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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Ben Grinberg

Posted May 24th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, we had drinks with Ben Grinberg, Artistic Director of Almanac Dance Circus Theatre, instructor at Circadium and Pig Iron, and the curator and host for Test Flights, a circus scratch night. Join our conversation about how Ben found his way into circus, the growth of contemporary circus in Philadelphia, Almanac’s 5 year anniversary celebration season, and a teaser for who you may see at this July’s Test Flights! Learn more about Hand to Hand Circus Festival, running June 28—July 1.

Also, this weekend (May 24th) check out the final performances of Communitas: Five Years Later by Almanac Dance Circus Theatre.

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Feature Photo by Daniel Kontz

Conversation with Ben Grinberg

[Music Intro]

Katy: Hello, and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premier presenter of contemporary performing arts. I’m Katy Dammers, Artistic Producer here at FringeArts…

Raina: And I’m Raina Searles, Marketing Manager. We invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence. Here at FringeArts, our new work series dedicated to local Philadelphia artists called High Pressure Fire Service, or HPFS, as we like to call it, is coming to a close. At the time this episode is coming out, we have just two shows left coming up in June: The Sincerity Project #3, in 2019, by Team Sunshine Performance Corporation, which runs June 4th through the 8th, and Circuit City by Moor Mother, June 20th to the 22nd.

Katy: But today, we’re looking ahead to some of the events happening just the weekend after HPFS closes. We are presenting the second annual Hand to Hand Circus Festival, with Circadium School of Contemporary Circus, and with a dynamic performance by the Circadium first-year students on the 25th, called Circadium: Springboard, and then an exciting lineup of events happening June 28th through July 1st. Today, we’re chatting with Ben Grinberg, curator and host for Hand to Hand Scratch Night, also called Test Flights, and he’s the Artistic Coordinator and Theater Instructor at Circadium, and the Artistic Director for Almanac Dance Circus Theatre. Welcome, Ben.

Ben: Thanks so much.

Raina: So, our first question, as is tradition, is what are we all drinking for Happy Hour on the Fringe? Ben?

Ben: Well, it’s 2:30 pm, so I have an iced coffee, which is delicious. Thank you.

Katy: I’m drinking tea.

Raina: And I’m having a nice glass of cold water.

Ben: That’s pretty lame, isn’t it?

Katy: We’re doing our best. Doing our best in the midst of a work day on this Friday. Happy Hour will come soon enough.

Raina: Well, we’re always happy, that’s… We’re just happy with what we’re drinking.

Katy: Ben, maybe you can start by telling our listeners, how did you get started in physical theater and in circus?

Ben: Wow, okay, sure. I was a member of the inaugural class of the Pig Iron School, which was sort of my introduction to physical theater. I had done a bunch of theater in my life previous to that, but I really had no idea that you could think about creating your own work, or think about making work that didn’t start from a script. Until Quinn Bauriedel actually came, I was in my senior year of college, and I was directing… I had a crazy idea to do a commedia dell’arte version of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap for the experimental theater company, because I was like “Oh, these characters are all such archetypes!” And it was very strange, but so, in order to get some commedia training, we reached out in the larger Philadelphia theater world and Quinn came in and taught a four-hour physical theater workshop on commedia for us, and I…

My mind was completely blown. I had never been exposed to anything with levels of tension or anything like that before, so I knew, Quinn and I knew that I wanted to go to the Pig Iron School and start getting really invested in physical theater, and then at Pig Iron, one of the classes you have to take is acrobatics, which at Pig Iron, which I don’t know if you know I teach at Pig Iron, and their acrobatics is definitely about coordination, getting strong and staying fit as a performer, but it’s also about acrobatics as a metaphor for all of the kinds of risk-taking you need to do in order to open yourself up to be an available performer.

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Ben and Sydney Camp

Posted May 10th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, listen to Team Sunshine Performance Corporation artist Benjamin Camp discuss getting older with his four year old daughter Sydney, featuring some dynamic costume changes and a rendition of Let It Go from Frozen. Read more about The Sincerity Project #3 (2019), running June 4–8 at FringeArts. Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Feature Photo by Jen Cleary. Pictured: Ben and Syndey Camp in the second iteration of The Sincerity Project (2016).

Conversation with Ben and Sydney Camp

[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 Calem, Audience Engagement Coordinator at FringeArts. I invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence.

