FringeArts Blog

Get Involved with FringeArts: Conversation with Volunteer Dennis Hallda

Posted August 24th, 2019

Love the Fringe Festival and FringeArts? We’re always looking for volunteers, during the Fringe Festival and throughout the year. Usher a dance performance, collect tokens at a circus festival, or distribute programs at a play. The opportunities are endless; the art is spectacular! There is no minimum commitment and we welcome arts lovers ages 14-and-up. We spoke to longtime volunteer Dennis Hallda about his experiences.

FringeArts: How long have you been volunteering for FringeArts?

Dennis Hallda: Twelve years. I have T-shirts from every year in every color of the rainbow.  My favorite was 2013!

FringeArts: What do you like about the Fringe Festival?

Dennis Hallda: Everything. The originality, the talent, the great venues, the staff. There are so many wonderful shows and venues throughout the city … if only we could see them all.

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2019 Fringe Festival Spotlight: Digital Fringe

Posted August 23rd, 2019

In addition to the free pieces listed here, this year’s Fringe Festival features fourteen free digital shows. Find some Wi-Fi and explore some online art in this Digital Fringe spotlight.

Ancestral Movements
Breanna Moore
Highlighting traditional African dance forms and modern dance forms of the African diaspora, Ancestral Movements expresses the dance experiences of the enslaved who were forced to dance on the decks of slave ships and on the auction block, and explores how they used dance as a source of spiritual strength.
More info

ArtDates
Miryam Coppersmith
ArtDates attempts to stop the cycle of meeting potential collaborators, talking about performing together, and then never being able to make it happen. Collaborators meet for just a few hours on one day and make something from scratch, creating a digital artifact to mark the collaboration’s completion.
More info

Dear Friend Society 
Loretta Gary / Radical Hearts Print Lab
Dear friend,
Have you heard about our new society yet? If you’re looking to spread more positive energy or you’re in search of a little pick-me-up, feel free to stop by anytime. We’ve saved space just for you!
With love, the universe
P.S. You’re worthy just as you are.
More info

Grasslands With Out Time  
Grasslands With Out Time
Podcast woven with photography exploring a digital nature-world through surrealistic fiction and images that strike a chord.
More info

 

If You Can’t Make ’em Laugh, Make ’em Cum: The Life Story of a Thieving, Whoring Saint    
James Bradford
Equal parts hilarious and dark, this autobiography of actor, singer, comedian, and filthy whore James Bradford details a life spent on the stage and TV screen and behind closed doors as an escort. The one-of-a-kind audiobook features traditional readings plus live storytelling, intimate Q&A sessions, and comedic retellings of the written version.
More info

The Island
Shawn Pierre
Rescue your friends from the peril they encountered on their vacation. You can only use your voice and your wits to uncover the secrets of the Island.
More info

Kingdom of Oz: An Immersive Audio Experience
REAL Immersive
Dorothy’s gone home. The Wizard’s in the wind. Many Ozians seek to claim the Emerald Throne. Will the wise Scarecrow ascend to lead? Does the Tin Woodman’s heart yearn for power? What sinister players lie beyond the Great Sandy Waste? Will you help discover the rightful ruler of Oz?
More info

Mad Deep Dish
Die-Cast
Mad Deep Dish will premiere with the 2019 Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Online menu available September 6th at Midnight at Die-castphilly.org/mad-deep-dish
More info

 

memerememberme
williamCromar
Concrete poems scripted through randomization and memetic engineering.
More info

 

Pseudoverse
Pseudonym Productions
Pseudonym Productions presents an interactive adventure into the unexpected. Join our new layer of reality: the Pseudoverse. A game with no controller. A state of mind. An opportunity to be yourself—or whoever you wish to be. A companion to Question Reality, our physical Fringe Festival experience. Play either or both. Your choice.
More info

Suspended Lives / Vidas Suspendidas
Puentes de Salud
Recent Mexican immigrants and the children of immigrants created life-size self-portrait sculptures to interpret their identities and transborder lives and to describe their memories, emotions, and fears related to migration. View these sculptures at the Fringe Festival Bookstore at Cherry Street Pier, FringeArts, and Christ Church Neighborhood House (where you can also see the companion Curated Fringe show Cartography). Use the QR codes which accompany the physical sculptures to visit the accompanying webpages and hear the artists share their stories in their own words.
More info

Thimble: Staged
Thimble Literary Magazine
Poetry can be performance. Performance can be poetry. To explore this relationship, Thimble Literary Magazine recorded a series of podcasts in which poets and actors read poetry, discuss the creative process, and explore common ground.
More info

The Upstage
Ann Marley
New plays from new voices. This podcast is dedicated to telling stories by and about artists of diverse backgrounds. The Upstage produces play readings and interviews with playwrights to aid in exposure for artists and to spread awareness of social issues. Join our community.
More info

Voicemail Poems
Voicemail Poems
An online magazine and podcast that highlights the intimate and raw voices of new and established writers of all styles. Poets submit to the magazine by reading their work to a voicemail box. Our favorites are picked seasonally and published on our website and our Soundcloud. We also publish a specially hosted podcast episode after each issue.
More info

View our 2017 and 2018 Digital Fringe works online.

2019 Fringe Festival Spotlight: FREE Fringe

Posted August 22nd, 2019

FringeArts is committed to making contemporary art available to all. In addition to our Digital Fringe offerings, this year’s Fringe Festival features over a dozen free shows from a variety of disciplines. Enjoy theater, visual art, dance, and more without spending a dime!

A Manayunk Mystery Tour
Manayunk Theatre Company
It was a dark and stormy night when a young woman from Manayunk mysteriously went missing … AND WAS MURDERED!!! Follow Manayunk’s finest private investigator, a child genius turned conspiracy enthusiast, and a VERY serious podcast reporter as they try to solve the MURDER of Manayunk’s Missing Millennial.
More info and tickets here

BalletX Pop-Up
BalletX
This series of free performances by Philly’s premier contemporary ballet company comes to FringeArts for a one-off al fresco presentation. With over seventy world premieres to date, you don’t want to miss this exhibition of the company’s signature repertory.
More info and tickets here

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: FringeArts Ambassadors

Posted August 20th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, Ambassadors Josh and Meesh to talk about their 2019 Independent Fringe Festival picks. 

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Conversation with FringeArts Ambassadors Josh and Meesh 

[Music Intro]

Tenara: Hello, and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premiere presenter of contemporary performing arts. I’m Tenara. I am the 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, we’re getting ready for the Fringe Festival. Fringe Festival 2019. It is here. Tickets for curated and independent shows are on sale now, so you can go to www.fringearts.com to grab your tickets and download the FringeArts app to start planning your festival schedule.

Tenara: But today, I’m chatting with two of the FringeArts ambassadors. FringeArts ambassadors are culturally curious people from all over the city who connect our work with communities who might not have heard of us before. If you’re interested in learning more about the program and about what it is to be an ambassador, you can always email me at tenara@fringearts.com, that’s T-E-N-A-R-A at fringearts.com. So pour one up, and join us.

Josh: Hey, everyone. My name is Josh Friedman, local Philadelphia resident.

Tenara: Yeah.

Josh: Ambassador to FringeArts.

Tenara: Absolutely. Our first question that we always ask in the podcast is … It’s Happy Hour on the Fringe is the name of the podcast, so what are you drinking, Josh?

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Following the American Dream: Kelly Copper on Pursuit of Happiness

Posted August 19th, 2019

What is happiness, and to what ends will we pursue it? Kelly Copper and Pavol Liska, co-directers of the OBIE-winning Nature Theater of Oklahoma, explore this question in Pursuit of Happiness, a work of dance-theater made in collaboration with Slovenia-based dance troupe EN-KNAP Group. The dancers follow the American dream from the American West to the Middle East, along the way bending and challenging genres and perceptions of reality. This piece comes to Philadelphia on September 20 and 21 for the 2019 Fringe Festival. FringeArts talked to Kelly Copper in May 2019 about the creation of and ideas behind this wild, wild work.

Kelly Copper. © Nature Theater of Oklahoma

FringeArts: What inspired this piece?

Kelly Copper: We don’t typically work from inspiration—but from opportunity. We had had an invitation before from EnKnap in Ljubljana to come and work with their dancers on a project, but at the time we were at work on Life and Times, and struggling with the impossible task of keeping our own company going and that project moving forward. We couldn’t take a time out. Thankfully Iztok Kovac, the company’s director, did not give up. And he finally did hit us at the perfect time. We had finished Life and Times, had no company of actors of our own and were at a moment of personally questioning whether we were interested anymore in making theater—where the pleasure was exactly, in our work and in our life—where was the greater purpose—and whether were we kidding ourselves that there could be a utopian vision for all that. We were disillusioned and broken a bit when we met the dancers of EnKnap, and the process of making this piece was a process of remaking and reimagining ourselves and our work.

