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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Jess Conda, Jenn Kidwell and Betty Smithsonian

Posted April 12th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, Jess Conda and Jenn Kidwell, two-thirds of the artistic team behind A Hard Time, sit down to chat with comedian Betty Smithsonian about what’s so freaking funny. They chat about what men should do at talkbacks, what audiences can expect at A Hard Time, and why people (men) believe that women aren’t funny. This episode contains explicit language.  Listen to the podcast or read the full transcript below.

Feature Photo by Jauhien Sasnou

Conversation with Jess Conda, Jenn Kidwell, and Betty Smithsonian

Musical interlude

Tenara: Hello and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premiere presenter of contemporary performing arts. I’m Tenara, the Audience Engagement Coordinator here. 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 are getting ready for the Berserker Residents upcoming family-friendly piece Broccoli, Roosevelt, and Mr. House! which opens TONIGHT. Come on by with the whole family for this spectacularly silly show about fun, adventure, and friendship. Tickets are available on our website at fringearts.com. But today, you’re going to hear a conversation between three fantastically funny comedians: Jenn Kidwell and Jess Conda – two-thirds of the trio of Pig Iron Theatre’s newest show, A Hard Time, opening at FringeArts on May 1st. Jenn and Jess sat down with legendary comic Betty Smithsonian, also known in Philly as Beth Eisenberg, whose claims to fame are vast and who organizes and curates the amazing comedy night The Bechdel Test Fest. Jenn, Jess, and Beth talk about A Hard Time, what’s so funny, and what men at talkbacks should do.

Jess: And the safe-word is: cut that, don’t you dare fucking put that in the interview.

Betty: Yeah.

happy hour on the fringe

Betty Smithsonian at Blue Heaven 2019. Photo by Kevin Monko.

Jenn: In my “interview.” Get that out of my “interview.”

Betty: Yeah, the safe-word is “these are new, is that a new stain?”

Jess: I love it.

Betty: Alright everyone, welcome to the podcast interview moment, this intersection of essay podcast and real conversation. I am Betty Smithsonian and I am joined by two fantastic individuals who are:

Jenn: Jenn Kidwell.

Jess: And Jess Conda!

Betty: Heyo! Today we are going to be chatting about something that we all know is the most non-controversial thing ever – women and comedy. Tell me how your show is going to fix the world. Tell me in ten seconds or less.

Jenn: This is what I was thinking this morning – I keep going back to this thing that our director said – our director who is a man. His name is Dan Rothenberg.

Betty: I know Dan!

Jenn: Yeah, everybody knows that guy. That guy.

Jess: That scalliwag.

Betty: I saw him falling asleep at a show once.

Jenn: That just means he likes it. So Dan said – he was relaying this quote that ‘women are afraid that men are going to kill them. And men are afraid that women are going to laugh at them.’ And I was thinking this morning that ultimately perhaps this show gives male-identified people – gives the patriarchy an opportunity to laugh at itself. And notice how silly and idiotic it is.

Betty: The patriarchy.

Jess: OUR FRIEND THE PATRIARCHY.

Betty: The patriarchy! So that’s fantastic, can’t wait to see the show. Go on and remind me what the name of this show is.

Jenn: It’s called A Hard Time. But the official title is Jess Conda, Jenn Kidwell, Mel Krodman Want to Give You A Hard Time.

Jess: Duh duh duh da duh duh.

Betty: Beautiful.

Jenn: *laughing* How do you spell that?

Betty: Is this a noir piece? Where is this piece living? What’s happening in the show?

Jenn: It’s not noir!

Jess: It’s like a pastiche, which is a snobby word for collage, of different things that are funny to us until they’re not funny. So we kind of were inspired by vaudeville and quick change and the way like, our bodies can morph into different characters. You know, cause we’re all trained in this kind of clown way.

Jenn: Yeah like using your body.

Jess: But also like what can this body do, can this body take on all these different identities over the course of the play.

Jenn: And is that funny?

Jess: Yeah, and is that funny?

Jenn: But it starts off with this sort of – so some men got together and defined comedy as the benign violation theory. It’s their theory about comedy. And we open the piece by discussing this benign violation theory, and then we sort of put it into practice in this Vaudevillian, quick-change manner. And then we continue to put the theory into practice in a long, drag sequence in which we are playing three drag personas. Two of them are Len and Stan. And I pointed at Jess when I said Len because Jess is Len, and I am Stan.

Betty: So you’re talking about what is going on in this show.

Jenn: Yes. This is what happens in this show. We start off with the benign violation theory –

Jess: SPOILER ALERT – that was the first forty minutes of the show.

Jenn: But just to say actually there’s a throughline which is: what’s so funny?

Betty: Yeah, so tell me that. What do you think is the issue right now with women being called out for either being too sensitive around comedy or women being called out for not being funny? Tell me what you think of that?

Jenn laughs

Jenn: Do you call somebody out for not being funny? I feel like, the call-out – I always attach that to politics.

Betty: Well, I guess like people saying that women aren’t funny. That is a thing that people have said. Men specifically. For a long, long time.

Jenn: I mean, they also say that women aren’t powerful. But that’s not true! Why would I believe them?

Jess: That is funny.

Betty: So what do you think about this show proving that thing that you just said? Do you think it’s possible to create theater that can unravel that very frustrating thing? I am a comic, I hear it all the time that women aren’t funny. So tell me how your show could unravel that. What do you think about it personally, not even just your show?

Jess: I’m going to go back into something I was tapping at, and this is just true for me – about my body. Which is that sometimes, I think that women get labeled as unfunny, because you’re too caught up in my damn body. And that’s a complicated thing that we maybe can’t unpack as a society in a play. But I think there is something in the way in which my/our bodies are revealed to this audience over and over and over and over again where hopefully my body becomes fucking irrelevant by the time I’m through. That’s just how I feel. I think that that’s one key that we offer to the audience.

Betty: And this concept of making your bodies into – like you were saying you morph into things in this show, and you’re kind of pulling apart that concept with that through-line?

Jess: There’s a lot of shapeshifting in the show.

Jenn: Can I go back to something – what you said, ‘I feel like maybe people don’t think women are funny because they’re so caught up with my body,’ meaning like they can’t even listen to what you’re saying because they’re so focused on appearance? Is that what you mean?

Jess: Yes. I think there is a –

Betty: Like the first thing that a female brings to the world is their body and the second or third or fourth thing is what they say, or the space that they take up outside of that. I think it’s part of the reason why we see some comics who have different shaped bodies have to do different kinds of comedy, right? The people that on the planet would be considered less average body shapes, and bigger shapes would have to do a different kind of comedy.

Jess: Or what are you looking at when you look at this? I’m doing a stand-up and you have to like rank my tits for five minutes before you maybe listen to what I say. And that is part of why the drag piece is kind of important to me because it’s just like, watch our bodies do this, now this, now this, now this, now this, and like, have you listened? Have you taken my tits out of the equation of your listening? Cause I don’t need to be sexualized when I do public speaking about whatever I might be public speaking about.

Jenn: I think, I appreciate what you’re saying and I think that the drag section works in a couple different ways. It works in the like, how about we take my tits out of the equation, or like, all of the ways that you want to sexualize me as like a woman out of the equation because we’re playing these dudes – I mean, they’re not calendar guys. I don’t know. The other way that that section works is this thing that you were trying to say which is like, how are you hearing me? We might actually be saying lots of the same things, so how is the humor working now that we’re inhabiting these other bodies? And also don’t forget that we’re still here. So actually all of this stuff is being said by and written by women. We just decided that the mouthpiece for this section is going to be these dudes. And then there’s more, but that would be spoiler alert.

Betty: What do you think is funny?

Jenn: I have no idea how to answer that question. You mean, just in general, in life?

Betty: Yeah, what’s funny to you?

Jenn: I’m trying to think of the last funny thing that happened today…

Jess: We’re just gunna cut that part out –

Jenn: Yeah, edit that out! “What do you think is funny?” “Uhhhhhhhhhhh…..um. Stuff.”

Jess: We do make each other laugh a lot. Have you ever done that game with kids? Or adults? The theater game where you have two partners facing each other and you have to like make the other person laugh?

Jenn: Just like, do whatever you can do?

Jess: Like I would say a funny word and then you would say a funny word?

Jenn: Yeah, I think so. In like clown class.

Jess: I’m just thinking about that.

Betty: Have you ever done the game where you look at someone and you just have to just start fake laughing together? And then turn that into fake-crying?

Jess: Oh yeah. The membrane is so thin between laughing and crying!

Jenn: It’s true!

Betty: Well I guess I want to know what’s funny because I want to know what drives this show for you as you build something comedic. So you’re playing in a space and the thing that makes you laugh, or delights you is the thing that you’re doing, and then you have this like other social thing that you’re trying to push out there, so that’s why I’m wondering what’s funny to you.

Jess: I wish Mel Krodman, who is a comic genius, was here.

Jenn: She’s in Atlanta.

Jess: She’s in Atlanta. I mean, there’s general weirdnesses that are delightful to us. And I’m talking about like when we first started rehearsing basically we sourced this gigantic amount of – I’m going back to vaudeville – a giant amount of vaudeville costumes and put them in the rehearsal room. And we just followed our bliss in terms of inventing these characters and a lot of that is based on like stupidity, just like what tickles us in this stupid way. I’m thinking of our French teacher in grad school. She would say, ‘That is so stupid!’ and that was like the best compliment you could get in art school. So stupid things are funny to us. Mel has this real talent for being like, these teeth and these eyebrows and this belly and this cape make me wanna go, wooooo, and it’s just because it’s so pleasure-based, so that’s kind of the practice.

Jenn: You have a talent for those one-liners that are so wise but also just like everything gets distilled in just a few words.

Jess: Well, Len is dumb. Len is kind of a base man. But the maker is smart, so he gives me a vehicle to the kind of like, to have some dead air.

Jenn: But there’s some real wisdom there.

Jess: Yeah.

Betty: Do you ever feel – so I’m faced in comedy to be super clever, we have to be super clever, we have to always be at the top of our intelligence, we have to create and craft these words and these kinds of concepts and things that are the smartest. But the way I do it is more towards this, because I feel like that’s where you get people to really open up, to get them to laugh at something that they don’t realize is the funniest thing. It kind of shuts off their brain center a little bit and they react to the fun.

Jenn: I think it can be visceral. It’s visceral at times.

Betty: Mm. Yeah. So, if you could wave a magic wand and have someone who’s leaving your show have a thought in their bodies because of what they just saw, what would it be?

Jenn: Uhhh…I kind of would love for people to be like, I think I have to go throw up right now…but like enjoy it.

Betty: YES! Yes!

Jess: I mean, it would be nice – I would like to have a talkback where the old white men in the audience said nothing. But like, in a way where they were checked in but they didn’t want to speak first, or perhaps at all.