Here at FringeArts, our new works series dedicated to local Philadelphia artists called High Pressure Fire Service (or HPFS) is in full swing. At the time this episode comes up, Pig Iron Theatre Company’s A Hard Time will be wrapping up, and you can actually still buy tickets for A Hard Time. It wraps up this Sunday, May 12, and then we’ve got two more HPFS shows going through June. But before we head on into this week’s episode, I’m joined by a very special guest. Special guest, can you say who you are?

April: Hi I’m April Rose, and I’m the Fringe Festival Coordinator.

Tenara: Amazing. So April, you’re joining me today to let our listeners know about a special program that they can be a part of, correct?

April: Yes! So this is a program that we’ve created this year to make up for some losses in microgrant opportunities for artists. So there’s lots of artists participating in the Fringe Festival, and we want to make sure they have access to funding, so we created something called the 2019 Independent Artist FestiFund. So – fun combination of Festival Fund.

Tenara: Yes!

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Shana Kennedy and Sierra Rhoades Nicholls

Posted April 26th, 2019

In anticipation of our Hand to Hand festival in partnership with Circadium School of Contemporary Circus, Katy and Raina sat down with Circadium’s Executive Director, Shana Kennedy, and first-year student, Sierra Rhoades Nicholls, to discuss the future of contemporary circus. Shana and Sierra walk the hosts through their personal introductions to the circus arts, the intense training required to pursue a professional career, the importance of Circadium’s professional program for the growth of American contemporary circus and how opportunities like the first-year student showcase, Circadium Springboard, is preparing students to succeed in the circus world and beyond. Read more about Hand to Hand June 28–July 1 and Circadium Springboard on May 25. Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Conversation with Shana Kennedy and Sierra Rhoades Nicholls

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

Katy: And I’m Katy Dammers, Artistic Producer here. We invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence. Here at FringeArts, our new work series dedicated to local Philadelphia artists, called High Pressure Fire Service or HPFS for short, is in full swing. By the time this episode is making its way to you, Pig Iron Theatre Company’s A Hard Time will be opening soon, and you can still buy a three show HPFS subscription for the final three shows through June. But today, we’re looking ahead. Coming up this summer we’re presenting the second annual Hand to Hand Circus Festival in partnership with Circadium School of Contemporary Circus. Today we’re out at Circadium’s campus in Mount Airy and are joined by Shana Kennedy, executive and founding director of Circadium, and Sierra Rhoades Nicholls, a current student at Circadium. Welcome, everybody.

Katy: Welcome.

Shana: Thanks, glad to be here.

Raina: So for Happy Hour on Fringe, we always have to ask, what are we all drinking? I’ll start. I’m enjoying a nice Poland spring water.

Katy: I have the chai tea today. And Shana, what about you?

Shana: I’m on Vitaminwater Zero. That is my drink of choice.

Raina: Which makes sense. We’re all healthy. We want to be hydrated. Excellent.

Shana: Very important.

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A Look Back at the History of Contemporary Circus

Posted April 19th, 2019
By Lexi DeFilippo, Communications Intern Spring 2019

This summer, FringeArts’ annual circus festival Hand to Hand returns to bring the wonder of contemporary circus to the heart of Philadelphia. In partnership with Circadium School of Contemporary Circus, the first and only diploma-granting circus program in the US, we’re excited to highlight some of the new and innovative performers taking on the circus scene. And in honor of World Circus Day (third Saturday in April, ie. April 20, 2019), we’re taking a look back at the history behind contemporary circus worldwide.

Sometimes known as new circus or nouveau cirque, contemporary circus can be perceived as an enigma. On a structural level, contemporary circus challenges the traditional circus by rejecting the use of animals, acts without any connected through line, and (in most cases) the big top tent as a performance space. Another notable difference from traditional circus is the shift in who is performing contemporary circus acts. Instead of the circus family model where skills are passed down generations to produce family units that travel with a circus and live on the road, contemporary circus productions employ conservatory-trained professionals from all over the world. These conscious steps away from the kitsch of traditional circus have helped push contemporary circus into the spotlight as a more intention-driven form of entertainment that highlights the excitement, finesse, and true artistry of the circus arts.

Contemporary circus began to emerge in the late 1960s-early 70s when groups in Australia, France, United Kingdom, and the West Coast of the United States began to combine the circus arts with more theatrical elements. One of the earliest circus companies credited with incorporating theater into their routines is the Royal Lichtenstein Circus, founded in San Jose by a Jesuit priest in 1971. They were also one of the first groups to use a one-ring format which allowed for the performers to create a more intimate connection with the audience.

