Archive for the ‘FringeArts Lab’ Category

Fringe at 20 Profile: Adrienne Mackey

Posted July 11th, 2016

Name: Adrienne Mackey

Adrienne Mackey, Swim Pony

Adrienne Mackey, Swim Pony

Type of Artist: Theater and lately interdisciplinary

Company: Swim Pony Performing Arts

Fringe shows I’ve participated in:
A Portrait of Dora as a Young Man, Stolen Chair Theatre Co, 2003 – actor
Hell Meets Henry Halfway, Pig Iron Theatre Company, 2004 – assistant director, sound operator
Like Ink and Paper, 2004 – director
Bardo, Leah Stein Dance Company, 2005 – production manager and vocalist
The Ballad of Joe Hill, 2006 – director
recitatif, 2007 – director
Echo, Tribe of Fools, 2007 – director
The Giant Squid, The Berserker Residents, 2008 – director
Purr, Pull, Reign, Johnny Showcase and the Lefty Lucy Cabaret, 2009 – director
Lady M, 2011 – director
The Ballad of Joe Hill, 2013 – director
It’s So Learning, The Berserker Residents, 2015 – outside eye – fringe

Also a past LAB fellow.

2016 Fringe show I’m participating in: Possibly working with Mary McCool on her in-progress piece. Still not definite . . .

First Fringe I attended: My initial experience with Fringe was in 2000 as a first semester freshman in college. I was only weeks into school, living away from home for the first time and so excited to see what Philly’s arts scene had to offer. I remember taking the train into Philly with some guy on my hall named Dima who I barely knew. We picked a show at random—all I remember about it was that it was a middle-aged woman in a tutu who took off all her clothes halfway through the show. I had no idea what was happening and I remember feeling both overwhelmed and extremely cool to be doing something so weird. Later that same festival I saw a play in a karate dojo in which actors were trapped in a scene with their own feelings portrayed by other actors wearing black and white mime makeup. Sort of Marcel Marceau meets No Exit by way of Pirandello. I remember thinking, “I could do that.” Two years later I was in my first fringe show.

First Fringe I participated in: While I was still a junior in college I acted in a show called Portrait of Dora as a Young Man that explored Freud’s famous case of Dora, one of the few women who ever rebelled against his analytic theories. We rehearsed an entire summer together at Swarthmore College—a mix of folks who had just graduated and a bunch of us still in school. We lived together and worked together in this commune-style experiment in creative collaboration. I played Herr K, a neighbor to the young troubled girl, I think, it’s all a blur now and designated this mostly using an old fedora and trying to talk in a low voice.

 The Ballad of Joe Hill, 2013. Credit: Kyle Cassidy

The Ballad of Joe Hill, 2013. Credit: Kyle Cassidy

What a gorgeous mess! I broke up with my boyfriend, the director, near the end of the process and half of us ended up furious with each other because we would rehearse all day and then have to go home and sleep 10 people in a tiny house with no room to get away from each other. I remember taking the train into Philly from Swarthmore and setting up a dress form mannequin in the courtyard of the old National Museum of American Jewish History (behind the bank on 5th and Market). I did an entire scene puppetting that inanimate mannequin while playing a German man named Herr K. Dear god, we had no idea what we were doing—all the actors wore khaki pants and either a forest green or maroon long sleeved shirt and did vocal warm ups outside the museum’s entrance as homeless people passed by looking at us in mild horror.

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Talking about The Talkback: Interview with The Berserker Residents

Posted June 5th, 2014

“We are satirizing everyone we’ve ever worked with and also our own lives as artists. No one is safe.”

Clockwise: Bradley K. Wrenn, Justin Jain, David Johnson

Clockwise: Bradley K. Wrenn, Justin Jain, David Johnson

For the next three Sunday evenings, the Berserker Residents will present in-progress showings of The Talkback at FringeArts (140 N. Columbus Boulevard). Philadelphia-based artists Justin Jain, David Johnson, and Bradley K. Wrenn joined forces in 2007 and created The Berserker Residents, performing a fantastical blend of physical theater, puppetry, music, sketch, and prop comedy. The group is in residence at FringeArts in June to finesse their 2013 Fringe Festival hit, The Talkback, before taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August.

Part-scripted and part-improvisation, The Talkback begins at the end of a show the audience has never seen, leading the audience through a discussion of the unseen show, which then goes completely awry. Curious, we went to Justin, David, and Bradley for the inside scoop on creating The Talkback, and what they’ll be working on while at FringeArts.

FringeArts: What was the inspiration for The Talkback?

Brad: It started back when Justin was a FringeArts LAB fellow. We had found ourselves in a rut. We were making the same show over and over. We spent a week or so exploring new ideas and trying figure out how we could mix things up and make ourselves uncomfortable. We finally hit on the post-production discussion as a format.

We generally aren’t big fans of improv, it makes us weak in the knees just thinking about it. But our aim was to disrupt our usual patterns, and we love playing with an audience. The form also allowed us to be ourselves, literally. We aren’t playing characters really, we keep our real names and plop ourselves into a fake theater company at the end of a fake show.

Dave: We often rehearse long blocks of stream-of-consciousness improvisation that make us laugh and push the boundaries of our own comfort as far as what is funny—and go on way too long. At one point we thought: how can we make this a show?

FringeArts: How did The Berserker Residents form?

Brad: The Berserker Residents didn’t form. The Berserker Residents have always been. Just like time or love or war. We were forged in the heart of a dying star and we’ll be here long after this feeble experiment called humanity has been snuffed out.

Dave: Brad and Justin wanted to create a show and they knew something was missing. ME!

Justin: In 2006 we came together to make The Jersey Devil for the Fringe Festival of that year. We do divide the labor. An unseen Berserker is Meghan Walsh, who also takes on some of our administrative work.

David Johnson, Bradley K. Wrenn, Justin Jain

David Johnson, Bradley K. Wrenn, Justin Jain

FringeArts: What is the process for creating a show like The Talkback, which depends so much on the audience?

