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Happy Hour on the Fringe: John Jarboe

Posted December 5th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe we talked with John Jarboe, creator of the long-running monthly Get Pegged Cabaret series and founder of the Bearded Ladies Cabaret, about the Get Pegged performance at FringeArts on November 15, 2019 and the curatorial process behind Get Pegged. Listen as we talk about the people who have inspired him, along with the origins of the Bearded Ladies Cabaret.

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.


[Music Intro]
Zach: Hello, and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premier presenter of contemporary performing arts. I am Zach Blackwood, an artistic producer here at FringeArts.

Katy: And I’m Katy, another artistic producer here at FringeArts. We invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence.

Zach: Today, we’re talking to long-time Fringe partner John Jarboe, who is the founder of the Bearded Ladies Cabaret and also the creator of Get Pegged Cabaret here at FringeArts and also was just curated in this Fringe Festival in 2019 with a show called Late Night Snacks that turned an old auto body shop into a cabaret dreamscape.

Katy: Welcome, John. We were just saying it’s crazy you haven’t been on the podcast yet, so thanks for joining us today.

John: I’m glad to be here. I’m at a lot of happy hours, and normally, they’re not recorded.

Zach: She’s in demand, so I can see maybe why it might’ve been difficult to line up our schedules before now. You’ve got a lot going on, even going into the end of this year, right?

John: Yeah, we do. We love partnership at the Bearded Ladies in a sort of polyamorous sense of the word, so there are many people that we’re flirting with and dating around the city, but grateful to be here.

Katy: Awesome. For our listeners out there, the Bearded Ladies Cabaret is your long-running venture in Philadelphia, which is a real stalwart of the performing arts scene here, and it’s been around for a while, so we wanted to take a moment to talk about that and about Get Pegged, your partnership with us here. And maybe we can just start by looking at the Beards. How has that organization changed over time, what has remained consistent, and what are you hoping to continue to shift as you move forward?

John: We’re about 10 years old now. We’re going on our 10th season.

Zach: That’s great.

John: We look six years old. That’s horrifying. We’ve been around for 10 years, and we started out of my living room in West Philly. I think that we’ve functioned very much like a little barnacle in the city, a sort of parasite that attaches to larger organizations and works in collaboration with them to make work that is queer very visible but with integrity. And I think what we’re realizing in the past couple of years is that we are also a kind of host, that we’ve become a larger organization, and so we’re both kind of the whale and the barnacle in the city.Our work has shifted to being from a troupe of artists working in my West Philadelphia living room to being also a host organization that is extending some of the generosity and the partnership that we’ve found with places like FringeArts and the Wilma Theater and Opera Philadelphia to other artists often in the cabaret or cabaret-adjacent fields.

I’d just say that we really love being in intimate conversation with people and with our audiences.We’re often doing work that sits on your lap, that tells you a story, that if you speak or express your humanity will acknowledge your humanity. And in that way, you can create spaces of accountability and presence and consent and an actual conversation that is distinct from virtual planes and performances that don’t require you to show up in the same way.

Zach: That’s exciting. We don’t think of you as a barnacle.

John: Really?

Zach: Well, no. I think what’s interesting about the Bearded Ladies as a company is the Bearded Ladies has grown by being kind of a resident company of the whole city of Philadelphia, which I think is a really, really interesting approach, and I don’t know. It’s just been really, really exciting. I remember the first time I encountered the Beards was when I was running payroll for Wide Awake as a part of 2013, so it’s interesting.It’s been a long, long way, but that was, of course, a program at the Kimmel Center and a really, really large scale one, but then you’ve also worked with the Wilma. You’ve worked with the. You’re everywhere, but Get Pegged is something that we’ve been doing together for now almost five years, right?

John: Five years?

Zach: February 2020 will be …

Katy: I think will be our fourth year.

John: Fourth year.

Katy: 16, 17, 18, 19 –

Zach: But we did all of 16. It started February of 2016, and that’s a year, so one year anniversary would be 17; two years would be 18; three years, 19. Oh, that’s how math works.

John: We’re on 19.

Katy: It is four years.

Zach: Four years. Four years.

Katy: To our listeners out there.

Zach: That’s easy, so it’s graduating college in a certain way.

John: It feels like five, and –

Zach: Stop this. No, it doesn’t. It feels like a blink of an eye. But so now, as you’re graduating kind of with your undergraduate degree in Get Pegged, what are you looking forward to kind of in the expansion of the project? Are there dream guests, dream art installations that join us? I’m thinking about Adrian Trescott’s  cardboard piano.

John: Oh, my God.

Zach: There have just been so many really beautiful moments.

John: I recently put together a list of all of the artists that we programmed together at Get Pegged, and it makes me really proud. I think it’s a special program. It’s a one night stand between a local artist and a national international artist, and I think with all the Beards’ work and with a lot of the work you’re doing at FringeArts, it’s not about cultivating any one audience. It’s about bringing people together, and I think a lot of the great things about cabaret is that the performance in cabaret is the performance of the space and the audience in the space as much as it is the performer. I think that we’ve done some really fun, exciting, disturbing, shocking work, and I’m excited to continue doing that.

I would say I really want to get Dina Martina in here, who’s an artist from Seattle. If you don’t know Dina Martina, she’s a brilliant cabaret performer and drag personality. I would love to work with Jomama Jones  from New York, who is a channeler. Sometimes confused with a direct performer but is a beautiful choreographer, channeler, singer, songwriter, tarot card reader based out of New York. Those are two of my faves, but I’m also curating in collaboration with you, Zach, and you, Katy, dreams that you’re thinking about as well.

Katy: And that’s been one of the joys of working on this program with you, John, and just to take a second, my first experience of Get Pegged was the day I came to do a day-long interview at FringeArts, which was about a year and a half ago.

Zach: It was really fun.

Katy: And it was a long day meeting many people on the board here and many of my now colleagues here, which was amazing. And then I had dinner with Nick, and then I came to Get Pegged at 10:30, and it was the Get Pegged that was kind of looking towards Do You Want a Cookie?

Zach: Looking towards Late Night Snacks. Oh, Do You Want a Cookie?

John: Oh, crap.

Zach: That was the cookie jar.

Katy: It was a two hour, almost maybe even two and a half hour extravaganza, and it was incredible.

Zach: With Messi on the water tower, yes.

John: Wow.

Katy: And Adrian was there, and there were a lot of beautiful group numbers but also maybe as many as 10 different artists from all corners of the globe. And it was a real moment where I was like, “Whoa, FringeArts is doing crazy stuff.”

Zach: On stage?

Katy: I have been pushed to my limit in terms of what I’ve encountered in this day, and that’s where I want to be working. My God, I want to work in a place that has people climbing through every aspect of this restaurant and that is really privileging queer voices and people who might not be represented in the same way and carving out space for them and doing it in a really joyful way. I’m excited for us to keep doing that kind of work in Get Pegged. One thing we’ve talked about that I’m curious about is how to incorporate dance more.

Katy: Get Pegged has been primarily music-focused, which makes so much sense, and yet one of the things I love about the Beards in general is the way that it brings in people from Philadelphia who might not consider themselves a cabaret artist and gives them a platform to explore what that might mean. And that can mean a million different things, so I’d love to see how dance can maybe be a part of that as we keep working together in the future.

And I, like you, John, am so interested in the history of cabaret too and its relationship to performance art and the history kind of within the New York or the broader cosmopolitan scene in this country in the last 40 years. I think we’re also interested in what would it mean for someone like Dancenoise or someone like Carmelita Tropicana, who I really see as the fore-mothers to this kind of program and getting them in as well, so a very multi-generational look at it.

Zach: I definitely echo all of that. I think the work that we’ve gotten to do in kind of bringing poets in the Get Pegged fold has been really, really exciting for me, but I don’t know. I’m also really interested in Charlene Incarnate, which I know you share as well, and –

Katy: Love her.

Zach: And kind of people who are doing this almost pop and rock cabaret moment that feels really, I don’t know, interesting and spicy to me. Sateen is another group who I would so, so, so love to see do a Get Pegged. Who else? Meow Meow. Oh, my gosh. Bernie Dieter. There are so, so many people who I’ve just seen kind of just moving around in Australia and kind of in the UK where there’s really, really hot cabaret scenes as well.Jack Rook is one, actually. A really great storyteller from England who previously worked on the BBC really kind of covering just issues for queer youth and kind of the “It gets better” movement in the UK and then really very publicly said,

“This work of reporting on these stories is really challenging for me, and I would like to do something else,” and now creates all kinds of really beautiful storytelling shows about just kind of growing up as a young queer kid and body issues and growing up in this kind of connected app society as a queer person. Also, he’s a bit younger than me so really grew up kind of in that zone, that strike zone, so it’s interesting to kind of hear that voice as well.

John: I feel like if you’re listening, you’re getting a sense of what curatorial conversations talk like or sound like, so this is all about putting local artists on dates with national international artists. If you’re local, and you’re listening, hit us up.

Zach: Or if you have a great superstar cabaret artist that we don’t know about

John: That you want to date.

Zach: You’re always welcome to send a cute little email over to FringeArts, and it will reach us. Yes.

Katy: And I love this concept of the date where so much of what we’re trying to do is have deep relationships, and we care about people in the long term 100 percent, but I think it’s also great to be like, “We’re going to try it.” And this is not necessarily a low-stakes environment, but it’s a permissive environment. It’s an environment filled with care where we’re going to build a crash pad for you; where if you want to try to sing for the first time in your God-given life, we’re here for it. Go for it. And I think that is something really special within the field more broadly but particularly within Philadelphia. And I’m grateful that we can carve that space.

Zach: And I think the data approach flattens out the hierarchy in a really, really specific way. It’s not like resident artists and presenting organization inviting this guest artist in. It really is seen as this exchange where we’re both going to learn more about each other’s work, that it’s really about kind of our shared development as a field.

