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

Posted July 9th, 2019

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

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

 

Conversation with Zach and Katy

[Music Intro]

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

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

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

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

Zach: Hello!

Katy: Hello!

Zach: I imagine this is going to be a great conversation.

Katy: We’re excited to be back on the podcast.

Raina: So first question we have to ask, what are we all drinking?

Zach: I’m drinking a certain Brooklyn based cold brew brand that you can purchase, and I’m not going to name them because they don’t pay me.

Tenara: That’s true.

Zach: But I drink the espresso coffee one, which probably can zero you in, and for a few weeks I was drinking it I didn’t know it was a concentrate.

Tenara: Oh no. So were you just off your rocker?

Zach: No more than usual. Deeply productive. I’m deeply productive. I’ll say that.

Tenara: Katy, what are you drinking?

Katy: I’m drinking water as I usually am in the morning.

Tenara: Great. I’m also drinking water.

Raina: I’m having hot chocolate.

Tenara: What? That’s a power move.

Zach: High luxury.

Tenara: Oh my goodness.

Raina: Brought from home.

Tenara: So we, the last time the four of us were in the same room together doing this podcast was episode 16-

Zach: That’s impossible.

Tenara: Of last season. Yeah, no it’s not impossible. That was the last time-

Raina: Yeah, we’re on season three.

Tenara: Yeah. It was our Christmas episode where we were like, “This is who we are. Welcome.” So remind us, for those of our listeners who are new, remind us of your background and how long you’ve been working at Fringe.

Zach: My background. I grew up in Florida, in like Central Florida, we’re going to skip ahead now, and then yeah I first started working for the Fringe in 2013 with Tara Demi and Jordan Layman, and we had a really, really fantastic time actually work … That was another time that we presented a piece by an artist that we’ll talk about, a few artists that we’ll talk about actually later, they’re mostly doing work on independent Fringe at that time. So then it was called The Neighborhood Fringe, but I was working with independent artists a lot.

Zach: And then I was working at The Kimmel kind of before that and after that for a long period of time working a lot on PIFA, and Broadway Philadelphia and stuff, and yeah I came back to Fringe full-time in April 2017.

Tenara: Wow.

Katy: I am newer in Fringe. So I’ve been at Fringe for about I would say almost 10 months now. So it’s not even quite a year, but it’s been a very full 10 months. And before I was at Fringe, I was living at New York City and I was a curator at The Kitchen, which is a non-profit performing arts center and gallery space that’s known as one of the most innovative and oldest alternative spaces in New York. So it’s not a museum, it’s not a gallery, it’s a place for artists to create new innovative work across a variety of disciplines. And The Kitchen and Fringe have definitely collaborated in the past, and shared artists.

Katy: So actually, the first Fringe Festival that I’ve worked on maybe three weeks after I got here, so not in a curatorial capacity, more of a facilitating capacity. There was a show by Trajal Harrell that actually went from FringeArts to The Kitchen.

Tenara: Oh cool.

Katy: So we continued to have that collaborative relationship. But I’m thrilled to be in Philly and working at Fringe now.

Raina: Well let’s dive in. I mean, so we’re curious about the process that you guys go through in selecting works for the festival thinking about who approaches who. How do you guys as a team figure out who you want to bring in, and what is that discussion if there is disagreement or do you lean on one another that’s judging if you haven’t both seen the show? All of those questions.

Katy: Yeah. I think one person who’s not in the room I just want to name, who is often part of these discussions is Nick Stuccio, our Executive Director and producing director here at Fringe.

Zach: And Founder of the Fringe Festival in Philadelphia. Yeah.

Katy: And Founder notably. So Nick works with Zach and I to shape the festival, and Zach and I do the majority of the programming, but we do curate by consensus. So there are a whole host of different ways and artists is chosen. Sometimes they come to us, sometimes we go to them, sometimes it’s a relationship that’s decades long, sometimes it’s a new relationship that’s based off of us meeting somebody for the first time. It’s a whole variety of different things, which also then affects the scale of the work, and knowing how long is the presentation while they’re here at Fringe, how much support are we giving them and in what ways. It’s a really wide variety of scales.

Zach: Yeah. I think with some of these, the relationship with this particular engagement goes back a few years, and some of this goes back 10 months, and it’s just interesting kind of to look at as kind of people move into and out of the FringeArts orbit, kind of they bring new relationships with them, and it all kind of gets mixed together in this way. And I think, yeah, we were talking a little bit right before we started recording about there’s so many artists that I think all of us would like to present, and it really does become about who we all completely agree on to a certain degree, and how we’re thinking about them all in conversation with each other as well.

Zach: So I’m going to shout out another podcast, sorry, but there’s a really actually great episode of OK Radio, the Nature Theater of Oklahoma podcast where an artist straight up asks Phillip Bither-

Tenara: Who is that?

Zach: Phillip Bither from Minneapolis, who is their amazing, amazing curator.

Raina: Got it.

Katy: He works at the Walker Art Center.

Raina: Great. Thank you.

Katy: We have collaborated so many times, and our collaborating began last fall.

Image result for charlie day memeZach: Exactly. Yeah, with the work by that same artist. But it’s very interesting because they asked him straight up like, “What did it take for you to finally bring our show here?” And it’s interesting. All the intersections, it’s very the meme of Charlie Day with the red-

Tenara: Yeah.

Raina: Yeah.

Tenara: Absolutely.

Zach: That is very much how you actually get there because there’s a question of availability, there’s a question of scale, kind of what support you’re able to provide, all of those things kind of have to … The planets have to align to a certain degree. So get any single show here, and then also the curatorial part of it, kind of the matchmaking of how these things all fit together, what the kind of collage of that festival then looks like. Yeah, no. It’s magic. It’s witchcraft. That’s what we do.

Katy: Yeah. It really feels that way because we are always starting from a curatorial standpoint where we care about the work that the artist is doing, we’re in building a relationship, we’re curious about the thematic or the particular subject of that given work within an artist’s broader lifetime of creation. And then there are lots of logistic things that are not sexy and not interesting, but deeply important around visas. Are we able to even get them into this country? What are the costs of this particular production? A lot of that also comes down to partnerships.

Katy: If we’re bringing an international artist in as we are with EN-KNAP, this Slovenian dance company for the piece of Pursuit of Happiness, we frankly wouldn’t be able to do that unless we had the partnership of the Walker Art Center to share the costs in terms of travel, and freight, and visa preparation. And then you have to think about just scheduling. Honestly, that is one of the hardest things that we can decide all day, and we can curate for you probably 30 Fringe Festivals, but to have one that actually works does feel like a miracle, right?

Katy: We’re at the artist schedule lines with the venue that we’d like to put them in here with the support that we’re able to get, with the staff that we need from production otherwise to support it. There’s a lot of moving pieces.

Tenara: So that’s-

Zach: Frankly, some of these shows get put on a boat that then comes across the Atlantic Ocean.

Katy: Over a period of multiple months.

Zach: Yes.

Katy: Quite frankly, we put the freight that is currently in Japan on a boat like yesterday or this morning, and it is slowly going to make its way to San Francisco, and then get driven to Minneapolis, so it would be there the second week of September, and then it’ll get driven by a very generous person at the Walker Art Center.

Zach: Oh. Shouts to you!

Katy: Shouts to you Doug! All the way from Minneapolis to Philadelphia.

Tenara: So there’s a single individual not from a company, or an institution-

Katy: Correct.

Tenara: That is-

Katy: That is driving.

Tenara: Like, “To make this possible, I will drive the freight to Philadelphia.”?

Katy: And that is what we do. We have to make creative solutions because we are paying a freight company a whole arm, and a leg to put it on a ship, which is actually much cheaper than say putting it on a plane to get it to come all the way around the world. And yeah it’s still enormously expensive even though we do lots of fundraising, and lots of partnership, and creative cost cutting. And so that’s one of the things that we talked about as a team as I was looking up. When I’ve done this before, we put it in a U-Haul and drive it across the country, that’s going to be much cheaper than us hiring a freight company.

Raina: Right.

Zach: Yeah.

Katy: And so that’s what we’re going to do.

Tenara: Wow.

Katy: So that is the not-as-exciting part, but also equally important part of our job is what are all of these little details that we have to futz together of like one of the venues we’re working at doesn’t have laundry. But of course, all the shows that are there need to be able to do laundry each day. So what relationship can we have with our neighbors there to allow them to open their space so that this other theater company can do laundry in their space? What people can we work with to very generously give us their apartment for the summer, so we could have an artist stay there for three weeks or more?

Zach: And I mean, you know about kind of all the relationships Tenara. You know as well like all of the relationships that we’re building kind of around our public practice work this year. It’s a number of phone calls that is exponentially more than the number of presentations we will eventually present, that even likely how many people will see it, right? And it’s really kind of about stewarding this projects to not just to completion, not just to achievement, but to what we would determine as a successful presentation is one in which nobody knows that all of this stuff happened.

Katy: Right.

Tenara: Yeah. Exactly.

Zach: It has to look excellent, and effortless, and so that doesn’t get in the way of how it can impact an audience that way. How the art itself can interface with an audience.

Katy: And also be easy for that for the rest. We are thinking about our audiences all the time, but particularly in the Fringe Festival where we have more people traveling from out of time whether that’s just from New York or from Belgium, we want to make sure that they have an easy experience too in terms of their travel and hospitality. And for many of them, it’s their first time in Philadelphia. So we have to do a lot of work around that to, and be good ambassadors for our city.

Tenara: Well let me ask you a pretty philosophical question. I think we spend a lot of time thinking of in thinking of people who work in the performance industry. So you said, Zach, a successful iteration of this presentation would be one where the logistical stuff is hidden from the audience, that they don’t know that these are all the things we have to think about in order to present them an impactful experience. But I wonder in my position when I manage the ambassador program, one of the joys the ambassadors have is to find out all of the things that went into the decision to bring this piece or to the creation of this piece if they’re hearing directly from the artist.

Tenara: And so the lifting of the veil makes them feel more connected to the industry, and therefore better stewards of the industry to like a public audience. I just wonder the culture that we have in this country in particular separates performance as a product that’s really shiny with a bonnet for the public, and I wonder how much that actually serve us because does that actually create a bigger distance between the performance and the audience?

Zach: Well I don’t think it does because what’s important to me is to recede a little bit into the background, in the relationship between artist and audience. I want for them to interact with the work with no other expectations in the ones that the artist wants to get them, right? So backing up a little bit, I think that the presenter/producer kind of bisecting is not necessarily all the time firm, right? But I do think that we’re an arts presenter. We’re not producing most of this work.

Zach: So for me to take any kind of role interceding the relationship between audience and artist does not feel deeply appropriate to me. Well I think that all of this is so, so interesting and so cool. For me, it’s like I would rather do a wrap up of that after the festival or after everyone has seen the work than to, in some way, corrupt the expectations that a person has going into this experience because I want to feel the way I felt want I saw some of this work for the first time. Not to feel that way, but to have the benefit of a certain amount of blinders, about just, “I’m curious to see the piece.”

Katy: Well to play devil’s advocate because I get what-

Tenara: Do it. This is the sexy thing that I want to get us.

Zach: Yes.

Katy: And I get what Zach is saying. I think there are-

Zach: Well I’m probably wrong, but-

Katy: No, but I think there are curators or producers in the world who are very much interested in facilitating experience that is guided on understanding personal taste, and I think our ethics as we curate this festival is opposite of that. We’re not interested in this being the Zach and Katy show. You will know more about us by watching these pieces. That is not an interest of ours. But I do think we’re interested in arming the audience with context should they be interested, and I think one way that we’re doing that this year is through the Festival Bookstore, which we’re super excited about, which will give people an opportunity to come to my podcast recordings, talks with other artists, and dialog with community partners about the work.