Dave: The Talkback is a lot like stand-up comedy. It cannot be created in a vacuum. The show lives and learns in front of a live audience. The early days of this show were like imagining the worst stand-up comic you have ever seen, bombing alongside two other crappy comics, and none of them know how to leave the stage. Now we have better material, more confidence, and ripped abs.

Brad: It’s maddening rehearsing this thing by ourselves. We have dummy questions on a chair in front of us as we rehearse, and we each take turns wandering into the audience to pretend we are asking questions.

Justin: I love seeing what has stuck since that first showing in 2012. The usher character, the way we fuck with audience members, the dance, the all-bets-are-off logic that the show takes in the middle. All of these things have survived each revision and are essential to the show. Creating an audience-participatory show without an audience in the rehearsal studio is extremely difficult.

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Emerging Methodologies: LAB Fellow, Mike Kiley, Delves Deep

Posted December 2nd, 2011

The Congress on Research in Dance (CORD), an organization dedicated to facilitating dialogue about and for dance professionals convened in Philadelphia just before Thanksgiving . CORD conferences take on various topics that usually center around a single theme. This year their website describes the content of the conference in the following way:

With this joint meeting conference with the Society of Ethnomusicology, we hope to forge pathways of (re)connection between dance and music that will prove long lasting and meaningful. By drawing attention to the multiplicity of sounds in dance and ways in which music moves its listeners, we aim to generate fruitful dialogue that will enable a regeneration of the relationships between music and dance scholarship.

This got me thinking about Michael Kiley, a 2011-12 LAB Fellow, who has already begun some magnificent research into this very topic. Recently he began developing some methodology around the creation of movement and music in an effort to seek a deeper connectivity between choreography and composition. With his permission, I am sharing his reflections on a weekend intensive he recently conducted at the LAB.

Please visit the CORD website for more information about their organization at www.cordance.org.

Mike KileyBy Michael Kiley
The first exploration of the marriage of original choreography and music during my LAB Fellowship was a two-day workshop with Kelly Donovan and Meg Fry of De Facto Dance (NY). I have chosen to work with several choreographers who approach dance making from very different avenues during my LAB time. De Facto creates their pieces largely through improvisation, and were students of Richard Bull. From my experience with them, I find Kelly and Meg to be very articulate about dance making, so I thought that working with them would be a good place to start my research.

Leading up to the workshop, I had sent both of them a series of questions in order to get us started. Here are some excerpts:


Could you briefly describe the role that music and sound has had in your work thus far?


Since I’ve been thinking over the past couple of days about these questions, I’ve realized that music played a huge — fundamental — role in how we learned choreographic improvisation itself. Richard Bull often used musical ideas in order to generate movement ideas, and would structure pieces around the basic idea of movement following the changes in the music. We did an insane piece with him to Greggery Peccary, a Frank Zappa song, and I recall feeling a bit overwhelmed at having to match the high energy and particular, punctuated phrasing of the music. Cynthia Novak was a master at relating in a very detailed movement way to whatever music we were working with.

Of course, then Richard took it a step farther and started working with speaking as music — Radio Dances being a prime example. So that talking dances were in a way an extension of working with music.

Richard would also set an improvisational dance, and vary the music each time we did it, including sometimes on the night of the performance.

And, as we’ve all said/heard a million times, but it bears repeating here, choreographic improvisation is largely an idea that Richard took from jazz music and translated into dance.


Sometimes music is the inspiration for a dance. Sometimes I choreograph with a piece of music in mind, and then use something else for the performance. De Facto has played with switching music from performance to performance. Often, I have created mixed scores, on my own and/or with the help of a sound editor. Ambient sound is also important.


Have you ever used music that was not written specifically for your dances in a finished piece? If so, why? Were you concerned with the audience’s preconceived relationship to this music?


NO and YES, depending on what worked for a particular dance.

For a dance called “Into the Wild” – In one section we used a Mozart piece that went well under our talking score. It was relatively quiet with bursts of loud moments and worked well under talking. I always thought the music itself was both funny, serious and dramatic, yet low-key. We used this music because it worked well under talking and accentuated the feeling of the section – dramatic and funny. One viewer – a music buff – said he had never felt the humor in this particular piece of music before.


Yes, we use music all the time that is not written for us. The latest example was The Heroic Diagonal, which Kelly directed for a cast of 14 — De Facto plus guests. I was worried about the strong, sentimental, sweeping quality of the music (kind of like a movie soundtrack) (Sufjan Stevens, BQE). I felt that it had no irony in it, and that we would seem pretentious and overly serious. But the fact was that working with that piece of music gave the dance a gravitas that De Facto’s work normally doesn’t have; we rose to the challenge of the music — a tribute to Kelly’s strong spatial choreography and the commitment of the dancers to really dance it.

For De Facto’s piece Cinderzilla, Kelly made a sound score using lots of different musical sources but combining them into a new original score. Richard used to do this as well. They both did/do this amazingly well. It has been more the norm for us to work with pre-recorded music rather than new original music.



When we arrived at the space, I had hoped to further discuss these questions, and explore some of these ideas…using music as an impulse for generating movement, changing music for certain dance structures, how to work with a song, etc. I also hoped to discuss what makes a piece of music “work” rather than not, and how do we know this?

We did a physical warm up first, and then I lead a vocal warm up, introducing the voice as one aspect of sound in a piece. I teach voice in terms of resonations, explaining that sound waves travel in the shape that they are made, or the shape that they resonate. I felt that talking about the shape of a sound wave might help when talking about sound for dance, as dance is largely about shape. Throughout this weekend, I would learn that a great way to understand the relationship between the two forms is to try and find the similarities between them: space, shape, tone, color, rhythm, etc. Music and dance are strangely similar in how difficult they are to describe, and therefore discussing the two of them can be even more difficult. One of my goals is to develop a vocabulary that both dancer and musician can understand.