This clip from their side-show in 1984 is an example of how the Royal Lichtenstein Circus used theater as a to tell stories through their performances. The choreography acts as a vessel to bring an abstract idea to life while showing off the physicality of the performers.

Another early contemporary circus group, the Pickle Family Circus, formed in 1975 by members of a mime troupe, was one of the first groups to start threading social commentary into their work. The troupe prided itself on being a democratic organization in which all of the performers received equal pay and played an integral part in the operation of the circus as well as the production. The Pickle Family Circus is known for telling a narrative with their productions and using circus acts to move the story along while keeping the audience at the edge of their seats with amazement.

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Getting In A Tangle: Meredith Rosenthal Goes In the Forest

Posted September 7th, 2018

A Fringe Festival favorite since 2011, Tangle Movement Arts is a contemporary circus arts company whose performances mix traditional circus like trapeze and acrobatics with dance, theater, and live music to tell multidimensional stories. Tangle’s work reflects individuals of diverse identities, with an emphasis on queer and female experiences, and is devised collaboratively by its all-female ensemble.

Meredith Rosenthal

FringeArts spoke to Meredith Rosenthal, a member of this ensemble, about Tangles new work In the Forest—an immersive world of circus-theater that surrounds the audience with a 360-degree display of aerial dance, live music, giant yarn sculptures, and circus magic. The show comes to the 2018 Fringe Festival September 12-15, at the Sanctuary at the Rotunda in West Philly..

FringeArts: How did you become involved with Tangle?

Meredith Rosenthal: About five years ago, Lauren Rile Smith discovered me at a student showcase at Philadelphia School of Circus Arts. My first ever performance! She asked me to be a guest artist for a TinyCircus show, one of Tangle’s pop-up circus events.

FringeArts: What do you like about the company?

Meredith Rosenthal: Tangle feels almost more like a community than a company. Everyone is so supportive and encouraging. We try to make accessible circus for the masses, whether it’s by outdoor performances or our energetic narrative shows.

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What Makes Us Humans? Yaron Lifschitz on Contemporary Circus

Posted September 3rd, 2018

Jaw-droppingly impressive in its physicality, Circa Contemporary Circus pushes the boundaries of circus arts, exploring the expressive possibilities of the human body at its extremes. Its latest work, Humans, is presented in partnership with the Annenberg Center Live and NextMove Dance as part of the 2018 Fringe Festival.

FringeArts talked to Yaron Lifschitz, artistic director of the Australian circus troupe, about the heart-stopping work.

FringeArts: “Humans” is a beautifully universal title. What inspired it and made it fitting for the show?

Yaron Lifschitz: I was sitting at my desk and I’d just completed the arrangement to create a show for the Sydney Festival, and I’d called it my Untitled Show and I didn’t really know what it was about. I thought what interested me most was the way in which humans move, groove, pulse, beat with rhythm through them, and how this kind of connects us as a species, maybe it defines us, and yet this works against the static nature of much of acrobatic form. So the idea of what can make human the work we do—what can make it more intensely human and present—became the core idea of the show, and the title just sprung into my head. And then of course it’s such a beautiful title, and thinking about books like Sapien and Homo Deus and thinking about some of the contemporary thinking about humans led me forward from there.

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From Beauty Queen to Circus Scenes

Posted August 29th, 2018

“The fitness competition in pageantry is no different than exotic dancing, or stripping. We are taking our clothes off and exposing ourselves for money. I can’t imagine why we treat the disciplines so differently.”

Thumbing through the Fringe Guide, you may have been struck by the striking advertisement on page 98 promoting Almanac Dance Circus Theatre’s Jeanne/Jean/John/Jawn. You’re not wrong in thinking the female performer casually supporting the weight of founding company member Adam Kerbel could be a beauty queen. She is.

Lauren Johns joined Almanac in 2016 and stars in its 2018 Fringe show. Before that, she competed in pageants, winning several regional awards and placing in the top ten of the Miss Pennsylvania competition. She talked to FringeArts about her varied performance history and the feminist critiques of pageantry.

FringeArts: What’s your background in performance art?

Lauren Johns: I’m the middle child. I grew up a dancer at a little gem of a dance studio, Out of His Mind, in Johnstown, PA. I tripped and conveniently fell into a scholarship at The University of the Arts BFA Dance program. As I began creating I found myself trying to convince dancers to let me throw them in the air or climb on their heads or have them try to balance with only their chests on the ground. When I presented my first work Katie Swords told me, “Lauren, this isn’t dance, you’re making physical theater.” This led me to take a job with a physical theater company, Aura CuriAtlas, then Almanac.