Katy: We’re also working with our marketing team to provide a number of essays and other context building materials that people can read, so I think that kind of work we definitely want to share with people if they’re interested in it, and that also gives them an opportunity to figure out, “Do I want that pre-show? Post-show? In the middle of the show?” They can kind of design their own experience. This behind-the-scenes veil of like, “The budget was really crazy to figure out, but we did it in this way.” Or-

Zach: “This is how we did the genie lift moment in this show,” or something. That stuff is less.

Katy: I think we are so happy to talk about that with people, but as we see to facilitate a great relationship for the artist and a great relationship for the audience, we don’t want them to worry about that kind of stuff. We kind of feel like in a small way like the invisible hostess. We want to prepare a really beautiful experience for people, and I don’t want them to worry about how much it costs exactly, and if they want to talk about that with me later, we’re happy to be open to that. But for the most part, we want people to come, and enjoy, and experience it, and talk to each other.

Katy: And then yeah, we are happy to do podcast episode X afterwards to hear about the surprising experiences and challenges part one in Fringe Festival 2019.

Zach: And it’s not about gate keeping, right? If there’s a young producer or a producer of any age, right? Who is maybe, “I’m interested in being a curator,” and anything like that, you are always welcome to come talk to us. And all the context and thematics that we’re going to talk about here are just things that we discussed, and we’re interested in yours as well. You can always shoot an email to us and ask us what we think about work or anything like that, we’ll probably give you a time that you can come and speak to us in person about that really and truly.

Tenara: I love asking really pointed, biased, provocative questions because they get such good answers.

Raina: Yeah.

Tenara: You mentioned the Festival Bookstore, which I think you talked about the Festival Bookstore.

Raina: Let’s talk about more about the Festival Bookstore.

Zach: Yes please. The Festival Bookstore is back. We did take a little break last year for-

Katy: We took a breather.

Zach: We took a breather. Yeah. There were a lot of reasons for that that we are not going to get into. That’s behind the curtain stuff. But we’re back with the Festival Bookstore in partnership with Head House Books in Cherry Street Pier. It will also be a kind of site for additional engagement. We keep talking about this idea of self-selected engagement that you can be a person who just sees the show, and that’s great, and we completely support you in that. You can be a person who sees the show and talks about it at the bar after with your friends, or you can be a person who sees the show and then comes and talks to us with about it in the Festival Bookstore context.

Zach: Then buys a book that the artist says it’s in part source material or it’s just written by the artist or that maybe you’ll never understand the connection between this book and the work you saw, and the artist practice who recommended it. But it just gives people another layer of engagement, another way to get their head deeper, and deeper, and deeper in the festival.

Katy: Yeah. So we’re going to have live podcast recordings with artists, we’re going to have artists talks, we’re going to have community talks where our community Philadelphia partners on particular shows are going to be engaging with the themes of the piece either with or without the artist. There will be, like Zach mentioned, books, and essays, and publications, and periodicals that artists have suggested we stock in the bookstore and others I would say as well.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It’s also at Cherry Street Pier, which is a great place to go. It will be open on festival weekends. So not during the week, but as you’re kind of figuring out your Festival schedule, make sure to plan to stop by just to check it out. For members, we, new this year, are also going to be giving out free tote bags.

Katy: So get your membership now!

Zach: Put it on a tote!

Raina: Yes. Get your membership now, and get your tote during the Fringe Festival.

Zach: Otherwise, what are you going to do? Just carry your books?

Raina: Yeah.

Tenara: Or in your arms.

Zach: Well no, it’s deeply exciting. Cherry Street Pier has been an amazing partner, and just a really, really cool site within our neighborhood. So just to have them right across the street acclimated by all of these artists, doing the great programming that they’re doing. It’s been really, really nice, and kind of stimulating for us to find a partner there, and to have a second site for the festival that’s so, so close.

Katy: Plus, it’s gorgeous.

Zach: It is gorgeous. You can take an Instagram there and it will get likes.

Raina: So we’ve been circling around the general programming and theme of the festival, and let’s really dive in and talk about what’s actually going to be happening during the 2019 Fringe Festival.

Katy: Yeah. So the 2019 Fringe Festival is what we call our flagship program. So we have a whole host of festivals that happen throughout the year, but the Fringe Festival happens in the month of September for about three weeks. We’re doing a little bit longer than that with one of our presentations Let Me Die by the artist Joseph Keckler, created in collaboration with O Festival this year. But otherwise, it’s predominantly in the month of September, and it involves curated shows, which Zach and I will talk about, and also our independent artists who will be creating new works and presenting them all throughout the city in a variety of different venues.

Katy: But it’s notable that the curated shows that we’ll talk about happen both in our home venue here at the intersection of Race and Columbus, that also in other places throughout the city whether they’re outside, in venues like Christ Church Neighborhood House that we often use year after year, or new places like 2300 Arena that we’re using the first time.

Zach: Yeah. So as we kind of alluded to in the past, we don’t really do our booking here based on any thematic element. Really we go in looking for balance, looking for a kind of diversity of form. That’s really how we start. But once everything comes together and we really start digging into some of the thoughts and considerations that the artists were making in their work, some themes do start to emerge, and that’s just truly serendipitous. One theme that we have been thinking about a little bit here in the office is kind of the conceit of the individual body, the public body, and maybe the absence of body. What does it mean to be present in the space?

Zach: Really looking at kind of Úumbal as one of those shows. Úumbal is a piece, a public practice work for a group of dancers. It’s co-authored by a group of Philadelphians who each donated thirty seconds of dance that was stitched together by a team into a kind of movement processional that looks at how a collected body takes up public space, and who has the right to public, and what does it mean to be visible as a coherent unit. A group that’s clearly showing that they’re taking care of each other, and looking out for each other through the unison dance.

Katy: So then it’s an amazing piece that we’ll be happening the first two weekends of our festival. It’s really honed by the Mexican choreographer Mariana Arteaga, and it will be happening outside in a South Philadelphian neighborhood around Mifflin Square Park. But thinking about that same thematic, another corollary to that might be the singular body. And so thinking again about a work of dance, we’re excited to be bringing back the choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker with her piece Fase, which is one of the first pieces that she ever choreographed when she was a student at New York University in the 80s.

Katy: This is a duet for two dancers that at one point is a solo, just an individual, and it’s based on music by Steve Reich and his compositional principle of phasing, which is what the that alludes to as well. So while the composition and the dancers start in unison, they slowly begin to phase out of sync with each other, and then have moments of repetition within close proximity, but not exactly the same. So questioning what it means to move from this singular kind of determined body to bodies that might become subtly, but certainly notable distinct from each other.

Zach: Another pieces that’s really looking at this idea of body and the presence of body in space is the Wooster Group’s The B-Side: “Negro folklore from Texas State Prisons,” a record album interpretation. In the piece, Eric Barryman, who is the lead artist in this particular production from The Wooster Group has an in-ear monitor in which a record album, the “Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons” is being transmitted into his ear, and then transmitted to us the audience via him singing with a group of people, with a group of ensemble members.

Zach: What’s interesting about that is how it renders in kind of three dimensional space, the experiences of these people from years, and years, and years ago. So by having a body kind of be this intermediary between the sound, us and audience, everything feels more fleshed out, more round, and you really do kind of experience this music through a different gravity. It’s a really, really interesting piece.

Katy: I’m so excited for that one.

Zach: Me too. I’m so excited. I saw it at St. Ann’s Warehouse actually. A great, great partner of FringeArts, and it was really, really lovely, and I’m really excited to bring it to Philadelphia specifically.

Katy: Yeah. And one thing about this piece that I think is particularly notable is that it shows aspects of our government, of our prison industrial complex, and of racism more broadly that often sits beneath the surface. This particular album that Eric found, is actually from 1965 and depicts songs that were sung in Texas State prisons where workers were required without any recourse or opportunity for themselves to work in these prison farms. And really speaks to this larger industry of subjugation that is certainly the bedrock of our American government and history, but something that often is beneath the surface.

Katy: So that’s another one of the themes of a number of presentations that are in our festival this year are these kind of subterranean or often invisible systems that certainly have outside effects on the way that we live our lives, and the work that artists create that depict the systems that certainly affect us, but that we don’t always see. So one group that’s thinking about these things in a more conceptual way than The B-Side is Pig Iron Theatre Company, a local here from Philadelphia. They’re creating a new work that will premiere the first two weekends of the festival called Superterranean, and they’re working with lead artists Mimi Lien, who is a company member and a very celebrated set designer.

Katy: And for the first time, they are leading their devising process from the set, and the design of the theatrical space itself. So Mimi throughout the devising process has been thinking about subterranean passageways or systems whether it’d be public transit or otherwise that really power our universe, but that are often not fully present or visible to the naked eye.

Zach: Another piece that’s kind of thinking about kind of what remains unsaid or just right beneath the surface as far as kind of our society and how we all interact with each other is Nature Theater of Oklahoma, and in that kind of collaborative piece Pursuit of Happiness. The piece asks a simple question that should maybe follow every clause in our constitution, every clause in our Bill of Rights, and it just says, “For who?” I think it’s very, very interesting. It takes a good look at the mythology of an American Dream as well as the reality of one, and kind of who’s paying for it? Where is the bill addressed?

Zach: It’s a really, really, really interesting piece. I hope you all come out. It’s very, very zany in portions. It feels like cartoony to a certain degree, and then all of a sudden very sobering in a way that is kind of bisected very interestingly. I think he does a good job of preparing you for an experience in subverting that experience almost immediately after.

Katy: Another example is the work Cartography by Kaneza Schaal and Christopher Myers that we’ll be presenting at Christ Church Neighborhood House the second weekend of our festival. This is a piece that recently premiered at the Kennedy Center a couple of months where I saw it, and we’re really excited to be background it to Philadelphia. It’s a work that was created in response to and also in collaboration with a number of young people who have recently migrated to the United States from places around the world whether they be Syria or Venezuela, South Africa or Mexico.

Katy: And working with these young people, Kaneza and Chris really saw to illuminate the histories of migration both in this present moment, and more broadly throughout our history whether it be cause of social injustice and desire for greater economic freedom, or because of global warming or other environmental related disasters. So there’s actually a moment within the piece where all audience members are encouraged to bring out their phones, and using technology in real time to chart their own family’s migratory journey, acknowledging that there are very few of us who are indigenous to the land upon which we are here in Philadelphia, and as such that we all or at least most of us have a relationship to migratory patterns, in ways that again are often obscured or alighted over as history has continued.

Zach: I think about our friends who are asking parents, “Where are we from? What’s our culture?” And get the answer, “We’re American.” Again and again, and that’s becoming this thing that I think is common now to have some people who have almost no sense of where they’re from. So this is really only a sampling of the shows that we’ll be presenting at the curated section of the 2019 Fringe Festival, and we urge you to go to FringeArts.com or download the FringeArts app, or come down to FringeArts and pick up a guide, maybe come diverge with one of us. There’s usually one of us downstairs eating a cheese curd or relaxing, and we look forward to seeing you at the 2019 Curated Fringe Festival.

Katy: It’s going to be so good. So good.

Raina: Also, at the time this episode is coming out, we do not yet have guides available, but we will have teasers. So do come and get a teaser, you can read about all our curated shows, and in August make sure you join us on August 2nd for our festival guide launch happy house or we will have guides available for you to pick up and start planning your full festival schedule.