Jenn: That’s what the magic wand really does. It says: ‘you don’t have to say nothing.’

Jess: Right?! Like if they were like, ‘perhaps this is a gentle time in my life to allow listening to enter.’

Jenn: ‘Let me unburden myself from the feeling that I need to insert myself.’

Jess: Can you sing that again?

Jenn: ‘InSERT myself.”

Jess: No, what’s the song?

Jenn: You don’t have to say nothing, just sit there and be quiet.

Jess: But like if they really meant it! If they were like, ‘ahh…I can free myself from all this…. penetrating.’

Betty: Yeah, yeah, that’s what’s up.

Jess: That would be amazing.

Jenn: *impersonating a pastor* And every man becomes a wide receiver!!

Betty: A wide receiver for like a football team?

Jenn: I don’t actually know what wide receivers do.

Betty: *impersonating a pastor* Every man becomes a titan!

Jenn: I was just thinking like instead of constantly pushing themselves, you know it’s like, they expand, take it all in.

Betty: So they can check their privilege and really check in?

Jenn: But we don’t even have magic wands. We have magic vagina lips.

Betty: Yeah! Some of us do! I can’t wait to see your show. Is there a talkback for your show?

Jenn: We were just talking about that today.

Jess: We have to talk about that, I think there will definitely be. I think it’s nice to have a chance to put discussion in the room after a performance. I mean, all that said about how I want all the men to be quiet, but still be in the room and engage with the material.

Betty: Have the two of you ever done work before that’s tried to shift the understanding around gender on the stage? Or at least leave your audience with a new understanding? Have you done theater for social change before? I mean, I know nothing about the two of you except for a little bit. Where does this rank in terms of on your road of work?

Jenn: I tend to do politically charged work that sometimes makes people throw up.

Betty: Nice.

Jenn: Or faint.

Jess: Send emails.

Jenn: Oh yeah, send emails. Respond.

Betty: Did you get emails from a show you did?

Jenn: Oh yeah. I once had somebody watch something I did and when we were doing the talkback, and this individual stood up with no question, but just told me in no uncertain terms how much he hated what I had just done and how terrible it was. He was like, ‘I don’t know what you are, if you’re a man, a woman, a lesbian.’ It was beyond.

Betty: Was that the worst moment – well, I won’t say worst – was that the most intense review you’ve ever gotten?

Jenn: Noo…

Betty: Alright then, what was the most intense review you’ve ever gotten after a show?

Jenn: I’ve been accused of pornography, I’ve had an entire campus of students hate me and everybody else associated with the show. And they’re still mad, I think! I mean, that’s just such a long story. Somebody on the faculty just quit not because of our show, but I think our show kicked off some things on that campus that, uh…so yeah.

Betty: You shook it up! You jostled it!

Jess: I was recently called some things by the local press that were motivating.

Betty: What local press? Is there still local press?

Jess: I just like the phrase, you know, the local press.

Jenn: They were motivating?

Betty: Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Jess: Well, yeah! I was doing a cabaret in the Fringe with the Bearded Ladies, and the reviews came out, and one said, ‘the half-screamed, half-bleated vocals of Jess Conda proved particularly inept.’ Bleated like a sheep.

Betty: Oh shit!

Jess: Baaaa.

Jenn: Baaa.

Jess: And the other one said ‘I wish I had skipped the self-indulgent Jess Conda’. Cause I do a lot of rock and roll singing in my underwear.

Jenn: I would say – a gentleman asked us – accused – it was an accusation. It was a j’accuse.

Jess: Oh! Are you going back to the very first question of our talkback in our works in progress showing?

Jenn: We had a work in process. He said, ‘I have a question. I mean…is metaphor dead?’ Right? That’s what he said. Is metaphor dead.

Jess: It was like louder and grumpier though. I HAVE A QUESTION.

Jenn: Yeah. ‘I have a question. I mean. Come on! Is metaphor dead?’ And then were we like – ‘do you mean, did we kill it?’ Is that what we’re getting at here?

Betty: Did you watch the murder of metaphor here?

Jenn: What did we say?

Jess: I’ve kind of erased that question.

Betty: I have a question. In terms of like why we make work and what the reviews say or don’t say, what is for you the ultimate point of doing this show?

Jenn: It’s pleasure. It’s fun.

Jess: Yeah.

Jenn: And it allows me to ask myself questions about like my point of view and how I’ve been conditioned, how I’ve been gendered or accepted a gendering of the world. How am I feeding into the patriarchy, what am I doing to buck up against it?

Jess: I do think humor is a rad vehicle to have conversations that are important but can maybe feel too earnest in other mediums. You know, I’m thinking about the funniest thing that I think happened this year was Michele Wolf’s White House Press Correspondents dinner bit. In the way that humor can be the thing that lets us say all this shit that if we were just doing some kind of autobiographical monologue play perhaps would be tedious for all. Perhaps. But you know, comedy is this boat that allows us to be like, ‘this is stupid. This is so stupid. This is so pleasurable, this is so stupid, stupid, stupid.’ And this is also so fucking stupid and it’s actually not funny anymore. And I think it’s just a medium to have these kinds of harder talks.

Jenn: It’s the truth-telling medium, and I think that is why tears and laughter reside so closely. I mean, I’m a big proponent of this. You know, just peeking over the fence of comedy is devastation. And that’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking about the patriarchy. That’s some real suffering.

Betty: Yeah, just to plug one of the things that I do –

Jenn: To anal plug it?

Betty: Just to anal plug one of the things that I do is an event called Porn Stash, which is a panel of comics where we look at porn and review different –

Jenn: Like a mustache? Or…

Betty: And a stash of porn.

Jenn: A stash of porn!

Betty: It’s a double entendre, I guess. We always have sex educators in the audience just to be there, but it’s all about sex education and sex positivity and we’ve been doing the show for a couple years, our goal is just to shift – by getting somebody to laugh, their mouth is open, which connects directly to their brain, and we can just throw the stuff in there, and it kind of jostles in there while they’re laughing. Like if you can get their mouth open laughing, you can insert in the bigger things, even if it’s just questions or curiosities or whatever. It sits in a different place, because you suddenly have all this access to the ‘HA!’

Jess: You mean something clinical’s happening when you’re laughing?

Betty: A hundred million percent.

Jess: I believe that.

Betty: It shifts a part of open mindedness that removes all barriers.

Jess: Boi-oi-oi-oing.

Betty: Well I think we’ve said it all – what do you guys think?

Jess: I think there’s plenty of material to cobble together into a piece!

Betty: I think women are funny, I think people are funny, I think men are funny, I think that we can do more, we have to do more–

Jenn: Anybody who would make a statement like, ‘women aren’t funny’ – I’m like, what? I just want that person to look themselves in the mirror with a finger in their butt –

Betty: I mean, are you in the comedy community? I’m about to bring you into some groups with specific comics where their main goal is to continue to make sure people know that women are not funny, that women can’t be funny, that women are not as funny as men, and there’s like incredible comics in this city. We’re talking Mary Radzinski, Chanel Ali, Michelle Biloon, who are phenomenal comics, who do not get booked as often as the most mediocre, straight white dude fucking two years out because there is this overwhelming sense that men are funnier than women. Or that audiences want to see male comics over female comics. So the reason that I’m saying it is because for some reason there’s a community out there that doesn’t fucking think it.

Jess: That’s so stupid.

Jenn: If you wake up in the morning and you think to yourself in any semblance of rational sense that women aren’t funny, you need to take your dominant hand and put it on your genitals. Take a finger from your other hand and stick it up your ass. Open your mouth. Thank you.

Betty: Well, you two are in the theater world, I think core, and then music and then comedy and clown and all that stuff. I do a bunch of shows every month and am always looking for comics to come on up and do a bit, a character, a song, even if it’s just chatting with the audience. There are stages with microphones filled with a bunch of people who think that women aren’t funny. So, when y’all wanna come down and fucking shake your shit out, I got a mic for you.

Jess: That is so kind!

Jenn: That is kind! We might take you up on it.

Betty: And when can I come see your show?

Jess: Come through! It’s May 1-12.

Betty: Dan is the director, and you three are the writers, and who is the lighting designer?

Jenn: Amyth. Justin Hicks on sound, Meredith Ries is on scenic design, Jack Tamburri on the Dramaturgy. LeVonne Lindsay on costumes. That’s a heavy lift.

Jess: That is a heavy lift, she’s doing great.

Betty: Where is the show? It’s going to be at FringeArts?

Jess: Right here at FringeArts.

Betty: Well, I wanna thank y’all for doing this, and please come to the Bechdel Test Fest –

Jess: Yo, thanks for all you do man, in the trenches, getting the funny to the people.

Betty: I’m in those other trenches in the other side of the stream, but I want to jump into your brook once in a while and you can come into my pond.

Tenara: Is metaphor dead?!

Jenn: TAKE THAT!

Betty: I also think we should start a Facebook group that’s just the bad reviews and emails and everything –

Jenn: Let’s start a WhatsApp group, cause I quit Facebook, because…fuck Facebook.

Betty: Yeah, dude, I’ll do a WhatsApp.

Tenara: You know, Facebook owns WhatsApp.

Jenn: FUCK.

Betty: Fuck!

Jess: Oh no.

Tenara: Thank you for joining us for this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe. Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, and download the FringeArts app. Visit FringeArts.com to purchase tickets for A Hard Time, which runs May 1-12. We’ll see you soon.

HPFS Splash: Gritty Edition

Posted April 9th, 2019

Continuing our HPFS Splash blog series, we’ll be taking the tops off the metaphorical fire hydrants* and spilling out the information you want to know from our High Pressure Fire Service (HPFS) artists about their HPFS shows, local inspirations, and living in Philly.

Today’s big question: What are your thoughts on Gritty?

“He’s ugly and he’s orange.  Someone said he looks like Elmo on speed.”
–Erin McNulty, A Fierce Kind of Love

hpfs splash

Photo by Kyle Ross

“He’s Philly AF of course and we love him dearly. I think it would be amazing if he helped lead some trash clean up campaign in the city. I think we can be gritty but not grimy, no? I would still have my angry edge if my city were cleaner and I think he would too.”
–Jess Conda, A Hard Time

“Crazy eyes, mad pride, pure mischief. Feels like a good representative of Philly.”
–Alex Torra, The Sincerity Project #3 (2019)

“He’s cute. Like, I would love to kiss him on his face.”
–Camae Ayewa, Circuit City

“After the initial shock, I’ve come to love him. I even put Gritty in Cinderella, the holiday panto I directed at People’s Light.”
–David Bradley, A Fierce Kind of Love

“He’s kinda cool. There’s more to come.”
–Michael McClendon, A Fierce Kind of Love

“We all know who’s under that mask…Geoff Soebelle.”
–The Berserker Residents, Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House!

