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2019 Fringe Festival Spotlight: Immersive Theater

Posted September 3rd, 2019

This year’s Fringe Festival features a new kind of adventure – enter the world of immersive theater and be transported to multiple alternate realities.

Here we talk to Sarah Elger, co-founder of Pseudonym Productions to discuss Question Reality which will be performed in Philadelphia on September 10 + 12–15 for the 2019 Fringe Festival.

FringeArts: How did the title Question Reality come into being?

Sarah Elger: The title “Question Reality” came from the very nature of the works we create at Pseudonym Productions. Our thrilling immersive experiences encourage you to step outside your comfort zone, live differently – and question reality. It’s our company tagline, our website (QuestionReality.com), and the very heart of what we do. So, as we (re)introduce ourselves to Philadelphia, it seemed like the perfect choice for a title.

But it’s not just a name. The title is reflected directly in the story and theme of the experience we have created exclusively for the Philadelphia Fringe Festival this year. The production is a mind-bending combination of live theater and exploration that may lead you to question the very nature of existence as we transport you through a tear in reality into another realm.

FringeArts: What part does the audience play in the piece?

Sarah Elger: We have been writing one epic story that connects multiple immersive experiences this year. At Fringe, Question Reality brings you into a century-old abandoned warehouse where you will meet our main character, who transports you into the realm she has recently discovered – where nothing is ever as it seems.

The story will continue throughout October as the portal expands to allow you to step into the realm between life and death and take part in a haunting evening of mystery, legend, and exploration in our month-long Halloween experience, which is called Dark Passage.

Both of these live immersive experiences will allow players to explore a vibrant themed world and interact with intriguing characters while figuring out and becoming part of the story that evolves around them. No two visits are the same in these ever-changing experiences.

And throughout September and October, players worldwide may interact with the story online beginning with our Digital Fringe experience that’s simply called Pseudoverse.

This experience bridges Question Reality with Dark Passage and takes players on a digital journey into the unexpected.

But if your question is: Why are players being drawn to this newly discovered realm? Let’s just say … no matter how you take part, it’s an unnerving experience that will move your soul.

FringeArts: What is it like to be back in Philadelphia with this work since Pseudonym Productions came out of a collaboration at Penn? How have you been exploring immersive theater since?

Sarah Elger: It’s incredible to be back in Philadelphia after being in Orlando for the past five years. This is a city that I called home for 3 years, but spent most of the time on campus. I’m excited and eager to share our unique productions with everyone here. Since returning a few months ago, I’ve heard from endless people that have wished Philadelphia had more immersive entertainment.

Since getting my Master of Architecture at Penn several years ago, I’ve had a career designing theme parks and attractions for Disney, Universal, SeaWorld, and NASA. But I never let Pseudonym slide, as we have produced six immersive theater experiences over the past five years spanning Orlando, Los Angeles, and New York. And our lead writer, Nikhil Menezes, has been with us for all of them – all the way back to the early brainstorm sessions at Penn, when he was a mere freshman. After spending a few years in London, he’s now returning to the U.S. to get his PhD just up the road at Princeton.

We’re thrilled to now have the opportunity to host the Immersive HQ Lounge during Fringe where we look forward to meeting audiences throughout the festival and telling them more about the incredible immersive works that are being produced here.

We got our start in Orlando at the Fringe Festival there, so we couldn’t imagine a better way to resume our immersive journey here than with the Philly Fringe Festival.

What: Question Reality
When:
September 10 + 12–15, 2019
Where:
Immersive HQ
Cost:
$15–$20


Last year, SPIES! debuted at the Fringe Festival and this year, creator Kat Hinkel is back with the sequel SPIES!! Even More Spying. We spoke with Kat Hinkel who shared with us the process for building the show, what she hopes the audience will take away from the experience and how the performance space adds to the experience.

SPIES!! Even More Spying will be taking place on September 10, 12, 14, 17, 19 + 21 as part of the 2019 Fringe Festival.

FringeArts: For patrons who saw SPIES! last year, what has been your process for building this new show and how will it differ?

Kat Hinkel: Last year’s SPIES! felt very vintage noir, and this year we’re facing a more futuristic, tech-driven setting and “threat.” That said, many things the audience loved will remain the same: the chatbot that lets the audience vote on what happens next, the endless dad jokes, and the fabulous will-they-won’t-they of our two lead spies among them.

As last year’s show had 3 different endings, I had to start by creating a one-year-later setting that could believably follow any of the three endings. Last year, the countries of Gane and Westerly were at war, and this year they have teamed up… but of course everything isn’t as buddy-buddy it seems. All’s fair in love and spying.

FringeArts: What’s your experience in immersive theater?

