringeArts is still kicking! Community is crucial in this time of crisis, so please do not hesitate to reach out. 

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, Raina is back with Artistic Producers Katy and Zach to continue their conversation about what audiences can look forward to in our upcoming series High Pressure Fire Service, a presentation of new works from Philadelphia’s leading performers. In this bonus episode you will hear the curators chat about their process and the artistic journeys we’ve traveled with the HPFS artists. Come see High Pressure Fire Service performances April-May 2020!

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Raina: Hello and welcome to this very special bonus episode of Happy Hour on the Fridge. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premiere presenter of contemporary performing arts, and I’m Raina Searles, Marketing Manager here at FringeArts. In our last, most recent episode, we talked about High Pressure Fire Service coming up this April and May featuring new works by local Philadelphia artists. And today, going to keep expanding on that, and talk a little bit more about what goes on in our relationships with these artists and the curation process at FringeArts. So to dive in, we have Zach and Katy, our Artistic Producers back here. 

Zach: What up what up!

Katy: Hello! 

Zach: Yeah, we had so much, kind of, extra content from last time that we just, we kept talking maybe after we wrapped, and we were like, “huh. You know who this might be interesting to, all of you.”  So here you are, with us, for some more kind of insights on High Pressure Fire Service and we hope it’s deeply illuminating as we continue to make choices about your spring cultural calendar. We hope to see you. 

Raina: So our first question is, we can just do a quick recap in case someone didn’t listen to our last episode, the four shows that we’re doing, and then dive into our first question, which is how we determine what these works were that we felt like were thinking deeply and were really socially relevant topics. 

Katy: I will say the most important organizing principle for this particular festival is that it’s local Philadelphia artists. So that narrows the field to a pretty specific range, which is great. So that’s the first thing. All four of the artistic teams that we’re working with are based here in Philly.

Zach: It’s worth noting that all year, our doors are open. If you’re an artist out there in Philadelphia who makes fantastic work, which makes sense because you are an artist living in Philadelphia, you should reach out to us. And we’re always available to get coffee. And then we will talk to you about your work. And that’s a great way to help us, you know, keep a thumb on the pulse, and make sure that we’re kind of in people’s minds as a place where their work might happen. And really, those conversations kind of prompt us, you know, updating our internal brain database, which is not as systematic as you probably think. It’s really just us thinking a lot and keeping a record of our calendars. And then we just kind of looked at everything we’d heard about and selected four that might make sense. And that’s kind of how we made it happen. 

Katy: You know, as Zack notes, you know, it’s an ongoing process. Not as though we sit down in one moment and are like, OK, who got the best internal score? You know, it’s not as though we do it that way, although I do know some curators who do that. But for us, it’s much more of an organic consideration and something that we would like to think is more holistic. So one thing you’ll notice about each of the four artistic groups that we’re working with is that they’re quite different. And we’re really interested in representing the full breadth and diversity of performance that’s happening in Philadelphia. So we have artists who are working across cabaret and clowning and theater and music and dance and visual art and video–

Zach: And poetry, and hypnotherapy

 Katy: And projection — yeah. There’s a little bit of everything and that diversity is important to us as curators, but also reflects the pool from which we are observing and then making some informed choices.

 Zach: It’s also the diversity of subject matter, I mean it’s so much of what makes this festival so deeply special to us and such a joy to curate is thinking about what community relationships might exist within Philadelphia that we might activate in terms of contextualizing the work and thinking about what gives it, you know, we’re talking about these artists as local artists, but I think it’s important to also, highlight the ways that they kind of interface with the community more broadly in their practice and just as citizens. So yeah, thinking about kind of, what subject matter there were approaching and where there might be linkage to what issues kind of remain foregrounded in the local public imagination was also a big consideration.

 Katy: And each of these artists, we really feel are at an important pinnacle moment in their careers. So they are artists who are certainly not new to town, but nor have they been here, you know, for a very long time. There are people who are starting to do something different, to be seen in a different lens, who are pushing themselves creatively and conceptually, and are doing so with really robust teams. Even for a work, that’s a solo piece by Alex Tatarsky, that work is representative of an incredible group of people that Alex has brought with her as collaborators and directors and designers. And we’re really excited to help support and foster these artists as they make new work that seeks to really consider and push forward the entire field – even on a national level. You know, we’re really hoping that people from around the country and around the world will look at this season and be like, “Wow, there is such great work happening in Philadelphia. I’m so excited to be aware of that and to see how they continue to influence other cities and interact with other artists on a much broader scale, too.

 Raina: So we have in our lineup Alexandra Tatarsky, we have Nell Bang-Jensen, and we have James Allister Sprang and we have Kyle Dacuyan with Antigravity Performance Project. And so we’ve talked a little bit about the diversity of what they’re doing, but are you also thinking about them also in conversation with each other when creating a lineup as a whole?