The three of us then did a walking dance together. We discussed certain moments of the dance, and shared our general experiences together. I noticed that we often talked in terms of emotion rather than physically describing a moment. This would be come very important in our time together.

I found it amazingly helpful to improvise with these two choreographers. I experienced what I imagine all dancers experience, that of getting lost in the movement. There came a moment where I was simply playing with the way that my body can move, which as improvisers, is where a large part of De Facto’s work lives. We talked about how fun that can be. And how to translate that fun to an audience, realizing that this can be self indulgent at times, and if we would like our audience to connect to our work, we must find a way for the audience to get in. I think music plays a large part in creating this bridge between the experience of an improvising dancer and an audience member. It can often represent the movement sonically.

After the walking dance, we listened to five pieces of music and discussed what we heard. This was very helpful in the formation of a vocabulary for us to talk about music for the rest of our time together. Something that arose out of the walking dance and hearing these pieces was the idea of relative time: How time can feel like it is moving slowly at times, quickly at others, and how dance and music can do that to a viewer or listener. We as makers can then use this idea to try and affect our audience, through setting up a framework, and either sticking with it or breaking it. What I mean is, delivering on expectations created by a movement or musical phrase or not, by breaking it unexpectedly.

Kelly and Meg then improvised on the idea of trying to slow down and speed up time. How can we do this without it becoming predictable? When a phrase of music is played, it is finite. Same with a dance phrase. It has a beginning, middle and end, no matter how esoteric or nebulous. Because it is finite, we as audience understand that we have traveled a certain amount of time together and that we are either going to travel that distance again, or that it will shift. So how do we play with that expectation to positive affect? How can we use this information to let our audience get lost in time? Because we all agreed that the moments in performance, and in life that are most successful, are directly related to time and how it is being perceived. From drug use to falling in love, to having sex, to digestion, bathing, waiting, etc. Our perception of time seems related to our level of enjoyment as humans.

We wrapped up the day with Kelly and Meg “catching” solos that each other made. One of them would begin, and then the other would “catch” or take over the dance. It was really interesting for me to sit back and watch this process, as each dancer changed the improvisation just like adding a new piece of music to it would have. Again, drawing these parallels between music and dance seems helpful to me, at least for now.

The second day we invited four dancers, Nichole Canuso, Alex Romania, Mason Rosenthal and Amanda Hunt to join us. We started the day in similar warm up fashion, filling the dancers in on what we had been exploring.

Our walking dance lead to a discussion of improv versus set choreography. This of course directly related to improvised music and tightly rehearsed music. Meg mentioned something I thought was really interesting, that when she knows she has to remember a certain phrase, she finds that she “dumbs it down” so that she can repeat it. Only in improvisation does she relax that “dumbing down” instinct, and let go into a fuller form of movement, and therefore “the changes seem deeper.” She spoke to set movement getting deeper through repetition, not discovery. I found this a really interesting way to describe it, and that this statement exemplifies that wide way of thinking about creation, whatever the form. Certain dancers are excellent at retaining and recalling movement. Others aren’t. Certain musicians compose by improvising on their instrument, others by hearing things in their head. I’ve had people tell me that I am not a “true composer” because I usually write while sitting with an instrument, instead of a sheet of staff paper. This is obviously bull shit, but it highlights how different schools of thought in the dance and music world can really stifle one another by placing value on certain avenues into each form over the other. Perhaps there are choreographers out there that write off improvisational work because it doesn’t flex the same choreographic muscle that they do when they choreograph. I think that these biases are interesting, and should be paid more attention to by the dance and music communities as a whole. My best guess is that what makes a work successful versus unsuccessful has little to do with any of this. It has more to do with what is at the core of each piece, rather than the avenue into it.

The theme of the impossibility of repeating something exactly the same way every time got unearthed somewhere during the weekend. So we decided to attempt to create a piece, based on an improvisational structure that Kelly created, dividing the dancers into two groups of three. We played with the impossibility of exact repetition and the stretching of time. We did this in silence the first time. We then repeated the structure with some formal changes, and added in the idea of resonating on vowels, playing with their voices in space. After it was finished, the dancers noted how resonating really opened their awareness as dancers, and opened the space in a new way. I also played music that I had made the night before, which I thought would help with the idea of stretching time. The result for me was almost like watching zombies. The resonating was incredibly primal, and as a result, was bit difficult to watch. The music became a little scary sounding, and became more “spacey” than anything. I also played some ambient sounds of footsteps that got a little creepy as well. So, we did the structure again, and I gave them a musical phrase over which to resonate. I improvised on my guitar with some gentle affects on it, and over all, the piece got prettier. It became something I can imagine making, and wanting to share. There were some incredibly touching moments, some really beautiful things to watch, all due to assigning a melody to this idea of resonating. It was beautiful to see how a simple compositional idea could affect this dance piece.

The music being played live gave the performers something of a different awareness as well. They felt like they had the freedom to play with it, rather than it being a constant in the equation. I found this funny, because I could have easily recorded what I had improvised and played it. It was the knowledge that the music as being created in that moment that changed their perception of it.

My goal through this fellowship is to develop a process with which to approach collaboration with choreographers. This past weekend, I learned a tremendous amount about how dances are made (or at least one kind of dance). My goal as a composer is to create a score that can exist only for that piece. When De Facto and I discussed certain moments in our set structure that worked better than others, I asked them how they would then repeat those moments. Kelly spoke to emotional arcs getting repeated, not necessarily trying to land in certain physical moments. She said that every piece of hers is an improvisational structure that has an emotional “goal.” For example, one of her recent pieces was to “transcend the space.” I imagine this gave the dance an emotional quality that was palpable to the audience. This feels like my avenue into composing for this type of work. I can make music that tries to “transcend space” or “stretch time” or “pretties” something. The next time I work with a choreographer, I would love to discuss the emotional content of what we are setting out to create as an approach to discovering the perfect sonic environment for that movement. Overall, this is what I took away from this workshop the most. Its not what the piece is “about,” its about how it feels, and my role would be to figure out how to represent that sonically.

