Happy Hour on the Fringe: 3AM Theatre, Hand to Hand Circus Festival
On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, Zach Blackwood sits down with the brilliant minds behind 3AM Theatre, Kyle Driggs and Andrea Murillo ahead of their Hand to Hand debut. The three discuss the origins of the multidisciplinary performance company, upcoming projects, and the excitement leading up to FringeArts’ Hand to Hand Circus Festival. Experience the Magic of 3AM for yourself June 11—13 at Eventide. And you can support the work of 3AM Theatre by donating to their GoFundMe here!
Zach Blackwood: Hello and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premier presenter of contemporary performing arts. I’m Zach Blackwood, artistic producer here at FringeArts. And today we invite you to pour up a libation and enjoy our conversation with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence.
Zach Blackwood: Today, I’m joined by Kyle and Andrea of 3AM Theatre fame. That’s Andrea Murillo and Kyle Driggs. 3AM Theater is a multi-disciplinary performance company that, among other things, blends together expressive movement and object manipulation. And they will be performing their piece Eventide at the 2021 Hand to Hand circus festival this June. 3AM Theatre is a contemporary circus company based right here in Philadelphia. And their work is super distinct in that it incorporates some really elegant dance vocabulary into the work, and it has this beautiful dreamlike quality that I find particularly compelling. So Kyle, Andrea welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe.
Andrea Murillo: Hi.
Kyle Driggs: Hello.
Zach Blackwood: How are both of you?
Andrea Murillo: Doing really well. Thanks for having us.
Zach Blackwood: We’re happy to have you. It’s been such a weird weather day here in Philadelphia. It was like a full-on
thunderstorm and now it’s really beautiful out.
Andrea Murillo: [inaudible 00:01:32] out there.
Zach Blackwood: And isn’t that a metaphor for everything, right?
Kyle Driggs: Very much so.
Zach Blackwood: I’m so excited to chat with you. And I’ve done, of course, all of my research into who you guys are and why you’re so, so cool. But here I’m going to be an alien who crash landed onto earth. I’ve never heard of you both. So tell me, maybe one at a time, introduce yourselves and then tell me about your individual background as a performer, just to start out. And then we’ll later get into kind of how those two practices intermingle.
Kyle Driggs: Sure. I’ll start. My name is Kyle. I’m one half of 3AM Theatre. I come from a circus background primarily. So I grew up in Philadelphia, and I actually started my circus training at the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts way, way back when, and that was really the beginning of my journey in circus. I continued kind of training recreationally for about five to six years before I was accepted into a higher education circus school in Montreal, Canada called the National Circus School. And then I studied circus there for three
years, and graduated, and moved right to New York City to start performing with some pretty well-known circus companies. So that’s kind of my trajectory through circus over the past 10 to 15 years. My primary discipline is juggling and object manipulation, but I also dance and do some acrobatics and try to incorporate acting and character work into my work as well.
Zach Blackwood: Super cool. I love object manipulation… as my specialty is object manipulation. It does sound a little bit like you move things with your mind. It looks a little bit like you move things with your mind.
Kyle Driggs: Yeah. It’s this really weird blend of puppeteering, magic, and juggling all combined. But really, the sole purpose is to tell stories with objects because objects are so ingrained in our everyday life. And it’s really just how can we heighten that use of those objects to create theater with it?
Zach Blackwood: Ooh. That was a great clip. Let’s start right in. All right. Let’s keep it moving. Tell me [crosstalk 00:04:09].
Andrea Murillo: So I’m Andrea. I grew up in Miami, Florida and was lucky enough to go to New World School of the Arts for both high school and college. And I had really great mentorship there. And I was also fortunate to get into the Martha Graham Dance Company right out of school and did some incredible roles. And I toured nationally and internationally, and I got to dance Lamentation and Serenata Mariska and some lead roles like Steps in the Street and Lilith from Embattled Garden. And when I danced Lamentation, I was 23 and I felt so honored, but then I kind of felt like now what? And so I auditioned for a show called Sleep No More, which was an off-Broadway show in New York at the time. A good friend of mine was in it and I was also very lucky that they took me in.