“Unpopular opinion, I have no opinion on Gritty.”
–Alice Yorke, The Appointment

Read last week’s HPFS Splash: Philly Favorites, Bonus Edition, and stay tuned for next week’s splash!

hpfs splash*High Pressure Fire Service (HPFS) takes its name from FringeArts’ historic building, the first high pressure pump house in the country. Opened in 1903, the station pumped water from the Delaware River to fire hydrants across Philadelphia, connecting the city and helping it grow and thrive. This history of creativity and connectivity is at the very heart of the High Pressure Fire Service festival. You can see the old HPFS fire hydrants across the city between the Delaware and the Schuylkill Rivers and between South Street to Girard Avenue. You may even see them of them sporting a fancy new HPFS sticker. Tag us on Instagram @fringearts if you see one!

Click here to learn more about all of our High Pressure Fire Service shows.

 

Who’s Who in High Pressure Fire Service, part two

Posted April 2nd, 2019
by Raina Searles, Marketing Manager

In March, we kicked off High Pressure Fire Service (or more colloquially, HPFS, pronounced “hip-fizz”) with an incredibly moving production chronicling the disability rights movement in A Fierce Kind of Love, produced by the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University, and we followed that with a thought-provoking musical satire about the American abortion debate, The Appointment, by Lightning Rod Special. In just a couple weeks, we’ll kick off a highly interactive show made for a family unit and exploring the line between play and performance, Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr House! by the Berserker Residents. But today, we’re talking about the final three shows in HPFS: where you’ve seen these artists, what to expect in their work, and breaking down Who’s Who in High Pressure Fire Service…part two.

Coming up this May,  A Hard Time by Pig Iron Theatre Company opens at FringeArts. Long time Fringe fans will recognize Pig Iron from many of their notable devised works presented by FringeArts. Most recently, they produced A Period of Animate Existence in the 2017 Fringe Festival. Other recent works include Swamp Is On (2015), 99 BREAKUPS (2014), Pay Up (2013), Zero Cost House (2012), Twelfth Night, or What You Will (2011), and many more going back to the origins of the Fringe Festival in 1997!

What makes A Hard Time stand out, however, is that this is the first production with female lead artists and with lead artists who are not one of the Artistic Directors of Pig Iron Theatre Company. Jess Conda, Jenn Kidwell, and Mel Krodman are no strangers to the FringeArts stage though. Jess Conda is a cabaret and performing artist who was mostly recently seen on our stage in the cabaret extravaganza, Do You Want A Cookie? by the Bearded Ladies Cabaret in the 2018 Fringe Festival, but you may have also caught her in 1812 Productions’ Broads this past February. She has also joined us onstage for Get Pegged Cabaret in the past, 99 BREAKUPS (2014) and Pay Up (2013) with Pig Iron, and as a band member of the popular group Red 40 and the Last Groovement. In Philadelphia, she’s also a Teaching Artist at Wilma Theatre, has performed with a multitude of organizations including BRAT Productions, Arden Theatre, and Shakespeare in Clark Park, and she is a two-time Barrymore nominee for Outstanding Ensemble in a Play.

Jenn Kidwell has collaborated with a number of past Fringe artists and is notably not only a company member of Lightning Rod Special, but is also the lead artist on their work Underground Railroad Game, which won an Obie Award in 2017 for Best New American Theatre Work and was hailed as one of the 25 Best American Plays Since Angels in America. She was last seen on the FringeArts stage in Geoff Sobelle’s HOME in the 2017 Fringe Festival, and was also seen recently in Sans Everything with Lighting Rod Special and 99 BREAKUPS with Pig Iron.

Mel Krodman is also a familiar face, especially if you came to see THE TOP at FringeArts in 2017 from No Face Performance Group. As a company member of Pig Iron Theatre Company, Mel was also seen in A Period of Animate Existence (2017) and Swamp Is On (2015), and she has choreographed a number of works with collaborator Kelly Bond, appearing in the Independent Fringe Festival (Elephant (2010) and Colony (2012)) and our season programming as well (JEAN & TERRY: Your Guides Through Dark, Light and Nebulous (November 2016)). Mel is also in another High Pressure Fire Service show, which leads us to June…

¡BIENVENIDOS BLANCOS! or WELCOME WHITE PEOPLE! Photo by Kate Raines

Team Sunshine Performance Corporation (TSPC) will be producing the third iteration of their 24-year series The Sincerity Project. This work, The Sincerity Project #3 (2019), will feature the same cast as the first two productions and follow the lives of the performer-creators as they change and grow every two years. Dedicated to creating opportunities for people to share in the pleasures and difficulties of our collective contemporary experience, Team Sunshine was last seen on the FringeArts stage in April 2018 with their bilingual production ¡BIENVENIDOS BLANCOS! or WELCOME WHITE PEOPLE!, and in 2017 for The Society of Civil Discourse, a co-production with The Philly Pigeon. The cast features Mel Krodman (see above), Benjamin Camp (Founding member of TSPC), Makoto Hirano (Founding member of TSPC) , Aram Aghazarian, Jenna Horton, Mark McCloughan, and Rachel Camp and is directed by Alex Torra (Founding member of TSPC).

These performers come from all over Philadelphia every two years to put together the next iteration of The Sincerity Project, and where are they now? Benjamin has performed with a number of groups around Philadelphia (Pig Iron, Shakespeare in Clark Park, etc) and was lead artist for TSPC’s Punchkapow, Terrarium, and Zombie Defense. Currently, he is also a realtor with The Kelly Group, selling houses to artists all over Philadelphia. A former US Marine, Makoto is currently a dance and theatre artist who has created over 20 original roles and collaborated with artists such as Bill Irwin, Thaddeus Phillips, and also Pig Iron Theatre Company. In addition to co-founding Team Sunshine, he also created an art duo, Gatto+Hirano. Aram is currently on the faculty at the Pig Iron School and has performed with the company as well (Swamp Is On (2015), 99 BREAKUPS (2014), Pay Up (2013)), co-founded Strange Attractor Theatre Company (Sans Everything (2017)), and has also performed with Lightning Rod Special and SwimPony Performing Arts in the past. A performer as well as a writer for thINKingDANCE, Jenna has collaborated with a wide range of artists including past Team Sunshine works, Annie Wilson, The Berserker Residents, SwimPony, Applied Mechanics, Lightning Rod Special, Shakespeare in Clark Park, Chris Davis, and The Bearded Ladies Cabaret.

THE TOP

Mark is one half of No Face Performance Group with Jaime Maseda (recently seen in The Appointment last month) and performed THE TOP (2017) at FringeArts. They are also a writer and visual artist, with poetry awards from the American Poetry Review and L+S Press. Rachel is a theater and teaching artist who has performed across the city with Philadelphia Theatre Company, Opera Philadelphia, Arden Theater, 1812 Productions and more, and she has been nominated for 5 Barrymore awards, winning Outstanding Supporting Performance in a Musical for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Theatre Horizon. And finally, director Alex Torra is a Swarthmore professor, a 2018 Pew Fellow, the director for all of TSPC’s major works, a regular collaborator with Pig Iron Theatre Company, and he has received fellowships from the Independence Foundation, the Philadelphia Live Arts Brewery, the Princess Grace Foundation, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and NY’s Drama League. The cast of The Sincerity Project #3 (2019) has touched just about every corner of Philadelphia theater.

In late June, we’re excited to close out High Pressure Fire Service with a new work that’s part musical, part choreopoem, and part play, Circuit City by Camae Ayewa, stage name: Moor Mother. Camae is a prolific poet and noise musician who has made Philadelphia her home and is taking on the housing crisis, highlighting the connections between public and private ownership and technology through original poetry and live music by the Irreversible Entanglements and the Circuit City band.

Camae is co-founder of Black Quantum Futurism Collective, a literary and artistic collaboration with Rasheedah Phillips, and Rockers! Philly, an event series and festival focused on marginalized artists. As Moor Mother, she has released more than a dozen EPs since 2012, and just recently became one of the newest members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, a group whose work she’s long admired. She’ll be featured on their upcoming album We Are On the Edge later this year. In her music and her public work, Camae sees herself as an archivist of black memory against erasure, and this work will be no exception. You can get a feel for Moor Mother’s musical style by listening to her 2018 album, FETISH BONES.

We’re excited for such a creative and collaborative cohort of artists to be joining us at FringeArts this May and June. Click below for more information on each show, and make sure to purchase a subscription for the best deals on tickets! You can also check out our blog post: Who’s Who in High Pressure Fire Service, part one.

A Hard Time
Pig Iron Theatre Company
May 1–12, 2019

The Sincerity Project #3 (2019)
Team Sunshine Performance Corporation
June 4–8, 2019

Circuit City
Moor Mother
June 20–22

HPFS Subscriptions:
15% off tickets to 3-4 performances / 30% off for members

Single Tickets:
$31 general / $21.70 members
$15 students and 25-and-under
$2 FringeACCESS members

Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Brad Wrenn of The Berserker Residents & Christa Cywinski

Posted March 29th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, Bradley Wrenn, part of the The Berserker Residents and Christa Cywinski, Director of Trinity Playgroup, sat down to talk about the planning and playing behind Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House! and the connection between learning, playing, and building a show for a family unit to enjoy.We took a field trip to record at Trinity Playgroup, so you may hear the sounds of…well, playtime! Listen to the podcast or read the full transcript below.

Conversation with Bradley Wrenn and Christa Cywinski

Brad: My name is Bradley Wrenn and I am one of the ensemble members of the Berserker Residents. We’ve been making work together since 2007. Me and two other ensemble members – Justin Jain and David Johnson make up the Berserker Residents. And we’re making a show called Broccoli, Roosevelt, and Mr. House!.

Christa: That’s a good title. I am Christa Cywinski and I’m the director of Trinity Playgroup. Trinity’s a small little non-profit preschool for 2-5 year olds. I’ve been here for 20 years, the school’s been here for 50 years. We’re excited to be celebrating our 50th anniversary.

Brad: Wow.

Christa: So I’m curious about the name of your show. And you mentioned a little bit about being a clown troupe, I’m curious about that?

Brad: Yeah. The way we make work is by investigating something we’re interested in and following it to a logical end. Oftentimes that will be the show. All of our shows are always live events, meaning that we’re always acknowledging the audience, they’re always in the room with us. Oftentimes we will cast them. So we did a show in 2008 that was a scientific lecture, and so the audience was at a scientific lecture. We did one that was a sci-fi futuristic one and the audience was the last of humanity and we were trying to save them. They’re oftentimes there, in the room with us, and we acknowledge them. It’s sort of using theater’s superpower, one of the super powers of theater, that the people are actually in the room with us. We can’t beat movies when it comes to effects and visuals and stuff like that, but we can beat moves in that we’re here with them, experiencing something with them and making it very live. And I think actually in our last three shows, we’ve stripped more and more of that way and thought about how much control we can give to the audience and let them dictate or provoke us? It gets scarier and scarier. Because with the audience, the more control you give them, the more you let them be the main character in the show, the more you don’t know what’s going to happen. And so it gets scary.