Katy: Absolutely, and building those relationships. It was great to hear you talk, John, and this is one of the things I love so much about cabaret, about the relationship between audience and performers. And for those of you who haven’t been to a Get Pegged, it happens within our resident restaurant, La Peg. And so as an audience member, you can engage with the performance in many different ways. There are some people who sit in a table and eat a hamburger and fries while they watch it. There are other people who stand at the bar and have a drink of their choice. There are other people –

Zach: There are people who just make out in the back of the room.

Katy: 100 percent.

Zach: That would be me, but thanks for that.

Katy: I think, John, that’s one of the things we also wanted to talk about is that the Beards and FringeArts work really carefully and sensitively to make it a care-foregrounded experience, and so how does that impact the type of audience that we are hoping to get to these performances and the very different levels of experience one could have at a it Get Pegged?

John: I think we’re in a dynamic, evolving conversation about the cabaret form and also values of consent to experience. If you’re interaction-adverse, you can still come. You’re welcome to come to a Get Pegged, and there are tools that we will give you on the day to signal that you don’t want interaction –

Katy: Or that you want a particular kind of interaction. Some people are like, “Oh, please do not touch me, but I am happy to be seated at the bar while you’re performing on the bar.”

John: Totally, so it’s about you having power to control your experience. And what’s amazing about that is I think that that’s sometimes seen as limiting to the art, but my experience over the past few years is that it actually allows the art to go further because everyone feels like they’re in a respectful, thoughtful environment. And I don’t quite believe in safe spaces. I don’t believe in that language, so it’s not a safe space, but it should be a thoughtful, healthy space where artists and audience can be a little dangerous and really try something new, which means that it’s hard to say, “You can expect this if you come to Get Pegged.”What you can expect is that I will be hosting, or someone that the Beards and FringeArts choose will be hosting, and there will be a certain amount of caretaking.

The host’s name is Peg. It’s Get Pegged at La Peg with Peg, and Peg is not always happy that you’re there, especially if you came from Dave and Buster’s, but Peg will empower you and will give you the kind of context and care that you need to get you through your evening. It’s not about you liking the performers. It’s not about you getting your money’s worth, and it’s very accessible in terms of pricing too. I think it’s eight bucks?

Katy: It’s eight bucks.

John: But it is about giving you an experience that maybe you needed, maybe you didn’t know you needed.

Zach: What I always love to see is somebody who just happened to be walking by and saw the performance through the window and maybe doesn’t come inside, but they stand, and they just kind of look. And they take it in, and you can see that they’re having this kind of performance experience they didn’t expect to have that night, and that’s all very interesting to me. And whether they come in or they don’t, I always think it’s interesting. You stop, and you look through this window, and you see this thing going on in there, and then you decide if it’s for you or not. And if it is, that’s great. I think it’s for everybody. If it isn’t, thank you for not coming in and being disruptive, but I always think that’s really interesting, kind of how the ambient neighborhood community engages with Get Pegged and all the people who might already be in our bar when a Get Pegged starts who might not know what they’re getting into –

John: That’s fun.

Zach: And find themselves with a full surprise and delight moment. I’ve got so many patrons come up to me and be like, “I had no clue this was happening. I’m so excited that I was here. I just came in for champagne and a pound of wings, but this is great.”

John: I’ve interrupted a few dates before, some to great effect and some to not so great effect.

Zach: Me too, but never at Get Pegged.

John: I do want to say that I feel like what’s special about Get Pegged too in the context of the city is a lot of this experimental work is happening in the nightlife scene and in spaces like in the gayborhood, et cetera, but it’s never resourced the way that it is here. What’s I think particularly special about the partnership with FringeArts is you’re allowing the Bearded Ladies and these performers to be resourced in their experimentation and to value them as other artists who are maybe in more traditional, more easily consumed and recognizable forms are resourced. And that’s not only just a fee, but that’s also maybe housing or a tech crew that’s there and present and actually lighting them so that you’re not holding a flashlight while you perform, and … unless you want to … that feels really special and unique.

Katy: And I think it goes the opposite way too in terms of just our recognition as an institution that has some clout, I would like to think, saying that that art is valuable, and that art should be happening in more traditional theatrical institutions as much as it should be happening in a bar in the gayborhood, and that it’s not relegated to Wednesdays.

Zach: Well, and one other facet of working with the Beards that I deeply enjoy is the sensitivity and care-foregrounded way in which, John, you and your staff approach every part of the production process. I think when we have meetings together, it’s always so tender, and I think we go in, and we check in with each other. It’s, “How are you? Kind of what’s in your pockets going into this meeting? No, not what’s going on with you professionally, not what meeting do you have after this, but how are you today? How are you feeling? Are you primed and ready for this conversation?” And I guess my question is more kind of in what ways are you and the Beards working to make the kind of arts administration part of cabaret more sensitive and more equitable?

John: I think I try not to think too differently about those spaces. I try not to think that there are different values in the performance space as there are in the … maybe there are different expectations obviously, but in the administrating space, how do you be human-valued in all of the spaces? And I think the hard thing in administrative spaces is that a lot of that work is invisible, especially if it’s done really well.

You’re like, “Oh, I didn’t think about all that effort,” so how can you give love and visibility to that is something that the Beards are doing. And I have a great team. Brandi Burgess  is our general manager. Dan O’Neil  is our artistic producer. Sally Ollove is our associate artistic director, and we’ve got Heath Allen and Rebecca Kanach are Beard’s company members, so I’ve got a really great team. And obviously, we’re fairly promiscuous, so as I say, partners all around the city that are working together to make sure that our endeavors into interdisciplinarity have integrity and thought behind them. I hope that answers your question.

And there just so many different avenues and ways we’re talking about health. But if you’re talking about education, the Elevator Repair Service’s take on Gatz or take on Hemingway, that like is a much more sort of interesting and vibrant way of experiencing literature than maybe another dry reading of a book that you might hear of somewhere else. And so just adding so much more richness to the way that we layer in things that are part of our history. I just, I get so much out of it from so many different ways and I wish more people would plug in. I’m always shocked when I come to Philadelphia and I get off the train at 30th street and hop in the cab and people don’t even know the festival is going on. And I’m like, how is that possible?

Zach: Well, and it goes way beyond the administrative part. What you’re talking about as far as how we can make the performance space more accessible to two different people is so, so interesting, but also, every time I see a show by the Beards at any institution, it is priced in a way that is accessible. And I think that’s a big part of what you’re all doing, and I think there’s always a VIP level too. You can kind of self-select into all of these different levels of engagement, but there is always a way to get in and see the work, and I think that’s really, deeply important and inspiring. And because you work with so many institutions, I think it really does advance the field locally to have the Beards as this kind of instigent for a more accessible kind of cabaret environment.

We do feel like we’re a guinea pig of the city. We’ll be like the first ones to work with the PMA on a certain kind of program, and then we’ll try all the things. We’ll break all of the art, and then they’ll know what to do next time, we do feel like we’ve, I mean, tried to be a good partner and instill good values. And now, we’re experiencing that on another level because we have a follicle program with the Beards that gives artists micro-grants; and a cabaret residency program, which is a more expansive $2,000 to work with a partner on a project.

And we’re now having conversations about like, “Oh, if we’re giving this resource to an artist, how can we also gently say, ‘Our intention is that you are paid with this resource’?” But how do we learn from people’s values who have less resources, have more resources than ours, and how can we instill good values of artist care as we’re engaging with artists that come from many different walks of life in the city?

That’s really fascinating. We’re learning a lot and hopefully offering a lot in that work, and that’s some of the work that the Beards do that I don’t think is often visible is the way in which we’re cultivating community and trying to … this is maybe a lingo, but institutionalize tiny risks and experimentation, which is what the cabaret form is all about is actually try it.

Try it in front of an audience. Try the interaction and see how it goes, and then maybe it expands into a bigger piece for the theater or something, or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe what it is is a tiny experiment that continues to be that size.

Katy: Well, I know, John, as the Beards have grown bigger and older, you’ve also started doing more touring as well, whether it’s across the United States or internationally, and I know that you have learned a lot about different cabaret fields abroad or further afield, and it’s interesting to hear how then you can bring those back to Philly and work to advance our city and our arts ecosystem. And so what are some of the things that you’ve seen other places do that you’re hoping to bring here?

John: Wow, that’s a good question. I think what’s fascinating about the form is it’s a form that’s really steeped in the local and the local vernacular, so to go to Germany and go to Berlin and see cabaret, it’s really hard to translate because it’s very local, which is what I love about it. It’s like we’re making work by Philadelphians for Philadelphians, and the Beards kind of hear that, and then we bring 14 artists from around the world to Philly to kind of give their prismatic definition of cabaret, so I’m constantly in a dialogue about what is shared in this approach and what is different.

Mexico City, the history of cabaret there is very, very political. It’s more of a ground-up kind of thing. There’s a cabaret festival run by a bunch of queers, and whereas French cabaret has become more museum-like and pushed into the corners or caves around the city and can feel very nostalgic. In terms of what to bring, I mean, I have approaches. I’m like, “Oh, that’s a Bridget Everett tactic,” or, “That’s a Meow Meow tactic,” et cetera. And when I bring those into my own practice as an artist, or I recognize that in other people’s work, I try to also make sure that I acknowledge where that history comes from.

Katy: That’s huge.

John: I think acknowledging the connections and where you learn what you’re learning is part of how we’re bringing in the history, but mostly, it’s about bringing the people here, and some of those people, you can’t bring. There’s an artist named Juwelia Soraya in Berlin who is one of my favorite cabaret artists in the world, and she performs in a little gallery of paintings of herself, mostly nude.

Zach: Oh, my gosh. Obsessed.

John: With a little mix tape player and a microphone, like a kid’s tape player, sometimes a pianist, and she’s a brilliant visual artist and performer. And I’m like, “You can’t bring you Juwelia without bringing all of her paintings, and I don’t have that kind of money.”

Zach: Putting their whole house up on.

John: And even then, what she’s talking about is what happened down the street earlier that week, what’s in the local news, so I guess also what I carry with me as I travel to those places is a permission to speak directly to the people that I’m talking to. I feel like sometimes as artists, we’re like, “How do we get it outside of Philly? How do we break the Philly bubble?”