Andrea Murillo: And that show was really revolutionary I’m sure for me, and for a lot of people. The way they created the immersive theater and the dancing really changed my perspective, especially coming from such a classical company. And then also I was there for about four years. I got to dance roles playing out some of the witches and Lady Macbeth, a lot of shows based on Macbeth. And then searching for something more to grow into. I got into some film work and some writing, and I’ve always been obsessed with magical realism because of my Columbian background. I live my life based off of a character named [foreign language 00:05:52] and I found circus serendipitously in New York. I started getting hired as this eccentric dancer, playing roles in little productions. And that’s where I met Kyle. And I really just fell in love with the magic of it all and what it could offer to storytelling. And that’s what brought me over to Philly, and we started 3AM Theatre.
Zach Blackwood: So, that’s like such an amazing story, both of you kind of rising to these incredible heights in your career and wanting more, wanting different, and then coming together, and choosing to make that together. It’s powerful, and it’s exciting. My ears first perked up to your work, I think around the 2018 Fringe Festival. And that was when The Graveyard Slot and Same Picture, Different Poses happened.
Kyle Driggs: Yes.
Andrea Murillo: Yeah. That was the beginning of it all.
Kyle Driggs: Yeah. That was really the start, looking back.
Zach Blackwood: So, what did that mean for you guys, to start a company together? And what did it feel like at that time, coming out with these two different really cool pieces?
Andrea Murillo: I think for me, it was a lot of learning of each other’s disciplines and finding the respect and the boundaries that we wanted to either break or keep or nurture. We’re two really big people on technique and form and minds, so we knew we wanted to represent that in both the forms, but then we really wanted to find ways to really blend them all. So really it was just diving into process. And I think a lot of it was trying not to depend too much on the outcome, but really just leaning into the process, which is really hard as a creator.
Zach Blackwood: Yeah. Oh gosh. Yeah. It remains really hard, right? Like…
Andrea Murillo: Yeah. Yeah. And Graveyard Slot was really the first presentation of it. Which now you look back and there’s some really great moments that we didn’t really keep, but it was really the first big black strokes of Eventide. And then just developing that work over and over and over again over the years has been really great.
Zach Blackwood: Well, I think something that kind of comes out of those first two pieces is this emerging, like throughline of this work with this deeply cinematic quality. And that brings I think a sensibility of stage pictures and film that is really powerful. And not just any films, like the golden age of silver-screen classics, it feels so kind of nostalgic and forward-thinking at the same time. Like when a dance, or performance, telling a story could be a full feature-length film, and that’s what I get from the work. And also the focus on relationships, on love stories, and the past and the present, and what we can learn. Yeah. There’s so much good stuff in there. It’s like a masterclass in tenderness and I’m really excited to see how all of that has filtered into Eventide. So tell me about that piece. The first time it’s performed under this title is in 2019 in Chicago, right?
Kyle Driggs: Exactly. And I mean, really Eventide grew from ideas found within The Graveyard Slot and Same Picture, Different Poses. That was really the beginning of a lot of work for Andrea and I, and we did a lot of revising and editing and this one kind of cohesive work that was being developed really became the Eventide show. And it has had such a really incredible life, even up to now, before we present at Hand to Hand, we’ve already kind of showed so many different versions of the piece. But now it’s really, really grown into this big, beautiful spectacle that we were so excited to be presenting. But the show really is a story of this relationship, this couple. We get introduced to this couple and we kind of experience one night in their life where they really lived through some pivotal moments in their relationship.
Kyle Driggs: It’s a pretty distinct night and moment in their relationship. And when we meet them, we fall in love with them. We get to know them. We see them as two humble human beings that are very much in love with each other, but then we start to notice some cracks in the relationship. We start to notice some flaws, some miscommunication, and we start to realize that, oh, maybe things aren’t as perfect as they seem between these two people. And from there, we start to kind of unravel the threads of the relationship and start to discover maybe some flaws that the two of them have, and how they reconcile with those flaws, and how they coexist with those flaws. And above all, just what happens when, as a relationship, they reached this breaking point where they realize together, we can’t really continue existing this way anymore, we need to change something. We need to change something in ourselves and in our relationship.