Reflections on the unexpected learnings of the Live Arts Brewery By Craig T. Peterson, Philadelphia Live Arts’ Director of the Live Arts Brewery November, 2011

Posted November 14th, 2011

In October the Live Arts Brewery, better known as the LAB began our third year of activity at our home in Northern Liberties.  The new Fellows met for the first time to discuss our coming year together, the work that they intend to research and develop and the challenges that artists often encounter in the creative process.  While artists often long for this type of opportunity; ample access to space, a bit of seed money and resources, it can also be overwhelming and difficult to navigate a creative process without a concentrated level of planning and some honest consideration of how to activate and sustain a productive and creative process.  It’s easy to daydream about how one would use a resource like a LAB Fellowship.  It’s an entirely different thing to do it  (click here for a PBS video about the LAB from WHYY’s Friday Arts TV series)

When the LAB first began, artists were given large blocks of time in the studio to work, unfettered and continuously.  Sounds dreamy, right?  But some struggled with what to do with all the time.  In a world where creative time is often so sparse, to suddenly be confronted with three weeks of free reign was a shock to the artistic spirit.  This became a key point of interest for me when I assumed leadership of the LAB program in 2010.  I quickly discovered the difference between “retreat” residencies (those elusive artist colony experiences that allow artists to leave home and retreat into the woods somewhere to indulge in the creative process) and “artist-in-residence” programs where art-making has to be integrated into an artists daily life.  Retreat residencies are often meticulously planned excursions into a deep level of creation.  They are one or two weeks long, collaborators are brought at specific points to maximize their contributions to the process and artists plan each day well in advance in an effort to use this concentrated time to build and construct a work.  Many of the daily grind activities of home are left behind to allow for dreams and hard work to intersect.

But what of the in-town, extended residencies?  Even when the space is cheap or free, even with a stipend or any number of resources, how does one make use of such opportunities?  After all, the laundry still needs washing, the fridge needs filling and the kids have to be picked by 4pm.  How does an artist get the work done?

Artists are resourceful by nature.  They have to be.  But that doesn’t mean that programs like the LAB can’t participate in helping artists to navigate the challenges that some positive opportunities pose.  First, it’s important for artists to identify their own best habits for productivity.  Do they like to work intensively for two days or two weeks?  Or do they need a few four hour rehearsals each week?  It’s easy to think that working for a week with collaborators will be nothing but productive.  But what happens when an artist is actually in the studio, confronted with various collaborators who are awaiting creative direction?  Ensemble work involves multiple people and various layers of activity and instruction.  Choreographers and directors do not work with paint and canvas, they work with people and personalities.  And don’t forget that these collaborators also have jobs to get to, kids to care for and rent to pay.  Creative priorities are often at the mercy of other people.  This is part of a process that is unique to ensemble work.  A painter does not have to contend with the color blue needing to leave rehearsal early or the color green being in a particularly bad mood one day.

Perhaps more important, remember that preparation can be key.  What if an exercise doesn’t bring the anticipated results but there are six more hours left in the rehearsal day?  What should be done with the dancers or actors?  This kind of pressure can be intense and can cripple a creative effort.  An author suffering from writers block does not have to answer to her keyboard.  So what is the back up plan?  Is there a new direction that can be explored?  Or can a generative environment be established that allows the leader some latitude for retreat and thought in the face of unforeseen challenges?  When entering into any studio setting, it is critical to consider ways of working that best nurture an artist’s personal creative process.

These are just a couple of reasons (trust me, there are many) why the LAB requires more from artists rather than less: more thought, planning, research and reflection.  In other words, we recognize that total freedom can be overwhelmed by practical limitations.  LAB Fellows still get all the space they require and they are encouraged to use our facility to its maximum potential.  But first they need a research plan to map out their year in advance.  After generative periods they need to reflect and write about their process and share their findings with their peers.  Monthly meetings are scheduled to discuss the challenges that come with creative opportunities.  Seasoned visiting artists are invited to share techniques for overcoming issues that accompany all artistic processes.  LAB Fellows are required to show their research as they are developing it as a means of reflecting on the direction of the work.

All of these activities are designed to break the isolation of the studio and create a community around creative practice.  This involves many people: artists, administrators, collaborators, programmers and audiences.  But primarily it requires artists to open up their process enough to allow themselves to be vulnerable yet assertive and to dream big but plan effectively.

Three cheers for three years!



Gregory Holt Talks LAB (and His Fringe Show Opens Tonight!)

Posted September 9th, 2011

“I didn’t dance, and had no exposure to dance, until high school,” said Greg Holt, a Live Arts Brewery Fellow during the 2010-2011 program. His 2011 Philly Fringe show with Green Chair Dance Group, A Vegan Kid’s Dance for Adults with Nudity, opens tonight. The show also features Gabrielle Revlock and devynn emory.

Greg was a student at Northfield Mt. Hermon when he began swing dancing, and gained what he said was surprisingly early exposure to contact improvisation. He said that dance was just a hobby even as an undergraduate at Swarthmore, where he studied sociolinguistics. But he began to take the possibility of a dance career more seriously after interning with a dance company during a semester abroad in Poland.

“It was really difficult,” Greg said. “I was very isolated in some ways, but I was exposed to a whole world I didn’t know existed. There was a moment when I realized people are doing this. I was either going to do more linguistics or take dancing more seriously.”

He applied for a Fulbright and didn’t get it. “It was great, because I wasn’t ready.”

After the jump: rebounding into a dance career

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J-Setting at the Live Arts Brewery

Posted July 26th, 2011

This past week, I was more distracted than usual, thanks to the Major Laser songs being blasted in the LAB theater. On Wednesday, I snuck into the theater to see what all the noise was about, where I discovered around twenty professional dancers taking part in what I later learned was a weeklong J-Setting workshop organized by 2011 LAB Fellow Jumatatu Poe (founder of IdiosynCrazy Productions).