Up until this project we had been working with recorded phone conversations as text. Though Pavol and I started as playwrights, we felt we had to disable ourselves in order to discover anything new, so we worked with “found” materials, audio recordings, etc. This piece was part of a process of rediscovering language, finding pleasure in writing again. And also, for the dancers—none of whom had spoken on stage before—a discovery of the voice and its physicality and its relationship to audience.

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper

Posted August 16th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, we chatted with Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper about their latest Fringe Festival offering, Pursuit of Happiness. Liska and Copper discuss how reality TV and the current state of American politics have influenced this part-dance, part Western movie, and part comedy of manners. Pursuit of Happiness, is one of the curated shows in the 2019 Fringe Festival, and it will be showing at the Mandell Theater on September 20th and 21st. 

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Conversation with Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper

Raina: Hello and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premier presenter of contemporary performing art. I’m Raina Searles, marketing manager here at FringeArts, and I invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence.

Katy: And I am Katy Dammers, artistic producer at FringeArts. Today we’re excited to talk about the Pursuit of Happiness, a work by Nature Theatre of Oklahoma and EN-KNAP, that will be part of our Fringe Festival this September.

Katy: Today we’re pleased to welcome in the conversation, Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper from Nature Theatre of Oklahoma. Welcome!

Kelly: Hi.

Pavol: Hi, how are you?

Katy: Good! Thank you so much for joining us today remotely. I know you guys are not based in Philadelphia, so we’re excited that we can have this conversation. And just to start us all off since it’s Happy Hour on the Fringe, what are you guys drinking?

Pavol: I’m drinking a pineapple juice from this cleanse that I’m doing today.

Raina: Terrific.

Kelly: [crosstalk 00:01:17] And I’ve had a coffee.

Katy: Awesome. I’m drinking a big glass of water because we are in the midst of a heat wave in Philadelphia.

Raina: Yes, same.

Raina: So diving into Pursuit of Happiness, we’re going to talk a lot more about the piece and the history of the piece, but just for audiences contemplating coming to see the show, what can they expect when they walk in? What do you want audiences to know in advance about this work?

Pavol: Well they’ll walk in and see our set, which is kind of a saloon and they should come in … Ideally when you make a new piece of theater, you hope to undo people’s expectations. So whenever somebody always asks us what should people expect, it’s kind of a tricky question. You almost want to lie to people, because ultimately you don’t want to satisfy their expectations. So I don’t want to lie to you.

Katy: Well, and I know what you mean because I have seen the Pursuit of Happiness before. I thought when it premiered in the United States as part of Under the Radar, which is a festival every January at New York University’s Skirball theater, and I think the set is definitely the first thing that catches people, is that the piece is set in this kind of stereotypical western bar. And then for the first couple of minutes it starts with these kind of, they almost look like shots or some kind of a drink being kind of swished across the long bar. And it really kind of sets up this dynamic relationship between the players.

Pavol: And then it goes off into its own universe.

Katy: Very much so and totally defied my expectations as someone who was familiar with the work of Nature Theatre of Oklahoma but didn’t know EN-KNAP and certainly didn’t expect the piece to ultimately end up in Baghdad where it does, so think people are really in for a series of adventures in this work.

Katy: But I wonder Kelly and Pavol if you can tell us a little bit about the background of the creation of this piece. It was created in 2017 with EN-KNAP, which is Slovenian [inaudible 00:03:40] you would think, probably most well known, most renown contemporary dance ensemble. Tell us a little bit about how you came to be connected with EN-KNAP, and what it was like working with them.

Pavol: Well the artistic director Iztok Kovač kept inviting us to come and work with his company for several years, and since we were working on Life and Times at the moment, we could never really see ourselves leaving the project. And then we were in Grads finishing the project, and we were kind of left with nothing to do for the next couple of years. And it just happens that Ljubljana is about an hour away from Grads, and so he came over and we talked and then he took us over there to meet the dancers. We fell in love with them and went from there.

We went there for a couple of weeks and did the workshop with them to figure out if we were all a good match. And then we went home and we wrote the script and then came back and worked with them for two more rehearsal periods and created the show. And our focus changed after Life and Times. We’d been working on these recorded telephone conversations for 10 years and then we wanted to change direction and try something that we weren’t good at. So we really wanted to do writing, and because these people were dancers and had never really spoken on stage, we chose the most impossible task for them which is speaking as difficult language as possible. And at least one of the first part of the show is written in iambic pentameter, which we also had never written before. And so we just all tried to really challenge ourselves and take ourselves out of our comfort zone. And that’s what you get then.

Kelly: Yeah, I mean the surprise for us was we made it over the course of two years going back and forth many times and they kept us on our toes, because every time we went there and gave them something difficult to do and came back, they had kind of exceeded our expectations.

Kelly: The one thing dancers know how to do is work hard, and so they would work on the text in our absence and then we kept kind of having to reinvent the piece as we went and adding layers of difficulty.

Pavol: [crosstalk 00:06:20] I had to bring a lot of chewing tobacco to Slovenia because they learned how to speak, so we needed to somehow slow them down and make it more difficult. So most of them right now are chewing tobacco, real tobacco. So which at the beginning caused most of them during rehearsals to be fainting and passing out and throwing up.

Raina: Oh wow.

Katy: I’m curious if the idea for the themes in the piece came more from your end or if Iztok was originally thinking about these when he wanted to work with you.

Pavol: No, it came from our end. I mean after Life and Times, we have focused on going to a place and staying there for a while and really trying to figure out what is necessary for that particular place and making the work for the place and about the place. So we had made a film Nibelungen in the area where the story of Nibelungen happened. We went to Berlin and Cologne and researched and did work based on that research. And then we went to Austria to make our last film to work in the countryside and made the work about that.

We had been traveling with our shows one week here, one week there, constantly just on the road and felt completely disconnected from the place and really wanted to … And it felt like we were just doing exhibition games where we just showed the work that we had made someplace else and didn’t really feel like it’s necessary or integral to the place or needed. So we wanted to change our lifestyle and go to a place, stay there, make the work there and about the place. So we went to Slovenia and really kind of tried to figure out what is needed here. It all came from us. We weren’t told what to do.

Kelly: Yeah, and of course we bring our own preoccupations with us and over the course of that two years there was a lot of stuff happening in America that unnerved us, and sometimes when you go and … We were living in Louisiana for periods of time and with that distance you kind of look at things differently than when you’re living there. We felt very American, and out of our context, we were kind of able to think about some of those issues.

Katy: I wonder if you can tell us a little bit more about the research process. Thinking about the pursuit of happiness, this myth that really undergirds so much of American consciousness. Both in the colonial era, which, I’m seeing located in an old city in Philadelphia, I feel like we see all the time, but also for people who live all over the nation. I think that sense of the American dream and you’re really successful when you’re doing what you love, which is something that one of the characters speaks about in the work. What was your research process like in digging into that quintessentially?

Kelly: Well I think for this piece, I mean it started out as more of a personal look at happiness and trying to find it. We were in a bit of a personal hole, and also I would be lying if I said that we did a lot of research and that this work comes out of research. I mean for us mainly we usually start with a meeting point and in this case it happened to be an old 1930’s book that somebody had given us called Cowboy Dances, which we kind of just took in our baggage, thinking that maybe a place to start is with dancers, with dance. And it’s these really hard to imagine descriptions of weird dances and we just kind of tried to wade our way through this language, but it happened to be with the dancers, but it happened to be somewhat western themed and I mean even the bar came from the fact that there was a ballet bar in the room. So the bar started as a B-A-R-R-E, and then as you go, these things kind of layer on top of each other and more and then you follow the ideas that kind of present themselves rather than starting from ideas.

Pavol: Almost after the fact, you figure it out when you’re making work. You try to stay as open as possible to your intuition and instinct, and you’re trying to respond to different types of information. I mean we did watch westerns and we did I think, especially Kelly who was reading a lot of theoretical books or articles on American identity, and myth of the cowboy and the outlaw. But when you’re in rehearsal, it’s a much more intuitive process and then you can talk about it afterwards. Then once you have hours of material, then you see what do you have and then you shape it according to something that you feel like is relevant to the world. And it becomes yet something else.

Kelly: Yeah, I mean and it starts usually from personal and also kind of just utilitarian, like what’s in the room, who’s in the room. Keeping your eyes open.

Katy: And I was really struck by one of the lines that the dancer says pretty early on in the piece, that “Happiness is always in the past, a mutated form of melancholy.” And hearing you all talk about the process of developing the work, it makes me think so much of it’s relationship to your larger body of work with Nature Theatre of Oklahoma and kind of this sense of, I can imagine you all when you finished Life and Times, that was touch a huge series both in its construction and the amount of time that you spent on it. That’s actually when you were last at Fringe in 2013 with the series, and I wonder what that sense of melancholy has with happiness, both in terms of your own progression as a company, but also more broadly. I’m thinking of even slogans like “Make America great again” that might refer to a greatness that America had in the past. Whether that was actually true or probably not.