Christa: Especially with a child audience.

Brad: Yeah!

Christa: So is it always for kids? This one is for ages 5 and up.

Brad: No actually, all of our shows have been for adults so far.

Christa: So you could go in some really different directions from Broccoli all the way down the tunnel with the kids.

Brad: Yeah, yeah! Our last show that we did was called It’s So Learning – it was actually all about industrialized education and sort of the mechanisms of education. The audience came in sat in little chairs and were given back-packs for the show, and we sort of put them through a whole sort of American education in about 70 minutes.

Christa: Like gum under their seats.

Brad: Precisely. Yeah, and specifically exploring some of the trauma around that, some of the hard things about school. Essentially, the show was about your experience in education, and viewing it through that lens, being like, oh I remember Lord of the Flies, I remember having anxiety around tests, I remember being promised these things and not knowing why I was working for these things and the reward and the punishment and all that. But then, both of my collaborators have kids at this point.

Christa: Okay. Makes sense.

Brad: So we’re always up for a challenge, so obviously giving with an audience of kids, giving the reins of the show to kids is really scary. That’s where we headed, and we’ve been working on the show for six, seven months. We’ve done a lot of showings.

Christa: So do you think of it as an improv group?

Brad: No, no.

Christa: So how do you give the reins away?

Brad: So right now the show is just a series of what I would just call bits at this point, or lazzis.

Christa: What are lazzis?

Brad: It’s an Italian word that means like, little schtick.

Christa: Okay. Lazzi. Sounds like a good food.

Brad: I know, right? Sweet Lazzi. So for example, there’s a moment in the show where we have enormous boxes of colored ping-pong balls and we say we’re going to play a “video game,” and we give the kids the ping-pong balls and let them throw them at Dave. And it just becomes—

Christa: That is gunna–yeah. A lot of laughter there.

Brad: Yeah. And we’re sort of saying like, how far can we go in that direction, of just like – it’s a playground, and it’s chaos and we don’t have control. And then sort of riding that line of can you then regain control after that?

Christa: You definitely can.

Brad: So we do improvise, that’s how we build our shows, we’ll improvise and say, oh that’s fun, we did that, let’s script that. And now let’s put it back on its feet and improvise some more. And then we’ll script that. That’s the cycle of how we do it.

Christa: And you try it out on your collaborators’ kids?

Brad: Oh yeah. I mean we’re a little limited. The showings we’ve done, like four at this point. We’re just like, how can we get some kids in a room? But at this point it’s very much like trying to find the boundary of how much play and free flowing whatever’s happening, and then we have a structure that we sort of go from place to place, but it’s a real give and take. We’ve done a super scripted children’s show but that’s not what we’re interested in with this one. We’re interested in something that says yes to the proposals in the room.

Christa: Mhm. Yeah, we’ve done shows like that here, where the troupe will take a few ideas from the kiddos, like a character, where they’re going and what problem did they have, and then just do a whole show from there.

Brad: Yeah, yeah. And I think, you know, it’s like a pendulum of how free and how open it wants to be, and also there’s a thing where it has to be fun for us. If it’s not fun for the three of us, we know that we’ll start hating it and then it won’t be fun for anyone.  So it has to be fun and it has to be joyful for us to do because I think sometimes when things are so open, it becomes chaos and you’re like, ah, this isn’t fun. It’s just crowd control. So finding that pendulum is important.

Christa: The kid audience though, you have experience with this audience, it gives you a lot. I can’t imagine it not being fun performing to the young audience.

Tenara: But I feel like so much of art and clown school is locating play in adult bodies.

Christa: Right. Right.

Brad: Yes. I mean, that’s 90% of the work.

Tenara: Exactly.

Christa: But kids go there super naturally. Right? Like, ‘jump into the pond!’ Okay, this is the ground and that’s the pond. They go there in a second. You have to like, leave a lot of stuff behind to put yourself back there.

Brad: Yeah. It’s wild. We went and studied with this provocateur clown teacher in France named Phillipe Gaulier, at his school. And essentially, all he cares about is pleasure on stage. He says nothing else matters but pleasure on stage and joy. But it is wild to see an adult get up in front of a group of peers and just fail to find that play, over and over, or comes with too many ideas, or comes with a desire to be clever. I mean, instantly it dies and it’s not watchable. And that’s why watching kids play tag is oftentimes more entertaining than theater because they are actually just purely alive and joyful and they just –

Christa: They hide in plain sight!

Brad: Yeah! And they find stupid games, and the inventiveness is just infinite! But with adults we start to edit ourselves, and we start to be clever, and are just “funny”. We want something from the audience, whereas a child who’s playing is just in the moment and present, and so is so watchable. Trying to get to that weirdly becomes work.

Christa: I mean, we’re just part of their play world, right? We’re facilitating play, we’re putting out offerings, we’re observing. Lots of observing, lots of listening to the really funny things that they say. And looking for those little sparks of what interests them and offering them something else, repeating things.

Brad: Do you think there is an age, or do you see it – what’s the oldest here?

Christa: The oldest would be almost six by the time they leave us, but in the beginning of the year, I’m gonna say 1 ½ to 4 ½ years old.

Brad: And six is like first grade, right?

Christa: Like, kids with late fall birthdays might be six when they’re going to kindergarten. Folks can stay here until entering kindergarten.

Brad: I just am curious about when it becomes hard to play. When it becomes – and maybe it’s not until teen years, maybe that’s when you start to become self conscious.

Christa: You see changes across even just our age group though. But in terms of being self-conscious a little bit, you see a little bit of oh, I don’t want to do that even creeping up in the Pre-K year.

Brad: Being aware of your peers? Like I don’t want to do that because I’m worried of what people will think?

Christa: Yeah. I think you see a little bit of that, you just see a little bit of I know that people are thinking something, so I’m going to showman a little. You start to see that awareness changing in this year before kindergarten, so it’s early.

Tenara: And doesn’t it develop alongside, you know, like, they talk about parallel play when they’re toddlers, just playing next to each other, and as they start to integrate play with each other they also start to integrate that awareness and testing boundaries of what people think?

Christa: Absolutely.

Brad: I mean, and that’s the thing about getting in front of an audience, it’s such an odd thing because the best clowns that I know don’t care what the audience thinks. It doesn’t mean they don’t want anything from the audience, they’re just present and there and open. But they’re present the way an animal is or in the way a very young child is makes them instantly so captivating. It’s like getting rid of judgment and just trying to find that fun and joy.

Christa: There does seem to be personality types where it’s easier to keep connected to play. So you don’t have to teach kids how to learn, or how to play. Everything they’re doing in terms of experiencing the world and playing is how they’re figuring things out. You can offer things, you can scaffold things, you can be part of it in a social piece, but you don’t really have to teach them that if you put water in this, this becomes the cup, you know? They’re just going to start experimenting. The toys with no explanation are better, with no beginning, middle, and end of how you have to use them and no like, this is what this is for. You can put out a box and they’ll just start making ramps and putting things in it, turning things upside down, they learn by just being hands-on, trying things. Then they start to watch each other , help each other do things a little bit, getting ideas from each other. You see that sort of brainstorming camaraderie develop. A little bit later comes the competition.

Tenara: When does that start?

Christa: I think you start to see it pretty young.

Brad: When you say competition do you mean like footrace? Like a competition for resources? Or like, ‘that’s mine?’

Christa: A little bit of both, yeah. I mean at this point with our kids, they’re young, so it all makes sense and it’s developmentally on target but there is a bit of, oh, I gotta do that the fastest, I gotta do that first, gotta be in the front. You know, they’re all still building their ego-strength.

Brad: That’s so interesting.

Christa: And then that sort of settles out again, those are just stages.

Brad: Peaks and valleys.

Christa: Yeah. Yup.

Brad: It’s something that we’re after with this show, like we’re looking at how to allow organic games to come up in a performance, like not even plot and narrative, just for organic games to come up. Like with the ping-pong balls. But there’s also this interesting thing in that making the show, we’re very cognizant that we’re not making “just” a kid’s show, we’re making a family show. We’re making a show for a unit. We saw a show in Edinburgh that really just bowled us over, because it was made for a unit. It wasn’t like, come drop your kids off in the front and then you go in the back. It was a show for a family unit.

Christa: That sounds fun.

Brad: Yeah. There’s something about if you just let play happen, the adults in the room get anxious? They’re like – ‘who’s in charge, what’s going on? This isn’t curated enough! It’s gone off the rails!’ So we’re cognizant of the adult presence, to be like, ‘hey, we’ve got this, this is supposed to happen here. Now we’ll get things back on the rails.’ And something incredibly virtuosic and composed will happen. And then we’ll let some organic play come into it. Doing that pendulum of keeping an eye to the adults in the room is really an interesting tight-rope.

Tenara: How do you get them to play with their unit?

Brad: I mean, one of the things that always works – always works – and we’ve done it and it works even in an adult context is that you go and get a dad. There’s something about the status of a dad. You can make fun of a big dad. And dads will then be performing for their kids, and it becomes this weird thing of bringing a dad up on stage work. Doing something really silly with that dad and making him really silly causes a whole audience to lean forward. It’s weird. There’s gender involved with that, there’s status involved with that, there’s family dynamics, but I’ve seen it work so many times. Pulling a dad up and putting a tutu on him. Dr. Brown, this clown we saw in Edinburgh literally takes a dad and turns him into a soccer ball and kicks him around the stage. And the dad does it because the dad wants to make his kids happy.

Christa: You gotta connect with the right dad though!

Brad: Yes, you’re totally right. There’s a particular kind of dad. You have to pull the right dad, you have to think and be looking for that dad in that moment.

Christa: My dad.

Brad: It makes the whole audience learn forward. It’s wild. It works. That causes that family unit to lean in.

Christa: I mean, the kids laugh a lot here when teachers get pulled into things, whether it’s like, ‘alright, Heather, show us your dance moves!’ or like ‘put on the firemen’s jacket!’ Whatever it is.

Brad: Yup. And I think there’s a whole way to access a whole new kind of audience participation by modeling an adult doing it first. And then you bring a kid onstage and let a kid do something. That’s its own narrative arc. You have to do it in a way that doesn’t feel forced and that takes really good care of everybody. It’s not great when a person gets pulled onstage and is not taken care of and is just sort of forced to do something really uncomfortable. Whereas with working with audiences and playing with an audience – it feels organic and the person should always know what to do. They always know what the right answer is. And know the right way to play. And know that there’s no wrong way to play. You have to set that up. Or you just give them a very narrow path to walk on – like, hey, can you make the sound of a cow? Boom! Of course they can! There’s no wrong. I think that’s the biggest thing, that’s the anxiety with play.