Tired of making coffee and baking pies for my boss, Mr. McIlvain, I figured watching the two-hour J-Setting workshop would give me some solace (or solstice, depending). Unfortunately, I couldn’t sell the idea; it wasn’t involved enough. Mr. McIlvain told me that if I wanted to get out of polishing his galoshes, I would have to actually participate in the workshop. Alas, I will do anything to get out of working for/interacting with Mr. McIlvain; and so, on Thursday morning, I found myself wearing dance clothes and sneakers, warming up next to professional J-Setters LaKendrick Davis and Donte Beacham.

What is J-Setting? I find out after after the jump!

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Posted July 21st, 2011

In December of 2009, LAB Fellow Alex Torra’s job as associate artistic director of Pig Iron Theatre Company popped up in a report on stimulus funds that U.S. Senators Tom Coburn and John McCain felt had been misspent. The pull-quote criticizing the “Clown theatrical production” Welcome to Yuba City, was “. . . a stunningly mean group of foul-mouthed waitresses.” A group that Philadelphians found pretty funny, apparently, since the show’s run at the 2009 Live Arts Festival sold out.

“It brought the community together a little bit,” Alex said. “The money went to pay Yuba City actors [as well], and I think that show speaks for itself.”

Since Yuba City, Alex has been involved in a wide range of projects, including the 2010 Live Arts production Cankerblossom (also from Pig Iron), Punchkapow, a Team Sunshine Performance Corporation project, and he returned to Shakespeare in Clark Park this summer to direct Much Ado About Nothing, which runs through Sunday.

“I’m trying to take methods from doing ensemble work and apply them to a written play. The actors would make a staging proposal. The assignment is to make a scene with a list of rules, using Pig Iron techniques—clarifying narrative and making stage pictures,” Alex said.

Known primarily for original, experimental, and ensemble work, Alex has spent a solid chunk of the year working with Shakespeare. First, he collaborated with Beth Nixon for part of the Missoula Oblongata Secret Shakespeare event in early June (as did an old friend from Buffalo poetry circles, Ric Royer, who’s been doing blazing theater work hi Ric!). Right now, it’s Much Ado About Nothing at Clark Park [SHAMELESS PLUG: Much Ado star Langston Darby is also leading an ensemble cast in DEER HEAD in the Philly Fringe, written by Josh “Stalin” McIlvain]. And today, he started rehearsals for Pig Iron’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will, which will see its world premiere at the 2011 Live Arts Festival.

Prior to his Shakespeare engagements, Alex spent substantial time in the Live Arts Studio as one of the 2010-2011 Live Arts Brewery Fellows.

As a Fellow, Alex said, “You have no choice but to make work that’s fun and means something to you. That’s really daunting and really intense. It’s the first period of time in years that I’ve had the time to make work that is mine.”

For Alex, mine doesn’t mean working alone. “Mine means there are starting points I want to go from, and I’m the arbiter of what’s good. Somebody once called me an ensemblist. I need the group of people to make work,” he said.

“I did a ‘table tour,’ where I sat at a table with objects that represented people and things, to undermine representations. I took everything out of my wallet and played with it. From that showing, some thought it should be a solo show. In order for me to make a solo show I’d have to work out a lot of insecurities and fears. My theater can’t be my therapy. How a piece impacts an audience has to be the most important thing.”

So, Alex said, he took the focus of the “table tour”—an interest in honest presentation—and applied the same ideas to work with an ensemble to develop what he’s calling the Sincerity Project.

“I want theater to do that. For this project, I want theater to be a place where feeling is ok. Some of the work I’ve been exploring is about the complexity of living, about being in the world.”

“The energy of melodrama is out, out, out. The energy of sincerity is small, about the connection. I think the show can max out at 20 attendees at a time. There’s a weird bell that goes off”—as, in a moment of synchronicity, does a bell in the coffee shop where we’re talking—”and I call something a lie. I use that vocabulary a lot—’stop lying.’ When you start putting out work in the sincere style in a larger space, everything felt like a lie. It felt manipulative and kind of empty.”

“Irony is part of it in a major way. In part, it’s a response to seeing young artists making ultra-sincere work. They refuse to be ironic—’here we are, here I am’—I personally would like to indulge that and feel things with them. It’s something about the earnestness and necessity to be heard. But I’m a cheesy person. I live my life pretty sincerely as is. Some of the most spectacular moments of life are where the irony drops away.”

He told me a story about a wedding he attended in Jacob’s Pillow in Massachusetts, where the microphone was held open for toasts, instead of the traditional best-man/maid-of-honor/maybe-a-parent-too sequence. “Instead of being 10 to 15 minutes of toasts, it was 30 to 45 minutes of intense sincerity. And at the end of the wedding, people started jumping on the dance floor, all up and down at the same time. It was awesome.”

Alex hopes that the Sincerity Project can counter some of what he called the “niggling tediums” that chip away at our ideas of our happiness.

“It’s OK to create a space where you can indulge happiness and purity,” he said. “I think that’s what music and TV do. I watch TV because I can be the laziest I can possibly be. It’s indulgence, a space of your own. Friday Night Lights I love, and Parenthood—they’re about characters going through dramatic emotional events. You travel with them, and there’s some catharsis that happens. Not Greek catharsis, but an indulgence of emotion. I think that’s a good, useful, healthy thing for people to experience.”

“With the Sincerity Project I’m trying to create a 20-minute irony-free zone—to create heaven on earth for twenty minutes.”

Shakespeare in Clark Park’s production of Much Ado About Nothing runs through Sunday night at Clark Park (duh), 43rd Street and Chester Avenue, West Philly. 7:00 pm, free.

Pig Iron’s 2011 Live Arts production of Twelfth Night, or What You Will runs most nights through the entire Live Arts Festival, September 1 through 17, at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia. Times vary, $20 to $30.