Kelly: Definitely we had come to a point in our work where we kind of broke ourselves a little bit on this monumental piece of work that was 10 episodes long and over 16 hours in performance and we had such ambition for what we were doing, but it completely wrecked all of us physically, emotionally, mentally and we were definitely in the aftermath of that. Just thinking about at what cost.

Pavol: Especially when you make theater, we put ten years of work and our life and our health into the project and then you look at what is left and you end up with three bags of dirty costumes in your basement. That doesn’t feel like you’ve really accomplished much in ten years. So you really have serious existential questions about whether all of this makes any sense.

We are American artists and we want to work in America and we want to be able to speak to this culture and be a part of the discourse, and when it takes such an effort … Now, thank God, Nick Stuccio and two others have brought the work of Life and Times to their festivals. But other than that, we don’t feel like our work here is what was relevant or really needed, necessary. And it might’ve been just self pity or it felt that way to us. And so we really, we we wanted to almost hide in Slovenia away from a kind of spotlight and just really focus on the work itself and where does the pleasure lie? It’s like we felt the same way we felt before we made No Dice, which also Nick brought through to Philadelphia-

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Pavol: Where we rejected any kind of ambition of success, but where we focused on just the work itself. No Dice was a new beginning for us and this Pursuit of Happiness was also a new beginning for us where we really ask these serious existential questions of why we make work and should we continue to do it.

Raina: So while you’re, you know, working on this piece that is centered around American values, most of your tour has been outside of the US. So in two years, what has the reception been in other countries?

Kelly: It’s not a surprise, but a lot of other countries do follow American politics. It’s not like whatever we do just happens here. We’re out there in the world and we do change things out there in the world for other people. And also this kind of political process that’s been happening here is also mirrored in many ways in places like Germany and Poland. And it’s happening everywhere.

Kelly: And so, I think they recognize themselves in it and it’s not foreign. It’s not foreign to them. It’s not like they’re looking at something that has no meaning for them.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kelly: But for us it’s super important to do it back home. I feel grateful that we get to take it to Philadelphia.

Katy: Well I’m curious if you guys have any ideas. I got in New York almost two years ago now and so much has changed even in those past two years within American politics, but as you speak Kelly, really on an international stage as many countries, Brexit comes to mind in particular, are considering some of the same challenges that we are here in America. And I wonder, do you imagine that the work might be received differently now, 18-24 months later or might there be aspects of it that hit audiences differently or might-

Kelly: Yeah, there’s aspects of it that come into focus for me differently every time we do it. Certainly after the school shootings, after every school shooting, just the amount of guns on stage and the use of violence to kind of solve every problem rings especially strongly. But at the same time, you talk about how different things in the world change. Sometimes it’s also how many things in the world don’t change. I mean all of this stuff in Iraq, insert different country here, but the same story, the same thing going on, some kind of proxy war somewhere, so, the more things change, the more things stay the same as well.

[FringeArts Commercial Break]

Katy: Hey Zack, are you ready to party?

Zack: Always.

Katy: FringeArts is kicking off opening weekend of the 2019 Fringe Festival with a late night rager featuring the Illustrious Blacks, a dynamic, out of this world duo, fusing music, dance, theater and fashion.

Katy: Come join us on Friday, September 6th at 10:30 in La Peg.

Fringe Festival Kickoff Party 2019 featuring the Illustrious Blacks

Zack: That sounds great. Then halfway through the festival we’re throwing a halftime party with DJ Heavenly. It’s called Feels. Stripping back genres of themes, DJ Heavenly and a special guests do what feels right at this open format dance party.

Zack: That will be September 14th at 10:30 PM in La Peg.

FEELS: 2019 Fringe Festival Halftime Party with DJ HVNLEE

Katy: And then, to close out the festival, Johnny Showcase & The Mystic Ticket will be joining us on Saturday, September 21st at 10:30 PM with an electrifying performance you just don’t want to miss.

Zack: See you there.

2019 Fringe Festival Closing Night Party featuring Johnny Showcase

[End FringeArts Commercial Break]

Raina: You mentioned violence and I’d love to touch on that within the context of this piece, because there is this juxtaposition of the old time-y western bar fights and shoot out, but then also contemporary military activity in Iraq. In what ways have you found that violence is interwoven into the ideas of what it means to be American and to this idea of the pursuit of happiness?

Kelly: I think what to me rings true to me personally or what this is the kind of violence of imposing your will upon other people, even if it has a kind of altruistic sense. Definitely for me, thinking personally about the company and imposing my own pursuit of happiness onto other people and dragging them along with me into my dream. Not everybody in the end wanted to travel the world and do this really difficult show night after night that we were doing. And in a similar way, one of the characters in this show kind of drags everyone else along into his dream, which becomes a kind of a nightmare, so. And in the way that the US sometimes with ostensibly good intentions kind of meddles in foreign countries in a way that-

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kelly: Doesn’t always have a happy ending.

Pavol: With good intentions.

Kelly: Yeah.

Pavol: We want to spread democracy.

Kelly: Yeah.

Pavol: So we’re going to beat you up into it. We’re going to beat you into having a better life.

Katy: Well, what was so striking to me when I found a piece originally is that the violence was received kind of in two different registers simultaneously, which I think speaks to really the American paradigm in a lot of different ways.

Kelly: Yeah.

Katy: Some people when they saw the violence found it really funny, actually.

Kelly: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Katy: You can tell that it staged combat, nobody’s actually getting punched. There are all these amazing sound effects-

Kelly: Right.

Katy: Who mimic cartoons and the blood that comes out in the latter part of the work is actually bright red streamers. And I think much of the work talks about the sense of the role of violence and its depiction in popular media, but also even in staged theatrical works. And I know that there has has just been a lot of discussion in the last two to three years about what it means to depict violence and who is being depicted in that moment, and I think in the Pursuit of Happiness, one of the things I think it’s been successful at is showing violence that is kind of unnerving in its depiction, where we’re not actually seeing blood and guts on stage, but in realizing how perhaps possibly comical it is, it at least made me very uncomfortable, which I think was kind of the point. I thought that was very effective.

Pavol: Thank you.

Kelly: Yeah, I mean it’s an interesting challenge and something that I think has preoccupied us in the last several pieces that we’ve made after this. Just how impossible it is to represent violence in the theater. It necessarily has to be theatricalized and it’s never convincing like it is on television or movies. You can’t make it look convincing, and so what do you with that kind of impossibility? I like it as just the potential for somehow pure theater or I like the unconvincedness of it.

Katy: Well it kind of gets me back to I think that one of the central questions is the work, which we touched on a little bit earlier, but what is the role of art, which is this awful hard question that I feel like we wrestle with every single day when we come to work, and then I’m sure you all do as well as you decide to recreate another work. Who do we create the work with? Why are we using it?

And I appreciated in the second half of the piece when we’re kind of moving into this nightmare as you described it Kelly, there’s a moment when it seems like, oh, this dance that’s happening might [inaudible 00:21:51] mechanism between NATO and Iraqi insurgent forces and then ultimately, that totally spirals into chaos, but it offers for a brief moment the sense of art as a way to sum up a very tangible problem, which I think art very rarely if ever actually does. So as you continue to present this work, how have your thoughts about that [inaudible 00:22:17] shifted, if at all?

Kelly: Oh, I think we’re always kind of in this balancing act between our hopes for what we do and also just not being able to kid ourselves entirely, that it does do those things that we wish it does.

Pavol: Well I think the work itself is in a way a quest for relevance.

Kelly: Yeah.

Pavol: It’s a kind of desire to be part of the discourse to be, almost like in ancient Greek theater where the theater itself was a place where the society came to dream of itself and discuss the irrational in our life, whereas the irrational seems to be repressed. We’re repressing the irrational nature of life, whether it’s in politics or even on television, where it could be a part of the conversation, but probably 95% of all life is irrational. We don’t understand anything. We deny the fact that we don’t really know why we’re here and what we’re doing. And if aliens are watching us from outer space, they have no idea what the hell we we’re trying to even do. And we don’t, we just kind of convince ourselves that we’re doing something that’s important, whereas it may not be important at all. And that’s what we … Every day we go into rehearsal, trying to answer that question, why are we doing this? And then if it’s not important inherently, which as American artists, we always believe … Sometimes we work with people in Europe who have state subsidies and they’re told that art is important. But we don’t believe that because we are spending most of our year in our apartment, in our underwear at the bottom of society where nobody’s willing to even acknowledge that we exist or that art is important. So we certainly have our doubts, and so if we consider that it’s inherently not necessarily important what we do, we have to create that value.

Kelly: [crosstalk 00:24:25] performance, we try to do that. I mean, I think every night we’re trying to articulate what that is with an audience. What this can be good for and who needs it. That’s, in a way, part of the actor’s job.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Pavol: It’s like we [crosstalk 00:24:39] always have to undercut the actors and tell them “Look, what you’re doing is nothing. It’s shit. You’re just kind of dancing around and prancing on stage like show ponies.”, In a good way. We’re not cutting them down psychologically, but to kind of convince them that to have that doubt.