FringeArts: When did you join Almanac?

Lauren Johns: I was performing with  Aura Curiatlas when I met Ben [Grinberg] at a performance. He invited me to a workshop/audition for Fringe 2016’s Exile 2588. It has been true love ever since. Almanac doesn’t just accept my weird inclinations, but helps me develop the skills I need to create and collaborate.

FringeArts: You also have a background in a different type of performance?

Lauren Johns: There is a program in my hometown, Outstanding Young Women (OYW), that straddles a debutante ball and a pageant. This program strictly dignifies itself in being a scholarship organization. There are a series of application processes and interviews that review your educational merit to be accepted into the program. The areas of competition include presence and presentation, talent, interview, and fitness. The fitness competition in this case was a true test of fitness. We jumped around stage with an aerobic dance and then did a series of pushups and single leg squats in logo T-shirts and smiles plastered on our faces. You better believe I won that fitness competition. I then did a number of programs where I wore a dress and received accolades. I caught the eye of a local dress boutique owner, she encouraged me to compete in the Miss America system.

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2018 Festival Spotlight: Family Friendly Fringe

Posted August 24th, 2018

The Fringe isn’t always adults only! Everyone is welcome at these fun, engaging performances suitable for the whole family.

Chichi Chip (an ode to the Gnarly)
Philly Kerplop
An interactive performance featuring hip-hop dance and a live marching band, taking place in Philly’s iconic LOVE Park. Philly Kerplop’s display of humor and daring physical dexterity will activate the park spaces in ways that feel both familiar and awe-inspiring.
More info and tickets here

FIGMAGO
Meg Saligman Studio
FIGMAGO is part art installation, part room escape, and all parts wonderfully immersive. Enter the mind of a muralist as you explore secret passages and mesmerizing art to discover a mysterious mural that comes to life. YOU become the artist as the story unfolds. Hands-on and phone-free fun for all ages!
More info and tickets here

Garden of Vessels
Sina Marie (I Am a Vessel Youth Initiative)
Welcome to the future of the pop-up garden phenomenon. Imagine a garden where imagination and technology fall in love, cultivating the minds and innate abilities of the youth to a full bloom. Visionary Sina Marie creates an interactive experience. A diaspora from the underground up! We welcome you to…the Garden of Vessels.
More info and tickets here

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Nicole Burgio Shoots For The Moon in Almanac’s xoxo moongirl

Posted June 25th, 2018

The newest show from Almanac Dance Circus Theatre, xoxo moongirl, comes this Tuesday, June 26 to Christ Church Neighborhood House. Fringe favorite Almanac is the company behind Exile 2588 (2016) and Leaps of Faith and Other Mistakes (2017), and will appear again in the 2018 Festival with Jeanne/Jean/John/Jawn, a circus extravaganza.

Nicole Burgio

Almanac’s current show xoxo moongirl is an autobiographical solo performance by company member Nicole Burgio, who tells the story of her childhood, which was plagued by domestic violence and abuse. Using many forms of performance art, Burgio confronts her past and, in it, finds hope and resilience.

I think often times when bad or violent things are portrayed in media and popular culture, they are either communicated about in a very clinical way so that the facts are all 100% accurate, or they can be very graphic,” director Ben Grinberg tells FringeArts, discussing the timeliness of the show amid the #MeToo era. “Using dance, circus, and theater, we can get at all of the feelings and sensations and acts of processing that are messy and not clear cut.”

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Making Art in 2017: Noa Schnitzer on The Currency of Belief

Posted August 16th, 2017

Noa Schnitzer. Photo by Heather Dawn Sparks.

Name: Noa Schnitzer

2017 Festival Show: The Currency of Belief: Trapeze and Spiritual Comedy

Role: Creator, Performer

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

Noa Schnitzer: I am engaged in exploring the intangible elements that make up the gap between who we are and who we want to be, as a solo entity and as a community. To begin illuminating this gap is to understand where we come from as individuals. In this show, religion and gender are put under my artistic microscope. I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish community and decided to stop practicing at the age of eighteen. Over the years, prayers from this past pop up in my mind and stay with me for days. The fact that fifteen years later these prayers have an  involuntary voice in my mind got me thinking about the strength and significance of prayer, practice, and identity in community. In The Currency of Belief, the voice of prayer holds space for the hidden seams in this one life I am exploring: my own. Through these illuminations a question arises, Is there anything that prayer is not?