And I want to do that too. Everyone wants to, but I think also, Philly is an amazing city to make work in, and there’s a kind of unique work that’s coming out of Philly because of the resources and the ecosystem that we live in. Embracing that, I think, is a lesson that I’ve learned from other cabaret places because often, cabaret is made out of necessity. It doesn’t have that kind of higher art, “I want to be in these global festivals around the world, so my work has to look like X, Y, Z.” It’s like, “I’ve got a closet and a hairbrush and a little glitter, and that’s what I’m doing.”

Katy: I think that’s so important to remember. I feel like every artist we meet with is like, “How do I get my show to New York? How do I get my show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival?” And we are so happy to talk with people about that and to extend our connections and talk about what makes that possible. But I think it’s great to remember that there is also so much here and that I think it’s really special to be able to speak to that locality in an incredibly foregrounded direct way, which doesn’t happen in the same way when you go on tour.

Zach: Oh, absolutely. I think about that a lot as well. It’s kind of, “Are you done doing things in Philly? You feel a completion as far as reaching audiences?” It’s like, no. There are still so, so many more partners. There are so, so many more audiences to reach. There are so many artists to work with. It’s this kind of a wellspring of arts and culture.

Katy: And I think the continuity is also worth it. I think yes, it’s great to continue to work your way through the city, but I also think it’s really valuable to be like, “We do Get Pegged six times a year, and maybe we reach the same 30 regulars who come to all six of them, and how incredible to be able to have that consistent check-in with those people and to bring them along for the ride.”

John: An artist that does this really well that we’re going to have at Get Pegged I believe in January is Magda. Magda is working on the right now. And what was Magda’s earlier piece about working in the children’s hospital?

Katy: I can’t remember what that was called.

Zach: Feral Wild Girl Child.

Katy: Thank you.

John: Oh, my god. It was so good.

Zach: That was so good.

John: It was so good.

Katy: It was really.

John: It felt very, very focused on Philadelphia and experiences in Philadelphia and was performed for 20 people in a little studio in the Bok Building and was one of the best things I saw last year. I feel like that’s the kind of work that we’re talking about, too. And of course, that should and will travel, but part of what makes it so special is that it was a conversation that needed to happen and needed to happen here first.

Katy: Definitely. A big plug to everybody: Our next Get Pegged is Friday, November 15th. Jan, of course, will be hosting as Peg. And we’re excited to have the local group Girl Poop along with New York-based artist Morgan Bassichis, so everybody come out.

Zach: It’s a can’t-miss event, friends. If you’ve not seen Girl Poop, and you’ve not seen Morgan Bassichis, I feel deeply for you, and the opportunity to see both of them in a single night … In a single night, you can see both of these fantastic artists. You got to get there, and you’ll love it. You’ll love it.

Katy: Hands down, we’ll change your life. But before we wrap up, we always ask our guests on the podcast, what are your highbrow and lowbrow inspirations?

Zach: Or current obsessions. You can take it anywhere you want, really, truly. And we’ll do one if you’ll do one.

John: Fleabag. Is that highbrow or lowbrow?

Katy: I think that’s the question.

John: It’s super satisfying. And in terms of cabaret, it’s really hard to talk directly to an audience through a camera, and the only people that do that super well are Mr. Rogers, and Phoebe is an incredible actor. And I’m like, “Wow, you’re really making me feel talked to right now,” so that may hit both of those for me. But maybe another highbrow thing is I’m obsessed with Anthony Roth Costanzo, who –

Katy: Buying my tickets to Akhnaten today.

Zach: I know, who was just on another great kind of contemporary art podcast, Dance And Stuff. Definitely listen to the ARC episode of Dance And Stuff. It’s very, very good.

John: And Fresh Air, recently with Terry Gross, whoever that is.

Zach: Katy, any highbrow lowbrow obsessions right now?

Katy: Was not prepared. Let’s see. Highbrow obsession, I am very excited to see Akhnaten, which both looks like the campiest opera I’ve ever seen and the best thing. I’ve read about it so much, but it’s actually never been seen in New York before, and involves Gandini Juggling, which should be incredible. I can’t wait to see highbrow and lowbrow really collide when I go see that in December in New York. The lowbrow inspirations, hard for me to say.

Zach: You watched any good TV?

Katy: To keep it really real on the podcast, I’m watching Modern Love right now on Amazon, which comes out of a essay that is published in the New York Times style section once a week that talks about love in really expansive ways. It’s not even always romantic. It is all kinds of relationships, and I have really loved reading those essays. Some of these episodes are really amiss, and some of them are more charming than others, but I do enjoy watching it. That’s true. Zach?

Zach: I would say highbrow, I’ve just been reading a lot right now. I just finally read. I’m the last person to read this, I promise. Everyone else had read this book already. It’s a long-form erasure poem that takes all of its controlled vocabulary from Bram Stoker’s Dracula to talk a little bit about queerness and identity, and it’s really, really special and beautiful. And I can read about two poems at a time before I’m like, “I have reached capacity as far as just the depth and incisiveness of the work.”

And then my lowbrow, I don’t know. Is it horror movie marathons? Because I’ve been very into that right now, but Halloween just ended. No, you know what? It’s Catherine the Great on HBO. I can’t stop watching it. It’s Helen Mirren as Catherine the Great. Yes. It’s a gay Fantasia, and I don’t understand why the girls aren’t talking. I’m upset.

Katy: Well, also, I think the The Crown

Zach: Helen Prospero Mirren, Oh, The Crown” as well. Oh, yes. Yes, yes, yes.

Katy: The Crown comes back tonight with Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret, which I just can’t wait for. That’s my lowbrow inspiration.

John: There’s some kind of horse joke that I’m just inserting into this. I’m not saying what it is.

Zach: Great.

Katy: We’ll let you all ruminate on that, but thank you so much, John, for joining us for this episode of Happy Hour On the Fringe. We hope to see you all at Get Pegged on November 15th at 10:30 PM in La Peg.

Zach: Make sure you follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and download the FringeArts app, and visit FringeArts.com to see more of our upcoming programming including Martha Graham Cracker, Get Pegged, and so much more. John, where can we see more on what the Bearded Ladies are doing?

John: We are doing a trestle engagement party, which is a fancy fundraiser for us, on November 21st. And then on December 7th, we’re doing All I Want For Christmas is a Dead Chanteuse, which is an Edith Piaf holiday show featuring Tareke Ortiz  from Mexico City is coming into town to do a special performance at World Cafe Live. If we sell out the first show, there will be a second show, so get your tickets now, and there is a promo code with that, so email us. Not all of our partners will let us do pay what you decide, so just let us know, and we’ll make sure that you’re covered.

Zach: Well, thank you so, so much, and that’s been Happy Hour On the Fringe.

[Exit music]

Happy Hour on the Fringe: Producers Circle

Posted November 21st, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, we sat down with some of the people who help give life to the arts in Philadelphia and FringeArts as an organization. Jane Pepper and Christie Hartwell are longtime Fringe fans who are also a part of the FringeArts Producers Circle, a cohort of dedicated supporters who help us present the most ambitious performances while expanding our audience and accessibility to the broader community.

Jane and Christie share their introductions to FringeArts, back when we were just the Fringe Festival, their favorite experiences over the years, and the importance of supporting the arts.

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.


[Music Intro]
Jenn: Hello and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premier presenter of contemporary performing arts. I’m Jennifer Shorstein Development Manager here at FringeArts.

Jarod: And I’m Jarod Hughes, the podcast production intern here at FringeArts. We invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversation with some of the most imaginative people in the plane of existence.

Jane Pepper posing with

Photo by Kevin Monko. Jane Pepper (right) at the 2019 FF VIP Opening Night

Jenn: Here at FringeArts, we want to acknowledge our Producers Circle members that help make everything we do here at FringeArts possible. So today we’re talking to Jane Pepper, who is a member of our Producers Circle. Welcome.

Jane: Thank you. Delighted to be here.

Jenn: So first question we always ask, what are we all drinking?

Jane: I’m drinking water and I’m thrilled to have good Philly water.

Jenn: I’m rocking a Sprite Zero today.

Jarod: I’m not having anything at the moment.

Jane: He’s a teetotaler today.

Jenn: So first question, what was the first show and or year, if you can’t remember the show, that you attended the Philadelphia Fringe Festival?

Jane: Well, you’re really stretching my memory, but I would say I was here maybe on the second or third year of your existence. And the reason I got interested in the Fringe was because I grew up in Edinburgh. And when I saw my adopted city adopting something from my native city, I thought, “I have to go and check this out.”

Jarod: That’s really cool. So you just decided to just come stop in and see a Fringe show while you were here?

Jane: Well, I started to see promotions for it during the time when you just had the one week. And there were a lot of interesting sounding things that I had no knowledge of and I thought it would be a wonderful way to try to figure out why. I didn’t know Nick Stuccio at that point, why the developer of the Fringe wanted to copy what was going on in Edinburgh.

Jarod: That’s really cool.

Jenn: Do you have any particular favorite moments from Fringe festivals past?

Jane: Yes. I became a huge fan of Junk, Brian Sanders’ Junk performances, thanks to the Fringe. And I will never forget, you did one up on Spring Garden street and all of the dancers were dressed in robes like monks and they were trampling in water and I’d never seen anything like that before. So that was the start of my interest. And I think Brian does fabulous stuff still, but that was one of my first … Probably not one of the first, but one of the shows that really sticks in my mind.

Jarod: Can you talk about initials from this year that might’ve been one of your favorites or anything you really were interested in the most this year?

Jane: Well, I like to come to the dance performances because that’s one of my favorites. And also there are always different, you always have different dance companies, And I would say Anne Keersmaeker, is that how you pronounce it? That was one of the ones that I found really interesting. I wouldn’t say it was one of the things that I was totally in love with, but the fact that they kept on doing that repetitive motion with such incredible skill was really interesting to me. And I love the way that the Fringe brings performances here for me to see very close to home that I would never see under any other circumstances.