Kat Hinkel: I saw my first immersive show, Sleep No More, in August 2012, followed by Speakeasy Dollhouse in 2014. I knew after that that I wanted to create my own immersive experiences, but it took some time to pull all the pieces together. Last year’s SPIES! was the first play I wrote, as well as my first time participating in Fringe, and the whole experience was wonderful. (The fact that we sold out before we opened was also a nice surprise for a debut.)

This year, I attended the amazing Immersive Design Summit and got to meet and learn from the best in the industry. I’m also very active in No Proscenium’s online community of immersive creators and enthusiasts, and I host the Philadelphia Immersive Experience Meet-up once a month to bring together those interested in immersive in the city.

FringeArts: What would you like the audience to take away from this experience?

Kat Hinkel: The audience will hopefully have tons of fun and laugh a lot. I also hope it provides all the “pretending to be a spy” escapism that we all want and need in our lives.

FringeArts: Why are you excited about Kismet Cowork Spring Arts as your new space for this year?

Kat Hinkel: I was really hoping to host the show in a coworking space, as our setting is the 2019 Future Summit, a tech/influencer conference. When I saw Kismet Cowork, I was blown away by its modern-industrial-whimsical-chic vibe, and also how welcoming and comfortable it feels. The great thing about site-specific theater is that the setting feels so believable as it is already fully formed and decorated. I wrote the script with Kismet’s layout in mind, and I think the audience is going to feel totally immersed in the space.

What: SPIES!! Even More Spying
When:
September 10, 12, 14, 17, 19 + 21, 2019
Where:
Immersive HQ
Cost:
$20–$35


Here we talked with Jessica Creane about the creation of Know Thyself which runs September 5–21 as part of the 2019 Philadelphia Fringe Festival.

FringeArts: What inspired Know Thyself?

Jessica Creane: What even IS inspiration?! Kidding. That’s just one example of the vicious, time-consuming, mind vortexes that happen when you’re making a piece about philosophy. Which is probably why it’s an interactive piece – so we can all go down this rabbit hole together. For as theoretical as philosophy often seems, it’s actually incredibly active and consequential. The best philosophers over the years have asked really sharp questions, the kind that can cut through society and draw a little blood. Socrates was put to death for asking questions that threatened the social fabric of ancient Greece and Philippa Foot’s Trolley Problem has become a cultural touchstone and launched about a thousand memes in the process. Their work, and that of many others, boils down to questions of what we live for and what we would die for. It’s not exactly the height of fun to think about this stuff so as a game designer I’m interested in how those sharp questions can be made playful in a way that doesn’t water them down but concentrates them instead. Which is how this piece ended up exploring impermanence, ethical paradoxes, and superpositional states by way of cats in scuba gear and twisted party games. 

The first philosophy game I ever made was a destructible tabletop game. It’s pretty weird and I’ve had a lot of people tell me that it isn’t a game so much as an experience, and while it is absolutely a game, it got me thinking about what, exactly, the difference is. I started making more philosophy games, some of which are easily categorized as games, most of which are something else; a blend of games and immersive experiences that I thought might be best experienced as theater. Philosophies are systems of thought, games are systems of action, and immersive theater is a systematic breaking of the fourth wall; which means that participants can do more than just sit back and watch, they can make choices that alter the course of the piece. This ultimately resulted in Know Thyself, a gamified philosophy salon that uses play to break down the invisible walls that hold us back from knowing ourselves, and others, better. 

FringeArts: How do you plan to utilize the space at Kismet Cowork Spring Arts?

Jessica Creane: A lot of this depends on which version of the piece the audience ends up playing through but Kismet is set up with multiple work stations, open spaces, tiny rooms, and lots of glass walls, which is perfect for gameplay spaces that are both personal and social. Coworking spaces are founded on the principle that we are all individuals with important, personal work to do, and that we do that work best as part of a community. Know Thyself operates by the same philosophy; the community benefits from everyone in it knowing who they are and what they value, but there is no way to figure that out alone; we need each other to know ourselves.

FringeArts: We last saw you in the Fringe Festival with Chaos Theory and R&J in 2018. What have you been exploring since and how has your experience expanded over the past year as you’ve done more immersive theater and toured Chaos Theory so far?

Jessica Creane: It’s been a wild year! After premiering in the Philly Fringe, Chaos Theory was one of FringeNYC’s presented works in October, we were picked up by HERE Arts for a run in December, and we now have an extended, monthly run at Caveat, NYC on the lower east side. My Directors, Amy Blumberg and Joseph Ahmed, helped me to hone the piece after the Philly run and they did a phenomenal job of making sure I took the biggest creative risks I could, added more games, and tightened the narrative, which means that no show is ever the same. It feels great to have a home for the piece! We’re also in the process of figuring out dates and locations to tour Chaos Theory and the show (which is about a person who gets kicked out of a TED-style conference on chaos due to her experimental research methods) somehow got me invited to give an actual TEDx talk on designing experimental games about chaos, the meta irony of which is not lost on me. 