 Katy: Definitely. I think as we mentioned, it’s more organic approach. So specifically, given the way that we’re curating it, it’s about every other week this year, which is great. There are not moments where the artists will be like, you could see one show one day and then another show another day. But even though that proximity in space and in time is not there, it’s definitely something that we’ve seen both through the Camp Fringe residency, where they were very actively sharing theater and rehearsal space together, but also more broadly as we’ve conceived this season. I think particularly in questions of subject matter and thematic, we see a lot of resonance and similarity in questions of consideration of identity, consideration of how meaning is developed and relationship to audience.

 Zach: Questions of power and privilege really kind of our foreground of this as well.

 Katy: Absolutely. And I think what’s also been exciting is to see the artists get to know each other, which really started in Camp Fringe and then has continued to develop, I would say, throughout the last year and a half, really, as the works have continued to mature themselves. And that’s been exciting to see artists. You know, we don’t have an example quite so squarely of an artist working on multiple pieces, which I think is in some ways intentional. You know, we want to include a diversity of voices and have lots of people involved. But I think we can see some resonances for sure between, say, the clowning technique of Alex Tatarsky and some of the movement vocabulary that’s in Legal Tender, in the piece by Kyle Dacuyan and Antigravity Performance project and thinking about both Nell and Alex studied at the Pig Iron School, so there are these unexpected relationships that I think bring it to be a more coherent season.

 Zach: I would also say just that there’s a big kind of magnifying glass on language in this festival. Kind of the power that words have and the kind of slippage in play between, that’s implicit in our language.

 Raina: And all of these featured artists have done work at FringeArts in different contexts, whether that’s performing at Scratch Night, or collaborating on other shows that we’ve presented, or even presenting their work in the independent side of the Fringe Festival. So I’m curious about how FringeArts’ relationship with these artists has changed over time as they take their own journeys, and also in curating HPFS, does that change how we then look at some of our presentations, including like Scratch Night and the Independent Fringe Festival?

 Katy: I think one thing we always like to say to people is that Fringe is a place for many different artists at many different points in the development of their new work. So Scratch Night is a great chance to see it in work in progress in a small format. The independent producing side of Fringe is a great way to see works in a full format, but there’s not a linear ladder. So we’re certainly not saying that, you know, in order to be an HPFS, you have to have done Scratch Night and been in an independently produced show, and then you’ll make your way to HPFS. As you know, it’s not that one and done. But I do think you’re right to note that fringe arts has been a really critical part of the arts ecology and as all of these people are based in Philadelphia and have integrated with that in various different ways, we have been really excited to be a part of their development as artists more broadly, even as some of them have shown parts of these particular works previously and others have not. You know, James showed a small, very early iterance of Turning Towards a Radical Listening at a Scratch Night, almost a year and a half ago now, maybe a little bit earlier, and someone like Nell, you know, has worked on a number of Pig Iron pieces before that have been presented in the Fringe Festival. So I think in some ways it’s a testament to FringeArts and the many different ways it supports the artistic community. And it’s definitely not some kind of rubric by which like you have to have done it in order to be considered.

 Zach: Yeah, I think one thing that’s good about our platform is the open access to it. To me, it’s deeply kind of interesting that an artist can be presenting art one year and then, kind of, you know, present work of a different scale and that’s something that they’ve taken on wholesale another year. And that’s great. And that kind of diversity is deeply important to this field. I think it’s nice that people can be engaged with FringeArts at different scales, at all kinds of different levels, you know, over the course of their career and as they’re developing.

 Katy: And one thing that’s new about HPFS this year is that we are asking each of the artists to show a small portion of their work in progress at Scratch Night. So if you’re curious about these artists and want to get a taste beforehand, you know, we encourage you to check out the Scratch Night schedule for the months leading up to presentations that start in April and continue through May. It’s a great opportunity both to get a sense of the HPFS artists, but also to be introduced to a wider swath of the Philadelphia community.

 Raina: And also a couple Get Pegged appearances as well.

 Katy: We will, yeah! And that, I think, is a super permissive environment that we really enjoy working in. And, so, Kyle Dacuyan is going to do a small something at one of the Get Pegged’s as well as Alex Tatarsky. and I would say all of the artists, or at least the vast majority of them, I can see working in a cabaret space. But for these two artists in particular and knowing the content and the type of work that they’re doing for HPFS, it felt like a natural fit and a great way for them to continue to expand their audience.