Tenara: But never fear because all of the curated shows are online and on the app, and you can start getting your tickets now. So if you’re literally just at the edge of your seat waiting to find out when you can come see The B-Side for example, you don’t have to wait my friends. You can go on the website.

Zach: And if you have any additional questions about shows, you’re always welcome to reach out to someone from FringeArts and they’re happy to contextualize the work for you.

Katy: Yeah. And we’ll be announcing further late night programming here at FringeArts that we offer free of charge to everybody, as well as the full slate of our talks and community conversations at the Fringe Festival Bookstore.

Raina: We encourage you to become a member at FringeArts to receive 20% off of all tickets that you purchase as well as year round benefits such as a free FringeArts tote back coming up, and free ticket exchanges, invites to special events, and all kinds of other benefits that are really exciting that you can learn more about it. FringeArts.com/membership.

Tenara: Thank you for joining us for this episode of Happy House on the Fringe. The Fringe Festival will be running from September 5th to the 22nd. Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, and download the FringeArts app. Check out all of our shows with ticket information at FringeArts.com.

[Music Outro]

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.

Tenara: Amazing. Cool. We’re talking about Úumbal today. Can you tell us a little bit about where, where the idea for Úumbal came from.

Mariana: Úumbal was a response to a political situation that I was having in my country, Mexico. I mean, I like, I collect thinking as a Mexican citizen, I don’t know if you’re familiar, there were 43 students that disappeared and they were from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero. And first the first idea was my reflection about a body that is not visible anymore, and what does it say? Which is, for me, one of the greatest ways of torturing a country. And this idea of disappearance and this idea of not finding where this part is. So my reflection was about how important it was to make a body visible. And also it has to do with a conversation with virtual territory and geographic territory with bodies that are virtual and bodies that are walking in the streets.

Mariana: And this idea that also these bodies disappearing being seen physically in the space and public space. And at the same time when this happened, there were some demonstrations in my city against these phenomena that happened, this disappearance. And I notice during the demonstrations that there were a policeman or military groups being able to encapsulate part of the demonstration. And I noticed that it was really well rehearsed and choreographed.

Tenara: Choreographed.

Mariana: Choreographed and so it made me think about the power of choreography, whether you use it to be repressive, but maybe also I remember about some other kind of choreographic demonstrations that have made a great impact in our global history, which was for example, the Standing Man protest in Turkey in 2013. So I had these two comparative ways of making a statement through choreography. So this my field – my field is dance and choreography so, I thought that if there were policemen that could make this all choreography in order to repress the others, what about if we could rehearse a citizens ways of freedom or ways of organizing ourselves and to make a visible, collected body that organizes and that inhabits the public space in a different way. That’s how Úumbal was born as a nomadic choreography for inhabitants.

Tenara: Can you give our audience a little context? I think we in the states probably heard about 43 disappeared students, but we may not know the deep political things that were going on in Mexico. These were college students.

Mariana: Yeah. They were studying to become teachers and they were trying to make some protest. Now the thing is, I have to remember because I don’t want to give out wrong information.

Tenara: Mm-hmm.

Mariana: The information, what I hear about this, they wanted, they stole or they took from some bus companies, tourist bus companies, some buses in order to come to Mexico and make this big protest, like every year for the killing of students in the ’68, right? So, that happened. Some people were warned about it. So, some policeman and militaries formed a zone and would try to stop these students for going or taking these buses, right? But the way of doing it, like, they stop two buses in the way they crossed in front of the buses and they wouldn’t let them go on. But one of the buses was like going around and when they captured these students, this last bus, they were supposed to take these students to one kind of police station and one part and in the way of delivering these students to that part, they disappeared and nobody knows where they are.

Mariana: At the same time when they stopped the first two buses there were some confrontations and two students were killed already in the confrontations. I will like to just to have accurate look –

Tenara: Yeah, that’s fine, definitely.

Mariana: To say that what I’m saying is absolutely true. But, it’s going to be a longer story in terms of the – this idea is kind of cris-crossed also with the Narco war that the criminal organizations that are in Mexico, because there is like this agreement between militaries, Narco power and they have control everything. So ,we had been in this for the last 12 years in these kinds of situation that people would disappear and then there would be found later on in this, I don’t know how to say it in English, that you create this collective –

Tenara: Grave?

Mariana: Graves, yes.

Raina: Oh, okay.

Mariana: So, in all these 12 years, like thousands, thousands of people having killed had disappeared and till now they are starting to discover new grave-sites. Yeah.

Tenara: Wow.

Mariana: So, but this was, so this was the frame. So what happens that of course we know there is a frame where the students can’t go out of the law, right? But at the same time, the way of solving this is for this kind of violence and extreme violence, which is disappearing the bodies and till now nobody knows where the bodies are.

Mariana: Yeah. So they were allegedly taken into custody. Like it says on September 26, 2014, 43 male students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teacher’s College were forcibly taken and then disappeared in Iguala. So yes, they were organizing to go to this demonstration in Mexico City. That would take place October the second and there is a saying from 1968 until now, we do not forget after second and there was a massive killing of students who are in the protest of the ’68 in a very important public square in Mexico City that is called the Three Cultures Square, which in Spanish is Plaza de las Tres Culturas.

Mariana: So people every year we’ll go there and say “we do not forget”, right? So they were illegally taken into custody by local police members from Cocula and Iguala, but it is said that he was needing collusion with this organized crime, right?

Tenara: Oh, I see.

Raina: I guess just to kind of clarify, was the problem that they stole the buses or was it that they were going to protest?

Mariana: I think no, it’s not a way of going to the protest, it has to do with that kind of political geographical tensions in Guerrero where they are from. Guerrero is called Tierra Caliente. So it has, it is kind of warrior state.

Raina: Okay.

Mariana: And also some kind of nobody’s land. So is it well known that the police people, and as I said in narco power, would always work, assemble and so create their own kind of law.

Mariana: So, and this kind of a violence pattern that increases, with the rival or with the – not the rival, but opening up this narco power groups so everybody could know when this happened and the disappearance between the transporting these students from Cocula to another place that this way of disappearance has to do with this complexity. But this complexity, it’s not only about the ’68, it’s about power, it’s about money. It’s about the geographical place where Guerrero is. It has to do with the history of Guerrero. So yeah, I mean, the story’s pretty much as I said it to you, I was absolutely right, but I think I didn’t say it properly.

Tenara: No, It’s okay.

Mariana: So, what am I going to like kind of read it to you. Yeah. They, they were intended to travel to Mexico City to celebrate is no, not celebrate, commemorate the annual story of the 1968. So, the local police attempted to intercepted these buses.

Tenara: Again, because they had stolen the buses?

Mariana: Yeah, they have taken and that there is a practice by students that is kind of –

Raina: Is that common?

Mariana: It kind of also global thing. It’s not that we do it every day or like, oh yeah, they’re gonna take and then when they return back. No, but there is a practice in these university students that sometimes they might do that. The thing is that during that time there are so many gaps about what happened and who has information of where are they? And that’s the question, like where are they? Because there was like, for example, after a while there was so much social pressure about this that they said that they had found like this kind of grave, collective grave. So there was a group of forensics from Argentina. They’re really specialize people and they came to, you know, make tests and they said no, these are not the bodies. Still.

Raina: They’re just other bodies.

Mariana: And yeah, still they were other bodies, right?

Raina: So, the government’s response was to try and say that they had them even when they didn’t?

Mariana: Yeah. And there’s this kind of thing of we are doing the best that we can. We cannot find it but you don’t see like, they really working on finding out what happened. So yeah, I mean there were special groups, so the narco, they are located specifically in Guerrero, their group of power that controls locally and they are always, or almost all the time your relationship with the governor or the mayor or with the right in during times of this happened, during the times of Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidency. I think what is more, how can I say? This layer, or the layer underneath it is that, this is a story that is exhausting as society because it’s not the first time.

Mariana: And so imagine a society that is this receiving this kind of information or this kind of sensation of that you are living in, like no law at all and suddenly the happens to the promise of a Mexico of the future for students. Not that all lives are not important, but it’s like a symbolic thing and it’s very clear that they have disappeared.

Mariana: I think it has to do with the story how we name things and the importance of naming the things that are happening. So for me also these 43 students were not like only the 43. It was a way of naming all the thousands of bodies that had disappeared before. Like to make something, to embody something where ewe can create to support them but also all these bodies. So like it was the first time in my life I would see every day like demonstrations through demonstrations and demonstration and it was like – the streets of one of the main avenues in Mexico like packed full of people doing these protests.

Mariana: But it was the state of the nation, right? It was the state of the citizens. And it was, it was urgent to manifest this, anger and also this grief, it’s very important to grieve. But, at the same time, I think there was so much anxiety because you are only able to really grieve when you have certainty of that a body’s death

Raina: Right.

Mariana: While the body’s not death and it has just disappeared, and it in this kind of limbo that is not alive and it’s not death. So, how can you process that? And I think to be able to be conscious of that as a society that made us protest in this way. And for me also what happened is that I had never left my city in that way. It’s funny when I have never lived in war conditions, in other kind of political conditions and more extreme, but that doesn’t mean we’re not living in a very violent situation or we haven’t been living.

Mariana: But I hadn’t been very conscious of how this could affect us until that moment that, for the first time I’ve felt my city that is full of life, sad and undermine it.

Raina: Undermined, yeah.

Mariana: And it was a shock for me because, I would watch these videos at the demonstrations and everything what was happening. I was watching this in Japan, I was doing this artistic residency. So, for me, like arriving and just walking through the streets and feeling dizzy with like, “What’s going on?” It was very unique and sad and the sadness takes power to people.

Tenara: I think a lot about the kind of eruption of action and protest and an urgency that happened after Parkland. The school shooting in Parkland High School. That’s not coming from the state, which is different than the situation you’re describing. But similarly it’s violence enacted against students, the future of tomorrow. And what came out of it was the most – I mean, I don’t think that in my life as I have experienced consistent school and public space shootings in the United States, like the news of them, I haven’t felt that kind of – I felt like after the kindergartners, we were just all depressed. Like none of us could do anything about it.

Tenara: And like just the deep, deep sadness. And then after Parkland all of a sudden, because the students themselves were then starting this –

Raina: Speaking out.

Tenara: Yeah, they were speaking out. That felt similarly, like there’s something really electric happening that then pulls at the threads of all the states of the nation. If we’re talking about this, we have to talk about lobbying. We have to talk about racism. We have to talk. Like it just, it made us all start talking about things and yeah. Yeah. I’m resonating a lot with what you’re saying.

Mariana: The other thing that I didn’t discover, but later on, six months later, I will get there. It has to do with how does a collective lives you. So those were, I mean that was the situation, with the Ayotzinapa students. But as you can see, the situation itself reflects other historical, political realities that we were carrying out by that moment. Like everybody was like, “Oh”. Yeah. So, that was the situation.

Tenara: So can you tell us a little bit about Úumbal and the design of the piece as a way of pushing against the invisibility of these bodies?

Mariana: Yeah. I thought that our response had to be in different layers. First, against the disappearance is the appearance of a body and the appearance susceptible of a voice, a collective body. So I thought that the public space would be the place to do that and to take this kind of structure of doing things in the street, and to go through streets as our way of protesting.

Mariana: But at the same time, I thought that the idea of the rehearsed, the possibilities as a society to imagine ourselves living differently and like the only way of being a counter part of that would it be to kind of empower us and to take care of the other and to have agreements and to be able to negotiate and to be able to perceive and to be in public space in different ways that a demonstration is, right?