Jarod: So when did you become a member of the Producers Circle at FringeArts and why did you decide to joint?

Jane: I guess, well, as you’ve developed your development function, you’ve introduced new ways of giving to the Fringe. And to me this was an interesting way to participate. This year, I think I sponsored Úumbal, the dance performance that went throughout the streets of South Philly, was it?

Jenn: Yeah.

Jane: Yeah, so that was interesting. And I just had a woman come up to me the other day, I didn’t know she was there, but she said, “I saw you at Úumbal.” So you never know who else is going to be in the audience.

Jenn: Wonderful. Can you tell us why you think it’s important to donate to the arts?

Jane: I’m a huge art supporter in Philadelphia. I mean not financially but emotionally. And I just think this is something that brings so much to our community and it involves people from all different backgrounds, all different generations. And as I get older, I get more and more interested in seeing young people participating. And the Fringe is particularly special, I think for young people because the tickets have been kept affordable, somewhat, depending upon what stage you’re in. But I love to … I sit next to somebody who’s 40 years younger than I am and that’s really satisfying for me to see them becoming involved in the arts because I hope then that that’s a tradition that they’ll do with their families and as they grow older they too will be able to support it.

Jenn: I think you already started talking about this a little bit, but how has FringeArts impacted any aspects of your life?

Jane: Allowing me to see, as I said, performances that I would never have a chance to see, or never know about. And I would say that that’s one of the interesting things. I like to get paper catalog to go through it because I find it totally overwhelming online. And so I thumbed through and marked them up and then try to figure out, you have so much going on that you have to figure out a schedule that you can fit them all in. And so I just … It’s sort of a ritual of early, mid September when FringeArts is going on, that it’s a great time to be in Philadelphia.

Jarod: That’s really cool. So what is your favorite thing about being a Producers Circle member at FringeArts? Like what is something that you just love? Like being in the meetings or stuff like that, that you just love to do?

Jane: I just like to be part … I like to support it because to me it’s important and you can give in a lot of different ways, but to become identified with a particular event gives me satisfaction.

Jenn: Wonderful. As someone who listens to the podcast, have you had any favorite episodes?

Jane: Well, I’m fairly new to the podcast. And I did listen to some of them this summer and it intrigued me and now my memory is going to leave me but I know that there was one that I hadn’t signed up for. And after I heard the podcast, I thought, “Well, I need to go to that.” So I think it’s a great way to get people intrigued about what you’re planning to do.

Jane: And listening to the artist talk is always incredible to me because I just never understand where people have their imaginations come from. And they could be in a different part of the world and here they are talking about the performance piece that they’re going to put on in Philadelphia.

Jenn: What are some other organizations that you were involved with in locally or elsewhere?

Jane: Well, I used to work for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, so I love that. And the art museum, the Barnes, also things like the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. So there’s so many things to do in Philadelphia that it’s always an exploration. And I’ve, for example, I’ve never been to a performance of Azuka, I don’t know if that’s how you pronounce it, theater, so I’m going to do that this fall. So in Philly you can never get bored if you have enough time. There’s just an endless series of things that you could do.

Jenn : And the big question, how many shows are you able to see this festival?

Jane: Well I was away from part of it, which was dreadful, but that was what the schedule required. So I would say I saw maybe five. And then in the summer, I came to one of your circus performances. And before you did that, I had no idea that there was a circus arts school in Philadelphia. So those are the kinds of things that you introduced to me that as I say, I probably wouldn’t have known of in another situation. So keep being innovators and keep doing things that will help people who are a little more sort of out of the … I’m not part of the art scene, I would say, but you allow me to participate in that.

Jarod: That’s really cool. So you were talking about it earlier, like how … Or how has art really influenced you throughout your whole life? Like is it something that you’ve always been a part of or you just started getting into it towards like as you just continue to get older? Like how has art been?

Jane: I think … I’m retired, so I have more time. So it’s allowed me to develop more interests. I mean, before it was fairly traditional, I’d go to the orchestra, I might go to the theater a couple of times a year, but having more space in my life allows me to just experiment more. And with the Fringe, you have to experiment because there are going to be some performances that I absolutely don’t understand and it’s good that you offer talk backs and educational pieces that go with it, the podcast among other things, because then people who have a limited understanding of some of the more contemporary performances have an opportunity to grant themselves a little bit in what the artists are achieving.

Jenn: Jane, thank you so much for coming in and for being a member of our Producers Circle and appreciating and engaging with FringeArts as you do.

Jarod: And we’re back. Next, we sit down with Raina Searles Marketing Manager and Tenara Calem Audience Engagement Coordinator here at FringeArts to interview Christie Hartwell, another Producers Circle member.

Christie Hartwell laughing

Photo by Kevin Monko. Christie Hartwell (center) at the 2019 FF VIP Opening Night

Tenara: So today we’re talking to Christie who is a member of our Producers Circle. Welcome, Christie.

Jarod: Last we recall, you were talking about how you wanted it to resonate with the people. I just want to get a feel. How do you want your audience to get understanding of what you’re showing when the event happens? More so, what do you want them to experience, to take away from it all?

Christie: Thank you.

Tenara : So this is … The title of our podcast is Happy Hour on the Fringe. So of course our first question is always, what are we drinking? Knowing that it’s noon right now, I think that that answer can go to many different ways, but are you drinking anything wherever you are, Christie?

Christie: I am. I’m drinking LaCroix coconut water, which my 15-year-old son calls mom drink.

Tenara : That’s great though. I love that.

Raina: Is LaCroix a mom drink now or is it what you always drink?

Christie: No, I think he and his friends, apparently like the mothers of teenagers right now, this is the popular drink.

Tenara : Good to know. I always like a LaCroix as well, so it’s important to know what people are reading into that.

Christie: I have, seriously.

Raina: And so, I’m having a cup of peach passion tea. It’s in a tumbler that I filled all the way up and it’s definitely cool now.

Tenara : And I’m drinking nothing, I’m quite satisfied right now, so I don’t need anything to quench a thirst.

Raina: Yeah, and you have some fruit in front of you.

Tenara : I do have fruit, I have many slices of melon in front of me, which feels important. Great. So diving right in, we’d love to just talk to you about your experience with the Fringe festival and with FringeArts. So if you can think back, do you remember the first show that you saw in the Fringe festival?

Christie: I do, actually. I go all the way back to the first year of the festival. I didn’t know anything about the festival and I was seeing Melanie Stewart at the Annenberg the year before and she was performing in the first year of the festival. And I think the show might have been called something like “Trapture”? And so I followed her. I didn’t know anything about the festival. And she and a group of dancers, including Paul Turner, and I don’t remember who else, they were all bound in some way that affected how they were able to move in the space and interacting. And I learned about the festival through the program that was passed out that night. And the following year, I ended up attending eight or 10 shows and have been a huge fan ever since.

Tenara : Wow, that’s amazing that your relationship with Fringe has like been since the beginning. That’s so great. Now correct us if we’re wrong, but you actually don’t live in Philadelphia, is that correct?

Christie: Not anymore. I lived in Philadelphia until about 10 years ago. And I live in Virginia now. And when I moved away, I thought, “Wow, I’m sad to see this connection end.” But then I realized that Philadelphia is still only a short drive or train ride away. So I still come up for a couple of weekends every festival and make the connection that way.

Tenara : Well, we have to say, we really appreciate your dedication to us and being able to come even from so far away. That’s great. And you came this year for the festival, correct?

Christie: I did, yes.

Tenara : What was your favorite show that you saw this year?

Christie: Goodness, what was my favorite show? The one that was probably the most memorable was the … And I’m blanking on his name, but the former … The dancer who used to dance with Brian Sanders, who did the very bloody show in North Philadelphia. What is his name? It was a Fringe … And I’m, gosh-

Raina: Is it Gunnar Montana?

Christie: Yes, Gunnar Montana. Why can’t I think? He’s so memorable, why couldn’t I think of his name? But yes, that was probably the most memorable of the shows just because of the transporting nature of it all. But I also, the Wooster Group was the other one that really, really sent me quite a bit, the b-side.

Raina: Yeah, that was really beautiful. I do think it’s interesting though, because one of the things that I feel like we’ve seen a lot and especially that I’ve seen a lot from the marketing perspective is that so many people hear about our festival and hear about our programming through an artist. And so looking especially at our independent artists, but also the curated artists that we’re bringing in, there are people who are following an artist or have a friend in a show and so they come to see a random show in the Fringe festival and then they kind of hear about the rest of everything that’s happening after they’ve seen a show already.

Christie: Right.

Raina: And so I think it’s so fantastic that you’re going out and supporting actually the curated works but also the independent works. Has that always kind of been really important for you, is seeing like as many shows as possible in the festival?

Christie: I do think it is important. I have, particularly since I’ve moved away, I do tend to see more of the curated shows because I just, I know the caliber and the quality of the shows that are brought to the festival in that way, and since my time is more limited, I tend to see more of those shows. But I almost feel like I haven’t really done Fringe if I haven’t taken more risks and if I don’t get at least one like sort of oddball clinker out there, I haven’t taken enough risks with it. So I do try to get a few random new things and discover something exciting and unusual. But the more you have your favorites out there, it’s hard to fit everything in once you’ve started going year after year, there are so many amazing local artists that do such remarkable work year after year in the festival. And then repeat artists that come back to the Fringe, Even this year again, Nature Theater of Oklahoma is a huge, huge favorite of mine. And one of my favorite Fringes of all times was the year that they did Life and Times and just how many hours spent in that extensive multi-performance. Time there in the Wilma just hanging out and eating barbecue out on Broadstreet and just being with them for so many hours of wonderful, wonderful theater. And when they come back, they’re a must do kind of thing.

Tenara: I’m curious because your … So now that you are traveling to Philly for the Fringe festival, like you said that you come for … How long do you tend to stay when you come to Philly? Like this time around to see the festival.