Kyle Driggs: So they take a deep dive into their subconscious, or to this abstract void-like space, where answers become available and truths get revealed. And in that space, they realized that what they were looking for all along, it was right there from the beginning. They just had to decide to open the door into realizing that change. So the show really goes through those kinds of cycles that we experience in a relationship. In long-term relationships, many, many times we actually go through this cycle, I believe, and this show really just tries to showcase in one hour what it’s like to pass through one of those cycles.
Zach Blackwood: Oh, I’m so excited. Yes, that theme is so, so resonant, especially now, when we’ve all been cooped up with our partners and learned all of these new things about people we thought we knew everything about. But it’s also just beautiful and really, really high-level performance and acrobatics. I’m really interested to see all of the different kind of apparatus that are making their way into this piece and how that is all going to come together. Because it’s a spectacle and it feels so large and expansive in scale. It can’t help but, to me, represent the future of this company, as well as the present, it’s just so ambitious.
Andrea Murillo: It is. It is. And part of that comes from, I think, our backgrounds where I was trained to perform in opera houses, and Kyle, one of his first really big jobs in New York City was for Paramount [by] Cirque du Soleil. I think we just think in that way, and we want to project in that way. That doesn’t mean that we can’t make intimate, gestural work. This particular piece though, I think because of the message and the timelessness of the story, does feel epic.
Andrea Murillo: And we added a third performer Luna, who’s a recent graduate of Circadium here in Philly, and she’s really acting as this Greek chorus. And it just kind of keeps coming back to this epic theater, and to this grand idea type of storytelling that I think is really lovely to hold on to. I sometimes feel like pop culture makes us refrain from being that deep, or from being that sensitive, or from being that grand. And I think this piece in particular really holds that space for us as artists. And holds that space for us to project out
and really… yeah, hold on to beauty and grace and love and those rich themes.
Zach Blackwood: Ooh. Loved to see it. That’s so exciting. I’m just… beauty and grace… could use some of that. It’s just been such a wild year. And I think after being kind of in mostly a zoom space, mostly a digital theater space, and not just craving being back in the theater, I’m craving being back in a big theater. I don’t know if you guys know my background, but I used to do a lot of touring Broadway work here in Philly. And so I love a big box musical, I really do.
Kyle Driggs: There’s something so timeless and special about it, about being able to imagine in a large space and about having the production support, that imagination, on a large scale. There is something when it works correctly, that is just so, so beautiful about that I think.
Zach Blackwood: It’s the closest we get to magic. Right? And I think it’s coming back to this idea of like
Kyle Driggs: Exactly what we’re going for.
Zach Blackwood: Yes. Yes. The magical realism, the fantasy, and I think that’s what’s always drawn me to circus. I was definitely like a kid who wore out a Cirque Ingenieux VHS as a child. Because I just, as this young person, I was just like, the scale of this storytelling is what I’m looking for. I’m looking for a high drama. Okay? Show me the material. You all are doing that. I think the circus world is in very, very good hands, as is you are kind of emerging as these superstars. So what’s next for the company? What’s your grand growth plan to take over the world, et cetera?
Kyle Driggs: I think Andrea and I should both answer this question, instead of just one of us. We’ll kind of bo back and forth on it. Eventide really is, we hope, the project that kind of puts us out into the world a little bit. It really is our initial baby that we’re really, really, really aiming to tour nationally and internationally. We would love to represent American contemporary circus with the show and have a chance to show our signature and our aesthetic and things we’ve spent the past three to four years working on. But in the future, we have started the beginning stages of another three-person show, which we will begin working on a little bit more over the summer with another artist. And…
Andrea Murillo: And we’re going to be writing another short film. We do have a film department. We’ve made two short films, we’re working on another one. And we are performing this year at the Chicago Theater Physical Fest again, doing an outdoor performance for a new work in progress. So we’re definitely developing a lot this summer, and we’re so grateful for it. Yeah.