Mariana: Like we had to rehearse this possible ways of meeting each others. So there is this, other woman, really admired that is Hannah Arendt and she said freedom is also rehearsed. So, that was resonating with me very much this like phrase. I was like, yeah, we have to practice our own freedom and we have to feel what could that be? That made me think of structure of a nomadic choreography. Not a choreography that was going to be in a square where it’s meant to be when you’re doing this big festivals or celebration. We needed to be walking through the streets and dancing.

Mariana: Dancing is the way I communicate things. And also dancing for me was a way of recovering this power and the power of joy to be able to confront things. There is something very magical about this, this idea of living collective joy as a way of power. This idea of power to the people.

Mariana: But I really believed in that, because I had been doing some other collective choreographic works and I had witnessed it in them and in myself. The fact of that and the fact of that is that I was willing to be with others and to negotiate and to enjoy of the other and to trust the other. So I was talking in this global way, but I was very interested in the micro revolutions and in the micro politics.

Mariana: That’s for me where the things could lead us to little fractures that eventually will come in some kind of change. I’m not thinking in any like big pictures of – I do not believe in this kind of thing. I think because of our social economic health system, global system, that’s not that possible. So that’s why I was interested in this kind of micro politics. So if I say like, if we can expand it 50, 60 people or something, it’s gonna be great.

Mariana: And it’s going to be great just the fact that there will be 50 or 60 people willing to do that. It’s just like, so that’s another thing. And also this idea of if we were going to do a collective statement, then even if I had to say yeah, or if I could guide the project, the boys should be collective. So I say I’m not going to tell the others to dance my dance steps because, then they’re only talking about me.

Mariana: So how can I do it too to make it collective and to listen to the voices of everybody. That’s why I thought like, well that’s the steps of the people would be our raw material. That’s how the first phase was born. And then that thing led to the other. Like, say yeah, and the construction should be the same. The choreographic construction should not only be lived by me or by a choreographic team, but also by citizens.

Mariana: And it’s also a way to be needing and recovering some kind of power that you will acknowledge or you will recognize that you know and you didn’t know, that you know. And then third phase would be like calling to these other 50 citizens that will like to be part of this project.

Raina: So I’m curious, this piece has such like resonant meaning in Mexico City and with kind of all the history around the politics, what does it mean to bring this piece to Philadelphia and how do you translate meaning, or how do you find new meaning in building this with Philadelphia residents who, you know, don’t have that same kind of political history.

Mariana: It’s interesting because that doesn’t mean there is a political discussion going on right now. You’re right in terms that it’s a different one. What resonates with me and that the thing that made me want to do the project outside Mexico was a conversation about diversity.

Mariana: Some kind of racial encounter or dis-encounter maybe, that I could even sense walking the city. And, FringeArts say like, “we are very interested in a project like yours because community.” And I say, “yeah”, but the discussion is political, like I say, the origin of part of this. So we’ve got a long conversation and I say like, “we really think that we need some kind of way of encountering each other.” And there are Latinos, African Americans or white people. There are immigrants from Puerto Rico, Honduras, Cambodia, Vietnam, you know? And, in a way there are not like points of encounter maybe between all these people. Right. So, that was the political discussion. And for me, it was like lights there because as a Mexican I do also reflect a lot about this immigrant condition and its relationship with, the United States.

Mariana: And of course in this presidency is more, how can I say it? Tense. It’s more tense right now. Yeah. And we start our relation with the idea of getting out of the country to have a better future and what happens and what is the life of these immigrants here? So these are the things that I was really interested. I was really interested to find some kind of social dialogue conversation that we could work in. which doesn’t mean that of course we’re going to achieve it like that, right?

Mariana: Like, I mean, we still don’t know it. But for me, what made me say I want to be in Philly is intention. We have to start from one point. And the point is to be open to that intention and to work through that intention. It might happen, it might not happen, but that consciousness and then in the process to be learning what it takes to have that conversation. It gives us clues, reality clues of how to need better those bridges, to have the conversation.

Tenara: Do you find that Philadelphians are open to that intention so far, in your awareness?

Mariana: So far it’s been very interesting because I am like, my first approaches are with FringeArts team and with a choreographic team that is from Philadelphia. So in terms of human beings, like in terms of the space, it’s another conversation. I will go first with the people.

Tenara: The people.

Mariana: Well, first is the FringeArts team that they are the ones calling me. They have this urge, this intention, this desire of going towards there, which I really like in terms of that Úumbal is not in the regular production – performing arts production system because it’s a long term peace, it’s not made in 15 days or one month. It takes time and time is what makes it possible. Now, what I found is that FringeArts is also learning through this project a lot of things and that for me is the most palatable thing because it’s opening these reflections and this conversation in our FringeArts, I believe. I think I have this perception.

Tenara: You’re right. Yeah, I would say you’re right

Raina: Yeah, we’re learning a lot.

Mariana: So, with the choreographic team, I think it’s – the learning process for me has been different. First, because I ask clearly, I ask a diverse group that if we were going to have a conversation like this, I needed in the group a diverse group. It’s been interesting. Of course this choreograph team is really open. For some reason they were interested and they are working. They are also speaking out loud about the tensions about the neighborhoods and about the way a body moves, for example.

Mariana: And what power or un-empower body it might represent for a Latino than from African American, then from a white American, right? So this kind of dialogue and conversation is just giving me a side, a perception of a difference. Like there’s difference between though all these people, but it has become more clear through the neighborhoods.

Mariana: Not for the people that I’m working with side by side, but with the neighborhoods is the geographically designed city that barely is and what are the streets telling you? The way it’s organized, the street, how the houses are, the people that are outside of houses, how do they see us when we are walking around. And that is, in a way, giving me some disconnection. What talks about the city as it is, disconnection in terms that there is, only in a few places, there is this crossing intersection of conversations of our diversities.

Tenara: Philly is very segregated.

Mariana: That’s my perception so far. So, I think that definitely is not a process that a product like this will achieve. Like, “oh yeah, we made it.” Like, it’s so complex and it has to do with distribution of power, it has to do –

Tenara: Housing.

Mariana: It’s a conversation of race and a lot of conversation it has come out is gentrification conversation that is changing a lot of things. But, also that gentrification is related to race.

Tenara: Yeah.

Mariana: So far this reception about people, I still don’t know. I’m in that moment that I’m just perceiving only, and it’s in a very, very early stage. But what I have to say there has been for me really like a wake up call and I don’t know if the choreographic team is aware of that, is what has happened in the neighborhoods when people see three African Americans, one Latina and one white American walking together.

Tenara: This is you and the choreographic team?

Mariana: Yes.

Tenara: Yeah.

Mariana: So for example, that little example, it has been very interesting. Just the fact to see four or five people walking together and walking now, because we are walking to go to one place to the other because we need to work, but we’re just walking the neighborhood.

Mariana: And that is something that mainly people are like watching like, what is this? It’s not common. And that tells you so much. And in some neighborhoods that could be seen as, what? Like, what are you doing here? Like are we your curiosity? Like, this kind of a little bit defensive way. What, are you like, why do you want to come here and change the world, kind of. And another is just to an observation. And in others it’s a lot of curiosity, maybe. So, but like for example that it says so much about the idea of what a city is like, or how is it organized? What kind of conversations are needed? Also talks about the idea of walking, the use of walking. The abstract idea of walking, something I can see people, I feel like use a lot their cars versus walking.

Mariana: So that’s an interesting reflection for me. These are the things that I’m learning. And the other thing that I’m very happy about is that even the choreographic team hadn’t been in many places that we walked through.

Raina: Yeah.

Tenara: That’s great.

Mariana: And that tells me a lot about how a person maybe that lives in Philly, relates to the geographical space. Maybe it reduces too specific points and not very much moving from there. It’s a way of organizing life. But it’s interesting because everything is crossed by economy by cultural thing. Maybe.

Raina: I think it is really interesting because like I went to school in West Philly and obviously FringeArts is in Old City and when I was in college I would come to Center City, I’d come to Old City. And so when, now I still live in West Philly because I was kind of like looking for housing and I was like, well I know this area.

Raina: And so I kind of stayed in West Philly and like even now, just thinking about like the Market Frankfort line is like my go-to. But that doesn’t really include the Broad Street line. Like, I’m still learning about South Philly, North Philly, Fishtown areas, like all that’s still very new to me. And so, I think one thing that’s really cool about the Fringe Festival is that I get to go to so many different shows in different neighborhoods, but even that is like I might just be driving there. I don’t usually walk to a specific location and kind of explore the full neighborhood around that place.

Tenara: It was the Fringe Festival that that taught me the geography of Philadelphia, because when I moved to Philadelphia in 2016, I moved in August and the festival started a month later, and I just decided that I was going to see like four shows a week and I would get on my bike and I would just, I’d be like, I don’t even know where I am right now, but because I was like on my way to see a show, I really got to know how the city was laid out. And, so I would go to see shows. Like I lived in West Philly at the time too. And so I would go to see shows in Old City, but also in North Philly and also in South Philly and just like all over the place.

Tenara: And it’s, yeah, there aren’t a lot of occasions that people have to move on a map that is different then like, here’s where I live, here’s where I work, here’s where my friend lives, here’s where my gym is, here’s my favorite restaurant. And, that’s like it. You know? Those points on the map and the most frequented and so it’s not very common for people to have reasons to have to go out into different spaces.

Mariana: Definitely. I think it tends to happen in big cities. Cities at like for example in Mexico City that might happen because it’s so big. The city is so big. But anyway, the range of movement of, or transportation, is wider than I have found here.

Tenara: What, the Mexico City’s public transportation is –

Mariana: Like, the people in Mexico City, we tend to go a little bit further. I can say, but, and it’s not that I’m criticizing something, I’m just saying that we have a different cultural approach maybe and maybe also it is crossed with economical condition, of course. But like the phenomena itself is that we move more through the city.

Tenara: Well, I think there’s also something that’s a little bit lifestyle about it too because like I think about – Philly is really so big. Like, Germantown and Mount Airy. Those are…Glenside–

Raina: Those are part of Philly.

Tenara:  –Those are neighborhoods in Philadelphia, but they’re so far away and they’re so inaccessible by public transportation. The people who end up living there are people who are older or have families or commute in their cars to work. And I just think a lot about people that I know that live in those suburbs, that is still technically Philadelphia, their lifestyle also means that they move on a different map because they drive different places. And, to me to go out there, it’s like that’s so far away. It’s like going to a different state because then I’m just like on my bike and I’m going from West Philly to Old City. I’m like, I can’t go out there, you know? But it’s like, actually the city is enormous and so, and the kinds of lifestyles that different geographies promote, it’s just so different.

Mariana: And I also, my reflection it’s about like, it’s not the first time that I listened to this comment about some cities in the United States that do not have a very good public transportation system. And in Mexico we had kind of have the opposite. We have really good transportation system that connects everything with everything. The only thing that we have more people than the public transportation. I mean like our prop one, the connection lines.

Tenara: There are too many people.

Mariana: But, that there’s not enough, way too many people and yeah, that would be the problem, but that makes us be able to go to different places.

Tenara:  And Philadelphia’s public transportation really is commuter. Everything is pointing in the direction of Center City to get from West Philly to South Philly, even though the most direct route would be like southwest or southeast, you know you have to go and straight into center city and then straight down. I couldn’t go from West Philly to Germantown very easily. I mean, there is the commuter rail but it, but again it’s like only connecting these neighborhoods to the center of the city.

Mariana:  And then there was another reflection for me, which is about the city and compared to my city that it has other kind of political layers, is that our transportation system is public. It’s from the state and here it’s a private, subsidized private, right?