Christie: I tend to come at least two weekends from Thursday through Sunday. And will pack in as much as I can over the course of those couple of weekends. And some of the other very dedicated longterm fringe supporters, we tend to start texting in the summer and comparing notes on–uh, Ed in particular has his spreadsheet and starts sending it around of who’s going to see what when. So we’re running from show to show and barely having time to eat between.

Tenara: Well it sounds a lot like our schedules during that festival season . And so that sort of dovetailed into my question, which is, I know what it feels like for me as somebody who works in the organization, what it feels like to be saturated with so much performance in such a short amount of time. But I’m curious, as somebody who has been a long time supporter of FringeArts, how does it feel to be filling your time so intensely with art and performance?

Christie: Well, it is. It’s a very, it’s almost like, to use sort of a food analogy, it’s kind of like a buffet of time of when you’re kind of feasting on this a variety of things and you go from something that’s really dark and serious and gloomy and to something that’s bright and cheerful and hilarious and you laugh your head off and just something else where you’re like, what the heck is that? And it is a little bit draining at the same time as energizing. And so I tend to come away refreshed and invigorated from this period. Every September, I do make it a priority in my schedule and find that this time is something worthy of carving out a time in my life. And I’m delighted that in recent years that FringeArts has become more of a year-round type of thing, so that as my work travel kind of takes me through and around the Philadelphia area that I can pop in for a show here and there and not just in the fall type of thing.

Tenara : Right. Do you feel like the energy that you store for watching all of this amazing art, do you feel like that … Like do you see art during the year in Virginia as well or are you like, got to save it all for the Fringe festival, and anytime you’re in Philly, there’s a show there too?

Christie: Performing art is a big part of my life year-round. And any opportunity I have to see live performance, I … That it fits in my schedule, I take it. There’s something different about the festival and I feel like it being part of FringeArts and being in the midst of this, we’re watching an art form evolve. And being part of it, whether it’s taking the behind the curtain opportunities with the talk backs or interacting with the artists late night at La Peg and seeing some works that are more in process, it’s a little different than going to a performance even on a fairly regular basis through the year. And so, even though I’m a fairly regular attendee of arts performances, this is a little different for me.

Raina: So I think you may have already answered it, but just to very specifically ask, what made you decide to become a member of my Producers Circle and when did you make that choice?

Christie: I don’t remember when I decided to make that choice. Probably early on when Producers Circle started and as I was able to participate. I think this is the work that FringeArts is doing is very important to Philadelphia, is very important to arts in general, nationally and internationally. And I think I feel very privileged to be able to support in a small way that happening. And I get a lot out of it. And then I feel like the arts in general, the performing arts in general, I worry that it’s operating at the extremes or has been operating at the extremes. It’s either on the one hand, very plastic and commercial and yet … I mean, I love the Nutcracker as much as anybody else, but it’s very plastic and commercial and canned and exactly the same, or so ridiculously studious and serious only for the intelligentsia and very serious theater students and very rich philanthropists on the other end. And there’s no room in the middle for the average Joe or people who could have their lives enriched by performing art. And I feel like FringeArts does that. And even though probably the audiences and the participants aren’t as diverse as what you’d like them to be, eventually, I think they’re far more diverse than what you see in the traditional American theater, commercial theater in other places. And I think that’s a really fantastic and encouraging thing.

Raina: Yeah. Well, I think it’s also great to hear about all the connections that you’ve made with other people in the Producers Circle, sharing your schedules and coordinating and getting together. Did you know a lot of the other people involved when you first joined the Producers Circle or are those friends that you made through FringeArts?

Christie: They’re absolutely friends I made through FringeArts, people that you start seeing the same faces around at various things year after year. There’s Shelley Green is one person who about eight or 10 years ago, I didn’t know her at all. And all of a sudden, one year we had virtually identical schedules and kept walking into the theater and oh my gosh, there she is again. And so we started chatting and now we see one another every year and chat again.

Tenara : So you’ve already spoken a little bit about this, but maybe if we can sort of revisit that part of the conversation, but can you talk about why you personally feel like it’s important to donate and support the arts? We’re getting ready to do some big end of year appeals and we want to make sure that people know that the work that we do is totally … It’s not possible without other people’s support. So yeah, we’d love to hear from you about what motivates you to support the arts.

Christie: Well, I think the arts, I feel like creativity and … Arts is a way to dig into things that are important in life. And I see as you experience, if you look at September festival time, unintended themes emerge based on what’s going on in society around us because the artists are influenced by what’s going on in the world around us and they are working on and cracking open in a different way, important themes, whether it be the impact on technology. And I remember very vividly the post-911 world that very next year and acceptance of the LGBTQ community and other things like that that come along. And I feel like the creative arts is an important venue that contributes to our world and contributes to our society. Not as this separate bubble that exists in a box over here that’s this nice adjunct that we do as entertainment, but it’s a critically and vitally important part of life.

And so the more that I work in healthcare, and so the health and wellbeing of people, and I work in children’s healthcare and I want children to grow up in a world that has that and their health and wellbeing is inspired by their ability to have creative outlets and to be able to express themselves creatively. And so, the more that we have organizations like FringeArts that are taking creativity and the arts into the broader world and the broader forum, the better we are as a society and a community. And so I think it’s really important that all members of society are supporting

Tenara : Yeah, I can’t remember which country I read about this in, I think it’s either the UK or Canada, but they recently published like a lot of research and information about exactly what you were talking about, the relationship between the arts, arts programming, arts education, and on holistic health within kids but also just like their general population. And sort of the conclusion that they came to was that the arts are a part of health and wellbeing and it’s just, it feels like that’s something I’d really like to see more of in our community, and understanding that we need to support and invest in our arts communities because they contribute to overall health and wellbeing.

Christie: Right, right. Well, and even, I think of like the very first piece that he brought to the festival about the man caring for his aging father. And that is part of the cycle of life that every human being deals with and just kind of see that in a different way and experience that in a different way and how what a human story that is and told out and an ability to kind of learn something and experience something in a really non-traditional way that without FringeArts working their way up to that, I’m not sure that Philadelphia was probably ready for until you’d done some groundwork, prepping for him, relatively speaking. That’s a really important story and a really important message.

And there just so many different avenues and ways we’re talking about health. But if you’re talking about education, the Elevator Repair Service’s take on Gatz or take on Hemingway, that like is a much more sort of interesting and vibrant way of experiencing literature than maybe another dry reading of a book that you might hear of somewhere else. And so just adding so much more richness to the way that we layer in things that are part of our history. I just, I get so much out of it from so many different ways and I wish more people would plug in. I’m always shocked when I come to Philadelphia and I get off the train at 30th street and hop in the cab and people don’t even know the festival is going on. And I’m like, how is that possible?

Tenara : Well, you’re doing some very vital work to make people aware.

Raina: Yes, please keep telling all of your taxi cab drivers. I like, yeah, that’s where I work, it’s FringeArts. So we don’t want to keep me for too long, but one of the questions that we normally close out with when we’re speaking to artists is their highbrow and lowbrow inspirations for making art. And so I’m wondering for you if there are one or two maybe more shows, because you’ve already mentioned so many, but if there are any shows that have really inspired you in various ways and made you take something back in your life or really reflect on something that you’ve seen throughout the years?

Christie: Well I’m not sure so much … I think some favorites, I guess, I’ll take it more in that way, Jerome Bell is one that I was really, the show must go on was one that so inspired me, kind of the the artist in every person of everyday movement and how breaking down that fourth wall and making the entire venue part of the experience part of the performance and breaking down that performer versus audience member in a way that was beautiful and a little bit uncomfortable because one of the things that I thought was so interesting was in the talk back after the show must go on. One of the young performers who I think was a university of the arts student was talking about being a little bit taken aback or uncomfortable that the audience was like moving around or doing stuff in reaction to one of the songs where she felt as though … Like, I mean she didn’t express that quite this way, but that according to the rules they were supposed to be watching the performers, play by the rules as the audience member.

And I thought it was so interesting because this was coming from a very young person and I thought, she’s been programmed in her education and her teaching where he as a choreographer is blowing this up yet she’s responding from a very traditional dancers kind of kind of perspective. And it’s like wow, what an interesting kind of dynamic on that. And it gave me much more food for thought because I loved the performance and it gave me some food for thought and then her comment in the talk back also gave me some more food for thought. So it was interesting.

Tenara : That’s awesome.

Raina: Yeah.

Tenara : We like Jerome Bel over here.

Raina: Big fans.

Christie: Yeah, and another favorite that’s just Jo Strømgren, and that made up language, fun stuff with The Convent was just like so, how like transported to like take you away from your reliance on the English language and just to like get such a fabulous story out of it. I think I went to The Convent three times because I loved it so much.

Tenara : Wait, say the title again. The Convent?

Christie: The Convent.

Tenara : Man, I love it when you have to go see, I’ve done that before. I’ve seen a show once where I was like, well got to see it again.

Christie: Yes, indeed. Yeah, I think I skipped something else. So I probably missed something wonderful but I had to go back.

Raina: I had a friend in 2017 when we did HOME by Geoff Sobelle, I remember I was seeing it for the Saturday night performance and she couldn’t make it, so she went to go see the Friday night performance, but then she ended up canceling her plans the next day and seeing both the Saturday matinee and the Saturday night performance because she loved it so much. And when I saw it, I was like, I wish I had done what she did and like come back three times so I could see all the different perspectives. So it was a show that like you just had to see more than once and then get a feel for everything that was going on on stage.

Christie: I know. My sister missed it. She often comes up, she lives here in Virginia and she often comes up with me, and that was one that she missed and I was, I said, “Carrie, you missed a good one.”

Tenara : Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Christie, for joining us for this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe.

Christie: Well, thank you. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it. It’s always fun to reminisce and think back and I look forward to my next Fringe [crosstalk 00:36:21].

Tenara : We look forward to seeing you around the theater. Thank you again.

Christie: Thank you.

Tenara : Bye, Christie.

Christie: Bye-bye.