Kelly: And-

Pavol: That’s why it’s always interesting for us to work with Americans because they know that. Every American person who’s tried to be an actor or performing artist knows that you’ve got to go out there and work your ass off in order for something to happen. Whereas Americans sometimes take it for granted that they’re on stage-

Kelly: Europeans.

Pavol: [crosstalk 00:25:18] Europeans, yeah … That they’re on stage and therefore it’s important. So we have to somehow create this existential crisis for them in order for them to be able to talk about these issues.

Kelly: And in order for them to really look out over the footlights and somehow express those doubts to an audience and to kind of enlist in their help in the search for that importance, or in that search for what it could mean tonight, not just in a rehearsal room.

Raina: Yeah. Well I think that that’s a really interesting transition to our final question. Thinking about what inspires you and specifically your highbrow and lowbrow inspirations as you go into the rehearsal room and start coming up with whatever your next idea is.

Pavol: For this particular piece I know I was reading War and Peace, especially the war sections, as far as highbrow is concerned. Lowbrow we were watching Spaghetti westerns and things like that in general for the work. I would say really horrible American television, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are our all time favorite and Survivor as far as-

Kelly: Yeah.

Pavol: Lowbrow. Reality television, which in a way was what Life and Times was based on, they’re just recordings of things that happen and then you shape them just like in a reality TV show in a series, so Life and Times, ten episodes, it was like a Big Brother TV series in a way.

Pavol: I personally find inspiration in literature. Proust, Tolstoy.

Kelly: Yeah. And I mean the highbrow stuff, I guess I was reading during this was a book on Grands Goulets and also this book of cultural criticism by David Warshaw that was … There was a great essay called The Gangster As Tragic Hero and also The Westerner. These were two essays on two different genres in American film, if we were thinking a lot about some making at that time. It was mainly about how the western could be seen as a genre that was interrogating kind of American morality, and that was interesting for me to think about. And the gangster film as well, that those were two kind of flip sides of American moral works. And both of them equally, horribly violent.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Katy: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Katy: Well thank you so much for joining us for this episode of Happy Hour on The Fringe. The Pursuit of Happiness will be presented at the Mandell Theater at Drexel University September 20th and 21st as part of the 2019 Fringe Festival.

Raina: In addition to the performances, we will also be screening Nature Theatre of Oklahoma’s video Life and Times episode seven in partnership with Light Box Film Center on September 17th.

Katy: And if you want to hear more from Pavol and Kelly along with numbers of EN-KNAP, your community partners here in Philly, about what the pursuit of happiness means today, join us for a conversation at our Fringe Festival bookstore on Cherry Street Pier on Saturday, September 21st.

Raina: Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, and download the FringeArts app.

Interview with Veteran Fringe Fan Brett Mapp

Posted August 16th, 2019

Brett Mapp has been seeing Fringe Festival shows as long as anyone (he attended the very first Philly Fringe in 1997). His annual schedule picks have even attracted press attention! We talked to Brett about his festivalgoing, what he likes about the Fringe, and how he chooses which shows to see.

FringeArts: How long have you been attending Fringe Festivals?

Brett Mapp: From day one of the first festival in Philly. I have also done NYC, Washington DC, Toronto, and Montreal. I am saving Edinburgh for a special occasion like a honeymoon.

FringeArts: How many shows do you see each year?

Brett Mapp: I average 25-30 shows per festival. I have cut back from previous years. At my old job  I could take time off and see about 40 shows!

FringeArts: How do you put together your schedule? How do you choose which shows to see?

Brett Mapp: First I pick the curated shows that I want to see, focusing on the ones I think will sell out first. I then pick my favorite performers from twenty-odd years of going to the Fringe: IRC, Tribe of Fools, etc. I always try to see a show at PowerPlant Productions. I love site-specific locations. And I try to pick more dance performances than theater as I feel I don’t see enough dance during the year.

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2019 Fringe Festival Spotlight: Accessibility

Posted August 15th, 2019

FringeArts is committed to being of Philadelphia, for Philadelphia. As an artistic and cultural institution in this city, we take seriously our responsibility to be accessible to every Philadelphian, at every entryway. From our ticket-buying process to arriving at an event, the performances themselves to our post-show experiences, we are working hard to continuously improve our accessibility and that of our participating Fringe Festival artists and venues. These 2019 Fringe Festival accessible shows are opening up performing arts to a larger audience by offering various services.

Look out for accessibility icons in the Fringe Festival guide show and on show webpages for more listings. For information on wheelchair accessibility, select the “wheelchair accessible” category (under features) on the shows page.

Cartography
Kanez Schaal and Christopher Myers
Five young people from around the world map their histories, their memories, and their futures. Combining simple storytelling and interactive video technology, this is theater for our times, theater for all ages, theater at its most relevant.
Relaxed Performance on September 15
More information and tickets

Gay Mis
Eric Jaffe
If you like Les Misérables, you’ll LOVE Gay Mis! Join us for a queer, drag queen–infused parody of everyone’s favorite musical! Join Parmesan, Jabear, Fontina, Epanini and the whole gang as they go on a journey through time, space, and cheese. Visit theericjaffe.com for more information.
ASL interpretation on September 8 (at 7pm)
More information and tickets

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Two Friends Try to Be Disappointed by Each Other: Interview with John Rosenberg of Autopia

Posted August 14th, 2019

John Rosenberg’s very first show in Philadelphia after moving from California was a 2010 Fringe Festival production, Cheap Guy Hall of Fame, Class of 2010. Subsequent years garnered critical acclaim for his Hella Fresh Theater company, operating out of a converted paper mill in the heart of Kensington. John moved to Los Angeles in 2014, but he returned last year and has retaken residence at the Papermill. This Fringe Festival, he’s utilizing the art gallery at in the room next door to his theater, creating an imaginary art exhibit from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the 1970s. In Autopia a failed teacher runs into her former mentor at LACMA while waiting in line for tickets to the King Tutankhamun exhibit and the pair awkwardly reminisce as they wander around an exhibit of an obscure Chicana artist. We spoke to John about the play.

FringeArts: How did you get the idea for Autopia

John Rosenberg: I mean, the thing comes in bits and pieces and one thing leads to another.

I lived in Los Angeles from 2014 to 2018. It was great. My wife gave birth to our son Calvero McShane Wulfrose. I got to kick it with my sister at Ross Dress For Less. I also made one for real friend in my four years in Los Angeles, Her name was Leigh, we worked at UCLA together. We would go for walks on breaks and talk about our lives and such. So the play is kinda based on Leigh.

I have been interested in how people like to be disappointed by other people and let down. It reminded me of the group of teacher friends my parents had when I was growing up. They were really committed to education and the welfare of their students but the personal cost was tremendous. I watched their lives implode, including my parents’.

I always wanted to do a play about two people waiting in line and have the actors slowly shuffle across the stage for two hours. At first it was going to be Disneyland but it didn’t make sense so the art gallery of the Papermill [the Kensington artspace where Hella Fresh is based] will become Los Angeles County Museum of Art circa 1978.

FringeArts: How did you choose that setting?

John Rosenberg: I had a temp job in Los Angeles that was down the street from LACMA. LACMA uses stickers for tickets and people leave them on a street light outside the museum. On my lunch break i would go through the museum on a 45-minute tour, four days a week for like nine months.

With the idea of LACMA came the idea to have an artist create a real fake exhibition from 1978 to be the exhibition in the show. My friend Osiris Zuniga, a steel artist or metal artist or i dont know what the fuck you call her said fuck yes to the idea. Osiris deals in blowtorches and heavy metals and makes videos. She is creating an exhibition like LACMA would probably have been showing of a marginalized unheard of Latina artist in the late 70s.

So the play is about two teachers who try their best to be disappointed by each other and feel good about themselves because they saw the art of an unheard of Latina artist.

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Mapping the Refugee Experience: Kaneza Schaal and Christopher Myers on Cartography

Posted August 12th, 2019

How do we track where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going, especially when we must flee our homes? Cartography, by Christopher Myers and Kaneza Schaal seeks to answer this question. Inspired by conversations with young refugees in Munich, Germany, Myers and Schaal co-created a piece of theater that puts these migrants on stage and tells their stories.

This all-ages theater follows the struggles, hopes, and experiences of five young migrants from diverse backgrounds as they navigate the refugee process. The audience is also invited to share their stories, interacting with the stage from their cellphones. FringeArts talks with Christopher and Kaneza about their piece, which will be performed in Philadelphia September 12–15 as part of the 2019 Fringe Festival.

FringeArts: What inspired Cartography?

Christopher Myers: Cartography grew out of our work in Munich 2016 with young people who came to the city on their own from around the world.