Raina: Is your public transportation free?

Mariana: No, but the state is the one in charge of handling everything

Tenara: Isn’t the set up – I don’t know.

Mariana: What I have learned –

Raina: I really don’t I think SEPTA is a private company but I think it’s like with – like very much in conjunction. But yes, SEPTA is its own.

Mariana: It’s managed by private company and that Mexico is like, there is a secretary like in Mexico City, that mobility secretary and that’s in charge of –

Tenara: It’s state created, like the state created it? We’re currently Googling, friends at home. One of the choreographer’s told you that it was privately owned?

Mariana: Privately managed

Tenara: Privately managed, that would not surprise me. Everything here is private.

Mariana: And so public, in terms of that it’s run the state, but it’s also managed by the state.

Tenara: Yeah, got it.

Mariana: There is not a private company managing the Metro subway or something, no.

Raina: We just have two final questions.

Tenara: You can make them snappy.

Raina: So, we’re really curious. Where did the name Úumbal come from?

Mariana: Oh, Úumbal came from a Mayan tongue from the Mayans that are in the south of Mexico. So Úumbal means balancing like to do that balance. But I didn’t even look for the word because of the meaning but because how it sounded. Úumbal! So I was thinking it was like a call to war, and I was so angry at that time, that I needed a sound, and I didn’t want to have this artistic name, the flock, or like the like this thing that is recognizable. I just wanted something that nobody knew what it was like, but just saying it would provoke something.

Tenara:  I mean it really is quite provocative. Like even an English to say Úumbal: Nomadic Choreography for Inhabitants. People were like, “what’s that?”

Mariana: Yeah, actually yeah.

Tenara: So our last question for you, what are your highbrow inspirations and your low brow inspiration?

Raina: Yeah, so like we can say, what are your high class like fancy –

Tenara: Intellectual, fancy.

Raina: Those kinds of inspirations. And then what’s just like your –

Mariana: In terms of culture, art or something like that?

Raina: Yeah, it could be –

Tenara: Like, give a lowbrow inspiration for yourself.

Raina: So, I will say a highbrow one. Well, actually, I always go back and forth. I think Shakespeare is a little bit both highbrow and lowbrow, but this idea of high art and artists who inspire you. And then lowbrow is like, what’s that trash TV show that you like watching?

Tenara: Wow.

Raina:  I don’t know. Something just really basic.

Mariana: Oh okay. My highbrows are, I have so many.

Tenara: You’re such a classy person.

Mariana: I am, I’m sorry, I am. I love architecture. I’m inspired by Architects, such as like Juhani Pallasmaa, kind of techs or this group from Japan called Zhanna or Kengo Kuma architect. I could go on and on about architects because I do love architecture like, it’s an inspiring part but for me. I’m inspired by some kinds of music, different kinds of music. My like high what?

Tenara: Brow.

Mariana: Highbrow.

Tenara: Your eyebrow.

Mariana: There is a group from Columbia. They’re doing very traditional Columbia, somebody had something like really earth and so truth. So that could be like a high level inspiration as choreographers that maybe I also admire a lot or I have admired at some point. Or the other directors as I’m forgetting the name, my God, Philip King, we got in studio. Somebody that inspires me for example. And my lowbrow-

Tenara: Lowbrow.

Mariana: Definitely, definitely bloopers from Saturday Night Live.

Tenara: I love that that is your lowbrow.

Mariana: Oh my God. I can spend hours and bloopers from some TV series. I like, there’s nothing better for me. That scene character that breaks the character.

Raina: I love that.

Mariana: I’m so –

Tenara: I’m resonating with that so much.

Mariana: I’m so obsessed, like sometimes like I can feel down and I would be like watching chapters of like bloopers forever of some series and Saturday Night Live to see characters losing it. Like, Ryan Gosling, I remember one that it was great. Or, I remember or segments of Saturday Night Live, there was these things that I called the Californians.

Tenara: Yes, I know that one very well, Mariana.

Mariana: I would you just be like, I mean I am Mexican, I don’t have the American culture, but it’s so funny that I would be repeating it, I just love it, California.

Tenara: That’s how they actually talk. That’s how Californians really talk.

Mariana: That is my lowbrow. No, that would be like, yeah.

Tenara: That’s a good answer.

Raina: So, thank you so much for joining us on this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe. It was great to have you.

Mariana: Thank you.

Raina: And make sure to follow Úumbal all around Philadelphia September 7th and 8th [Editor’s note: dates have since been updated to September 7, 13 + 14] and you can follow FringeArts on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram. And make sure to download the FringeArts app ahead of the Fringe Festival this year.

[Music Outro]

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.

Cecily: It was like we spent the whole summer preparing for a two-day weekend performance for the first weekend of the Fringe Festival, and it was like 150 may 200, normal, regular, Philadelphia area people who are not professional dancers learning a 30 minute piece. It was ranging from little five-year-olds to like probably close to 80. I don’t know. I have no idea. Like at some point, you don’t ask people their age.

Tenara: Correct.

Cecily: But it was all of us together practicing twice, sometimes much more than that a week to get our dance steps down and it was fun event.

Zach: And were you costumed for that?

Cecily: We could choose our costumes. There were no real limits as long as we could move in them, and it wasn’t advertising anything. But there were people in just their regular jeans and t-shirts, and dress things or whatever, and then there were people in sequins. I had a sequined shirt on top. It was very bright and red. There were people with tutus. There were multitude of different costumes per se, but that was our chance of being creative and letting our own personalities show to a certain degree ’cause in a group dance you’re supposed to be doing all the steps, all the same steps that everybody else is doing, so it’s nice to be able to at least show some of your personality.

Zach: And what was your experience with dancer performance before jumping into Le Grand?

Cecily: So, I actually did the first Le Grand. I’ve taken dance classes and things, but not anything that I can really remember where I was like I’m a dancer. I did do a musical theater camp at one point.

Tenara: Heck yeah.

Zach: I was reading about that. So Cecily’s an amazing stand up performer in town and also a storyteller, and some of Cecily’s stories are so so good WHYY has published the transcripts of them, so you can definitely look those up and check them out. I looked them up and had a great time reading about them. What was the title of the piece, I had a nightmare time at musical theater camp, or-

Cecily: Oh, I don’t remember what the title was.

Zach: When you talked about turning over and looking at the 10-year-old boy in the face, like it is so so fantastic. No more spoilers. Check it out yourself.

Tenara: So what was it like for you returning to Le Super Grand after you did it in 2012? So, it was like six years have gone by and then you came to not exactly the same piece but something similar.

Zach: There’s some old people, some new people. [crosstalk 00:05:23]

Cecily: I was excited to sign up again to do it because my memory said that it was great experience. And I only say that because physically I’m six years older, and all the things which I’m still young and I look at [crosstalk 00:05:46] but my body is different than six years ago, so that is the only thing that came to mind. But I was excited because I do like the idea of meeting people from my community per se, like people I might see on the bus, or might see at a performance, or wherever I am, and getting to have some form of connection with them. And it was really nice to see a couple of my friends from six years ago return because some of them I hadn’t stayed in contact with, but as soon we saw each other, it was like “Yes! I’m so happy you’re here,” and basically kinda like an old friend like you just picking up where you left off, almost literally, ’cause we left off dancing and we’re picking up dancing.

Cecily: So, that was exciting to have like a portion of people that were familiar and even a couple of the instructors were familiar. So, it was nice to know that there were people who remember our previous performance, had some energy about it. And then, there were a lot of new people, and so it was a chance to kinda meet new people and I’m not the most social person, so I’m sure coulda connected way better, but like to me it was nice to just be in our room or a huge ice rink with people every week, a couple times a week coming together. We’re in different stages of our life and different ethnic and different all the things. All the things we can come up with. So, it was really good to kinda see that happen again. My body was just like, “you forgot.”

Cecily: I was told that this piece was a little bit more challenging than by one of the instructors. They said it was a little more challenging than six years ago. So, my body my not be lying to me and my memory. But it definitely felt, I was like, I’m actually working out, and like a couple times in a week. There’s some fun contrast and similarities.

Tenara: Yeah, when I was hanging out at rehearsal, some people told me like the main, similar to you, they end up find a sense of community and connection with everybody around them, but originally they wanted to do Le Super Grand in order to build in exercise into their week. So, they like literally did it at first because they were like, “Oh, I will just be moving for two hours twice a week.”

Zach: And I think a lot about my experience, I was a marching band nerd in high school. And to get with all those people to learn the drill, [inaudible 00:09:14], to get injured together in some cases, to share nasty moldy water bottles together, it feels almost you share in this joy but almost bodily trauma in a certain way that’s not bad, it’s just [crosstalk 00:09:35]. There’s something in that sense of shared accomplishment that’s like, it compounds my personal sense of accomplishment in a certain way. And its’ funny, I see so many Le Grand dancers around town like at the Whole Foods. Last night at the Rosenbach Museum, I saw a person, who I won’t name ’cause this is being recorded. And Yeah, it just makes me feel like I have friends all over in certain way.

Tenara: Do you run into people?

Cecily: I have. Yes. I’m also at this weird stage in life where I don’t know where I know people from. So, it’s like do I know you because you know me from [inaudible 00:10:11]. Do I know you from some other, like the bus. Or do I know. But I have seen some Le Super Grand people in my travels and things, and some of them recognize me, some of them don’t because there’s some many of us, like you might not remember everybody.

Zach: The other day I was just walking up the street and Sarah Gladwin Camp rides by on her bike and just goes, “Hey, looking forward to the next one.”Just like that. Just so funny like it just it feels like, it makes the city feel smaller to me in a certain way and that’s exciting. When you’re looking at the first Le Grand opportunity back in I guess this is 2012, when you’re reading through the description, what made you say this is for me and I can do that?

Cecily: So, I honestly don’t really remember what … I think my mom sent me an email and it was just the idea that as long as I could move, I could be a part of it. So, auditioning and all the things, it … the pressure of being like a perfect dancer, and I didn’t have to worry about that.

Tenara: So, the pressure to be like a perfect dancer was off and-

Cecily: Yeah, so I think also at that point in my life I was just kinda more willing to try something new, try something different. I don’t really remember. It was six years ago.

Zach: Were you new at comedy then?

Cecily: Yes, I was very new at comedy then.

Tenara: Do you feel …or I’m sure there is a difference, but maybe you can speak a little bit about the difference of being a participant in these big, large-scale performances versus being an audience member watching a performance.

Cecily: Well, I think in some ways when I watch a performance I want to be a part of it to a certain degree and usually it’s, “I wish I could do that.” And so, I think there’s just a certain amount of aw in seeing people moving their bodies or any creative form that either not using or just haven’t got to a certain level of using. So, it’s always fun to see people performing and then when the opportunity comes to being able to be a part of something, it just seems right because now I’m getting to do what I have wanted to do when I’ve been a spectator. So, if it happened again and I was physically able to do it again, I would still do it and not be a spectator.

Zach: I watched all three performances from different places each time. Like one time I was up high on the steps of the art museum, another time I climbed up weird sculpture and was on top of that, that was fun. And I just felt this immense sense of like pride. Right? ‘Cause I was there in some rehearsals, I did a lot of recruitment for this, and I felt proud of everyone who was dancing, but I felt more proud broadly of the city and I just don’t know that there are … It’s funny they take this piece all over the world, and what’s interesting to me is I feel like Philly, it’s just very like–

Tenara: It’s very different.