Jenn: Thank you for joining us for this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe. Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and download the FringeArts app. Visit fringearts.com to see all of our upcoming programming. Thank you for listening.

[Exit music]

Happy Hour on the Fringe: DJ Dame Luz

Posted November 4th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe we recorded musical artist DJ Dame Luz before her upcoming Halloqweens event that took place at FringeArts on October 26. Listen as she talks about the people who have inspired her, along with the origins of Halloqweens.

Featured photo: Halloquweens Event

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Conversation with DJ Dame Luz 

[Music Intro]

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

halloweens promo with women dressed as devilsJarod: I’m Jarod Hughes, the Podcast Production Intern here at FringeArts. We invite you to pour one up, enjoy our conversation with some of the most imaginative people on the plane of existence. Today, we’re excited to talk about Halloqweens, the best queer Halloween party in Philadelphia, here at FringeArts for the third year, on October 26th, from 10 PM to 2 AM.

Raina: Created by DJ Dame Luz, the party features performances by artists spanning the nightlife and drag communities, alongside some of the most exciting DJs in the city. This is the party that you save your good costume for. So, welcome, Dame Luz.

Dame Luz: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Raina: Yeah, we’re excited to have you here. So, first of all, it’s Happy Hour on the Fringe. We always record at varying times, so our first question is, what are we all drinking, though?

Dame Luz: Water. I always stay hydrated.

Raina:Yes. I am also drinking water, out of a Mason jar, to be fringe-y. Just to start off, take us back to the start of HalloQueens? How did this idea come to you, what spurred you on?

Dame Luz: Halloqweens started out from an event that I used to do, in collaboration with someone else. It was called Cut and Paste. Halloqweens was just our yearly Halloween party. I’m a really big fan of Halloween, period.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dame Luz: So, yeah, I was really excited to do that.

Raina: Yeah.

Dame Luz: Throw a big party!

Jarod: So, this will be the sixth year that you guys are doing Halloqweens, right? What are some of the highs and lows of this event for you? As you’re doing it, what is something that is extremely stressful, and something that you’re just bang on the part?

Dame Luz: The first few years, it was pretty low maintenance, as far as production wise. We held it at a smaller venue called [The Barberry 00:02:12]. We took up two of the floors there. You know, it was pretty low maintenance. Forward working at Fringe, yeah, we were able to elevate production. So, as far as what’s been stressful, low points, high points, was that the question? I think working by myself the past couple of years, I definitely felt like I was taking on a lot, you know? I’m a Virgo, so, yeah. This year, I’ve teamed up with someone else to co-curate, so I want to say that’s a high point.

Raina: Awesome. That is Hawkmoth Events?

Dame Luz: Yes.

Raina: How did you build that collaboration?

Dame Luz: I’ve just been in admiration of what they’re doing for a while now. I was like, yeah, this year, it’s a lot of work to do an event by yourself, so I was like, I’m not going to do it unless I find the right person to collab with. I was so excited when they said yes.

Raina: Awesome. So, is there anything that people might see this year, as you’re building this new partnership and trying new things, is there anything people might see that’s different this year?

Dame Luz: So, in my collaboration with Hawkmoth Events, they’re in change of the visual aspect of things. This year, expect to see an elevated, just better lighting and visuals. That’s something we’re really looking forward to.

Raina: Awesome.

Jarod: So, I want to talk about, now that you’re doing this collaboration, is there anything that’s been challenging you guys, where maybe conflicting ideas or anything, that you’ve had to work out?

Dame Luz: No. It’s been pretty organic and flowing, honestly. Yeah, they’re another Virgo.

Raina: Okay, so two Virgos together is good?

Dame Luz: It’s a super Virgo team.

Raina: Great. The goal of HallowQueens is to create a safe and equitable space for queer performers and audiences to come together, but with the success of Halloqweens, we’ve seen a number of people from different walks of life, coming together, all partying together. The question is then, what does it mean to be an ally in 2019? What are you excited about as you see Halloqweens grow?

Dame Luz: To be an ally in 2019, I feel like it’s offering support, but also knowing when to step back, you know? Yeah.

Dame Luz: Then, what was the other question?

Raina: How are you excited to see Halloqweens grow?

Dame Luz: Like, how am I excited?

Raina: Yeah.

Dame Luz: I mean, yeah. I’m like –

Raina: What are you excited about?

Dame Luz: What am I excited about? I’m excited about the visual aspect, for sure, this year. We’ve teamed up with a few artists who do 3D animation. I’m really excited to have these visuals. I feel like the visuals are going to be really queer, and spooky. I feel like it’ll resonate with a lot of people.

Raina: Are they going to be projected up on the walls?

Dame Luz: Yeah.

Raina: And moving around? Okay. Like a 360 view, or specific areas?

Dame Luz: We’re still figuring that out.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dame Luz: We have a meeting next week with the visual team to figure that out. Yeah, there’s definitely going to be a lot more visuals.

Raina: Okay.

Jarod: Last we recall, you were talking about how you wanted it to resonate with the people. I just want to get a feel. How do you want your audience to get understanding of what you’re showing when the event happens? More so, what do you want them to experience, to take away from it all?

Dame Luz: I want them to experience, you know, queer night life at it’s weirdest. Yeah.

Dame Luz: More specifically, I want them to take away, from the artists, how amazing these queer, POC artists are.

Raina: Well, it’s Halloween. You said you’re a big fan of Halloween. What are some of your best costumes that you’ve done over the years?

Dame Luz: Over the years? I was a succubus thing last year, which I was really excited about.

Dame Luz: Honestly, I’m pretty basic. I’m Lydia almost every other year. Every version of Lydia.

Raina: Yeah. I mean, I can’t say I’m much better. I usually wear black, and then call it something. So, last year, I was a business witch, because I wore a long black sweater, and black heeled boots, and went to work like that. So, I was business witch. But, it’s usually business witch, model, spy, anything you can wear black for and then call it a night.

Dame Luz: Oh, no. It always has to be spooky.

Raina: Okay.

Dame Luz: Spooky only.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jarod: I’ve never dressed up.

Raina: Never?

Jarod: Maybe when I was a child. I haven’t done Halloween since I was, like, 13.

Raina: Oh, wow. What do you normally do?

Jarod: For Halloween?

Raina: Yeah.

Jarod: The past four years, my Halloween has been studying. So, that’s what I did on Halloween. I stayed in my library, and got 10-page papers. I haven’t done a Halloween in years.

Dame Luz: Maybe this is your year!

Jarod: Maybe.

Raina: Yeah. So, do you have any hints on your costume for this year?

Dame Luz: I’m still working out the details. Halloween is a season for me, so by the time Halloween proper happens, I’ve already done three different costumes.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dame Luz: Yeah. There’s a lot to plan this season.

Raina: Yeah.

Jarod: So, you’ve been talking about some of the artists that you have. Can you describe some of the music, and stuff they’re going to be doing? Give us a little hint of what’s going to be happening, what they’re going to be doing?

Dame Luz: This year, we’ve got a live performance. We have this R&B singer, Tama Gucci, who is awesome. I’m really excited to have him. Yeah.

Raina: How do you choose the artists that you’re going to bring in each year?

Dame Luz: You know, that’s funny. Just yesterday, I was watching this TV show on Netflix that came out, it’s Rhyme and Flow.

Raina: Rhythm?

Dame Luz: Rhythm and Flow, yeah.

Raina: Yes.

Dame Luz: You know, I’m looking at the New York episode, and I’m like “Oh my God, that’s Cakes da Killa!” We booked Cakes da Killa for Halloqweens, like, three or four years ago.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dame Luz: Seeing, you know, the growth of the artist that I’ve booked for this event. Like, Princess Nokia played Halloqweens a couple years ago, and she’s really big now. I think I’m really into finding, obviously, artists that resonate with queers, and that are doing amazing things, but that are also attainable.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Do you have a reach goal, in the future, however far away it is? Someone who is on your radar, and you want to use this as a platform to let them know, you want them to come to HallowQueens.

Dame Luz: Oh my God, there’s so many! Mickey Blanco, for one. I’m a huge fan of Mickey Blanco’s work.

Dame Luz: Who else? Baby Mutha.

Raina: Awesome.

Jarod: So, what inspires you to continue to do this event, year in and year out? Like, I know you said this year, you wanted to find a partner to do it with you. Not even for just this event, but for your own artistic abilities and imagination, what continues to inspire you to do this?

Dame Luz: Like I said, I just really love Halloween. I just want to take the experience higher and higher, every year, as far as this particular event is concerned.

Raina: Where can we find you, year round, doing work around the city?

Dame Luz: I DJ all over the city. I put on numerous events.

Dame Luz: Most recently, I did a Beyonce Birthday Night, which I actually held here the first two years, at Fringe.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dame Luz: Yeah. That was one of my big ones recently. I do all kinds of events.

Raina: Yeah. What are you looking forward to? We talked about what you’re looking forward to next in HallowQueens, but are there any career aspirations that you have, or goals, what your next big thing will be?

Dame Luz: I definitely want to work more towards collaborating with other event producers, and working more on festivals, and block parties. That’s how I envision my future as an event organizer.

Dame Luz: As far as a DJ, and music maker, I’m currently working on my P, so that’s what I’m working on.

Raina: Nice. Yeah. Do you imagine that you’ll stay based in Philly, or more open to traveling?

Dame Luz: I love to travel, so if I have the opportunity to travel, I would. Yeah, I love Philly, I’ve been here for seven years. I’m a native New Yorker, and this has given me New York in the nineties, which I’m very nostalgic for.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dame Luz: Yeah, I won’t be leaving Philly any time soon.

Raina: Did you start DJing in New York?

Dame Luz: No. I started DJing when I moved to Portland, Oregon.

Raina: Okay.

Dame Luz: I mean, I learned how to DJ when I lived in New York, I grew up in the South Bronx, the birthplace of hip hop. DJing as an art form. I learned these things early on, but it wasn’t until I lived on the West Coast that I considered even doing it.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Portland is known for being kind of quirky, and weird in their art scene. Did that help shape your practice at all?