Earlier that year, The New York Times had reported 30,000 people were arriving in Munich each day. We asked ourselves what we had to offer, as artists to this moment. The kids we worked came from Mali, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Eritrea, Nigeria, and Syria. They had crossed oceans in inflatable rafts, walked through forests, hid themselves in the holds of cargo trucks. At the end of our work together, when we asked the group, “What should we do next, what do they want from us?” they said, “We want a place to be seen.” They said that after spending so long having to hide, where invisibility was part of survival, being seen was the most valuable part of our time together. They said we should create places for kids like them to be seen.

Cartography is our answer to this request. The piece creates a platform for audiences to consider their own histories of movement, how we all place ourselves in the continuum that lead to this historical moment of the largest mass migration in human history.

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Tina Satter

Posted August 6th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, we sat down with Tina Satter to talk about her show Is This A Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription, which was made with her theater company Half Straddle, and is a verbatim staging of the FBI transcription of their interrogation of Reality Winner. Is This A Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription, is one of the curated shows in the 2019 Fringe Festival, and it will be showing at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts this September 13-15.

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Conversation with Tina Satter

[Music Intro]

Tenara: Hello, and welcome to Happy Hour on The Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premier presenter of contemporary performing arts. My name is Tenara, and I am the Audience Engagement Coordinator at Fringe Arts. 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 we’re getting ready for the Fringe Festival. This September 2019, our city absolutely explodes with the performing arts all over the place. I’m really happy to say that tickets for our curated and independent shows are on sale now, so go to www.fringearts.com to grab your tickets and don’t forget to download the Fringe Arts app to start planning your festival schedule.

Tenara: Today, you’re going to hear a conversation that I had with one of our artistic producers, Zach Blackwood you know him well, and one of our curated Fringe Festival artists, Tina Satter. We’re presenting Tina Satter’s work, Is This A Room: A Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription. Tina Satter made this with her company, Half Straddle, and it is a verbatim presentation staging of the FBI transcription of their interrogation of Reality Winner. Reality Winner was arrested and charged with leaking evidence of Russian interference in our 2016 election. It’s a really, really fascinating, interesting, deeply troubling piece and we are really excited to be able to share our conversation with Tina in particular who, in parallel to this pretty pretty heavy tail, we also managed to talk about what I would argue is some pretty light things like the Kardashians and Harry Potter podcasts. So pour yourself a happy hour drink, pull up a chair and listen to our conversation with Tina Satter about her show, Is This A Room.

Zach: Hi there. Is this Tina?

Tina: Yes, it’s me. Hi.

Tenara: Hello.

Zach: Oh, my gosh. Hi. It’s so good to meet you.

Tina: Hi. Yeah.

Zach: This is Zach and Tenara at FringeArts and we’re so, so excited to be talking to you a little bit. So we understand that you’re in Wyoming?

Tina: Yes, I am.

Tenara: You want to say a little bit about what you’re doing there?

Zach: Unless it’s [crosstalk 00:02:23].

Tina: Yeah, I’m here because my partner grew up here and so we’re out visiting family for three weeks and it’s very, very different from anywhere I’ve ever been in my life. So I really like to come out here and sort of just hanging out, and then I’m working a lot when I’m out here, but I love a good working vacation. So that’s what I do out here, drive around in a pickup truck and then sit at the kitchen table and do my work.

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Channeling the Past: Eric Berryman on The B-Side

Posted August 5th, 2019

Three men—Eric Berryman, Jasper McGruder, and Philip Moore—listen to an LP of songs and speeches recorded in 1965 in segregated Texas state prison farms, singing and talking along with the album. This is not your typical piece of theater, but The B-Side: “Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons,” A Record Album Interpretation by The Wooster Group is a powerful experience. The voices of the performers blend with those on the album, capturing the humor and sorrow and bringing the men on the album to life. Between pieces, Berryman provides context from the liner notes and a book by Bruce Jackson, the folklorist who recorded the original LP. FringeArts talked with Eric Berryman in May of 2019 about this deeply moving piece.

FringeArts: How did you discover this album? 

Eric Berryman: I was working on a piece some years ago on the Legend of John Henry, and found myself listening and searching for work songs, as John Henry in its original form was a slower tempo work song and not the faster tempo revival version that has become popular. In my quest to add some of the work song music to my tangible vinyl record collection I discovered Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons, never thinking it would become my next major project.

FringeArts: What appealed to you about it?

Eric Berryman: What I loved was that it wasn’t an album of just worksongs but a collection of more. Worksongs, blues, spirituals, preaching and toasts.

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Mimi Lien

Posted July 30th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, we sat down with award winning designer Mimi Lien to learn about her inspirations for Superterranean, from seeing a rat disappear into the darkness of a subway to the immense structures, tunnels, and systems working all around us, as well as the human body’s place within it all.  Superterranean is one of the curated shows premiering in the 2019 Fringe Festival and performed by Pig Iron Theatre Company.  Superterranean will be at 2300 Arena this September 5–15.

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Conversation with Mimi Lien

[Music Intro]

Raina: Hello, and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. Fringe Arts is Philadelphia’s premier presenter of Contemporary Performing Arts. I’m Raina Searles, Marketing Manager here at Fringe Arts, and I invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence

Katy: And I am Katy Dammers, Artistic Producer at Fringe Arts. Today we’re excited to talk about Superterranean, a new work that will premiere in September as part of our Fringe Festival. Created by Philadelphia locals, Pig Iron Theatre Company in collaboration with lead artist Mimi Lien, the work is driven by Lien’s fascinations with urban infrastructure acting in concert with the human body. Today, we’re excited to be in conversation with Mimi. Welcome.

Mimi: Hi.

Raina: Hello.

Katy: Thank you so much for joining us. Mimi is currently living in Brooklyn, but commuting back and forth a fair amount to Philadelphia, so we’re excited to have her here with us today. And we’ll start with our first question. What are you drinking?

Mimi: I’m drinking Dark and Stormy with extra spicy ginger beer.

Katy: I love that.

Raina: Delightful.

Katy: That sounds amazing. It’s hot out so that sounds perfect.

Raina: Extra spicy.

Katy: I’m having a watermelon Margarita. And what are you having Raina?

Raina: I’m having a white wine.

Mimi: Very elegant.

Katy: Perfect.

Raina: Classic Happy Hour.

Raina: So to get started, you’ve been quoted as saying that you were drawn to holes, portals, pipes, partial objects and openings, which is very important to the design of Superterranean. Can you tell us more like what is it that you like about these places? What is your inspiration behind that?

Mimi: Well, I mean, I guess like, in the sort of thing that, sometimes when I’m, well often… Probably a lot of people see this, when you’re standing on the subway platforms, sometimes you see a rat. You know, well, we’ve seen a number of rats crawling around in the, in the tracks. But then sometimes it, you know, you see a rat dart into a little, a little hole that’s like perfectly sized for the rat. And it seems to know exactly where it’s going. It’s not just like, ‘oh, I discovered this hole’. Maybe I should go into it.

Mimi: And like, I just have always really loved, really loved that. And I think that, you know, that, that hole, which I don’t know what is on the other side of it, and it seems to suggest this kind of vast elaborate parallel civilization of rats that’s just underfoot. And I can kind of imagine the vastness of it, but I can’t see it at all.

Raina: So I guess, I guess, you know, tunnels, conduits, this suggestion of, of a kind of complexity and vastness that we can sort of sense with our bodies but can’t really visualize or comprehend. And I know that that has always caused a kind of like breathlessness in me. And, and curiosity.

Katy: So I know as part of the development process for Superterranean, you’ve worked with Geoff Manaugh from BDLGBLOG who’s a writer and scholar and kind of all around thinker, and done a number of different field trips to places like this.

Katy: What are some of the other systems that you’ve looked at as part of your research?

Mimi: Yeah, well, I mean I first met Geoff when I was participating in a studio that he led called Landscapes of Quarantine, at the storefront for art and architecture in New York. And, and so as part of that studio, we were examining different environments of quarantine of like, geopolitical, medical and biological. And I mean he, this is kind of a great resource for, you know, thinking about all of the different kinds of facets of, of architecture and design and how that impacts or civilization. I guess, and so we invited him. I initially started out thinking loosely about utopians as I was contemplating the beginning of this project. And Geoff has, actually had recently curated an exhibition about utopias and we invited him to yeah, talk to us a little bit about that.

Mimi: And while he was here, we also went on a field, a couple of field trips to, you know, I guess yeah, thinking about intentional communities or where a built environment dictated, you know, a certain kinds of human behavior within that. So we started out actually visiting the Arch Street Meeting House, and also we went to Ephrata, a religious community that’s like 40 minutes outside of Philly.

Mimi: And then maybe the most transformative one was going to visit a wastewater treatment plant down in southeast Philly. And that was just, I mean, super eye opening. I mean I had never had access to a facility like that. And then just the, just the, you know, sheer number of steps involved in the process of water filtration and the sheer like, acreage that that takes up. It’s like vast sluices and things like that. So that was really, I think, pivotal in terms of really the direction that this project went in.