–Nicholas Gilewicz

Twelfth Night photo by Jason Frank Rothenberg.

The Weekender: What You’re Doing and Why

Posted July 14th, 2011

Guys. We’re halfway through July. How did that happen already?

Ponder the complexities of time dilation.

>>>Thursday: It’s Bastille Day! In honor of French national history, a variety of bars are participating in the Fairmont French Fling Bar Crawl. From The Belgian Café to Bridgid’s Bar and Restaurant, drinks and celebrations abound. Swing by for a taste of what Fairmont has to offer. The crawl starts at 7:00 pm and is restricted to 21 and up. Pay as you go.

>>>Thursday: The Franklin Institute continues its Night Skies in the Observatory series tonight with an in memoriam theme to NASA’s final shuttle mission. Held in the Joel N. Bloom Observatory (on the rooftop of the Institute), the Institute’s Chief Astronomer, Derrick Pitts, will host the event. If you’re an astronomy enthusiast, if you’re curious about the history of the NASA shuttle program, or if you just enjoy stargazing from time to time, tonight is your night. Thanks to the good weather today, tonight’s skies are supposed to be especially clear for viewing our celestial neighborhood. The event kicks off at 7:00 pm. Admission is $5 at the door. Stargaze the night away!

>>>Saturday: The Global Fusion Festival is back! Get your music-loving self down to Penn’s Landing for the 5th annual free concert by noon so you don’t miss out on any of the fun. This year’s roster of artists includes British singer-rapper, Estelle, up-and-coming Anthony David, and Philadelphia natives OCD: Moosh and Twist. And that’s not all! For the 21-and-over crowd, the Festival is hosting a beer garden to help you cool off on a hot Saturday afternoon. And if you’ve got some under-21s to look after? Don’t worry—there’s plenty of family-friendly activities too.

>>>Saturday: Our very own Fringe-collaborator, HYBRIDGE Arts Collective is hosting it’s first annual anniversary gala down at Broad Street Ministry. Celebrating their successful run with the Last Mondays series, the Gala keeps with the tradition of dinner-and-a-show. Audience members get a fresh-cooked meal to go along with a night of performance. Participating artists include: Alex Bechtel and Michael Doherty in the Bech/Doh Sketch Show, dancer Zornitsa Stoyanova, and headliner Headlong Dance Theater (yeah, you know—they’re also in a Live Arts show). Sounds like a party, right? Tickets are $15. Doors open at 7:00 pm.

>>>Saturday: MM2 Modern Dance Company is running a preview of their upcoming Fringe show, ONE WORD, at The Performance Garage. Under the direction of Steven Weisz (of the danceJournal blog), this piece uses dance as the medium to explore language and communication. The performance starts at 6:00 pm. Grab your tickets here.

>>>Saturday: LAB Fellow, Les ‘el malito’ Rivera will be performing at the Trocadero’s Lingerie Party alongside New York natives, Wyldlife, and Snakes Don’t Hisss. Age restricted to 21 and up, doors open at 10:30 pm. Ticket info here.

>>>Sunday: Philly Stake dinner and funding event will take place at Bartram’s Garden. A recurring event held in support of local arts initiatives, attendees pay a sliding scale ($10-$20) for a locally sourced meal and the opportunity to vote on which arts project proposal should receive funding. All proposed projects are aimed at contributing to the vitality of Philadelphia, so swing by and help decide which will get funded! Ticket pre-sales available here.

–Logan Tiberi-Warner

Les Rivera is a Platypus

Posted July 13th, 2011

“I had this fear before about being different, being a platypus, and thought I should move on,” said dancer, choreographer, and musician Les Rivera.

The platypus is an unlikely creature: a beaked mammal, it lays eggs, has webbed feet and a tail like a beaver. The males are venomous, and the species finds food through a form of electrolocation. When we’ve talked about identity issues in the past, Les identified with the platypus, feeling that “it’s like I’m little pieces of everything.”

Since the summer of 2009, Les has been pulling those pieces together. As a 2010-2011 Live Arts Brewery Fellow, Les continued his work on a performance piece called Platypus. As el malito, he’s working with the Grammy Award-winning producer Aaron Luis Levinson and the street bass DJ/producer Starkey, and is in the midst of a weekly Thursday-night residency at the Rogues Gallery (next show: Thursday, July 14 at 9:00 pm, 11 S. 21st Street).

The LAB provides a nine-month paid residency to selected performing artists, who also present work at Live Arts Second Thursdays events and participate in workshops with other Fellows and visiting artists. The program gives artists room for free creative development, with minimal demands other than the expectation that they will work.

When Les began the LAB Fellowship, he started with about eight minutes of Platypus, most of which he showed last summer at a private showing and at a Second Thursdays event. He said that he now has about 35 minutes of material and about 10 minutes of ideas, approaching a full evening-length work.

“I want to create a good 60 minutes of material, then whittle down to a strong 45 minutes,” Les said.

Part of Les’s takeaway from the LAB was developing an increased ability to receive and to filter criticism from other artists.

“We don’t have to listen to everything. It was picking constructive criticism about moving my work forward,” said Les. He also said that he didn’t feel pressured by criticism to take his work in directions that felt unnatural.

“I felt that, perhaps, my intention for a part was not as clear as I could have made it. It’s good to get that [feedback] because it makes you look back over that section and do a rewrite of it,” Les said.

After the jump: the value of workshops, and for the first time ever on the Festival Blog . . . a SEX TAPE!!! (Sort of. But you’ll click through now for sure.)

Read More

robbinschilds comes to LAB and Second Thursdays

Posted May 9th, 2011

This week the LAB (Live Arts Brewery) will be home to the New York City-based duo robbinschilds. In its ongoing effort to provide deepening residency support to artists, the LAB has invited the company, Sonya Robbins and Layla Childs, to spend a week in Philadelphia to work on their new piece, I came here on my own. While here, Layla and Sonya will meet with Philadelphia-based artists, show some newly created material for the LAB’s Second Thursday series and meet with the 2010 & 11 LAB Fellows.