Zach: Like it … something just locks into place. Philly, especially it’s such a big, small town in a certain way. The footprint of the city, geographically is kinda teenty, but there’s so many people here, and there this kind of … There’s this thing that I don’t feel like you have in New York anymore where you run into everybody you know all the time here. And sometimes it’s great, and sometimes it’s like ugh, there’s my ex again. [inaudible 00:14:09]. There’s someone I ghosted. What do they want from me? You know, but it’s just, it felt like there was this immense interconnectivity that I don’t know [crosstalk 00:14:22] but was foregrounded.

Tenara: Yeah, it was just so celebratory. It was really infectious. I was there doing, essentially recruitment for this year’s public practice performance. I was like basically like if this seems interesting to you, write down your name and email address, and we’ll send you information about next year’s show. It won’t be the same thing, but it will be something very similar and I can tell you that the number of email sign ups we got after the show, like tripled the number that we had right before the show started because you can’t watch that without being like oh my god that was amazing. I wanna do that. I wanna be a part of the crew.

Zach: So what advice do you have for people who might consider being in the large scale public practice piece in the future? Maybe in their decision-making or how to prep for a hot, sweaty rehearsal process.

Cecily: Okay. So, first with the decision making, I know a lot of times, there’s a audition type situation and it’s not really an audition as much as it’s showing you that you can do it. So, I would suggest people not take it so seriously as like oh my gosh this Broadway show. I have to get all the steps. And just know, be mindful of your body, but also in this kind of situation, know that there are people who are going to be faster at getting the steps, who are going to be more limber, and more all the things, and there are going to be people who are not gonna be good as you in picking things up and all that, and by the end of it, we’re all doing the same thing.

Cecily: So, it might take you longer. It might take you a much shorter process, but the overall, the ending is gonna be great. So, definitely go to the auditions or whatever they’re being called. And information sessions just so that you can kind of see what was being offered. For me, I think I, at some point, mostly towards the end, I wasn’t present. So, I was kinda like get this over with at some point.

Zach: In the dress rehearsal and then in that performance also.

Cecily: In the dress rehearsal, we got rained out of. And then, the actual Sunday performance, we were rained on, and for me, it was not fun. I was not interested at all and pictures prove that. It feels like all the pictures that are of me captured my inner thoughts. [crosstalk 00:17:34] But at the end, what I wanna say is don’t let the positive be the memory, but the positive be the present. So, if I do it again or something like it, I would hope that I would be able to be present and experience the joy that is around me and just being proud of myself that put in this work and you know, be able to celebrate and dance in the rain even though I really, really, really, really hated it.

Zach: There were so many audience members who stayed in the rain.

Cecily: Yeah, it was an amazing idea. [crosstalk 00:18:19] It’s great for the movies. You know. It’s a great scene to inspire people and yeah, the audience members were great.

Tenara: It was cold.

Cecily: It’s was cold and it was-

Zach: And you had to lay down [crosstalk 00:18:44]. And at that point, that was it. I was just like feeling for everybody at that point. [inaudible 00:18:52]

Cecily: But there’s so many people around me that were excited and so I kinda wish I would’ve been excited too.

Zach: And now it’s like a competition, right? ‘Cause we got rained on in 2012 too.

Cecily: Yeah, that was different though ’cause it was a mist. It was more of a … it was actually kinda nice like you weren’t drowning from looking up into the sky [crosstalk 00:19:17]

Zach: It was a torrential downpour. I’m from Florida like hurricane season and I was like this is real. Generally, I’m like “Ooo, people whine about rain here”, but like that was powerful.

Tenara: So, one more question for you. You know, I’m wondering where public practice work like what it does in terms of representation that feels different from traditional theatrical performances or performing arts where people often find that there’s a gap between who they want to see on stage and who’s actually on stage.

Cecily: Representation is such a weird kind of thing for me right now ’cause usually what I was telling you I do, just so that people know, I’m a black woman, cisgender, so when I walk into room, I know who is there and so, I’m always aware of how many black people, how many women…like I’m counting in certain sense. And I do that just about any space I’m in. When I’m in like certain parts of the city, it’s like well it would make sense that I’m the only one. But then there other spaces where it’s like well there should be more of us here because of where it is like that kind of thing.

Cecily: So like, there’s certain percentage of black people in this country, but then when you start going down to the certain percentage of black people in Philadelphia and those things, then it’s like there should be more in certain areas. So, my experience with community space is I think generally everyone was represented with this last performance and I think continuing on, in general, I think there’s a lot of possibility for representation in the fact that there would be at least one. But I don’t know if that’s accurate and I think there’s a certain amount of people trying to make it be more accurate. But in some way, you’re always gonna miss the mark.

Zach: I feel that. Yeah, it’s interesting. For me, as like a black person and queer person, and all the kind of ways [inaudible 00:21:58]. When I go to see traditional theatrical work and there’s maybe somebody who looks like me and whose identity or the identity that they’re taking on in that space is like man, and I think to myself, what a jackpot in a certain way, thinking about all of the training that you have to do, all of the opportunities that have to line up. It’s almost like the planets have aligned, and here it’s this person on stage who in some ways is speaking to me and I think where public practice work has an opportunity, and a unique opportunity, is that it says come as you are and we’ll teach you the skills you need. What you need is enthusiasm. We need your living human body and we’ll get there together. And I think what we’re really thinking about a lot as we go into this second year of this three-year initiative to a large-scale public practice work each year, is how do we take any further?

Zach: ‘Cause right, looking at what the barriers are implicitly to being able to participate in something like this. Maybe you just won’t four hours a week to commit to this. You know, maybe you need childcare, maybe you need more of a travel stipend, maybe you need a different level of engagement that you can touch the piece from. Where not having to be there four hours at all where generally, it is prohibitive of you to give up that much of your time from a financial perspective, from a body perspective, and how can you participate in other ways? So, we’re thinking a lot about kind of [00:23:21] level of engagement up to the four hours a week, and then you dance with us forever, but what if you were just able to I don’t a portion of the dance to us, or to be there the day of the performance in some capacity other than dancing. You know, maybe you don’t need to be there for all of the rehearsals, but you get to hold a speaker that plays the music that they listen to. And we’re thinking about all those things as we go into this next year’s project.

Tenara: What a great setup to talk about next year’s project. You were in the meeting where I mentioned it?

Cecily: Right.

Tenara: So you have heard a little bit about this. So, we are bringing a Mexican artist named Mariana Arteaga to Philadelphia to bring piece Úumbal: Nomadic Choreography for Inhabitants to the United States for the very first time. It’s the U.S. premiere. We’re so excited about and Úumbal does every single thing that Zach was just mentioning. There are three phases to the piece. The first is called The Step Library, or in Spanish, La Pasoteca, and it’s inviting Philadelphians who love to move, who love to dance, who are the first to get up and dance at a party, who have a gesture that’s very special to them, who like just love moving their body to come to a Step Library event with 10 to 30 seconds of dancing and bring their music with them and literally show us your favorite move. We film it. We put on a website and then, Mariana choreographic team look at all those moves and weave together a choreography that then 20 to 25 Philadelphians are invited to develop with her.

Tenara: So, that’s phase two. And phase three is sort of the model of Le Super Grand, it’s a 100 Philadelphians who are learning this choreography that was developed by Philadelphians and donated to by Philadelphians, and then performing it as processional through the literal streets of Philadelphia in September. It’s exactly what Zach was saying. We wanted to create opportunities for people who don’t four hours a week, who maybe they’re in a wheelchair, and learning this kind of choreography would be very prohibitive to them.

Zach: Maybe they just don’t wanna hang out with all these new people. I think there are people who sometimes that’s enjoyable in small doses.

Tenara: Yeah, exactly.

Zach:  I’m trying to think about all of these different ways people might’ve been shut out from the process we had last year, and growing on it. And next year, who knows.

Tenara: Yeah. For real.

Zach: Next year, have everybody in a space shuttle. We’re gonna put people on the moon. Just trying to figure out what the next level up from there is how to zoom out further and do something that that says something else about Philadelphia.

Tenara: Yeah, so if folks are interested in donating a dance step. The dates are April 6th, 7th, 13th, and 14th. You can find information about the step library at https://uumbal.fringearts.com. And you can also poke around on that website and find out just like all the ways you can be involved through all different phases of the project which will really be in development from April to September, so we’re in it for the long haul, my friends. Cecily, thank you so much for joining us.

Cecily: Yeah, thank you. And you guys are doing great work and I applaud you.

Zach: Oh, thank you.

Tenara: We applaud you.

Zach: We applaud you and where can people applaud you doing some comedy stuff?

Cecily: I am all over Philadelphia and the country. I’m doing festivals and things, so you can check me out on cecilyalexandria.com or @Cecilythegreat on the Instagrams and things.

Zach: And you can follow us at fringearts.com or @FringeArts on everything in the whole world. Make sure to register for the step library and find out about the ways you can get involved with Úumbal. Thanks guys.

Cecily: Thank you.

 

 

Who’s Who in Blue Heaven

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

 

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

Read up on who’s who:

 

Michelle Buteau

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

Jaboukie Young-White

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

Erin Markey

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

Cole Escola

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

Whitmer Thomas

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

Catherine Cohen

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

Food 4 Thot

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

Champagne Jerry

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

Sarah Squirm

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

Bechdel Test Fest

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

Good Good Comedy Theatre

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

 

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

Happy Hour on the Fringe with Meg Foley

Posted September 9th, 2018

FringeArts signature podcast returns with the a new episode in a series of enthralling Festival-related shows.

The undergird. Photo by Tasha Doremus.

Hosts Zach and Raina sit down with performer, choreographer, educator, and double libra with a moon in pisces, Meg Foley. They discuss Meg’s Fringe Festival show the undergird, how identity shapes Meg’s work, and, just between us, breaking the space-time continuum.

Her 2018 Fringe Festival piece, The undergird opens at Icebox Project Space on September 13 and runs through September 16.

Listen now to the the wide-ranging conversation about the show and Meg’s signature performance technique.

Read More

Location, Location, Location: Panorama Philly

Posted September 8th, 2018

Location: Panorama Philly

Neighborhood: Southwest Philly

Description: A converted warehouse space, Panorama Philly (not to be confused with the Old City restaurant) offers a stripped down 2,100-square-foot theater and rehearsal space, easily accommodating over 100 patrons. For the 2018 Fringe Festival, the space has become something of a Fringe hub, with five shows sharing the space and presenting successive shows on many days.

Year built: 1930

2018 Fringe shows: Literary Creatures (“spontaneous bursts of sound, poetry, and movement encouraging the audience to explore playfulness as vulnerability”), All 100 Fires (“At a guerrilla base camp, a retired clockmaker weighs who needs to be purged from the ranks”), NIGHTMARE FUEL (“dark and demented…. what the Fringe is all about.” The Wee Review), Pestilence: WOW! (“Part reality television, part psychedelic fever dream, this is a play about humans and the way we deal with real, actual tragedy: totally inadequately, and like assholes.”), The Presented (“a fun and hilarious 50-minute show that will make you never want to pursue a career in the arts ever again”).