Katy: Well, and that’s so interesting to think about cause it looks like you determined a number of different systems, some of which are very exterior and known. Like I think about the meeting house or an intentional community. It’s really built with that design and it’s not seeking to obscure it or hide it. Whereas like a wastewater treatment facility or even a subway, they kind of do their best to obscure those passageways so that you don’t see the rats running through or you don’t have to think about what happens when you flush the toilet and where it goes.

Mimi: Yeah, exactly.

Katy: How does that you know, come into your design?

Mimi: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I definitely feel like I started out thinking about systems in general and kind of worked from the outside in. And I think eventually I did start feeling that these more visible or overt systems were somehow less intriguing to me. And I found, well I guess at one point, Dan Rothenberg our director, co-artistic director at Pig Iron, just asked me what my obsessions were. And as I started thinking about that and relaying them… Oh, I found that a lot of them were of sort of, concealed spaces of tunnels and a lot of them happen to be like, underground or they’re places that were not meant to be like industrial spaces that are generally forbidden to the public that I found particularly enticing and sort of seductive in a way. And more and more I think about places that I’m drawn to like with my gut or with my body more than with my brain, in a way.

Mimi: And I think that that… Like, in a way, the process of working on this piece has been quite intuitive. And like, sort of following, following my nose. But now I’m sort of thinking of it as like, following my gut. I was like, I think I’m after a particular, visceral sensation of space, or a visceral experience of space. And the kinds of spaces that I have been obsessed with are those that affect me bodily. And I’m trying to figure out, you know, how do we make that in a performance context? Or how do we talk about that in a performance context.

Raina: Yeah. I, I’m really curious cause this kind of leads very naturally into a question of what should the audience expect to experience when they come see the show? What can we tell them ahead of time to kind of prep them and let them know what you’re, how what you’re thinking transits into this performance?

Mimi: Well, I guess I can start by saying that, we’re not really considering it like theater, theater. I guess we’re calling it visual theater. Like it’s pretty… It’s, it’s pretty out there. Like, you know, I’m, I’m, I’m sort of feeling the air with my hands right now, which you can’t see. But I’m like, I feel like what we’re after… What we’re, what we’ve made so far and what I think we’re gonna continue to make is stuff that you don’t quite… It’s not, it’s certainly not narrative. It’s definitely very visual. I think spatially, I think one thing we’re trying to figure out is like how, how do we focus the audience’s attention on a space? Although I have decided that it’s not an environmental. Like it’s not a performance that the audience walks through.

Mimi: I think, you know, as I was saying like, Oh, you know, I want to create the kind of experience that you feel that’s really been in your body. That is, you know, often thought of this something that maybe you’re in an immersive experience and it’s not, it’s not that, actually. I guess maybe one challenge that I set out for myself is, is there a way for me to try to evoke that sensation without, without actually walking through it? We did this workshop a couple of months ago and maybe one of my favorite things that an audience member said after it was that, ‘oh, I kind of like, although I didn’t touch anything, I kind of feel icky’.

Mimi: And there is, yeah, maybe I’ll say that there’s some fluids. There’s some like, soft substances. You know, we’ve been, we’ve been sort of curious about, I don’t know, this basic relationship between the human body and it’s like softness and squishiness, in relation to these hard structures made out of concrete and steel and this sort of peculiar relationship between the soft squishy features that created these massive, harder structures.

Katy: Well, and I wonder if that makes sense as it comes out of your development and the devising process where often, in a more traditional theatrical context, there would be script with media story or at least a thematic. And then they’d come to you as the set designer, and then after that is all creative and say, ‘put this in an environment’. But, this working process has been the opposite.

Mimi: Yeah.

Katy: So you have kind of developed the environment or the stage space and then they are devising the theatrical work within that.

Katy: Like how has that flipped process helped for you?

Mimi: Yeah, it’s all pretty, it felt pretty crazy and intense. I mean, definitely I found myself thinking like this is probably, you know, like we’re playing, right field. Like when you’re sitting there facing the blank page of like, what, this is going to be about? You know? Because certainly as a set designer, I’m most often responding to something. Like whether it’s a script or a piece of music or a poem or you know, it is definitely, you know, a kind of response as opposed to making the first scratch.

Mimi: And I think there’s a lot of, you know, I think throughout the years I’ve definitely had a lot of impulses. Like, oh, like you know, I see a, I see a landscape, or I see a photo and be like, that would be an amazing set for something.

Katy: Mm-hmm(affirmative)

Raina: Mm-hmm(affirmative)

Mimi: But also knowing that this is a piece that I’m making with Pig Iron, and that particular ensemble and the way that they make stuff.

Mimi: I’ve also sort of… Trying to think a little bit about, well, not every space is gonna have like, like vibrate in a particular way with that ensemble. So there’s also trying to calibrate a little bit. And what, what that, what that kind of, what that environment would be. But yeah, and at the same time thinking about something that is both aesthetically and spatially captivating to me, but also thinking about what would have dramatic potential as a performance piece.

Katy: Yeah.

Raina: So how does this process differ since you’ve worked with Pig Iron for a number of years? How has that relationship grown and changed over the years and how do you feel like this project is taking it to a new level?

Mimi: Yeah, I mean it definitely as a designer working with… I mean Pig Iron was the first ensemble company that I had worked with. I mean, it was pretty early on that I did my first show with them, which was Love Unpunished in 2006. And at that time I think had been doing theater for like two years and it was my first encounter with working this way. So, I mean it definitely, even, even, you know, other Pig Iron pieces that don’t start with the set design, the design enters the picture very early and is part of the room as the piece is being made.

Mimi: But I guess the difference is that with those pieces, there’s already an idea, even if it’s a very vague idea and just to kind kernel or a distant early germinating seed. But I’m still responding to that idea. So I guess the biggest difference was that, you know, I was coming up with that germinating idea.

Katy: I wonder if we can also talk a little bit about Philadelphia as a site, or more broadly, all of the research that we did to come up with the final site for the performance, which is, you know, the Fringe Festival, for all our listeners out there, like takes place all around the city. Some things happen in our theater here at FringeArts, but many things including super training, take place offsite. And so we thought a lot about, you know, is it going to be in a proscenium theater, is it going to be in a warehouse? And kinda ended up somewhere in the middle. And so we were thinking, can you talk to people who weren’t part of that process. What was that like and how did that affect your design?

Mimi: I think I said a little bit earlier about this piece not being an environmental piece that the audience walks through. So definitely, as we started thinking about making this piece that’s going to start with the design and, and all of my, you know, known interests in like in you know, three dimensional space being a really powerful tool. And wanting the audience to experience three dimensional space. And a lot of my designs and you know, and in the past have been like 360 degree experiences and designing a space that the audience enters. So that, you know, that’s certainly something that I thought about.

Mimi: But then, you know, for some reason I had this gut feeling that I wanted to make it in a kind of more proscenium relationship for the audience. Or I didn’t want to make a site specific piece. I guess I was interested in the role of design or the potential for design in a, in a word neutral laboratory container.

Mimi: So I feel like a site specific experience is great, and really powerful, but like, the site is doing so much of that work. And I, I guess I wanted to challenge myself to see what a design from scratch could do. So I sort of wanted to start from scratch and therefore, I thought maybe, you know, the neutral space of a proscenium theater is where I want to make it. And you know, and I do kind of love prosceniums for the very fact that you can then break it.

Mimi: So we set about, you know, trying to find the proscenium space, but I also knew that I wanted something that I, that had a pretty big volume of space, so I wanted to, I wanted to be able to shape the volume. Yeah. I mean, and you know, we’ve looked at, you know, armories and navy yards and you know, these kinds of spaces.

Katy: So many different spaces. Yeah.

Mimi: But, but there’s all, you know, there’s all sorts of logistical considerations and-

Katy: For sure.

Mimi: You know, some of them were actually like too tall, you know, I’m like, if I want to build something that feels like it fills the space, if the space is big, then that doesn’t really work for us.

Mimi: So we’ve, we’ve landed at a venue that I didn’t think, you know, I didn’t imagine we would be in.

Katy: It’s a venue we’ve never worked at before and it’s 2300 arena. It’s actually usually a wrestling space or an event space. But it kind of fit the bill in a really unexpected way for this piece because in some ways it’s a blank space so it essentially looks like a black box. And yet we are kind of creating a proscenium feel within it. So I’d like to think it’s the best of both worlds. But every site has its own challenges and specificities.

Mimi: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. No, I mean it turns out that this space has like an 80 foot by 80 foot footprint that we could, you know… With, you know, very few columns and so we could basically kind of place the audience wherever we wanted inside it and really create our own container potentially to be broken.

Raina: So I’m curious, in conjunction with Superterranean, you’re also working on an installation at Cherry Street pier. Can you tell us a little bit more about what that’s going to be and what that’s gonna look like?

