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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Ben Grinberg

Posted May 24th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, we had drinks with Ben Grinberg, Artistic Director of Almanac Dance Circus Theatre, instructor at Circadium and Pig Iron, and the curator and host for Test Flights, a circus scratch night. Join our conversation about how Ben found his way into circus, the growth of contemporary circus in Philadelphia, Almanac’s 5 year anniversary celebration season, and a teaser for who you may see at this July’s Test Flights! Learn more about Hand to Hand Circus Festival, running June 28—July 1.

Also, this weekend (May 24th) check out the final performances of Communitas: Five Years Later by Almanac Dance Circus Theatre.

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Feature Photo by Daniel Kontz

Conversation with Ben Grinberg

[Music Intro]

Katy: Hello, and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premier presenter of contemporary performing arts. I’m Katy Dammers, Artistic Producer here at FringeArts…

Raina: And I’m Raina Searles, Marketing Manager. We invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence. Here at FringeArts, our new work series dedicated to local Philadelphia artists called High Pressure Fire Service, or HPFS, as we like to call it, is coming to a close. At the time this episode is coming out, we have just two shows left coming up in June: The Sincerity Project #3, in 2019, by Team Sunshine Performance Corporation, which runs June 4th through the 8th, and Circuit City by Moor Mother, June 20th to the 22nd.

Katy: But today, we’re looking ahead to some of the events happening just the weekend after HPFS closes. We are presenting the second annual Hand to Hand Circus Festival, with Circadium School of Contemporary Circus, and with a dynamic performance by the Circadium first-year students on the 25th, called Circadium: Springboard, and then an exciting lineup of events happening June 28th through July 1st. Today, we’re chatting with Ben Grinberg, curator and host for Hand to Hand Scratch Night, also called Test Flights, and he’s the Artistic Coordinator and Theater Instructor at Circadium, and the Artistic Director for Almanac Dance Circus Theatre. Welcome, Ben.

Ben: Thanks so much.

Raina: So, our first question, as is tradition, is what are we all drinking for Happy Hour on the Fringe? Ben?

Ben: Well, it’s 2:30 pm, so I have an iced coffee, which is delicious. Thank you.

Katy: I’m drinking tea.

Raina: And I’m having a nice glass of cold water.

Ben: That’s pretty lame, isn’t it?

Katy: We’re doing our best. Doing our best in the midst of a work day on this Friday. Happy Hour will come soon enough.

Raina: Well, we’re always happy, that’s… We’re just happy with what we’re drinking.

Katy: Ben, maybe you can start by telling our listeners, how did you get started in physical theater and in circus?

Ben: Wow, okay, sure. I was a member of the inaugural class of the Pig Iron School, which was sort of my introduction to physical theater. I had done a bunch of theater in my life previous to that, but I really had no idea that you could think about creating your own work, or think about making work that didn’t start from a script. Until Quinn Bauriedel actually came, I was in my senior year of college, and I was directing… I had a crazy idea to do a commedia dell’arte version of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap for the experimental theater company, because I was like “Oh, these characters are all such archetypes!” And it was very strange, but so, in order to get some commedia training, we reached out in the larger Philadelphia theater world and Quinn came in and taught a four-hour physical theater workshop on commedia for us, and I…

My mind was completely blown. I had never been exposed to anything with levels of tension or anything like that before, so I knew, Quinn and I knew that I wanted to go to the Pig Iron School and start getting really invested in physical theater, and then at Pig Iron, one of the classes you have to take is acrobatics, which at Pig Iron, which I don’t know if you know I teach at Pig Iron, and their acrobatics is definitely about coordination, getting strong and staying fit as a performer, but it’s also about acrobatics as a metaphor for all of the kinds of risk-taking you need to do in order to open yourself up to be an available performer.

So that was sort of my introduction to acrobatics and to circus, there wasn’t a real emphasis on technical circus, the technical circus world felt like a very different thing, when I started to encounter that, which I… At that time, Pig Iron had a relationship with the physical circus arts, so I was able to go and take classes there with Nick Gillette and Lauren Harries, which were some of my classmates that founded Almanac with me, and so, yeah, we got to start taking acrobatics classes and sort of just gone from there.

Raina: I am curious. You said you first met Quinn, like, your senior year of college, was that a path change for you? Did you have a different direction you were headed in?

Ben: Oh, yeah, I was about to go do Teach for America, and I didn’t really have any idea what I wanted to do, graduating from school. I had a strange college experience. I went for two years and sort of burnt out completely and lived in New York for a year and tried to be an actor, and realized I could come back and graduate in a year if I switched my major from Systems Engineering to Classical Studies, so I ended up graduating with a degree in Classics, and I really had no… I always knew that I wanted to be an artist and I wanted to be a performer, but I think I went through that thing that a lot of people go through, which is society and maybe some family and other things preventing me from conceiving of that as a real, viable career path, and so I was looking for anything else that I could be happy doing until I finally… yeah, I think that workshop with Quinn was the moment I realized, “Oh, no, actually this is what I really need to do with my life, so…”

Katy: Ben, since then, you’ve built kind of an incredible career as a performer, you have your own company, Almanac, and then you teach circus too.