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Brett Mapp has a Fringe Schedule to Envy

Posted September 5th, 2018

Performances for the 2018 Fringe Festival have already begun, and the Festival officially kicks off tomorrow! Thus begins three weeks of awesome performances: so many it’s difficult to decide what to see! It might seem overwhelming to fit all these amazing shows into just a few weeks, but thankfully there’s hope. Fringe Festival veteran, Old City District director of operations, general man about town, and self-described “hardcore Fringer” Brett Mapp has been kind enough to share his 2018 Fringe Festival schedule with us. If you’re looking for some guidance on what to see and how to fit it all together, it can’t hurt to start here:

Kill Move Paradise

9/6
Eccentricites of a Nightingale

9/7
Kill Move Paradise

9/8
Le Super Grand Continental (4pm)
The Accountant (8pm)

9/9
Lay Me Down Softly (2:30pm)
Stifters Dinge (6pm)

9/10
Fly Eagles Fly

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International Fringe 2018: A Welcome to Artists from Around the World

Posted September 2nd, 2018

The United States government may be pursuing an isolationist policy but the Philadelphia Fringe is doing the opposite: opening its doors not only to the most creative American performers and performances but also to the best and most creative theater artists and their productions from around the world—overcoming the ancient fear of the symbolic Tower of Babel with people not understanding each other.

To show the worldwide scope of the 22nd Philadelphia Fringe Festival, we offer this spotlight on performers from abroad and productions by American artists that present a global perspective.

Theater writer Henrik Eger, editor of Drama Around the Globe and contributor to Phindie and Broad Street Review, among other publications, has lived in six countries on three continents and has visited Africa and Australia as well. He bids everyone a hearty WELCOME to the City of Brotherly Love—this year in 18 different languages: Arabic, Celtic, Chinese, English, Esperanto, Estonian, Farsi, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Irish, Italian, Latin, Polish, Romanian, and Spanish.

We start this year’s overview with a special welcome to two programs featuring a wide range of global creators:

INTERNATIONAL CREATIVES

  1. le super grandBienvenue & welcome to Montreal-based choreographer Sylvain Émard and Le Super Grand ContinentalLe Grand Continental wowed audiences during its run at the 2012 Fringe Festival and has garnered enthusiastic response across the world. Fully realizing a blissful marriage between the pure delight of line dancing and the fluidity and expressiveness of contemporary dance, the celebratory event enlists hundreds of local people to perform its synchronized choreography in large-scale public performances. The world’s most infectious performance event returns to the front steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in an even larger spectacle of dance.

More info and tickets here

  1. Bonvenon, willkommen, bienvenido, witamy, bienvenue & welcome to Do You Want A Cookie? from The Bearded Ladies Cabaret—a world premiere with an international cast. Do You Want A Cookie? serves up a delicious romp through cabaret history, with an international cast of artists performing a live revue of cabaret from the Chat Noir to Weimar nightlife to 21st-century drag. The all-star cast comes draws from around the world, including Bridge Markland (Berlin), Malgorzata Kasprzycka (Paris/Warsaw), Dieter Rita Scholl (Berlin), and Tareke Ortiz (Mexico City).

More info and tickets here

REFUGEES and EXILES

  1. ear whispered

    As Far As My Fingertips Take Me. Photo by

    وسهلا اهلا (ahlaan wasahlan) & bienvenu. Welcome to Tania El Khoury who lives in Lebanon and the UK with her multifaceted program ear-whispered. Little is known about Palestinian refugee camps and their communities. El Khoury presents her Fringe work in five parts through interactive performances and installations at Bryn Mawr College:

    1. Gardens Speak, an interactive sound installation containing the oral histories of ten ordinary people who were buried in Syrian gardens. (Bryn Mawr College.) Read more.
    2. Camp Pause, a video installation that tells the stories of four residents of the Rashidieh Refugee Camp on the coast of Lebanon. (Bryn Mawr College.) Read more.
    3. As Far As My Fingertips Take Me, an encounter through a gallery wall between a single audience member and a refugee. (Old City & Bryn Mawr College.) Read more.  
    4. Stories of Refuge, an immersive video installation that invites audiences to lay down on metal bunk beds and watch videos shot by Syrian asylum seekers in Munich, Germany. (Old City.) Read more.
    5. Tell Me What I Can Do, a newly commissioned work featuring letters that audiences have written in response to Gardens Speak. (Bryn Mawr College.) Read more.

More info and tickets here

  1. Bienvenido & welcome to the bilingual (Spanish & English) cast of La Fábrica performing Gustave Ott’s Passport. Lost in a foreign country, Eugenia is detained and thrown into a vicious maelstrom of miscommunication. This poetic and immersive Kafkaesque thriller delves into the question of immigration—exposing the mechanics of language and power. Some performances will be presented in English, some in Spanish, and some will be decided at the toss of a coin.

More info and tickets here

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2018 Festival Spotlight: LGBTQ+ Shows

Posted August 31st, 2018

Fringe is here! Fringe is queer!

Don’t miss this shows touch upon the issues and experiences of the LGBTQ+ community  

David’s Friend
Nora Burns
“A feisty and funny one-woman show” (New York Times), David’s Friend is the story of a crazy friendship in 1980s New York City. It’s a comic odyssey about cruising, disco, drag queens, strippers, sex, love, loss, and AIDS, told with videos, costumes, characters, and music that moves your feet to a disco beat.
More info and tickets here

Dead Flowers Circus Sideshow
Dead Flowers Circus Sideshow
A demonic clown host! Omnisexual burlesque! Heavy metal standup! Extreme acts of Sadomasochism! An authentic Arabian dance! Some Rock & Roll! 
Avant-garde performance ensemble Dead Flowers Circus Sideshow presents a veritable filth olympics. Mind and gender-bending spectacle, entertainment guaranteed.
More info and tickets here

want a cookieDo You Want A Cookie?
The Bearded Ladies Cabaret
Philadelphia’s Bearded Ladies Cabaret has some treats for you. Do You Want A Cookie? transforms an old factory to concoct the perfect cabaret confections to satisfy your cravings. Part Great Cabaret Bake-Off, part irreverent romp through cabaret history, the show is at once subversive, joyous, provocative, and communal.
More info and tickets here

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2018 Festival Spotlight: FREE Fringe (part two)

Posted August 30th, 2018

You can Fringe! Everyone can Fringe. In addition to our full slate of free digital offerings, this year’s Festival features nearly twenty shows—curated and independently produced—that are free or pay what you want, leaving the door to contemporary performance art open to all. We previewed a batch of these shows yesterday. Here are some more!

Le Super Grand Continental
Sylvain Émard
The world’s most infectious performance event returns to the famous steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art for an even larger spectacle of dance. Fully realizing a blissful marriage between the pure delight of line dancing and the fluidity and expressiveness of contemporary dance, the celebratory event enlists hundreds of local people to perform its synchronized choreography in large-scale public performances.
More info and tickets here

Love Stories
Denise McCormack
Master storyteller Denise McCormack brings to life literary and traditional tales to capture the essence of women’s issues and issues of the heart. This one-woman stand-up sparks a flood of emotions and memories, as it revisits secret and soulful nuances of motherhood, childhood, family, and life—the dynamics of love. Intended for adults.
More info and tickets here

One Hundred Abstracts
Katharine Goodall
This is an exhibition of paintings displayed in various locations throughout the city. For a list of locations where the paintings are exhibited, please visit katharinegoodall.com.
More info and tickets here

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2018 Festival Spotlight: FREE Fringe (part one)

Posted August 29th, 2018

Art should never be out of reach. In addition to our full slate of free digital offerings, this year’s Festival features nearly twenty shows—curated and independently produced—that are free or pay what you want, leaving the door to contemporary performance art open to all.

This is just a segment of the array of FREE Fringe offerings. See the rest of the list tomorrow.

Airport Opened
Brian Shapiro Presents
Airports are endlessly fascinating places—intersections of almost every imaginable personality with logistical challenges galore. Based upon interviews conducted with airport personnel globally, Airport Opened offers an opportunity to bear witness to an airport’s human side through the perspectives of people who actually work there.
More info and tickets here

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

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2018 Festival Spotlight: Feminism in the Fringe

Posted August 26th, 2018

In the era of #MeToo and the pink hat brigade, it’s no surprise that feminism and the celebration of women and their stories is a recurring theme of the shows in this year’s Festival. These works use different performance forms to reflect on women, feminism, and the modern world.  

Animation Nation
The Women’s Film Festival
The Women’s Film Festival presents an amazing collection of animated films by, for, or about women. Come get a taste of award-winning short films from local and international artists along with a preview of our nine-day festival in March! Bring an open mind with a dusting of imagination!
More info and tickets here

The F Word
Radiant Bloom Productions
What does feminism mean now? Five women from different backgrounds use music to experience the conviction of the movement for women’s rights. Hear the stories of women who fought for equality, join in the songs they sang. Immerse yourself in the ongoing discussions about who gets a place in this movement.
More info and tickets here

For Colored Girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf
Kaleidoscope Cultural Arts Collective
For Colored Girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf, Ntozake Shange’s first work, tells the stories of seven women who have suffered oppression in a racist and sexist society. The choreopoem is an innovative combination of poetry, drama, music, and dance.
More info and tickets here

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2018 Festival Spotlight: Family Friendly Fringe

Posted August 24th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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Location, Location, Location: The Adrienne

Posted August 19th, 2018

Are you in the market for a Fringe show? Does it have to be close to some good restaurants? Have some great theater? Great amenities? A quality school catchment?

Welcome to our new series of real estate guides to Fringe venues all around Philadelphia.

Location: The Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street (Center City)

Peg! by Kylie Westerbeck at the Adrienne this Fringe!

2018 Fringe shows: Peg!, Pillow Talk, Real America, powerpoints for my friends, Quidity: Migration Patterns of Imaginary Things, a PRACTICAL DEMONSTRATION (of the EFFECTS of KINESTHETIC OCULAR NEURO-PSYCHOLOGY and its POTENTIAL as an AID in the DISCOVERY of SELF), Almost Pregnant, The Arcane Mysteries of Vanderslice Manor, Close Your Legs, Honey: A New Musical, Drawn Out, FEEL, Only In Your Dreams, Song of My Self-Care, Villain

Description: Located in the heart of Rittenhouse Square area, Philadelphia’s premiere residential and business district, the Adrienne Theater is a charming yet vibrant three-story performance space. With easy access to public transportation, a parking garage across the street, a myriad of dining options in the immediate vicinity, a wealth of cultural organizations, and the PFS Roxy (movie) Theater on the block, the 2000 block of Sansom Street is the destination of choice for local nightlife.

Named for theater professional Adrienne Neye, the Adrienne has been home to dozens of Philadelphia theater companies, some of which (the Wilma Theatre, InterAct Theatre) outgrew the space including, some of which (Venture Theater, Theatre Catalyst) burned bright and went dark. It’s now the leading center for improv in the city, housing the Philly Improv Theater and ComedySportz Philadelphia.

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Festival Guides Have Arrived!

Posted August 3rd, 2018

Are you curious to see what awesome Fringe we have in store for you this year? Are you one of the serious Fringers who treasure the annual Fringe guide, carrying around a marked-up dog-eared copy for the next seven weeks? Are you wondering what the hell a Fringe Festival is anyway? Well your day has ARRIVED!!!

Festival Guides are hot off the presses and will soon be at coffee shops, book stores, and all your favorite pick up points around Philadelphia. (You can always grab one at the FringeArts headquarters at Race and Columbus). But you can get yours before anyone TONIGHT at the 2018 Fringe Festival Guide Launch Happy Hour, 5:30-7pm!

Come to the Haas Biergarten at the FringeArts headquarters (140 N. Columbus Boulevard, at Race), grab a drink (specials 5-7pm), get your Guide, and chill with music and games.