Mimi: Yeah, so we’ve been talking a little bit about this like feeling of of a, of a gut, like a visceral response to architecture. And I guess I was inspired recently by… I went to see a Bruce Nauman exhibition at PS1 in New York. And I’ve always loved his work so much. You know, a lot of them are like corridors, like very long skinny corridors if you go down, and I think I even made a piece that was sort of in an homage back when I was in Grad school. But you sort swished your way around this very skinny corridor and peered into this space within. So like I was… You know, so for the performance or the show, you know, in some ways I guess we’re creating a visual theatrical work that speaks to particular spacial sensibilities. But I, I was interested in maintaining this frame and this proscenium relationship.

Mimi: And so with the public artwork I thought, well this is my opportunity to actually, to have someone move their body through a space and orchestrate that experience in a particular way. We looked at a couple of different sites and I mean this piece did really want to be very site responsive but, but I did always have this notion of going into a very enclosed space. Because I knew it was going to be, probably is going to be on an outdoor site. And so there’s this, you know, sort of larger, broader idea of this public artwork somehow how funneling the person from an exterior to an interior space.

Mimi: From an open air to an enclosed space and, and essentially like a gradual awareness of your… You know, I guess I have this hypothesis that when you’re in a really, really enclosed space, like a really tight space and maybe a dark space, like I’ve always imagined this as being quite a dark space, that it’s like an inside out experience. Like maybe you feel like you’re entering some part of a body or like you, you sense that in, innards of your body a little bit more when you’re, when you’re in a space like that. You like sense your breathing or your heart rate a little bit more. I guess because you know, your senses are being limited in a way. And so if you’re in an anechoic chamber, you probably hear the sound of the blood rushing through your ears a little bit, and you kind of imagine the capillaries that the blood is rushing through and you’re inside this kind of tiny artery. And so there’s this kind of conflation of body and architecture.

Mimi: So I was just interested in exploring that idea on whatever site we ended up in. And, I first made a proposal for one site but that ended up, you know, it was like infra-structurally challenging because it’s like underneath the Ben Franklin Bridge and I-95. These days it’s really hard to build an enclosed structure underneath an interstate highway.

Katy: Yeah, we learned so much about the security system at the state, the local and the city level.

Mimi: Yeah. I mean it’s actually, I kind of suspected, I mean in my brief foray into the public art world, definitely these considerations of what people might do in a public space, which is interesting. That’s, that’s sort of not unrelated to the, to the project at hand. But anyway, we’ve ended up at Cherry Street Pier, which is a very different vibe from being like underneath a bridge anchorage and like a rumbling highway. And so I kind of wanted to respond to that a little bit. So, I think the project has become a little bit more whimsical. There’s also a Little Baby’s Ice Cream truck is there at the end of the pier and maybe like that’s part of the experience.

Raina: Just walk through a tunnel and get a free ice cream.

Mimi: Well, get the ice cream and then walk through a tunnel and then eat the ice cream while you’re inside the tunnel and feel it going down your esophagus.

Katy: Yes. Yes.

Raina: I wonder also about the sound bleed because Cherry Street Pier is this really vibrant place. People are like walking and talking outside. So that is also very different than what the sound would sound like underneath a bridge. So do you plan to shut that sound out? Is it like a space that you enter in and you’re kind of closed off audibly from the world as well?

Mimi: That is my hope. I’m been working with a composer and sound designer named Lea Bertucci on Superterranean, but she’s also done a lot of the sound installations and things like that all over the world. She actually made this amazing sound installation in… There’s a bridge in Germany that has like, enclosure, sort of flat, tunnel like space that goes right under the road bed of the bridge. And so she made this sound installation inside that space. She’s really cool. So we are collaborating on this public art work as well. And so there’s gonna be a sound component, which I hope and imagine will drown out the existing surrounding and that you’re going to enter into this kind of other sonic world.

Katy: Well, we are so excited to see both when you’re hear in September. I think to finish after the conversation we always ask everybody what’s your low brow and your high brow inspiration? Could be for Superterranean or more broadly.

Raina: Well, I already mentioned Bruce Nauman, but I guess this is maybe similar. I guess Donald Judd… when I went to, I went on a trip to Marfa, Texas and saw a bunch of Donald Judd works out there in the, in the grasses of Marfa. And have, it’s just really stuck with me.

Raina: And can you tell us a little bit more about Donald Judd?

Mimi: Yeah. So Donald Judd is a sculpture, visual artist. I think he would, he would… He did not want to be called a minimalist, although I think a lot of people described his work is somewhat minimalist. But I feel like a lot of his work straddles the line between sculpture and furniture. And I actually recently went on a tour of his apartment slash studio and Soho and so that, he had this building in Soho and like one, one floor was the studio and then a couple other floors he lived on with his family. But he also designed and built a lot of the furniture, so his entire living environment was totally curated and very crafted and a lot of people describe it as minimalist. I actually noticed recently that the Cherry Street Pier, there’s some chairs and tables at Cherry Street Pier that seem a little bit inspired by Donald Judd.

Mimi: Yeah, but I guess I’ve always been really inspired by the crossover between his art and life. That’s, that’s just something that’s always inspired me. But also this particular work in Marfa. I can’t even remember the title of it, but it’s like, there’s like a hundred aluminum boxes that are displayed in this huge former airplane hangar and they’re all like, all hundred boxes are exactly the same dimension and they’re made out of the same aluminum. They’re like three foot by three foot cubes. But then on the inside they’re all divided in a slightly different way. Like divided into two compartments or three compartments, or with a horizontal shelf or with a vertical divider.

Mimi: And it’s a very cold work, you might say. Like it’s, the aluminum and it’s like hard corners and everything. But, I oddly fell up very motional or moved by it and, I don’t know, I’m like, maybe it was something about the, the human attempt to like discover all of the possibilities of dividing this box. Or like there’s some sense of effort or labor and it’s meticulously done.

Mimi: So, I don’t know. That, I talked about that piece a lot with our factors as we started working on this piece. Low brow? Maybe, well, I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I’ve been, I’ve tried to watch Battlestar Galactica.

Katy: Mm-hmm(affirmative) We have some fans of that at our office.

Mimi: For the past like, seven years. I mean, I didn’t even start watching it until the entire thing was over. But it’s taken me like seven years, and I still haven’t finished watching. I just watch it like a tiny bit at a time when I have, when I have the time. But that’s certainly an example of a sort of insidious system of sorts.

Katy: Yeah.

Raina: Yeah.

Katy: Totally. Cool.

Mimi: Awesome.

Katy: Well, thank you so much for joining us, Mimi. So great to have you on the podcast.

Mimi: Thank you for having me.

Raina: Yeah. Superterranean will be presented at 2300 Arena September 5th through the 15 as part of the 2019 Fringe Festival. So we hope to see you all there. make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram and download the FringeArts app. You can also visit us at fringearts.com.

[Music Outro]

‘Us the Children of History’: Blanka Zizka on There

Posted July 23rd, 2019

At first glance, Etel Adnan’s book-length poem There: In the Light and the Darkness of the Self and of the Other, isn’t a natural candidate for adaptation into a play. There are no clearly delineated characters, or dialogue, or plot.

But the Wilma HotHouse Company of actors and its innovative director Blanka Zizka aren’t known for easy, conventional, or boring theater. A diverse group of local actors who meet regularly for artistic training and bonding, HotHouse uses diverse theatrical texts to explore the emotional core of language and relationships.

Etel Adnan’s poem was the very first piece of writing the company read when it began in 2015. As part of the 2019 Fringe Festival, Wilma HotHouse adapts There into an evocative theater piece co-created by Blanka Zizka (Wilma’s artistic director) and visual arts pioneer Rosa Barba. FringeArts’ guide editor Christopher Munden spoke to Blanka in June of 2019 about the meanings and context of this seminal work of contemporary poetry.

Blanka Zizka

Christopher Munden: When did you encounter the poem?

Blanka Zizka: Etel is a close friend of Theodoros Terzopoulos, the director of and Ajax and Antigone [which the Wilma produced in 2013 and 2015, respectively] and he suggested that I read her work. And it was sitting on my desk when I started to work on HotHouse.

One of the reasons for HotHouse was to bring people of different histories and experiences together, and to work as a community, as people who care for each other and create together even though our experiences are very different. So I was thinking that I couldn’t find text that I could work on, because so much of the texts nowadays are written out of identity.

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Blanka Zizka

Posted July 19th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, we depart from our usual watering hole (the FringeArts office and join the founder and President of FringeArts, Nick Stuccio, to toast The Wilma Theater‘s Artistic Director, Blanka Zizka, on her newest production,  There: In the Light and the Darkness of the Self and the Other, adapted from the poem by Lebanese-American poet Etel Adnan, with visual art by renown artist Rosa Barba.  There is one of the curated shows premiering in the 2019 Fringe Festival and performed by Wilma’s Hothouse Company.  There: In the Light and the Darkness of the Self and the Other will be at The Wilma this September 11–22.