Layla and Sonya met nearly twenty years ago while attending Bard College. After graduating they moved downriver to New York City and began presenting their work individually. It was not until they began collaborating in 2003 that they caught the eye of Craig Peterson, then artistic director at Dance Theater Workshop [now LAB director]. Peterson says, “I had seen their shows periodically over the years but something came alive when they began to create together. They deepened their commitment to bigger ideas and the strength and quality of their work really came alive.”

Since forming a partnership they have shown their work at venues in New York City, nationally, and internationally. Philadelphians may recall their memorable piece C.L.U.E. (a film collaboration with visual artist A. L. Steiner that has also toured the world, but that did not star Martin Mull) that was part of the “Dance with Camera” exhibition at the ICA last year. Layla and Sonya share an interest in performance and installation and describe their creations as “highly visual time-based works which explore the intersection between architecture or place, and human interaction.” With a particular attraction to empty places, public spaces, geological formations, time travel, and psychedelic filigree, the artists’ intricate structures traverse inanimate, human and extra-pedestrian states.

“It’s so exciting to be here in Philadelphia,” says Sonya. “It feels so welcoming. Already the pace feels a bit more relaxed than New York City, which is refreshing.” Layla adds, “And working in this space is fantastic. Spaces like this, with all the equipment and freedom to just play and work out ideas don’t really exist in New York. It’s just amazing to be here.”

Until now the LAB has not had the opportunity to work with many artists from outside of Philadelphia. While the space is filled with artists on any given day, funding has not been available to support residencies for visiting artists. Says Peterson, “I think it’s important to have artists come to town to make work here and interface with the creative community in Philadelphia. I hope that the LAB can be a creative destination for working artists and I want to use our activity as a way for the Philly community to meet with and learn from a variety of creative voices.”

robbinschilds will be working in the LAB daily until Saturday, May 15. To learn more about their work, visit HERE.

Of course, we’re hoping they decide to move here.

See their work live at this week’s Second Thursday, May 12, at 7pm at the Live Arts Studio, 919 North 5th Street (at Poplar), free onsite parking, free event, complimentary beverages.

–Craig Stephenson

susan foster! susan foster!

Posted March 17th, 2011

Notes on the upcoming presentation by Susan L. Foster

“I first began presenting ‘danced lectures’ in 1980 and have been experimenting with alternative ways to deliver a lecture while dancing ever since. My goal in developing this form of presentation has been two-fold: first, I want to place directly in front of the audience an example of the subject I am lecturing about, i.e. a moving, dancing body; and second, I want to comment upon the format of the lecture itself, since it is, after all, a performance in which the body of the lecturer typically stands very still and everyone watching seems to pretend that the speaker is merely reading aloud what would normally be read silently.”

The Nineteen Basic Effects of Magic

Posted March 9th, 2011

The Nineteen Basic Effects of Magic as taught to Dennis Diamond, Louie Magic and Daryl Hannah by The Trick Brain and explored inside of Elephant Room.

1. Production – something is caused to come into view without apparent clue as to the source.
2. Vanish – the causing of something to pass from sight by apparently unnatural means.

3. Transposition – invisible change in location of a person or an object from one place to another.
4. Transformation – a person or an object changes identity, color, size, shape, character, etc.
5. Penetration – the solid matter of one person or object or thing penetrates the solid matter of another person, object or thing.

6. Restoration – the subject of the effect is wholly or partially destroyed and subsequently restored to its original condition.
7. Animation – an inanimate object is mysteriously endowed with movement.
8. Anti-Gravity – the person or thing reacts contrary to the laws of gravity.

9. Attraction – through some mysterious power the magician becomes endowed with a power resembling magnetism.
10. Sympathetic Reaction – a reaction of two or more persons or objects showing sympathetic accord in harmony one with the other.
11. Invulnerability – demonstrations of resistance or proof against injury.
12. Physical Anomaly – exceptions or contradictions to normal physical rules or reactions.
13. Spectator Failure – where a spectator is unable to accomplish some apparently simple objective, implying the intervention of a mysterious power.
14. Control – where the mind of the performer seems to dominate a subject that is animate or inanimate.
15. Identification – the discovery of an identity.
16. Thought Reading – the performer apparently reads the thought of another.
17. Thought Transmission – the projection of thought from one person to another.
18. Prediction – the future is foretold.
19. Extra-Sensory Perception – all types of abnormal perception other than through mental communication.

Live Arts presents LAB Test shows (and they’re free!)

Posted March 4th, 2011

LAB Test

Geoff Sobelle (all wear bowlers, Amnesia Curiosa) and Thaddeus Phillips (¡EL CONQUISTADOR!, Flamingo/Winnebago), are both long-time Live Arts Festival participants based in Philadelphia. They’re both working on shows that are slated to premiere at the 2011 Live Arts Festival in September. And they’re doing so diligently in the LAB at the Live Arts Studio as the first two Production Residency artists.

As Geoff and Thaddeus move their works-in-progress from the studio toward full-scale Live Arts Festival productions, they want YOUR help to complete the work. At the free LAB Test series, audiences have the uncommon opportunity to play a direct role in the creative development of new works, before their debut in the Live Arts Festival. Participants will see the artists’ works as they begin to come together with lighting, set pieces, sound, video, and other production elements and can offer feedback and ask questions in post-showing discussions.

The showings are free and open to the public by advance reservation at livearts-fringe.org/lab/lab-test.cfm, by phone at 215-413-9006, or at the door on a first-come, first-serve basis. Complimentary beer and snacks are provided. LAB Test showings take place at the Live Arts Studio at 919 N 5th St in Northern Liberties.

“It is our hope that by providing support during this crucial stage of creative development, we can elevate the quality of Festival presentations by local presenting artists,” said Nick Stuccio, Producing Director, Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe. “Geoff Sobelle and Thaddeus Phillips were chosen for Production Residencies based on their continued artistic excellence and maturity. The Live Arts Festival feels a commitment to assisting these two artists, along with their respective collaborators, in further developing the work they began as LAB Fellows in 2010.”