Dame Luz: Yeah, no, just my journey as a DJ and event producer has evolved so much since then. Yeah, no, I loved it. I was so … Yeah, I’m sorry. I’m just like, oh my God!

Raina: Yeah, awesome. What ended up bringing you to Philly, then?

Dame Luz: I tried to move back to New York, and after living on the West Coast for almost a decade … I’m giving my age away. It just was a different New York, and the pace was a little too much for me. I got acclimated to a more chill vibe, and an affordable, accessible type of city, at least economically so. Everyone was like, “Oh, you’d really love Philly.” So, I came to visit. Two months, and I just packed and moved to Philly.

Raina: Oh, wow. Well, that’s a great reputation for us.

Raina: It’s funny, I know Philly is often accused of having that younger sibling syndrome, or second place syndrome to New York, but Philly has its good things about it, which is always great.

Raina: Yeah, so, one of our big questions is just, in general, what are your high brow and low brow inspirations? So, high brow, like whatever high art, whatever you consider to be high art. Low brow can be what you’re watching in Netflix or whatever, like reality TV. Yeah, high brow, low brow inspirations for your work, your practice, as you’re creating?

Dame Luz: I grew up on a lot of John Waters movies.

Raina: Okay.

Dame Luz: That’s always low-key been an inspiration, as far as the kind of spaces I like to create. Just, yeah.

Dame Luz: Then, as far as low brow, high brow, Susanne Bartsch. I don’t know if you know her? She has a documentary on Netflix now. She’s this big, New York event promoter, producer.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dame Luz: She’s known for her off-the-wall costumes, and very low brow but still fashion and glamorous.

Raina: Do you know what the documentary is called?

Dame Luz: I think it’s, like … It definitely has her name in it.

Raina: Okay. Susanne Bartsch?

Dame Luz: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Raina: Okay.

Dame Luz: You should watch it.

Raina: I will definitely check it out.

Dame Luz: I want to be the Dominican Susanne Bartsch, that’s goals.

Raina: Good goals to have. Awesome.

Jarod: Another question we just wanted to ask you was, how can people continue to support you? Not just now, but for years to come? For the people that are going to be listening?

Dame Luz: Yeah, you know, money talks.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dame Luz: That’s been a hindrance to elevating this event, has been the lack of monetary resources. Yeah, that’s been a challenge, finding people who will sponsor us, and give us money so that we can have this event be more amazing.

Raina: Yeah.

Dame Luz: We can get the artists that cost a lot of money.

Raina: While also keeping ticket prices.

Dame Luz: Also, keeping ticket prices lower and accessible, exactly.

Raina: Where can we find you on social media?

Dame Luz: So, you can find me @DJDameLuz on Instagram. Something to that effect on Facebook, yeah.

Raina: Great.

Raina: Well, thank you so much for joining us on this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe. Before we close, is there anything else you want to share about Halloqweens, or what you have coming up?

Dame Luz: I think we touched on everything. Thanks for having me!

Raina: Yeah, thank you.

Raina: Halloqweens is October 26th at FringeArts, and tickets are on sale now. Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, and download the FringeArts app. You can also visit us at Fringearts.com.

[Exit music]

From Central Europe to the Wild West: Interview with Bence Mezei

Posted September 16th, 2019

In a previous interview, FringeArts talked to Kelly Copper of Nature Theater of Oklahoma about Pursuit of Happiness, a work of dance-theater created in collaboration with the Slovenian dance troupe EN-KNAP Group. This piece will be performed in Philadelphia on September 20 and 21 for the 2019 Fringe Festival.

Here we talk to Bence Mezei—one of the dancers of EN-KNAP Group—who discussed his perspective on the project.

Bence Mezei en-knap group headshot

Bence Mezei

FringeArts: How did this project and collaboration come about?

Bence Mezei: As far as I know, Kelly and Pavol met Iztok [Kovač, artistic director of EN-KNAP] in some party somewhere some years ago where he invited them to work with his company. I remember that we had a sort of short audition talk with them in Ljubljana where Pavol gave all of us a piece of paper with their address on asking if we would write to him and become pen-pals. So from then on we began to correspond with each other via handwritten letters which we kept on doing throughout the entire process and even after.

The second time we met they came to have a two week workshop with us and brought a book which was a collection of cowboy dances describing in detail how to dance those dances and so we made a very long choreography using that book. During that process we also began to practice working with language.

After that there was a quite long break, can’t say exactly how long, but long, and so we took the initiative and began to organize evenings for ourselves outside of work, calling it ‘speech nights’, where we would all pick a monologue or some fragment from a play or film, memorise it and perform it to each other for fun and further practice. At times, also, we would  meet up and read to each other out loud to strengthen our voices.

Then the next time we met, a couple of weeks before that, we received a mailing with a script, called Pursuit of Happiness, and when they came we began to work on a theater play. That was again a two or three week long process, and I remember we had an open rehearsal at the end which took about four hours.

Then again there was a break, and when the third time we met in Ljubljana, that was the last period of the process, about four weeks, in which the show got a heavy cut and took its final shape. This took about two years altogether.

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Operation: Wawa Road Trip: An Interview with Terry Brennan

Posted August 25th, 2019

Tribe of Fools is a Philadelphia theater company dedicated to creating new works that tackle difficult topics with a sense of levity, bringing compelling characters to the stage, and pushing performers’ physical limits by obscuring the lines between theatre, dance, and acrobatics. In 2018, they brought their independent show Fly Eagles Fly, a piece about fandom and community, to the Fringe Festival. This year, Tribe of Fools will be presenting a highly anticipated show titled Operation: Wawa Road Trip. To learn more about this year’s offering, we sat down for an interview with Terry Brennan, who shared with us the company’s history, what inspired Operation: Wawa Road Trip, and what he hopes audiences will walk away with from the performance.

FringeArts: What inspired Operation: Wawa Road Trip?

Terry: This kind of happened in two phases. We always have company meetings after Fringe to talk about what we want to do in the following year. Phase one was, at a company meeting we were all discussing what would make for a fun show. Joe (the director) suggested something Wawa themed just because of how ingrained Wawa is to the Philly identity. There were lots of ideas on the table that night. Phase two happened in a later meeting when Joe talked about how Wawa really feels like home to him even though it’s just a store. That really kicked off a longer talk about how all of us had different places that feel like home, or like they “know us” even though they’re just places of business. In fact, in most cases, the places were corporate chains like Wawa – they weren’t even mom and pop shops. That second conversation is what inspired us to make that idea into this year’s show. 

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Following the American Dream: Kelly Copper on Pursuit of Happiness

Posted August 19th, 2019

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

Kelly Copper. © Nature Theater of Oklahoma

FringeArts: What inspired this piece?

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

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

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

Posted July 16th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Posted July 15th, 2019

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

FringeArts: What inspired Un Poyo Rojo?

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

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

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

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Mariana Arteaga

Posted June 24th, 2019

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

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Feature Photo by Alejandra Carbajal

Conversation with Mariana Arteaga

[Music Intro]

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

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

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

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

Mariana: Úumbal.

Tenara: Úumbal.

Raina: Welcome, Mariana.

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

Tenara: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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A Look Back at the History of Contemporary Circus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Cecily Chapman on Public Practice Works

Posted March 15th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, hosts Zach Blackwood and Tenara Calem chat with FringeArts ambassador and Le Super Grand Continental (2018) dancer Cecily Chapman. The trio discuss the importance of public practice performances and Cecily goes into detail about her personal experience as a performer in a large-scale production. The conversation acts as wonderful insight for people interested in getting involved in the 2019 Fringe Festival participatory piece, Úumbal: Nomadic Choreography for Inhabitants. Learn more about Úumbal and how to participate in the Step Library here!  Listen to the podcast or read the full transcript below.

Conversation with Cecily Chapman

Tenara: Hello, and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premiere presenter of contemporary performing arts. I’m Tenara. I’m the Audience Engagement Coordinator at FringeArts.

Zach: And I’m Zach. I’m an Artistic Producer, here. We invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversations with some most imaginative people on this plane of existence.

Tenara: Here at FringeArts, we’re getting ready for The Appointment by Lightning Rod Special previewing on Wednesday, March 20th and running through March 31st. Make sure you visit fringearts.com to grab your tickets for this spectacular show exploring misogyny, hypocrisy, and absurdity surrounding the abortion debate in America.

Zach: But today, we’re talking to a very special guest, Cecily Chapman, one of our FringeArts ambassadors, and dancer in last year’s public practice dance piece, Le Super Grand Continental. Welcome Cecily.

Cecily: Thank you.

Zach: One of our first questions we always ask. What are you imbibing? What’s your beverage today?

Cecily: Ah, sparkling water. It’s my go-to beverage.

Zach: Spicy water.

Cecily: Spicy water. Yeah, that’ll do.

Zach: We have a young friend that calls it that.

Cecily: Like a child. Yeah, that makes sense.

Tenara: Yeah, that makes a little bit more sense. And now that I’m thinking more about it in the context of a child’s brain, it actually is a perfect description.

Zach: What are you having tonight?

Tenara: I’m also having spicy water.

Zach: I’m actually having spicy water. I’m having a Turmeric Ginger Tea. [crosstalk 00:01:33]. It’s very, very good. It’s sometimes too spicy. And we’re gonna get too spicy today on the podcast, right?

Cecily: Ooo spicy. I am ready.

Zach: So we’re to talk to you kinda about your experience in public practice work. You got to participate in Le Super Grand Continental. Are you willing to tell us a little bit about how Le Super Grand Continental worked, as though we’ve never heard of it.

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Experience Philadelphia Museum of Dance at the Barnes Foundation

Posted October 1st, 2018

The 2018 Fringe Festival performances of Boris Charmatz’s manger, were part of a larger project, Philadelphia Museum of Dance, which concludes in a  free public event at the Barnes Foundation on October 6 with a rich collection of performances.