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Conversation with Blanka Zizka

[Music Intro]

Nick Stuccio: Welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe, I’m Nick Stuccio, I’m the President and Producing Director of FringeArts. I’m here with Blanka Zizka, the Artistic Director of the Wilma Theater, the amazing Wilma Theater, and we’re gonna talk about There, help me Blanka, There… colon…

Blanka Zizka: So it’s There: In the Light and the Darkness of the Self and of the Other.

Nick: In the light and the darkness of the self and the other. Awesome. Before we start talking about There, of course this is Happy Hour on the Fringe, we gonna talk about what we’re drinking, and we’re at the Wilma, above Good Karma Cafe, right? Well, we’re above…

Blanka: We are above Good Karma Cafe.

Nick: Awesome. We’re looking down upon Good Karma Cafe in your awesome new office…your now windowed office…and we both happen to be both drinking the same thing. We’re drinking a couple of martinis, they’re fantastic, and we’re actually….

Blanka: Do you remember those like, those martini lunches? It used to be like in [the] 1980’s. I’m really old….

Nick: I’m close…I’m close.

Blanka: But, you know there was like, people who always had…not me, but…

Nick: I was gpomg to say….

Blanka: People, people. Those people out there used to have martini lunches….

Nick: In the other world; the for-profit world.

Blanka: Yes. Yes.

Nick: Here in the nonprofit world, we did not, except when we went to Europe on trips, I would have a beer with colleagues, which is awesome. I never actually had a martini for lunch, but dammit, it’s a tradition we should try. Anyway, so that’s what we’re drinking, we’re drinking a delicious San Pellegrino, today. So, Blanka, we’re very excited to have There in the festival this year. Very interesting…I’m very excited to hear about it…how it’s going. But, before we talk about There, I wanted to get some context from you. You and I have talked about this a lot, and I am your number one fan in this endeavor with the Hothouse Company. So, I want you to talk about the Hothouse…give us some context, it’s very, very cool…this company of actors that you’re holding, that is getting particular training, and you’re building this kind of unique, theatrical aesthetic. I actually read that on your website about the theatrical aesthetic you’re building, but what I didn’t read was what kind of particular aesthetic, if you can characterize that. Talk about Hothouse and talk about where you’re headed with it.

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‘The Greatest Step of Them All’: Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker Passes On her Fase to the Next Generation

Posted July 16th, 2019

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s breakthrough came in 1982, at the age of twenty-one, with Fase, Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich. For years, she continued to dance the piece herself. In 2018, however, the moment came for her to pass the torch to a new generation of Rosas dancers, who will perform it in Philadelphia September 12–14 as part of the 2019 Fringe Festival. Anne Teresa spoke to Rosas archivist and dramaturg Floor Keersmaekers about the relationship between the past and present of Fase, and the road traveled between both versions.

Floor Keersmaekers: Together with Rosas danst Rosas, Fase is the performance that has been on stage the most of all pieces, and has remained on the program all this time. Now, the time to pass on the choreography to a new generation of dancers seems to have come. Would you mind explaining why Fase is so important to you and to Rosas?

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker: Strictly speaking, Fase is not my first choreography – before that there was Ash (1980) – but it really was a seminal work, showing the first traces of a composition style I was later to make my own. Ash still was an exploration, an attempt to spy out the land. Fase is about the art of choreography, the art of composing movements that I wanted to master so badly as an autodidact. Violin Phase was the starting point for that exercise. When I left for New York to study at the Tisch School of the Arts in 1980, I kept a recording of Steve Reich in my travel sack. During the first months of my studies, I was bent on creating my own dance. I continued to consider this solo as ‘my’ own piece of dance, mainly since it contained all the elements that defined the (now 36-year) road that tracked the tight relationship between dance and music, and the concept of choreography as the art of organizing movements in time and space, where the music determines the time format and the space is divided based on an underlying geometry.

Finally, it also speaks to a strongly ‘focal’ use of energy. The vocabulary of movements deployed is highly minimalistic, almost mundane. Turning, jumping, swinging arms… it somewhat resembles the way a child dances. Yet in opposition to the simplicity of movements stands the outspoken energy of its execution. It is that tension I explored further in Rosas danst Rosas. The investment of such a high amount of physical energy in a composition culminates in a discharge that shares a great deal of emotional tension. At the time, that was at odds with the main strands of American minimalistic dance, which were based on a detached, almost mathematical sense of calculation and precision that required little to no personal involvement on the behalf of the dancer. Conversely, and in spite of the very tight structure and formality, dancing Fase has a great physical and—thus also emotional—intensity to it.

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Two Men, a Bench, and a Radio: Hermes Gaido on Un Poyo Rojo

Posted July 15th, 2019

Hermes Gaido is the artistic director of Un Poyo Rojo, a non-verbal theatrical work that uses movement to explore different relationships between two men. Meeting in a locker room, the Argentinian performers Alfonso Barón and Luciano Rosso interact and communicate entirely without dialogue. The duo draws on a wide range of movements to express different emotional possibilities, incorporating elements of dance, sport, and theater. After a decade of performances throughout Latin America, Un Poyo Rojo makes it’s U.S. premiere September 19–21 in Philadelphia for the 2019 Fringe Festival. FringeArts talked to Hermes Gaido in May of 2019 about this piece’s themes and continuing evolution.

FringeArts: What inspired Un Poyo Rojo?

Hermes Gaido: The desire to work with friends. At that time Luciano Rosso, Nicolas Poggi, and I lived together in the same house in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

FringeArts: How has the company and performance evolved over the years?

Hermes Gaido: It was created in 2008 and the premiere was in 2009. After two years of doing the show, Nicolas decided to move to another country, and we had to find a replacement. We saw Alfonso Barón on stage and decided to include him in the project.

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Zach Blackwood & Katy Dammers

Posted July 9th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, we chat with FringeArts Artistic Producers Zach Blackwood and Katy Dammers about the themes of the 2019 Fringe Festival, some of the exciting events happening, and the return of the Fringe Festival Bookstore! Learn more about the Fringe Festival, running September 5–22.

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

 

Conversation with Zach and Katy

[Music Intro]

Raina: Hello and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premier presenter of contemporary performing arts. I’m Raina Searles, Marketing Manager at FringeArts.

Tenara: And I’m Tenara Calem. I’m the Audience Engagement Coordinator at FringeArts.

Raina: We invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence.

Tenara: On this episode, we’re talking to our incredibly imaginative artistic producers here at FringeArts, Zach Blackwood and Katy Dammers. Zach and Katy are the ones who curate the great work we get to see year round and at the Fringe Festival, which showcases the arts of not only a variety of genres that work outside of the mainstream, but also shows off the talent powerhouse that is the city of Philadelphia. We’re going to talk about their process and their curation for this year, and what they’re excited about this season. Hello Katy and Zach!

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Mariana Arteaga

Posted June 24th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, we share a drink with Mexican public practice artist Mariana Arteaga. Mariana is the artistic force behind Úumbal: Nomadic Choreography for Inhabitants, and she shares the original inspiration for the piece when it premiered in Mexico City. Now, part of the 2019 Fringe Festival in September, Úumbal is an exercise in meeting, recognizing, and celebrating a community gathered for the joy of movement and exploring new ways of moving through public space. The choreography of Úumbal is developed of, by, and for Philadelphia residents who donated their best dance moves to the project, and crafted by  Mariana and a local choreographic team. Úumbal: Nomadic Choreography for Inhabitants runs September 7, 13 & 14 as part of the 2019 Fringe Festival.

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Feature Photo by Alejandra Carbajal

Conversation with Mariana Arteaga

[Music Intro]

Raina: Hello and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premier presenter of contemporary performing arts. I am Raina Searles, Marketing Manager here at FringeArts.

Tenara: And I’m Tenara, I’m the Audience Engagement Coordinator at FringeArts. We invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence.

Raina: Now, at the time this episode comes out, summer is in full swing at FringeArts. We have our free outdoor movie series featuring popular hits every Wednesday at 8:30, in our beer garden. We have Happy Hour deals from La Peg with a beautiful view of the water front. And, we on the FringeArts staff are working hard to make sure the 2019 Fringe Festival is ready to launch this September.

Tenara: So, today, we’re excited to be chatting with one of the artists who will be helping us launch the 2019 Fringe Festival with an exciting participatory dance piece on the heels of Le Super Grand Continental from 2018. Today, we’re talking with Mariana Arteaga who’s doing … Can you say the name of your piece?

Mariana: Úumbal.

Tenara: Úumbal.

Raina: Welcome, Mariana.

Mariana: Thank you very much for receiving me here, Raina and Tenara. And FringeArts, of course.

Tenara: Yes.

Raina: So, our first question that we always have to ask is, what are we all drinking for this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe?

Mariana: Definitely coffee. I am addicted to. I’m having coffee because I already had some lunch and every time I eat I need my coffee after.

Tenara: Yeah, it’s one of those post meal stupors that you go into and, it’s like ready for a nap. Yeah, I feel that. I’m drinking water.

Raina: Yeah. I’m having, I’m in all natural Snapple. Takes Two To Mango tea. So, a very fruity flavor today.

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