Kyle Driggs: I think a big part of the areas we want to expand into are very much like circus/dance work on film. Because I think film offers specific possibilities that live performance doesn’t, and we’re really interested in pushing that medium and that format. And a big of the company, I think too, is innovative apparatuses that allow us to move and combine circus and dance work on. So I think developing those kinetic, sculptures in a way, to become visual art in a way, or sculptural art, is another very distinct area that we try to incorporate with all of our work. So I think just continuing down that line and keep pushing the ideas.
Andrea Murillo: It’s really like a beautiful… I really drive the narrative and the storytelling. I think 3AM really wants to capture as many stories as we can, and we really want to… Because Eventide was so centered around our personal relationship, we’re both just so eager to tell more and more and more stories about other beings in other parts of the world, and other cultures and other narratives that are just so important to tell right now. And I think Kyle’s sincere interest in developing these visual worlds is really just how we come together. Yeah. There’s really just no end to it. We’re constantly coming up with ideas.
Zach Blackwood: Match made in heaven. So this is a little opportunity to pass the mic a little bit. Who are some artists that deeply inspire you in your work up till now, living or dead, whatever? And then who are some artists maybe in Philadelphia that you just really enjoy watching?
Kyle Driggs: Yeah. I would say Andrea and I share a pretty intimate pool of just artists that inspire us. And three or four names come to mind almost instantly. Those names being James Turay, Robert Wilson, Crystal Quiet, and Martha Graham.
Andrea Murillo: Guillermo Del Toro, Alejandro Inarritu.
Kyle Driggs: Yeah. A lot of visual, very strong visual and technical worlds. Those kinds of creators really, really inspire us. Just when you look at, like Robert Lepage, when you look at somebody’s work and it’s epic in scale, and epic in technique and execution…
Andrea Murillo: Story and intent…
Kyle Driggs: But story and intent, it’s like kind of the trifecta. A lot of the names we listed, we really feel are masters in dance, circus, and theater. Here in Philadelphia, I love BalletX, I love their work. I love Warren Muller, he works at Bahdeebahdu, he’s a sculptor. He’s a long-time idol of mine. Andrea has some…
Andrea Murillo: Colby Damon, he choreographed for BalletX. He’s done some great work.
Kyle Driggs: Yeah.
Zach Blackwood: Oh, we’re so lucky. We live in the best city in the world.
Kyle Driggs: We are.
Zach Blackwood: Truly.
Kyle Driggs: It’s a very vibrant city for the arts, that’s for sure.
Zach Blackwood: I know and soon we’ll be back out there and doing it and seeing work. I’ve gotten very into like making dinner for myself, like everybody else. But yeah, I’m really excited to not be able to do that because I’m out seeing shows like four to five nights a week. That’s when I’ll feel better. When I get sick of hearing applause, instead of every time I hear applause, I cry a little.
Kyle Driggs: Exactly.
Zach Blackwood: That’ll be great. Oh my gosh. So finally, how can audiences listening stay engaged with 3AM Theatre’s work? Is there a way that we can support the company as you continue to break down all barriers between dance, circus, film, and digital media?
Andrea Murillo: Absolutely. You can please follow us on Instagram @3amtheatre, or our website is www.3amtheatre.com. And the company is going to be releasing a GoFundMe campaign for the development of the work, which will be going public in about a week. So that would be really helpful. If anyone can support us in that way, we would be so grateful.
Zach Blackwood: And we’ll go ahead and link all those in the description box below. Well, this has been truly lovely. I’ve
had a lovely time. I can’t wait to see you guys later this week, we’re going to have a fun time. And thank you so much.
Andrea Murillo: Thank you.
Kyle Driggs: Thank you.
Zach Blackwood: And thank you to the audiences at home so much for joining us for this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe. Make sure to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and download the FringeArts App.
Zach Blackwood: Thanks again to our guests from 3AM Theatre, Kyle Driggs and Andrea Murillo. To find out more about Eventide and how you can get tickets to all the great work in the Hand to Hand Circus Festival, click or tap your way to FringeArts.com. Thanks for listening. Bye.