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Return to Semi-Innocence: A Dear Diary LOL Playlist

Posted January 19th, 2018

Oh the early 2000s. What a time to be alive. Y2K was in our rearview mirrors and the freeze dried foods from our techpocalypse bunkers were in our children’s lunch boxes. Wayward boy bands roamed the earth hoping to strike a chord with young audiences, relying only on their good looks, dance moves, digitally-tweaked vocals, and focus-grouped personas. And an upset in the Presidential election had our country more politically polarized than ever before. Thank goodness that’s all over.

HAHA.

…ahem…

Anyway, this month FringeArts presents an encore presentation of AntiGravity Theatre Project‘s 2017 Festival hit Dear Diary LOL. Born verbatim from the real-life tween-teen diaries of middle school girls from the early 2000s, most of whom are in the show’s actual cast, this comedic theatre performance plumbs these once heavily guarded tomes for all the earnest desires, deepest fears, secret shames, and terrible poems that often come part and parcel with coming-of-age.

The concept of the show first came about during a fortuitous trip home for lead artist Francesca Montanile Lyons. At the time she was attending Pig Iron’s Advanced Performance Training School and had recently been tasked with devising a show as a lead artist. Montanile came across her middle school diary and found inspiration—or rather, deep, utter embarrassment—in its content. “Obviously it was the thing I had to bring in front of an audience,” she recently told FringeArts. She soon found that many of her classmates had similar diaries and similarly mortified responses to them in the harsh light of hindsight and from there the project began to grow.

While most of us would be equally aghast at having our own inanimate confidantes unearthed and their contents aired for anyone to hear, the intrepid ensemble of devisers fearlessly bare these texts and explode the material with moments of direct address, music, dance, and physical comedy, colliding the melodramatic musings with the inherent humor found in their earnestness. The result is a light-hearted, intimate glimpse of the ways these young girls come to understand the world around them, form a self, and use their voices as they experiment with their malleable identities and budding adulthood.

Since nothing triggers memory and nostalgia quite like music, Montanile has shared a playlist that embodies the spirit of that period in the ensemble members’ lives, a veritable early aughts megamix. Stream below or over at Spotify, and catch Dear Diary LOL when it returns for a limited engagement, Jan 25-26, here at FringeArts.

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Fragments of Unrest: An Interview with Olivier Tarpaga

Posted October 4th, 2017

Co-founder of the Baker + Tarpaga Dance Project, Olivier Tarpaga is both a choreographer and a musician who brings together disparate nations and identities to create powerful and meaningful performances. Working with his partner, Esther Baker-Tarpaga, the duo have generated a project-centered, transcontinental company that is based in both Philadelphia and Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Their work has been noted for its intensity that “proved unforgettable” (Los Angeles Times) and for their projects that “metaphorically and abstractly decenter whiteness” (The Dance Journal). In their newest work, Declassified Memory Fragment, Olivier “declassifies,” or uncovers, experiences that many in Burkina Faso have lived through that are hidden from the world. Through the melding of dance and music, Olivier Tarpaga has created an exhibition of the memories of men in political military unrest from the many uprisings within Burkina Faso. We got the chance to talk with him about his process in creating the work and the contexts that informed it.

FringeArts: Do you remember how the title Declassified Memory Fragment came into being?

Olivier Tarpaga: It came to me during a research trip in Kenya in 2010. I grew up in Burkina Faso and have witnessed military coups in 1980, 1982, 1983, a very bloody one in 1987, and the revolution in 2014. This piece is addressing the issues of military coups. The irony is that in 2015 a coup in Burkina Faso happened the day of the avant-premier of this very piece at Denison University in Ohio. It felt like history revisited. Our country has been independent from France since 1960 and there are many fragments of my childhood memories during this time of political instability. I wanted to bring this issue into the open air and expose it with an artistic approach.

FringeArts: How did the choreography come about?

Olivier Tarpaga: I began the piece in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. With my cast we first began with speaking about the politics of ethnic conflict during the Kenya election and Ivory Coast war. We spoke about our memories and knowledge of the war zones. Several cast members grew up in conflict zones and their families were directly affected. I gave specific tasks, images, gestures and directions to research movement based on memories and experiences of different conflicts in the region. I then selected, transformed and composed phrases based on themes and emotions. We worked with live musicians creating the work and making solos, duets, and group work.

FringeArts: What made it important for you that it was an all-male dance troupe?

Olivier Tarpaga: This is purposeful because all these conflicts and wars we are focusing on were all created and directed by men. Men fighting for power. I am pro-feminist and thus I am specifically making a critique of men creating violence to grab more power. This is our first project with only men. Our company is not all-male, in fact it is founded by Esther Baker-Tarpaga and I. We frequently have mixed gender casts.

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Alone Together at Close Music for Bodies

Posted September 20th, 2017

I’ve found myself thinking a lot about sonic resonance lately, due in no small part to some recent visits to La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela’s installation Dream House. Various incarnations of this sound and light environment have been mounted by Young—a revered minimalist composer, some say the first—and Zazeela—a light and visual artist and musician— around the world since 1969. The MELA (Music Eternal Light Art) Foundation Dream House at 275 Church Street in New York City has remained in that space for the last 25 years, the couple’s longest installation to date. It is a room of infinitely repeating cycles of sound and light frequencies, one that transcends its overwhelming, lower Manhattan surroundings.

During my first visit, initially the sounds contained therein were not as pleasant as I expected, grating even. It took a few minutes to acclimate, but once my eyes adjusted to the dreamy, pink and purple hued lights and my body to the drone reverberating through it, the experience was unlike much else. Speakers are directed such that where you position yourself in the room determines what you hear. You can even opt to just sit down on the lush carpeted floors and loll your head to witness the difference, exhibiting just how spatially specific the installation is.

I couldn’t help but recall this experience when observing a rehearsal of Close Music for Bodies on a rainy afternoon some weeks back. The piece from sound artist Michael Kiley premieres September 20th and runs until the 24th, part of the 21st annual Fringe Festival, and much like Dream House it calls attention to the infinite amount of unique experiences that structured sound can offer in a live setting. That’s about where the similarities end. Whereas the experience of Dream House is a solitary one, Close Music for Bodies is a communal, deeply humane work that wrings beauty out of the limitations of perspective.

Central to Close Music is Kiley’s voice practice, Personal Resonance. “My primary goal with teaching is to have the student understand that the real beauty and benefit of voice has nothing to do with how you sound, and everything to do with how your voice can make you feel physically—and therefore mentally,” he recently told the FringeArts Blog. “Once someone understands how to control that physical sensation, their voice becomes as accessible as breathing.” This democratization of singing is integral to the performance and bolstered by the democratization of the space itself.

Once the piece kicks into motion, the shuffling about of cast and audience rarely ceases. At various intervals throughout the duration the performers guide audience members into various formations and in turn have to constantly navigate around them. These are all very conscious, choreographed movements, shaped with the help of choreographer Sean Donovan, director Rebecca Wright, and the performers themselves. Explaining the team’s close attention to movement, Kiley told us in that same interview, “I’ve been thinking of the movement as sound design—like speaker placement, only my speakers happen to be performers.”

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John Szwed: Notes on John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme

Posted September 19th, 2017

This is a guest post written by anthropologist, writer, and jazz scholar John Szwed. He has taught Anthropology, African American Studies, and Film Studies at Yale University as well as Music and Jazz Studies at Columbia University where he served as Director of the Center for Jazz Studies. He has published many books on jazz and American music, including studies of Sun Ra, Miles Davis, Jelly Roll Morton, Alan Lomax and Billie Holiday. On Sept 23, he will interview Salva Sanchis, co-choreographer of A Love Supreme, at the FringeArts Bookstore.


On December 9, 1964, the members of the John Coltrane Quartet crossed the river from New York to Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. It was night, because producer Bob Thiele preferred to work after the ABC-Paramount executives had left for the day; he could then avoid having to explain what he was doing. The quartet arrived at 7 o’clock and left before midnight, completing the entire recording of A Love Supreme with few retakes or edits, something quite extraordinary for a piece that long and complex, and without rehearsal.

Manuscript of A Love Supreme, by John Coltrane, 1964. Photo by The National Museum of American History.

More remarkably, there was no written music prepared for the session, only a chart that Coltrane had made to remind him of the structure. The musicians followed his directions, most of which were not spoken, but came from what they heard him playing. They were collectively composing by improvising together, creating a 33-minute art work, risking everything as the tape continued to roll. Musicians have improvised collectively since the beginning of jazz, but never for such a sustained period with no given harmonic structure and no agreed-upon melodies or rhythm. Bob Thiele was there, but unlike other producers he sat back and listened. His trust in Coltrane was such that he gave John control over what he recorded and when, an arrangement that no one in the music business short of a Frank Sinatra might have had. Thiele did not always understand John’s music, because it changed so rapidly and radically. Still, his belief was so strong that he defended anything Coltrane recorded to the company, both financially and musically. But A Love Supreme would not need defending.

While he was still living in Philadelphia and becoming a member of the Miles Davis Quintet, John Coltrane was controversial. To some his playing was meandering, boring, and harsh, even described as anti-jazz. Once, when French CBS received the master tapes for a Miles Davis Quintet recording, they complained to Columbia Records in the US that there was electronic distortion during Coltrane’s solos. But to others, he was a revolutionary—an intense, yet disciplined master, whose music carried the message of struggle and resistance, and was theme music to the Civil Rights Movement. But Coltrane saw a spiritual dimension to what he was doing, a means to peace. When Impulse Records placed ads in Rolling Stone calling it “fire music,” grouping him with the protests of some other black free jazz musicians, he distanced himself from such claims.

In 1957 Coltrane experienced a spiritual awakening of such force that he ended his addictions, reset his life, and with this recording he sought to signal his conversion musically, to testify to his encounters with God. When A Love Supreme appeared in February of 1965 his harshest critics were silenced, and for the first time he received virtually universal praise (though a few were put off by the confessional spirituality of his poem included in the album’s notes; it was too much for high modernists and hipsters). The album cover was black and white, a stark departure from all other Impulse records that were trimmed in orange and black.

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Making Art in 2017: Nick Jonczak on Doppelbanger

Posted September 16th, 2017

Photo by Robin Stamey.

Name: Nick Jonczak

Show in 2017 Festival: Doppelbanger

Role: Creator, Performer

Past Festival Show: Exile 2588 with Almanac Dance Circus Theatre

FringeArtsTell us a bit about your show.

Nick Jonczak: This show is probably the most personal and definitely the gayest piece I’ve ever created. About three years ago, a man broke up with me by saying, “I think I could love a version of you, but I don’t think it’s a version you want to be…” which is kind of a terrible thing to say to someone. At that point I was really consumed by what the best “version” of me is and how I could manifest-build-shape-sculpt-summon that facet of me into being. I became really aware of how this man and many others had shaped the way I hold and use and think about my body, and I also became really aware of how I, like so many other gay men I know, pursue men who look similar to themselves. Doppelbanger tries to tackle these ideas through a collection of stories from my life where I was left wondering: do I want to be him, or do I want to be with him?

FringeArtsHow have your interests in or approach to art making changed in the last year? Have you found yourself taking anything new into consideration?

Nick Jonczak: I’m absolutely terrified of solo work—this is the first public solo show I’ve ever performed—so I’ve really come to rely on my director, Vanita Kalra, for her amazing sensitivity and sensibility to help me understand the core of the piece, which has definitely evolved over the past year. Originally I was much more concerned with the piece as a reflection of the LGBT community, but, with Vanita’s invaluable guidance, the piece has shifted to a much more personal reflection on formative experiences. I tend to be pretty skeptical of performances that rely heavily on personal narrative, so in making this piece I’ve had constantly, gently give my self permission to make the content about me—and trust that it will resonate with audiences. Trust is hard!

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