Chaos aside, I’m continuing to explore agency and connectivity through play and officially founded IKantKoan LLC, which is an immersive experience and game design company focused on the playful exploration of complex systems. I’ve been doing my best to live by my personal philosophy of Fail Faster, which is a phrase from game design that’s all about taking risks early and often letting work be really bad so that it can eventually get really good. With interactive, immersive work there’s just no knowing if it works unless you have an audience and Know Thyself, in particular, is contingent on the audience having significant agency, so it’s been a driving force in the last few months.

FringeArts: What drew you to immersive theater?

Jessica Creane: Definitely agency and tactility. I’m a kinesthetic learner and immersive theater provides an opportunity to touch things, talk to people, and make choices for what happens next in a piece. It’s a really active and engaging form of storytelling. I also love that immersive worlds are structured but not predetermined. The rules can change, the ending can change, the meaning of a particular game can change, and that change comes from both the actors and the participants. It’s fun to make work that leaves this much space for the audience to play but it’s also a challenge to find the right balance between structure and openness. I like a challenge. 

What: Know Thyself
When: September 5–7, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20 + 21, 2019
Where:
Kismet Cowork Spring Arts
Cost:
$25


Here’s your chance to catch all three Immersive HQ shows:

Announcing Tri-Mersive Day from Immersive Philly!
3 shows. 1 building. Limitless Adventure.
Saturday, September 14, 2019
Immersive HQ @ Kismet | 448 N. 10th St. Philadelphia, PA 19123

 

 

2019 Fringe Festival Spotlight: Digital Fringe

Posted August 23rd, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

View our 2017 and 2018 Digital Fringe works online.

Digital Fringe LIVE and ongoing!

Posted September 12th, 2018

“Going to the Fringe this week? If so, why not drop in to the Digital Art Showcase?”

So says John Timpane in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

This year, Digital Fringe is bigger than ever, with twenty-five shows—games, artworks, films, podcasts, taped theater, and more—available throughout the Festival at fringearts.com/list-view/digital-fringe-2018. The offerings in the 2018 Digital Fringe are presented in collaboration with this  a charitable organization focused on supporting game development and indie game enthusiasts in Philadelphia.Presented by Philly Game Mechanics, the FREE showcase presents selections from the online Fringe in an offline setting one night only, tomorrow night at 6pm, at 16th Street and Spring Garden streets.

“The game-dev scene in Philly is very indie,” Jake O’Brien of Philly Game Mechanics told the Inquirer. “We decided to have a two-week game jam, with the theme of ‘making digital art,’ and several of the pieces at Digital Fringe came out of that.”

Timpane picks out a few of his favorite Digital Fringe shows, including  @hereafter, an “escape-the-room game” played in a chat room; live streamed cooking visit Chez VousR&J, a text-message game based on Romeo and Juliet; How to Dance by Sean Thomas Boyt; PhillytronVisualizationist by Michael Stauffer; Daniel Shumway’s Reset Hard; and Timpane’s “favorite Digital Fringe endeavor,” August in the City, which presents August Wilson monologues in places throughout Philadelphia.

These digital pieces are available online for your exploring, listening, and viewing pleasure. Share links using #DigitalFringe on social media.

This year, Digital Fringe is presented in collaboration with Philly Game Mechanics, a charitable organization focused on supporting game development and indie game enthusiasts in Philadelphia, PA. Stay tuned for details about their Digital Art Showcase during the 2018 Fringe Festival!

FringeArts also partners with Technical.ly Philly throughout the year, an organization dedicated to growing local technology communities by connecting organizations and people through news, events and services. Sign up to receive the latest on innovation from across the Northeast Corridor, including news, events and jobs from Philly, Baltimore, Brooklyn, D.C. and Delaware. Subscribe to the daily Technical.ly newsletter.

Read more of the Inquirer’s picks for the Digital Fringe here, check out all the Digital Fringe offerings here, and find more about the Digital Art Showcase here.

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Making Art in 2017: Sally Kong on Kongputational Doodle

Posted September 7th, 2017

Name: Sally Kong

Company: Blue Sky Studios

Show in 2017 Festival: Kongputational Doodle

FringeArts: Tell us a bit about your show.

Sally Kong: I was fascinated by math equations and algorithms that can produce many distinctive variations in shape and personality when different numbers are plugged in, even when their underlying logic remains exactly the same. I wanted to create an interface to play around with these formulas and explore their unpredictable and often beautiful outcomes.

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

Sally Kong: This was my first time creating something new on a daily basis. For 10 days, I spent around 3-5 hours everyday designing, coding, testing, and playing with a completely new Kongputational Doodle. I am used to making random things out of spontaneous bursts of maker energy, so working on something consistently was a challenge in both idea generation and discipline. But I love what came out of it and I want to continue to work on more projects routinely in the future!

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