The Production Residency program was designed to offer support and resources for the intermediary stage of creative development. Live Arts Brewery Director, Craig Peterson explains, “Often in the trajectory of an artist’s project, there are resources available for presentation and production costs, but support for the long-term creative process and incubation of work continues to be vastly under-resourced. Our Production Residencies represent a comprehensive investment in all phases of the artistic process, combined with affordable or free access to rehearsal and studio space. Without this, Philadelphia artists will remain under-resourced in our community and under-represented in the field of contemporary performing arts at large.”

Elephant Room
Saturday, March 5 at 7:30pm: Chapter 1
Saturday, March 12 at 7:30pm: Chapter 2
Saturday, March 19 at 7:30pm: Chapters 1, 2, and 3

“Hello. Room service. Was someone looking for a minor miracle? It’s on its way… c/o Elephant Room.” Illusionists Dennis Diamond, Louie Magic and Daryl Hannah invite audiences into a most secret society. A realm where mind and sense part ways. A trio of illusionists will entertain, distract, confuse, confound, amaze and mystify. This is Elephant Room.

Directed by Paul Lazar and written by Steve Cuiffo, Trey Lyford, and Geoff Sobelle (previous Live Arts Festival shows: all wear bowlers, Amnesia Curiosa), Elephant Room stars Dennis Diamond, Louie Magic and Darryl Hannah.

Monday, April 11 at 7pm: Chapter 1
Monday, April 18 at 7pm: Chapter 2
Saturday, April 23 at 2pm: Chapters 1, 2, and 3

WHaLE OPTICS is a new scientific/theatrical epic that explores world-wide communication systems, sub-oceanic fiber optics and humpback whale songs. The production, which begins at a Venice Beach record shop, will feature cinematic score, an epic homage to exploration, adventure, and the ultimate question.

Directed and designed by Thaddeus Phillips (previous Live Arts Festival shows: ¡EL CONQUISTADOR!, Flamingo/Winnebago); created by Brian Osborne, Makoto Hirano, Lee Ann Etzold, James ljames, Emily Letts, with Tatiana Mallarino and Christina Zani, original score by Juan Gabriel Turbay. Visit whaleoptics.tumblr.com to learn more.

Live Arts Studio
919 N 5th St, Philadelphia, PA 19123
Free onsite parking + abundant neighborhood street parking
Info: (215) 413-9006, www.livearts-fringe.org

Reserve your seats in advance here or call (215) 413-9006

– Dan Comly

idiosynCrazy productions workshop

Posted November 16th, 2010

When asked if he has any advice for aspiring artists, LAB fellow Jumatatu Poe of idiosynCrazy productions replies, “Well, I can tell you what has worked in my experience. Rigor, honesty, humility, and patience.” Sounds like a beautiful set of ideals to live our lives by, yes?

Jumatatu grew up dancing around the living room and at parties with his cousins. He began studying art via theater. His love for performance is so deeply rooted that he even created plays in his backyard in 6th grade. Spending childhood on college campuses as the result of his father’s career, Jumatatu was fascinated with the movements associated with African dance and capoeira. The 28-year old dancer/choreographer began his serious dance training in college by studying contemporary African dance.

Sounds like someone you’d like to study with, right? Well you CAN!

Discovering the Dimensions of Flatness: A workshop in movement and performance
Saturday, November 20th from 1-5pm

The world is huge and, in a given moment, only a fraction of it is available to each of us. We organize our fractions into systems and patterns that we can process, that make sense to us. We make decisions about what is essential, and we allow ourselves to focus on those things. And sometimes, we have to limit our focus even more, to just the essential of the essential: a fraction of a fraction reality flattened into a more manageable size. What does this essential look like when it is all we know?

On Saturday, November 20th, from 1-5pm, dance/theater company idiosynCrazy productions will host a workshop that directs participants through some of the movement and performative techniques currently being used to create FLATLAND 2010, idiosynCrazy productions’ latest production. FLATLAND explores the difficulty of human communication in a world where the sound byte supersedes substance, the instant message overpowers the intimate one. FLATLAND will premiere at the Annenberg Center on January 15, 2011.

Participants should be prepared to explore athletic movement/dance, to
use their voices to sing/speak/yell, to share their personal experiences, to be specific, to think, to tell the truth, to lie. . .

Workshop Leaders: Jumatatu Poe and Shannon Murphy

Time: Saturday, November 20th, from 1-5pm

Price: FREE

Location: The Live Arts Studio at 919 N. 5th Street

Please RSVP to Molly with a short bio/introduction and a statement of your current artistic interests (less than a page, please) ASAP.

idiosynCrazy productions was last featured in the Live Arts festival in September 2010. For more on the company, please find us on Facebook.

So, uh, like what do you guys do now that the Festival is over?

Posted October 6th, 2010

Short answer: Get ready for next year.

Extended answer: First, we sleep. Then, catch up on laundry. After those basic necessities are taken care of there is an incredible amount of calculation, clean-up, and analysis that must take place. Not only are we shutting down the Box Office, but we are cleaning the Festival Bar. We are tracking down sandwich boards, reconciling ticket sale reports (basically who bought and owes who what). We are researching trends in audience attendance, survey results, and basically trying to figure out how to serve our audiences better next year. We are sending Thank You notes.

We are applying for grants to bring you the same quality programming you have come to expect from the Live Arts Festival. We are redesigning, revamping, and renovating, and we want to hear from you. We are inventory-ing, innovating, and initiating new moves in the city and in our organization.

We are picking pumpkins and we are kicking off an exciting new season of Second Thursday Series events and Live Arts Brewery Fellowships, and we want to see you there. We are blogging about what we are doing, and we are wondering…

…so, uh, like what are you doing now that the Festival is over?