Christa: Definitely with kids a little bit older, but not in the beginning. There’s definitely no wrong at the beginning.

Tenara: So I’m curious, this is a question for both of you. For you, Brad – is there an age group that you have found in the showings of this piece that is the sweet spot for those kids, before the anxiety sneaks in? Or is it really just about setting up this culture with the unit? And Christa, is there – in what age do you see that ‘there’s a wrong answer, so it’s safer to not play’ start to happen? Is it developmental or is it external?

Christa: Oh. Both. For sure both. Because you can foster an environment that says it’s all okay, or you can foster an environment with a lot of limits. And that will change the nature of the way somebody grows. But I would say for almost all the time that we see kids in this school, they’re still pretty not rule bound, in terms of they’re taking risks, they’re just doing it. Not thinking, just doing it. In terms of like their play outside of their school settings, I think they’re probably still pretty open for a while too.

Tenara [to Brad]: Have you found that there’s an age where it’s harder to reach them?

Brad: Well, the showings we’ve done tend to run with younger kids, like two, three, four, five year olds, just because that’s the age of my peers’ kids. Which is not actually the group that we’re making the show for. We’re aiming a little older than that with five plus. It’s harder to get a group of just nine year olds. And also I think the other thing is because Justin, Dave, and I have all done children’s theater in other capacities, and performing for a group of kids with like five teachers is so different than performing for kids with their families. It’s a totally different audience and a totally different beast.

Tenara: How is it different?

Brad: I mean, a group of kids where the ratio is five adults to 35 kids are a frenzied beast, just like ‘Wahhh!’. I mean they’re easy to pump up but it’s a little like going to a concert with that group. With a group of kids with their adults, it becomes much more timid, and there’s also a lot of checking in with your unit.

Christa: But we all have different personalities in our family unit than we do out there in the school world or the work world – whichever world you’re in. So it’s different sides of ourselves get shown.

Brad: Yeah, yeah. And so I think it’s tough in making a show because it’s hard to get access to that thing. I mean, we’ll do showings up until the day we open at Fringe, but we probably won’t get the audience we’re going to have at Fringe until we open.

Christa: But then so why is that the age group that you’re shooting for? Not because it’s what you think is the sweet spot. You just want to try it with this group?

Brad: We just saw some shows in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival like 20-30 kids whows, and kids shows made for 5 and under – there was one that worked, and they did like every little bit in the book that you can think of for that age group. Cover your head with a blanket and have the person behind you sneak up, and they all go ‘he’s behind you!’

Christa: Oh they love it.

Brad: Yeah, they love it, and it works.

Christa: The slapstick.

Brad: Yes, and like, the peekaboo type stuff, yeah. But we knew that that wouldn’t be fun for us. For the three of us. We want to do something that was just a click up, and then there was something about this show that was called Dr. Brown and the Singing Tiger that was for more like a family unit, a little bit older, and it just felt really special for a unit. And we were like – I don’t know what that is, but I want to try and crack it. And I think that’s the thing that we’re interested in. We wanted to make a show that winks just a little bit to the adult not in a double entendres way, but more in the way that’s like, come along and play the way you used to.

Tenara: What is it about a family unit that is the thing that has the heat for you guys in this piece?

Brad: I guess there’s a way that there’s an audience built inside of a family unit. There’s parents watching kids and kids watching parents while they’re sitting next to each other, that becomes this force of kids watching the show, parents watching the show, kids watching parents – it’s just so interesting to me. When we’re setting up the audience at front, we thought, oh let’s put cushions down at the front, but then thought no.I want people to be sitting next to each other. I want whatever your family unit is, I want the adult/child mix that comes to the show. That is really important to me. And I think it’s harder.

Tenara: I imagine it’s harder also because of the culture around family programming specific to this country. Like, it doesn’t surprise me that it was in Edinburgh where you saw that done successfully.

Brad: Yeah, I think you’re totally right, I think there’s a way in which children’s theater in the United States is thought of as not important programming. It’s often seen as like, ‘oh well, then we’ll just do a family show.’ We’ll just put some funny costumes on and flounce about and that’ll be enough. But in Edinburgh there’s a real value behind that stuff. I mean there’s more value on family programming in general in Europe, but I think there specifically children’s shows are – well, there’s a lot more rigor in making them.

Tenara: Well I’m sort of curious about the values that foster the family programming culture of Europe. Are they the same that foster the kind of education systems that tend to have more success in those countries? Or are they’re coming from different places?

Brad: I mean, the cynical part of me says – this is really the cynical part of me – there’s just more value on art in, specifically in Scotland. I think there’s able to be more rigor around children’s programming because it’s just valued as important, so there’s more resources, more rigor, more time spent, and so you get something that is better crafted.

Tenara [to Christa]: I think a lot about something that you said to me once, which is that all preschools should be play-based, and so it’s so funny that Trinity Playgroup’s supposed ‘niche’ is that they’re a play-based preschool. But isn’t that what learning is at that age anyway?

Christa: Right. Yeah, I mean it’s – there is a little rush to ‘prepare.’ There’s this idea of preparing. You know, preparing kids for school. You know, I can’t speak for other places outside of here, but certainly we know that kindergarten is more like what first grade used to be, and so that trickles down to us. And what parents are thinking about is involved of course.

Tenara: Have you seen that trend change since you started working here?

Christa: I have. However, you know, as things change they swing. So you know, now people are swinging back, thinking more about outdoor classrooms and different, more experiential school set-ups, even all the way through into high school, and different ways to create great schools and so I feel like, it got pretty sort of – the expectations were pretty high on young people for quite a bit. But I think they’re swinging back a little.

Brad: What is a non play-based preschool?

Christa: Well, there are a lot of schools that will, in an effort to follow standards, have really specific curricula for kids. I mean, there are schools that sit everybody down and we all make this at this time, these are the parts that you use to make it. It’s out there for sure. It looks like this, this is what the outcome should be.

Brad: Like, it looks like a sun and it should have a smiley face on it.

Christa: Yeah, like, here are the pieces already cut out.

Brad: So is everything here guided by the child’s sort of curiosity and what they’re after?

Christa: Not everything. No, because, I mean, the teachers are well-informed about child development and they think a lot about what things to introduce at what time. They’re orchestrators in the scene and they’re paying attention to what kids are interested in, and they’re putting out things related to that interest. The kids are moving around the space with whatever is out and available to them, the kids are moving around like, oh I want to go there, I want to go there, so that’s driven. But it’s not that they just walk in and everything is put away and they just go for it. The teachers are part of that process and creating the invitations for play.

Brad: Yeah. I mean, it’s not dissimilar from what we’re doing, and the stage we’re at right now with this piece. Where we’re just like, we have an idea and a provocation and we’re going to put it in front of the audience, and then we’re going to do our best to just be present and just be curious about what’s going on. And we have an outcome that we probably do imagine but if something else happens, that’s okay.

Christa: Oh, you’ll always be surprised.

Brad: Yeah, and to be open to that I think is the real fearful thing, the anxiety of like I want to control and I want it to go a certain way. But it’s always better if you just stay in the moment and just follow what’s in front of you. When you’re listening to your audience or your classroom.

Christa: Or to anybody in your life!

Tenara: Yeah, well there’s that too. Hopefully we carry that into adulthood!

HPFS: A Commitment to Philadelphia

Posted February 25th, 2019

With the opening show in the new High Pressure Fire Service series kicking off this weekend, FringeArts Artistic Producers Zach Blackwood and Katy Dammers share what HPFS really stands for and why we’re pumped about the next few months of programming at FringeArts.

A HISTORY

HPFS philadelphia

Photo by Robby Virus

In 1903, he FringeArts building at the intersection of Columbus and Race Streets opened as the nation’s first High Pressure Fire Service system, its name carved on the east and west façades. Water was pumped from the Delaware River via a six-foot diameter pipe into the brick edifice and then funneled out to more than 900 fire hydrants from Girard Avenue to South Street. This innovative system allowed firefighters to shoot a two-inch stream of water 230 feet in the air and led to a significant decline in fire-related deaths and damages. With this reassurance, insurance companies subsequently dropped additional charges on tall buildings, and Philadelphia’s downtown area entered a renewed period of urban growth and architectural advancement. Though the pipeline from the Delaware has long since been capped and decommissioned, a spidering pathway of pipeworks still connects our building to a huge swath of the city: to cafés and community centers, taverns and libraries, and inevitably several cheesesteak spots.

A NEW PRESENTATION SERIES

With High Pressure Fire Service (HPFS), we are affirming an investment in artists living and working in Philadelphia. We believe there’s something special about this city—something tender and grumpy and people-powered. Over four months this spring, we are excited to present five new works and one expanded remount—pieces that exemplify the ways in which these artists are deepening and expanding their practices. Through residency support, commission funding, technical advising, programmatic counseling, and community engagement, each artist has approached this opportunity uniquely.

Suli Holum and the Institute of Disabilities at Temple University open High Pressure Fire Service with an expanded version of A Fierce Kind of Love, their multidisciplinary dramatization of the intellectual disability rights movement in Philadelphia, by incorporating new oral histories and contextual information in this multifaceted show that puts accessibility first. Following their Obie-Award winning theater-work Underground Railroad Game, Lighting Rod Special’s new piece The Appointment considers bodily autonomy and the navigation of reproductive rights in ways alternatively hilarious and sobering. The Berserkers are creating a work for audiences of all ages for the first time, employing their clown and physical-theater training to engage children and adults alike in Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House!. A Hard Time is the first Pig Iron Theatre Company production created by artists other than their artistic directors, with Jess Conda, Jenn Kidwell, and Mel Krodman taking the lead in a comedic cabaret that reveals the violence and absurdity of gender-based expectations. Team Sunshine Performance Corporation reflects on their commitment to long-form performance practice as they present the third iteration of their 24-year project The Sincerity Project.  Moor Mother employs a theater-based work for the first time, bringing her interdisciplinary practice in music, poetry, and performance to consider housing insecurity entitled Circuit City.

The breadth of the work in HPFS exemplifies something concrete and intangible about what we value: a bootstrapping sensibility, a rebellious empathy, and a fructifying density in the footprint. In the last ten years, our city has emerged as a particularly generative environment as young artists are drawn by training opportunities at our many universities and newer artistic programs like Pig Iron Theatre Company’s graduate program and Headlong Performance Institute. Upon graduation we have seen artists continually commit to living in Philadelphia—drawn equally by its frontiers and its gritty spirit. We hope that this program will provide a valuable opportunity not only to survey the wide perspectives of this inaugural group of artists, but to also consider the state of the Philadelphia arts ecosystem at large.