 Zach: And for our listeners who might have come to Late Night Snacks last year, at one of the evenings at Late Night Snacks was a Queer Poet’s Theater event, put together in partnership with VOX Populi and Kyle Dacuyan on that evening as well. So it’s just something to think about, kind of the myriad ways in which these artists have interfaced with the Fringe Festival previously. It’s all deeply interesting and I think it provides an additional kind of level of linkage when we’re trying to think about, you know, who might be a great fit for Get Pegged, or somebody who knows John Jarboe already, a pretty good kind of, you know, low hanging fruit there. But we’re always thinking about kind of opportunities for people to continue learning about these artists, to hear their voice kind, to differently contextualize, and also at different points in development. So I think it’s important. Everybody then gets to join them to, kind of, the great journey that we get to go on with an artist, from kind of hearing about the project the first time, to seeing all these iterant developmental versions of the piece, all the way up to the final product. It’s exciting.

 Raina: And I guess one thing, just in terms of positioning HPFS in terms of an artist’s larger body of work, we recently had a conversation on the podcast with our tech and production team at FringeArts and talking a lot about what it looks like to have like, new work that might only be up once or, you know, like, you know, like the recycling of materials because they don’t know when it’s next going to be presented. And so I’d love to also then talk about HPFS and how we want these artists, how we hope that these artists will move forward beyond this spring.

 Katy: That’s a great question. You know, we really see, as I mentioned before, HPFS as a launch pad, I guess we could say in some ways.

 Zach: Yeah, just like a space where the resources are all there for you. Like a tool box almost. You know, and one of the tools that we’re seeking to provide are an extension of our network to these artists. You know, not to say that they don’t know a lot of these presenters themselves, but a lot of these people are colleagues and people who we stay in contact with and have a differently oriented relationship. So what we’re interested in doing is making sure that as many presenters come out here to see this work as possible. Also, as many artists from different communities and locales, just trying to encourage the cross-pollination of all forms of these pieces, continue their kind of onward life cycles.

 Katy: And I will say, you know, these are all new works. And yet, many of them are new iterations of an ongoing body of work or an ongoing lifelong artistic practice. And we hope for artists that they will find ways to make them valuable to them. Whether that means touring or for some artists, you know, they’re very intentionally focused on presenting the work here in Philadelphia to the local audience. And that is part of the conceit as well. So someone like Alex Tatarsky is going to be taking this work then on to Abrons Art Center in New York, which is fantastic. Someone like James Allister Sprang previously had a residency in a series of performances, an earlier iteration of this piece at The Kitchen in the fall and will continue touring thereafter. And I know, you know, the other teams who are part of HPFS are working on opportunities around that as well. So as Zach said, as much as we’re able to be supportive and to help connect people, that is definitely our goal. But touring is not the only sign of success, I would say. I think we’re more interested in the creation of new work and how that’s germinal to a broader artistic career. But if touring is part of that for someone, we’re happy to help make that happen.

 Raina: Our final question, because we will be having all of our artists on the podcast in the coming couple of months, and we’ll be learning all kinds of new things about what they’re doing and also pairing them with community partners, who can also give some insight into the topics that will be present their piece. So I’m kind of curious, since you two are so close to the work already, what are you most excited to learn from those conversations with artists?

 Katy: I think, you know, we have been in rehearsals with these artists, we continue to be in touch with them almost weekly, as the work develops. But we can’t be in the rehearsal room all the time. So there are always unexpected insights or developments that we’re curious to hear about in the podcast.

 Zach: I’m so deeply interested to hear about continuing research, you know, because some of these artists are, all of these artists are really tackling subject matter that is uniquely relevant right now, but also coming from fields where developments are happening relatively quickly and discourse is advancing pretty quickly. So I’m really interested to see, kind of, what additional kind of research insights people are bringing with them.

 Katy: Maybe one thing that’s also exciting is that through the work with our Community Engagement Manager, Tenara, these artists are each also being connected with community engagement partners. And we’ve found in the past that that’s often incredibly generative on both sides, both for our community partner and for the artist. And so that’s always exciting for us to get some further information about how those conversations and workshops and introductions have given them an opportunity to further reflect or have different perspective on the work too.

Zach: A great example, we’ll be doing a series of nonsense panels around the work of Alex Tatarsky, and I’m deeply, deeply excited to be there as a person who loves and practices nonsense daily and personal lives.

 Raina: OK, great. Well, thank you so much for sharing some additional insights on High Pressure Fire Service. We’re excited to launch this series April 2nd with Alex Tatarsky’s [SIGN FELT]: Sad Boys in Harpy Land, and continuing on through May 17, including also a two part workshop with Emily Bate. Tickets are already on sale. You can also subscribe to see all four shows at And be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and download the FringeArts app.

 Zach: Thanks for joining us for a happy hour or sappy hour, or whatever it was this time. 

Katy: And hope to see you here soon!