FringeArts: How have your interests in or approach to art making changed in the last year? 

Photo by Abigail Bell, Michelle Bates and Heather Dawn Sparks.

Noa Schnitzer: I am more proactive in reaching out to people that I want to collaborate with. The thing that I always need to practice accepting is that my art is important, and while conventional parameters of success are an amplifier for my ego, I am the main amplifier of my ideas.

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Poetry in the Air: Tangle Movement Arts brings Life Lines to the Fringe

Posted July 26th, 2017

Rebecca Mo Davis in Life Lines

In their seventh consecutive Fringe Festival show, Tangle Movement Arts uses the poetry of aerial dance and acrobatics to express stories of loss. The show is Life Lines, and it blends together circus arts, theater, and live music.  Philadelphia-born Lauren Rile Smith is one of the producers of the show and founders of the company. “Life Lines is a portrait of a community that is recovering from sudden losses,” she says. “It follows the story of three different women who are processing and healing from really unexpected change: one losing a lover, one losing a sense of safety or security, one losing a sense of connection with others.” In line with much of Tangle’s past work, this show is intensely emotional. The artists use their movements as a physical language to express feelings of loss, “like when you literally feel like the ground can’t support you, or that the person who’s holding you will drop you suddenly.”

Lauren grew up in a family of artists. She’s the oldest of four sisters, all artists: one sister is a violist, one is a playwright, and another a glassblower. She had never practiced circus arts – she had been on the track to become a writer. But while studying English at Swarthmore College, Lauren encountered the writings of a dancer and acrobat that guided her in another direction. “I’ve had chronic pain for most of my adult life. She wrote about her body as though it were a companion, a creative project, a creative constraint, something to take care of, and something that took care of her. I was mesmerized by the possibility that really anyone could relate to their body that way, and I thought, I want that.” She began learning the trapeze in 2009, and found that the nature of the exercise, along with becoming stronger, diminished her pain. All at once, she found herself falling in love with the art form of trapeze. “I loved the way it married these concrete visual metaphors with these surreal actions, like spinning upside down.”

With a couple of friends, she started Tangle Movement Arts in 2011, as an all-women group that was barreling head-on into a new and growing contemporary circus arts movement. Their first show, Ampersand, was in the Fringe Festival that year. Since then, they’ve put on two major shows each year, along with smaller pop-up productions in between. Even though she’s from Philly, she found herself thrown into the Philly arts scene in a new way, discovering that it was a vibrant and innovative community. She met many artists that moved Philly specifically to make art. “I’m finding that it’s such a welcoming community, and the different artistic communities have such great overlap.” One of these artists was Megan Gendell, who wrote the words that inspired Lauren back in college and changed the way she viewed her body. (She has since collaborated with Tangle, in past shows Tell it Slant and Points of Light.)

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Yesterday was a disaster

Posted May 1st, 2017

Republished with kind permission from the Almanac Fronteras blog.  For more blog posts, click here. 

… right from the start. I walked in (late) to our dangerously short rehearsal preceding the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts staff show, and felt like something was off. Swiftly we worked and reworked the excerpt we’d decided to share, swapping Robin in for LJ’s part, which Robin calmly took on — quickly learning and practicing tricks she’d never done before…. surfing Ben up to two high on her back, catching Emmanuel and Cole as they fall backward into the group’s arms from up high…..   It was clear to all of us we were working on borrowed time and yet we stubbornly pushed on. This is something we do well:: We challenge ourselves and we challenge each other.  Usually asking more than what feels safe or possible. Often inside pressure cookers of limited time.  And often we find, surprisingly, that we are actually capable.  With wide eyes and pumping blood we find our bodies doing things together we’ve never done before.

So in some ways this flash rehearsal felt familiar.  Except, as audience members arrived, it became increasingly clear Joe was too sick to perform. His body, hit by a gastro-intestinal infection, was literally shutting down before my eyes.  He needed to lay down, see a doctor, drink water—anything but perform an acrobatic dance.  So there we were, again reworking the piece, only now in darkness backstage with the rest of the show’s performers, with few minutes to spare.

I’ll add here that catching a flying body is much harder with three people than with four, as one can imagine.  And, trying to do two peoples’ jobs can get you punched in the face by a foot… which is exactly what happened to me.  So there I am, top of show, crouched in the darkness weeping silently.  My nose felt like it was broken and gushing blood (it wasn’t… it is actually just bruised thankfully) as I ran through the newest changes in my head over and over.

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