Through conversations and companion programming for each presentation we will also consider the relationship between these artists, their work, and the city in collaboration with organizations including the Free Library of Philadelphia, Women’s Medical Fund, Puentes de Salud, and Smith Memorial Playground among others. These works and artists are poised to tour and develop beyond the city limits, embracing the nimble and flexible nature of the work created at FringeArts and grounded in the DIY-ethos that rings in the air here specifically.

As much as High Pressure Fire Service is a platform for Philadelphia artists to stretch themselves, it is also a call for us to challenge ourselves and our institution. We are committed to doubling down on our dedication to local artists, investing in relationship-building across the many communities of our city, and working to make FringeArts more accessible and welcoming. This first year is just the beginning, and we look forward to the ways this festival will grow and change to include an even broader range of artists and collaborations in the future.

Zach Blackwood and Katy Dammers
Artistic Producers at FringeArts

Featured Photo by Robin Barnes

Who’s Who in High Pressure Fire Service, part one

Posted February 13th, 2019
by Raina Searles, Marketing Manager

Opening this March, High Pressure Fire Service (or more colloquially, HPFS, pronounced “hip-fizz”) brings an incredible lineup of Philadelphia artists to the FringeArts stage for a series dedicated to highlighting the creativity and innovation that runs rampant in our city. The artists include an exhilarating mix of familiar and new faces to the FringeArts stage, from longtime collaborator Pig Iron Theatre Company’s newest work to prolific poet and noise musician Moor Mother’s first play. Some performers even appear in multiple HPFS shows. To get you ready for this new series, we’re breaking down Who’s Who in High Pressure Fire Service…part one.

Kicking off High Pressure Fire Service, is A Fierce Kind of Love written by Suli Holum, directed by David Bradley, and produced by the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University.

Wandering Alice, 2008

Many people may recognize the name Suli Holum as a staple in the Philadelphia arts community. Holum is one of the co-founders of Pig Iron Theatre Company, an award-winning director, performer, choreographer and playwright, and recently, Mrs. Capulet in the Wilma Theater’s production of Romeo and Juliet. She has been involved with numerous productions that have crossed Fringe’s stage, including Wandering Alice, written and co-directed with Nichole Canuso Dance Company and presented in the 2008 Curated Fringe Festival, and Cafeteria by Pig Iron Theatre Company in the 2003 Curated Fringe Festival, which earned her a Barrymore Award in choreography.

David Bradley is a director, producer and teaching artist who work has touched a variety of stages and collaborations across Philly. Bradley is the Founding Director of LiveConnections, in partnership with World Cafe Live, has performed in over 30 productions at People’s Light, is the Artistic Director of Living News at the National Constitution Center, has collaborated with Philadelphia Young Playwrights, and has traveled the world co-creating theater that addresses public health and social issues with Outside the Wire.

Bradley and Holum teamed up with Temple University College of Education’s Institute on Disabilities, which addresses disability as a valued aspect of diversity throughout civic life. In addition to producing the first iteration of this work in 2016 and its expanded remount here at FringeArts, the Institute is committed to innovation in pre-professional training, community training and technical assistance, research and information dissemination.

Other familiar faces in the A Fierce Kind of Love cast include Erin McNulty, most recently on the

FringeArts stage in Jerome Bel’s GALA in 2016 and 2018, as well as Cathy Simpson, a prolific and long-time Philly actress who has performed on a plethora of stages (InterAct, Wilma, and the Arden, to name a few) and was recently seen in the 2018 Independent Fringe Festival show, Day of Absence. Read bios for the full cast of A Fierce Kind of Love on the event page.

The second show in the HPFS lineup is The Appointment by Lightning Rod Special. No stranger to the FringeArts stage, Lightning Rod Special is an experimental performance company dedicated to exploring complex questions through an ensemble creation process and a lead artist for each show. Lightning Rod Special premiered their Obie Award-winning production Underground Railroad Game in Philadelphia at FringeArts in 2015, and they also performed their co-production with Strange Attractor Theatre Company Sans Everything here in 2017. They got their start, however, producing in the Independent Fringe Festival: Hackles in 2012 and Go Long Big Softie in 2013.

Sans Everything, 2017, Photo by Johanna Austin

For The Appointment (some may have seen the early draft performance titled Unformed Consent), Lightning Rod Special has assembled a stellar cast of Philly artists, and this new work is led by Alice Yorke. Yorke is a Co-Director of Lightning Rod Special, with whom she created and performed in Hackles, Let the Dog See the Rabbit, and Sans Everything. She has also collaborated on works with Pig Iron Theatre Company, InterAct Theatre, Theatre Exile, the Bearded Ladies Cabaret, Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret, and the Fringe favorite band Red 40 and the Last Groovement. Yorke also graduated from the Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training.

In April, we see the launch of the next HPFS show, Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House! by The Berserker Residents. Founded in 2007, The Berserker Residents are an ensemble dedicated to creating original works of alternative comedy with a focus on parody, absurdism, and subverting theatrical conventions. The Berserker Residents were last seen on the FringeArts stage in their March 2017 production of It’s So Learning, and they collaborated with the University of the Arts to create These Terrible Things as a 2017 Independent Fringe Festival show.

It’s So Learning, 2017, Photo by Kate Raines

They have also produced the works The Jersey Devil, The Giant Squid, The Annihilation Point, and The Post Show as part of Independent Fringe Festivals past. The imaginative co-creators—Justin Jain, David Johnson, and Bradley K. Wrenn—have brought their work to a variety of other Philadelphia stages (The Annenberg Center, Theatre Horizon, White Pines Productions, and more) as well as national and international stages like Ars Nova NYC, The San Francisco Mime Troupe, and The Assembly in Edinburgh, Scotland as part of the Edinburgh Fringe.

Individually, you may recognize these performers from their work all over the city. Justin Jain is a member of the Wilma Theatre HotHouse, has been a part of the Shakespeare in Clark Park education team, and is a teaching artist for Philadelphia Young Playwrights, Arden Theatre Company, the University of the Arts, and People’s Light, in addition to performing at a number of regional theaters. David Johnson has performed with Theatre Exile, Enchantment Theatre, Mum Puppet Theatre, People’s Light, Commonwealth Classic Theatre, Theatre Horizon, and the Wilma Theatre, as well as the Baltimore Theatre Project and The Blue Ridge Theatre Festival. Bradley Wrenn has performed with Shakespeare in Clark Park, Lantern Theatre, Enchantment Theatre Company, BRAT Productions, and Mauckingbird Theatre Company, and is an accomplished puppeteer, “wiggling the dollies” for numerous Mum Puppet Theatre productions including the Barrymore nominated ensemble of Animal Farm. He also co-created the acclaimed 2013 Curated Fringe Festival work The Ballad of Joe Hill with Adrienne Mackey.

We’re excited for such a talented cohort of creators and performers to be joining us at FringeArts this March and April. Click below for more information on each show, and check out “Who’s Who in High Pressure Fire Service, part two” on the FringeArts Blog!

A Fierce Kind of Love
Suli Holum, David Bradley, Institute on Disabilities, Temple University
March 1–3, 2019

The Appointment
Lightning Rod Special
March 20–31

Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House!
The Berserker Residents
April 12–14

HPFS Subscriptions:
$150 Six-Show Package / $120 for members
15% off tickets to 3-5 performances / 30% off for members

Single Tickets:
$31 general / $21.70 members
$15 students and 25-and-under
$2 FringeACCESS members

Who’s Who in Blue Heaven

Posted December 19th, 2018
by Kat Sullivan, Communications Intern Fall 2018

 

Blue Heaven, a FringeArts comedy festival, will showcase some of the most provocative voices in American comedy for one weekend of gut-aching hilarity. Our full lineup is live and now is the perfect time to plan which shows you just have to see (warning: it might be all of them). To help ease your comedic FOMO, we’re offering a limited amount of weekend passes to all 11 performances for $69 through Dec 31.

Read up on who’s who:

 

Michelle Buteau

Michelle Buteau, comedian, host, and actress headlining Blue Heaven, is bringing her unique perspective and big personality to stage and screen. She was most recently the co-host of VH1’s Big Morning Buzz Live. Her other television credits include Enlisted on FOX, Comedy Central’s Key & Peele and @Midnight, and Best Week Ever.

Jaboukie Young-White

Jaboukie Young-White is an NYC-based comedian and filmmaker. He and his popular  Instagram and Twitter accounts have been featured on The Fader, Clickhole, and Buzzfeed. He made his late night debut on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to viral reception in 2017, and is currently a correspondent for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

Erin Markey

Erin Markey cordially invites you to the “fantastically weird and occasionally terrifying” (Time Out New York) world of Wet Food. Comprised of Markey’s signature story-driven stand-up and scored by homemade pop, Markey presents an intimate musical conversation with themself. Philadelphia’s own Emily Bate helps the conversation along by singing and playing multiple instruments in Topshop flats (the shoes, not the music concept).

Cole Escola

Cole Escola, a comedian, actor, and writer, has been named one of the 2014 OUT 100 and Time Out New York’s Top Ten Downtown Cabaret Performers. His sketch comedy show, “The First Gay President,” sold out every performance and generated buzz and praise from the likes of PAPER Magazine and Lena Dunham.

Whitmer Thomas

Whitmer Thomas has most recently appeared in The Good Place (NBC), The Walking Dead (AMC), GLOW (Netflix), You’re The Worst (FX), and voiced and created the ADHD animated series Stone Quackers on FXX (now available on Hulu). His show The Golden One is a cohesive hour of Whit’s stand up, storytelling, and original music.

Catherine Cohen

Catherine Cohen is a comedian and voiceover artist living in Brooklyn. She was named by Time Out New York as one of five comedians to watch for in 2018. She hosts a weekly show at Alan Cumming’s new East Village cabaret, as well as the monthly variety show “It’s A Guy Thing,” which was listed as one of Paste Magazine’s “10 Best Alt Comedy Shows in New York City.”

Food 4 Thot

Food 4 Thot is a podcast where a multiracial mix of queer writers talk about sex, relationships, race, identity, what they like to read, and who they like to read. It’s not about food — they just really like the pun. Hosts include Tommy “Teebs” Pico, Fran Tirado, Dennis Norris II, and Joe Osmondson; catch them in Blue Heaven as they record a show live!

Champagne Jerry

Champagne Jerry (aka Neal Medlyn) is one of “New York City’s Top Ten Downtown Cabaret Performers” (Time Out). With perfect flow, outrageous lyrics, and impeccable comic timing, Champagne Jerry delivers a stage show that is at once shocking, smart, and very, very funny.