The day-long event will explore the tension between public and private experiences, while offering a new opportunity to engage with how dance and visual art are exhibited. Known for his innovative exploration of choreographic assembly, internationally acclaimed French choreographer Charmatz co-curates the six-hour (3-9pm) public performance. See the full schedule here.

The event will allow its audience to explore new experiences, in a novel kind of museum that permits audience members to move through outdoor and indoor performance locations and witness choreography performed around and among fellow museum-goers. Guests will witness the Barnes Foundation transform. With dance performances taking place in nearly every corner, the museum will seemingly come alive. Audiences will interact directly by wandering through the dance “galleries.” As with any museum visit, it will be up to the audience to find juxtapositions between the exhibits. Performers will be spatially adjacent to audiences, with no proscenium separation, or interspersed with the audience, to facilitate maximum audience-performer interaction.

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Excerpts from the Manifesto for a Dancing Museum by Boris Charmatz

Posted September 20th, 2018

This weekend’s performances of manger are part of a larger project, the Philadelphia Museum of Dance, copresented by Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design with FringeArts and the Barnes Foundation. The project presents Charmatz’s ideas for a new kind of dance and a new relationship between dance and public. He explains these ideas in his Manifesto for a Dancing Museum, excerpted below.

It seems to me that the designation “Museum, Dancing Museum” could function like a door flung wide open to culture and the art of dancing that we will not change into a sanctuary.

boris charmatz standing and smiling(…) Dance and its actors are often defined in opposition to the arts that are said to be perennial, lasting, static, for which the museum would be the favourite place. But today if one wants to stop obscuring the historical space, culture and choreographic heritage, even the most contemporary, then it is time to see, to make visible and bring alive the moving bodies of a culture which largely remains to be invented. And if one wishes the choreographic tradition to pursue the new technological trends and truly embrace the trans-media space of the contemporary world, then it seems to me that under the designation of “Museum” the artists will be able to have fun and create freely.

To not cut the matter short, ten commandments:

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The PINK HAIR AFFAIR Returns, Heartbroken

Posted September 14th, 2018

A collaborative dance company started by UArts grads in 2007, the Pink Hair Affair a series of playful Fringe pieces in the late ‘00s showcasing their choreographic talents. Several of the Pink Hair founders —Annie Wilson, Christina Gesualdi—went on to become key figures of the Philadelphia dance world, but the company lay dormant for the last few years as its members spread across the world, from Oregon to Panama City.

Company director Laura Jenkins recently returned from Los Angeles and has revived the much-loved company for a 2018 Fringe Festival production, The HeARTbreak of a Serial Monogamist, with performances at The Whole Shebang September 17 + 18. The piece deals with the middle stages of grief, that time after the initial shock, when people simply offer the advice of “time will heal”. Jenkins compiled her  experiences with grief—break-ups, moves, career changes, deaths—and turned them into an interactive interdisciplinary work that shows there are tools we can use to help us through the rough times.

She spoke with FringeArts about the project.

FringeArts: What inspired the show?

Laura Jenkins: I moved back to Philly in October 2017 (after living in LA for just under three years). I knew once I got back that I needed and wanted to put on a show again, and I thought the Fringe Festival would be a good way to ease back into the dance scene here. I originally wanted to do a show idea I’ve had with PINK HAIR AFFAIR for almost 10 years now… but life happened. In April of this year, I had a strong desire to do a show based on experiences I was going through, experiences that I’ve been through and little did I know, experiences I was going to go through. It sort of evolved from the need to heal and process grief. Creativity is and was a huge part of my healing process and I felt driven to share it—to normalize this feeling of grief, and to let people know it happens to the best of us.

FringeArts: What themes/messages do you want to convey?

Laura Jenkins: I want to share the grief that we all go through (or will go through). I want to normalize the feelings of despair, depression, feeling lost and alone, feeling crazy and angry, feeling so sad and heartbroken you don’t know what to do. I also want to show that there are ways to deal, tools to use to get your through. To note that this shitty time is important for us to go through — because it’s where we learn, grow and tap back into our true selves or maybe even find ourselves. To stay present during the dark time and not just hide in our bed or fall into a replacement relationship.

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Take Two Plunges with Brian Sanders JUNK

Posted September 11th, 2018

Brian Sanders’ JUNK has sold out Philly Fringe shows every year for almost twenty years with innovative, ingenious, and boundary-defying choreography. This year, us “JUNKies” have double the chance to see the highly physical, energetic dance company: For the 2018 Fringe Festival, JUNK is presenting TWO shows: FIGMAGO (through September 23) and Plunge (through September 22).

Daytime

A multi-faceted artist, Sanders shows us his family-fun side with FIGMAGO, an ongoing collaboration with muralist Meg Saligman.

Meg Saligman’s Theatre of Life mural.

“Meg and I share a lot of the same aesthetics,” Sanders tells FringeArts. “Bold but not over-the-top, dynamic, intense and emotional.”

The artists connected at the dedication of Saligman’s Theatre of Life mural on Broad and Lombard streets. “I repelled down the face of this giant mural and danced among the painted figures,” he says. “We always knew we would work together but we just didn’t know when and how, but the right space and the right time brought about FIGMAGO.”

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Scenes from a Life: Miguel Gutierrez on Discovering John Bernd’s Enduring Influence

Posted September 11th, 2018

Miguel Gutierrez initially joined collaborator Ishmael Houston-Jones in a limited role on a project reconfiguring dance by experimental East Village choreographer John Bernd. Watching videos of Bernd’s shows and reading about his work, Gutierrez quickly realized he needed to immerse himself in the project. The resulting Fringe Festival show Variations on Themes from Lost and Found: Scenes from a Life and other works by John Bernd, mashes up works by the influential choreographer, whose work flourished during the era of experimental dance in 1980s New York, and whose life was tragically taken by AIDS in 1988.

Running this weekend, with performances on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the highly anticipated show combines Bernd’s last seven pieces into a new dance performance that honors the choreographer’s memory and imagines what dance would look like today if the community had not been decimated by the deadly AIDS epidemic. As a contemporary Brooklyn artist and performer who creates dance-based performance, music, and poetry, Gutierrez witnesses the lasting impact of Bernd’s multidisciplinary work on dance today and on his own work. He spoke to FringeArts about finding roots in the past and continuing Bernd’s legacy into the future.

FringeArts: What was your introduction to the work of John Bernd?

Miguel Gutierrez: I’d only known about John Bernd peripherally for the many years I had been in New York. It wasn’t until Ishmael asked me to help him out with this project that I sat down and watched his pieces. Within five minutes I knew I wanted to be involved in whatever way I could with this project.

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Scenes from Opening Weekend

Posted September 10th, 2018

The Fringe is OPEN for business!!!

Opening weekend kicked off with hundreds of performances in every corner of the city, from deep south Philly to the Art Museum steps, from the Delaware Riverfront to University City. Relive some highlights with this photo diary of performances.

 

Anu Tali conducts Heiner Goebbels Songs of Wars I Have Seen at FringeArts. Photo by Joanna Austin, AustinArt.org.

Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium’s production of Eccentricities of a Nightingale by Tennessee Williams, at Bethany Mission Gallery through September 23. Photo by Joanna Austin, AustinArt.org.

An audience member experiences Tania El Khoury’s Stories of Refuge, at Twelve Gates Gallery through September 28. Photo by Joanna Austin, AustinArt.org.

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Remembering 2012’s Le Grand Continental As It Gets Super for 2018

Posted September 6th, 2018

The 2012 Fringe Festival kicked off on the steps of the art museum with a large-scale spectacular of dance by Montreal-based choreography Sylvain Émard. As we prepare to return to the iconic steps for a brand-new extravaganza combining the pure delight of line dancing with the fluidity and expressiveness of contemporary dance we look back on the 2012 show. Dozens of the non-professional performers from six years ago return this year for the bigger and better Le Super Grand Continental in three FREE shows this Saturday and Sunday. You should too.

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Building Trust with Darcy Lyons

Posted September 5th, 2018

“Security is both a reality and a feeling and they’re not the same thing… The foundation of security is trust, both personal trust and global trust.” —Security specialist Bruce Schneier, an inspiration for 2018 Fringe Festival piece Proceed with Caution

Fear. Insecurity. Trust. Security.

The topics broached in Lyons and Tigers’s Proceed with Caution (September 7-9 at The Iron Factory in Kensington) are relevant on a personal, political, and geopolitical level. This new full-length dance theater work explores security in a time of global violence, the Trump presidency, police brutality, mass shootings, and the #MeToo movement. Through dance, the show asks, “How do humans build trust?”

Creator Darcy Lyons spoke to FringeArts about her timely show.

FringeArts: What was the inspiration for Proceed with Caution?

Darcy Lyons: In 2012, I created a short version of this piece that was about rational and irrational fear. I have always wanted to return to the piece and this year felt like the right time. The initial inclination came from my own struggles with anxiety. The concepts around fear and trust are important to me to continue to explore, especially in the uproar of the Trump administration.

FringeArts: Can we ever really trust anyone about anything ever?

Darcy Lyons: Yes. Trust has a lot of layers of meaning. We are constantly working with trust in our everyday lives.

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Location, Location, Location: Performance Garage

Posted September 2nd, 2018

Venue: Performance Garage

Neighborhood: Spring Garden, North Philly

2018 Fringe shows: Moving (“Dancefusion & Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble come together to present three works by legendary choreographer Anna Sokolow”), KCBC X KCBCII (“The Klassic Contemporary Ballet Company and KCBCII perform in their second annual Fringe Festival”), Church & State (The AJ Harper Dance Project and a. dance theatre create innovative, thought-provoking works that touch on the sacred and political dynamic in today’s society), Ruckus Dance: Knockout (in guide, Baby’s First Time to Philly, “a performance from the Boston-based group Ruckus Dance featuring guest artists Subject:Matter”_.

Description: Originally a nineteenth-century horse stable that served “Millionaires Row” on Spring Garden Street, later converted to an automobile garage. Opened as a performance space and host of dance classes in 2000 and underwent a massive $2million renovation in 2016/17. Currently looking for capital funds for Phase II of the project.

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