Sarah Squirm

Sarah Squirm is a Chicago based comedian who has become known for her unconventional, and popular show, Helltrap Nightmare. She was previously named one of Time Out Magazine’s five comics to watch for 2017.

Bechdel Test Fest

The Bechdel Test Fest is a comedy festival created in 2016 out of a frustration that stages in Philadelphia were still predominantly white, cis, straight and male. The festival celebrates the talented and hilarious women (both cis and trans) and non-­binary comedians who make up a significant part of the local comedy scene. Performance artist and clown Sarah Knittel and stand-­up comedian Tan Hoang will be part of the BTF segment at Blue Heaven, with more acts to be announced.

Good Good Comedy Theatre

Good Good Comedy Theatre is Philadelphia’s home for live, mercilessly unpredictable independent comedy. An intimate, BYOB black box theater located in Chinatown, Good Good houses up to four wildly different live comedy shows per night. This includes stand-­up, sketch, improv, storytelling and (especially) everything in between.

 

Check out our website for more information on the weekend schedule, ticket options, and more about each artist.

Celebrate Halloweekend at FringeArts!

Posted October 24th, 2018

Halloweekend at FringeArts is jam-packed with ghoulish good times! Take a look at what’s in store.

Outdoor Movie: Ghostbusters (1984) Rated PG-13

Thu, Oct 25 8 PM (Quizzo at 7 PM)

Ghostbusters Feature Image

Calling all mega fans! We’ll start off the night flexing our film knowledge with a pre-show quizzo and La Peg’s Halloween drink specials ($8 mulled wine, $6 hot chocolate, $8 spiked hot chocolate, $8 New Harvest) at 7 PM. Then witness your fave ghostbusting professors exterminate ghosts and save New York City in the process. Costumes are recommended but a cozy sweater or blanket is highly suggested.

The night doesn’t end there. That same evening we will be moving inside for….

Burn It All Down: A BTF Spectacular

Thu, Oct 25 at 10:30 PM

Bechdel Test Fest was born in 2014 to create a comedy festival to celebrate the talented and hilarious women, trans and non-binary comedians who make up a significant part of the local comedy scene. Now entering its 4th year, Bechdel Test Fest is resurrecting their favorite acts for a Spooky Late Night Comedy Spectacular.

The line up will include:

Kat Mosely – Storytelling

A Song In Her Ear – The Musical Improv Group of Philly Phame

Tan Hoang – Stand up

Alyssa Al-Dookhi – Stand up

CJ Higgins – Musical comedy

Cups and a Half – Sketch comedy

…and more.

Halloqweens

Sat, Oct 27 at 9 PM

Halloqweens Feature Image

Philly’s biggest annual queer and LGBT Halloween rager is back! FringeArts is being taken over by the dopest queer DJs, drag and burlesque performers, photo booths, tarot readings, and more. This is not a party to miss. Please note you must be 21+ to enter.

A few of the highlights-

LIVE:

PRECIOUS (Viceland’s My House)

DJs:

DAME LUZ | BB BASURA | DELISH | JAMZ | LOVE

Drag:

ANN ARTIST | ICON EBONY | PRETTY GIRL | ASIA MONROE | KUSTARD KREAM

Burlesque:

LUZIFER PRIEST | THE DEVA ARAZEL

Photos:

KALTOUM | DAVID FORD

Readings:

TECHNO TAROT

Outdoor Movie: Bedknobs & Broomsticks (1971) Rated G

Sun, Oct 28 at 6 PM

Bedknobs and Broomsticks feature image

Round out the spooky weekend festivities with your family! We’ll start off the evening with a children’s costume contest and pumpkin decorating at 5pm. Starting at 6, watch Angela Lansbury as Miss Eglantine Price, a witch-in-training, as she sets out to defeat the Nazi menace with the help of her powers, three inventive children, the head of her witchcraft school Emelius Brown, and an enchanted bed! While you cozy up in your favorite blanket (or costume!), enjoy some of the Haas Biergarten’s alcoholic and non-alcoholic selections, including apple cider and hot chocolate.

Comedy to Kill For: Good Good Comedy Brings a Greatest Hits to the Fringe

Posted September 19th, 2018

Even before the company opened its Center City (Chinatown) theater in October 2016, Good Good Comedy was the leading presenter of new comedy in Philadelphia. Founded by powerhouse comedy team Kate Banford and Aaron Nevins, the company has only continued its rise to the pinnacle of local comedy, attracting local and visiting stand-up performers and hosting popular monthly game show, improv, and sketch shows. For the 2018 Fringe Festival, Good Good Comedy has taken all the best bits from the last year of its monthly show Darlings and combined them into an hilarious sketch revue. Darlings: Kill Us Please opens tonight.

Good Good Comedy Theatre.

FringeArts spoke to Banford and Nevins about the show, the theater, and appealing to audiences who don’t have rocks for brains.

FringeArts: How are things going with Good Good Comedy Theater? What’s excited you most about the space. What has been surprising?

Kate Banford & Aaron Nevins: Everything has been surprising and exciting at Good Good for us. We’re coming up on the two-year anniversary of the theater opening, and in that time, we’ve been named Best Comedy Club by Philadelphia Magazine, we’ve watched the local comedy scene AND local comedy audiences grow exponentially, and we’ve had performances from amazing people like Maria Bamford, Chris Gethard, Aparna Nancherla, Andy Kindler, Julio Torres, and so many others—people whose support of the theater has been incredible and unexpected.

FringeArts: That’s great! So what’s the story with Darlings: Kill Us Please?

Kate Banford & Aaron Nevins: Darlings: Kill Us Please is basically a hodgepodge of all the best bits from our monthly show Darlings at Good Good. It’s ostensibly a sketch show with all of our best and weirdest junk all smashed together.

Read More

2018 Festival Spotlight: Comedy and Improv

Posted August 25th, 2018

Fringe artists are known for keeping audiences on their toes. Laugh out loud at these joyous comedy and improv shows that will leave you smiling and breathless.

An Unofficial, Unauthorized Tour of LOVE Park
Rose Luardo / Kate Banford
An interactive, questions-encouraged tour of LOVE Park with a completely legitimate, highly respected, and 100% real tour company. At each stop on this mind-bending guided walk through the park, facts will be manipulated and reality will melt. Maybe a bush will talk to you? And maybe that bush invented love. Presented by Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and the Fairmount Park Conservancy.
More info and tickets here

Darlings: Kill Us Please
Good Good Comedy Theatre
Darlings: Kill Us Please is the debut Fringe show from Darlings, a collective of Philadelphia’s most celebrated comedic heartthrobs. We’ve gutted the innards of a full year’s worth of shows at Good Good Comedy Theatre and only left in the juiciest bits and chunks.
More info and tickets here

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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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How Are You FEELing?

Posted August 18th, 2018

The Fringe wouldn’t be the Fringe without Bobbi Block. The artist and producer has been in EVERY SINGLE Fringe Festival since its foundation in 1997. This year, Block adds two more shows to her impressive Fringe resume: she’s dancing in Sylvain Emard’s Le Super Grand Continental on the Art Museum steps and producing another sure-to-be-a-hit improv theater piece by Tongue & Groove Spontaneous Theater.  

In FEEL, T&G is asking audiences “How are you feeling” and really wanting to know: they will improvise a show based on the feelings of the audience. To put the audience at ease, they’re offering free massages before every show. Now that feels good!

FringeArts asked Block how she was feeling, and other questions about her upcoming Fringe shows.

FringeArts: How are you feeling today and why?

Bobbi Block: Today? Today I’m feeling joyful and optimistic about my current artistic endeavors. You?

FringeArts: Oh, FringeArts Blog is doing just fine. Why ask audiences that question?

Bobbi Block: Well, first I’ll explain why Tongue & Groove asks that question of each other. For eleven years now, T & G begins every rehearsal and performance with an “Emotional Check-in”—we report how we’re feeling. This accomplishes two goals: 1. It “stirs the pot” of emotional fodder so that real feelings are readily available for us to use as inspiration for our improvised characters and scenarios, and 2. Sharing feelings is vulnerable, and vulnerability and transparency builds trust.

So why ask the audience? We’ve asked the audience so many questions over the years: “What secret are you keeping?” “What do you want to do before you die?” “Who are you?” The answers are written anonymously on cards and used to inspire our improvised work. We figured it was time to ask the most basic question—and possibly most difficult to answer. Most people do not get a lot of practice exercising emotional literacy. We are socialized not to talk about our real feelings—and we assume no one really wants to know. Rarely does someone ask “How are you feeling?” (unless you’re ill); we ask “How are you?” or “How ya doin?” The typical answer is “Fine,” and then we quickly move on, thinking we’ve satisfied our social connection obligation. Even if we’re craving to connect with each other, many of us follow this social norm because we’re afraid to speak the truth.

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Can You Feel the LOVE Tonight? Fringe Comes to LOVE Park

Posted August 17th, 2018

Love is in the air at this year’s Fringe Festival. It’s suspended seven feet off the ground and arranged in an instantly recognizable design. That’s right: Fringe is coming to LOVE Park.

Located in the heart of Center City, the park is home to Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE statue, which has become a symbol of the City of Brotherly Love and which serves as the photogenic entrance to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Originally laid out in 1965 as part of an urban development project by city planner Edmund Bacon (father of actor Kevin Bacon), the park was designated “JFK Plaza” to honor the assassinated president in 1967. It became better known by the moniker LOVE Park after Indiana’s famous wordmark sculpture was placed there in the late 1970s.

The park became known as a hub for Philadelphians to meet, chat, take a lunch break, go for a dip in the fountain, and hone their skateboarding skills. Situated just across from City Hall, it serves as a haven from the busy streets of the city and a resting point for workers, residents, and tourists. Closed in 2016 for a $26 million redesign, LOVE Park reopened on May 30, 2018, with a brand new look.

To celebrate the grand reopening, FringeArts teamed up with the Fairmount Park Conservancy and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (with support from ArtPlace America) to present three FREE shows by leading local arts as part of the 2018 Fringe Festival: An Unofficial, Unauthorized Tour of LOVE Park, Chichi Chip (an ode to the Gnarly), and Same Picture Different Poses.   

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Pipeline of Fun: Ants on a Log Reach Kids through Humor and Music

Posted August 15th, 2018

Folk duo Ants on a Log (Julie Beth and Anya Rose) write music for children and other childlike people, songfully advocating for positivity, social justice, and silliness. They have been featured on XPN’s Kids Corner, at the Philadelphia Folk Fest, and on radio stations around the globe. In 2016 the Ants performed their debut musical Curious: Think Outside the Pipeline, using the power of eco-feminist music and humor to encourage families to stay “curious” about alternatives to fossil fuels.

Julie (a music therapist) and Anya Rose (an elementary science teacher) reworked their musical for the 2018 Fringe Festival show Music for Children and Other Curious People, performed on two dates in Fishtown and West Philadelphia. The pair spoke to FringeArts about creating a fun, socially conscious work for kids.

FringeArts: What do you like about creating theater and performing for kids?

Ants on a Log: Ants on a Log gives us an outlet for our silliness, and it’s a fun challenge to create something that is appealing to both children and adults. We love performing for kids because they are excited and curious about everything, which is how we think adults are too, but only in those rare moments when it’s deemed socially appropriate. Silliness aside, theater and music feel really important right now. This is how ideas are spread. It’s no accident that our songs are so catchy: we want you to accidentally memorize how to change the world for the better.

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Werewolves, Mimosas, and Late Night Fringe: ON THE ROCKS Uncorks its Latest Show

Posted July 31st, 2018

“Bring your beer, bring your Mike’s hard lemonade, bring your vodka lemonade, bring your regular lemonade, bring Beyonce’s Lemonade
—Jenna Kuerzi, cast of WOLFCRUSH (a queer werewolf play)

A lot of work goes into each Fringe Festival show. There’s a long process of writing, casting, fundraising, finding a venue, rehearsing, marketing, and countless other tasks before an audience ever arrives.

ON THE ROCKS, the Fringe-tastic theater collaborative of Haygen-Brice Walker and Elaina Di Monaco, knows how the process works. The company’s been a fixture of late night Fringe at the last few Festivals, with their Dead Teenager Trilogy (The Bride’s a Cunt…, 2017; Birdie’s Pit Stop…, 2016; Spookfish, 2015) deconstructing millennial culture in a series of rambunctious, rambling, in-your-face BYOB plays.

Last week saw the cast of ON THE ROCKS’ 2018 Fringe Festival production, WOLFCRUSH (a queer werewolf play), gather for the first time for a full read-through. Conflicting schedules meant the team had to get together at 9am on a Saturday, but mimosas (heavy on the bubbly, light on the OJ) helped fix the mood. They shared some photos of the first rehearsal.

Hannah Van Scriver, José Raúl Mangual, and assistant director Rose Slavin in rehearsal.

“We all met bright and early in my living room, stocked up on caffeine (and champagne!) and spent the whole afternoon together filling in this world that Haygen-Brice made for us to play in,” says Di Monaco. “We had an incredible dramaturgical discussion afterwards about queerness, small towns, werewolf mythology, and the character web that builds the play.”

Director Elaina Di Monaco at rehearsal.

The rehearsal was the first gathering after casting, but it’s not the start of the process. “Elaina and I have been developing this play for more than two years now and the evolution of the play is deeply rooted in the feedback and suggestions that I get from these guys,” says Walker. “I’m in a lot of writers’ groups and playwrights’ collectives and I find people constantly balk at ‘prescriptive feedback’. I want it. I’m like: ‘No, tell me exactly what you think should happen,’ and if I don’t like it, cool, I won’t use it. I think Elaina and my willingness to let everyone take initiative and speak up makes our room really special and bad-ass.”

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Edinburgh Bound: Chris Davis on Returning to the Mother Fringe

Posted July 30th, 2018

Chris Davis knows his Fringe Festivals.

The writer-performer is a stalwart of the annual Fringe Festival in Philadelphia, with his imaginative one-man shows (One Man Apocalypse Now, 2016) and modern adaptations of classic literature (Anna K, 2014) proving among the Festivals’ most popular and talked-about productions. But the locally based artist has also travelled his comedic solo shows to festivals across the United States and beyond, from Texas to Maine, from Pittsburgh to Edinburgh. 

Davis returns to this year’s Philadelphia Festival with The Presented, a world premiere play about what it means to be a “chosen” artist in the theater world. First, though, he’s off to the Mother Fringe, the Edinburgh Fringe (August 3-27), with his bilingual semi-autobiographical travelog Drunk Lion. Chris gave FringeArts the low-down on performing at the world-famous festival.

FringeArts: When did you go to your first Edinburgh Fringe?

Chris Davis: I first attended Edinburgh Fringe in 2014. When I went there I knew almost nothing about the festival or its importance, only that it was very big. The idea came when Brad Wrenn of the Berserker Residents said something like “hey you do solo shows you should take your show and do the Free Fringe festival there this year.” Neither Brad nor I had attended the fringe before, but I decided to take his advice and go. I still miss that first year because I had no expectations about anything and there was a certain freedom in that.

FringeArts: What surprised you most about the festival?

Chris Davis: The quality of the artists that participate. It still surprises me. In every show I see here I find something to love about it, and that’s a rare quality. Also the number of people who attend these shows is phenomenal. It never seems that theater is cool except to small niche audiences in the States; in Edinburgh it feels like everyone, from all walks of life, is excited to engage in live art happening around them. I love it.

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People are Strange and other revelations from Josh McIlvain

Posted June 13th, 2018

FringeArts superfriend Josh McIlvain wears many hats in this week’s performance People are Strange and other revelations, serving as writer, performer, and producer. He is joined by performers Tara Demmy and Marissa Kennedy, and by writer/performer Nik Menotiades. This team of creators delivers a show that is at once funny, thought-provoking, and utterly bizarre.  

When describing the performances in People are Strange, McIlvain explains: “I think one thing that unites them is that they all involve fuckups to varying degrees, and they all have a lot of humor, though the tones and styles of the piece are varied enough to keep it interesting.”   

The show consists of four short solo performances set in different rooms of the Da Vinci Art Alliance in Bella Vista. It is a collection of moments, of the seemingly insignificant encounters of life. The audience will move between rooms of the art gallery to view the series of distinct yet cohesive performances. “As the show is made up of four separate places, we are able to create four different performance spaces,” says McIlvain. “These aren’t radical changes, but there is a pleasure in these little shifts between areas, and for the audience to be led to a new room or even part of the same room, and to encounter the next performance.”  

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Laughing in the Face of Inequality: An Interview With Beth Eisenberg

Posted February 20th, 2018

Beth Eisenberg is one of the organizers of Philadelphia’s Bechdel Test Fest, a comedy festival highlighting our city’s funniest women, trans, and non-binary comedians and performers. Founded in 2016 to help foster a more inclusive comedy community in the face of gender inequality on Philly stages, the annual festival has continued to expand with each iteration—in duration, in number of performers, in stage sizes—and this year is no exception. Spread out over three nights at three different venues, the 2018 festival offers audiences around the city a series of diverse showcases, highlighting a wide range of comedic forms including stand-up, sketch, improv, clowning, and much more. Each evening also ends with a free open stage event for open-mic standup, performance pieces, and improv jams. FringeArts will be hosting the festival’s second night, March 3.

The festival’s continual growth speaks to the ever-present need for greater inclusivity in comedy, and it’s heartening that, as our cultural conversations around gender discrimination continue to develop with more verve than has been seen in many years, so too do platforms that are actively working to upend this universal inequity. It’s vital work that, as Eisenberg is quick to acknowledge, has been happening in our city long before the festival’s genesis, but it seems now more than ever comedy fans are eager for more diverse offerings. Thankfully, Bechdel Test Fest is here to provide.

FringeArtsHow did the Festival come about?

Pictured: Heather Raquel

Beth Eisenberg: Almost three years ago there was an uproar about diversity on some stages. Few women being cast. Few women being asked to create or direct. Most spots in comedy locally and nationally were pulling from the all men’s clubs. Initially, there was a post in the all female identifying Facebook group, Improvaries, sharing the feeling of exclusion and isolation around a recent audition that cast primarily men. Though this issue wasn’t a unique occurrence, it was from that moment that an energy was generated around making a space for female identifying performers in the city.

Everyone rallied. Everyone shared frustration. And lots of individuals shared about how other cities have successful females festivals. So it was the right time and interest from the group was there. That group is comprised of comics from all spaces and theaters, backgrounds, experience, ages, etc.

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Your Record Collection Just Got a Little Saltier

Posted October 19th, 2017

This Friday night, FringeArts’ monthly series of sexy, satirical, queer, and tantalizing cabaret returns to the La Peg stage to kick off it’s fall season. Hosted by Bearded Ladies Cabaret artistic director John Jarboe and co-presented by the William Way LGBT Community Center, this season of Get Pegged features some powerhouse performers from Philadelphia and New York.

October’s featured performers include a “stripped down” assemblage—if that means acoustic or naked is being left unanswered—of Philly’s favorite musical misfits ILL DOOTS, performing two tight sets of original tunes and covers around the notion of “Passion.” Where that will take them is anyone’s guess, all they’ll say is, “We’ll experience several forms of passion together that culminates into what we can only hope is a sweet release.”

Salty Brine in Second Hand News, a reinterpretation of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours through the lens of sensationalist news and gossip.

This month’s other featured performer, the out-of-towner of the bunch, is New York cabaret artist Salty Brine. Astute Fringe attendees may recognize him as the boisterous but wise host from the 2016 Festival hit The Elementary Spacetime Show, but the talented actor and playwright has made his name as an inventive cabaret artist as well for his own ongoing series, Salty Brine’s Spectacular Living Record Collection, which he’ll be performing an excerpt from at Get Pegged. Journeying into the heart of popular music and consciousness, Salty takes classic albums from legendary artists and twists them in style and form, building spectacular and unexpected theatrical worlds for these well known works to inhabit. These are places where they can be appreciated in an entirely new light and he can weave his own personal, historical, and fantastical narratives into our shared musical history.

The first installment of the series, Abbey Straße, took the music of The Beatles’ Abbey Road and reimagined it as a scandalous German cabaret styled in the spirit of Brecht and Weill, Marlene Dietrich, Ute Lemper, and others like them.

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Making Art in 2017: Ryan Rebel on WILD, A Clown Western

Posted September 15th, 2017

Name: Ryan Rebel

Company: Shoe Box Company

Show in the 2017 FestivalWILD: A Clown Western

FringeArtsTell us about your show.

Ryan RebelWILD is a devised clown show set in the dusty world of the Western. I can’t say exactly where that concept came from beyond the strong desire to work with clown. The juxtaposition of the earnestly goofy clown form with the steely seriousness of the Western planted itself in my mind and refused to leave. As we move forward with the project, one of our main concerns is injecting life, warmth, and thoughtfulness into a tired genre riddled with outdated social norms.

FringeArtsHow have your interests in or approach to art making changed in the last year? 

Ryan Rebel: I’ve spent my life being careful and planning ahead. I tend towards introversion and social anxiety; planning is a way of protecting myself against the unexpected. Delving into the world of WILD has been a deliberate way to force myself to be spontaneous. Clown work cannot be planned; it is utterly anchored to the present. To do clown is to be open and reactionary. This year has been an exercise in minimizing expectations so as to maximize sensitivity.

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