Ben: Yeah, yeah. It’s sort of crazy. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting, because… So, tonight actually is the five-year anniversary of Almanac’s first full-length show, that we performed in Philadelphia.

Raina: Congrats!

Katy: Congratulations!

Ben:  [crosstalk 00:06:10]. Yeah, awesome! And yeah, so it’s been crazy with everything that’s happened in five years, and yeah, I got really interested in the overlap between dance, physical theater and circus, and that’s really where Almanac’s work exists and that’s the lens through which I teach physical theater at Circadium, and I think, also, it’s what I bring to the acrobatics teaching at Pig Iron, so… Yeah, it’s kind of funny I teach acrobatics at the theater school and theater at the circus school, and I don’t know what that means, exactly, neither… I’m not… I don’t know. I’m not quite good enough to teach circus at the circus school or theater at the theater school, they’re just… Yeah, no, it’s great. I like being able to wear all of those different hats, so…

Katy: You really have feet in both worlds, and I feel like contemporary circus is increasingly moving in that direction.

Ben: I think so, yeah, and I think that is sort of… I think you could talk to a bunch of different people and get a bunch of different opinions about what contemporary circus is, but I think when you talk about the new circus as the roots for contemporary circus, you do talk about the desire to express something other than virtuosity inside a circus, and so when you talk about that in terms of performance, I think it’s so important to look to the art forms that have already been doing that, which are theater and dance, so…

Raina: I’m curious about what that scene looks like here in Philadelphia, because when you…I mean considering the fact that you started Almanac five years ago, Circadium wasn’t actually even a school yet, at that point. They’re in their second year now of having students, and so how has that changed for you, just in the past five years, but then also, what does that look like in other areas, and how does Philadelphia compare to other areas, even worldwide?

Ben: Yeah, absolutely. Well, all of us at Circadium are super optimistic that Philadelphia is going to become a real hub for contemporary circus on a worldwide level, and I think even nationally, that is becoming the case right now, and I don’t think that that was true five years ago, six years ago. So I think that’s really exciting, the audacity to start a serious three-year professional training program has started to attract lots of different artists. There are circus artists who are moving to the city, it feels like all the time. And that’s great, because that means there’s a community that’s starting to grow and there’s a sort of criticality that can come with that, and a sort of aesthetic proposition that can come as well, with time, which is something I’m really excited about. It’s something I think Test Flights is really trying to nurture, Test Flights/this Scratch Night. What was the original question?

Raina: I’m just thinking about how it’s kind of changed over the past five years and also how Philadelphia stands within that worldwide community.

Ben: Yeah. Philadelphia’s definitely in… I think in the circus world, there’s… You know, in all the different art worlds, there are these gravitational centers and Philadelphia is sort of in the larger orbit of Montréal. I think we get a lot of contemporary circus companies that come through because they’re touring to Montréal, or that are based in Montréal, but come to Philadelphia because it’s close and Montréal really is a world capital for the art form and for contemporary circus, and we’re lucky that we’re a seven and a half hour car ride away, so it’s still accessible for us to get up there. But yeah, we’re… I think… Okay, so six years ago… I don’t know, I always think of it like actually recreational circus schools are kind of a new thing in general in the United States, like now, you can sort of say “I’m going to take an aerial class”, or “I’m going to take a silks class”, and people sort of know what that means, maybe people need a little bit of an explanation, but that’s relatively common, and I feel like ten years ago, that just wasn’t the case.

And so, yeah, there’s really been this explosion of recreational circus in the United States, and I think that was partially due to a lot of reasons I mean the success of Cirque Du Soleil, and sort of people seeing the… Yeah, this physical virtuosity in performance through that and people getting interested in it, but now all through the States, you have a lot of recreational studios that have opened, and then you have people who go through the ranks and learn all of the things they can learn at these recreational places, and then they want more, and they want to know how to turn what they’re doing, which has been a really straightforward learning of technical tricks, it’s not [inaudible 00:11:21], it’s really tough, it’s fulfilling and it’s self-actualizing and all of that, but then they want to say “Oh, what can I do with this now? It doesn’t just feel like a show that has ten different people all performing the same tricks in slightly different costumes with different music, right? How can I start to really innovate inside of this form and start to express myself with it?”

And so that’s where we are now on a cultural moment of… There are lots of people who have a lot of technical skills and want to start to become artists, and I think that’s where Circadium comes in, it’s how do we yet take people who have been training in circus, maybe their whole lives, a lot of these young people have been doing circus since they were four or five and are coming to Circadium when they’re 18 or 19, and so have incredible technical vocabularies and know how to perform in a sort of more traditional showmanship kind of way, but how do we give them the tools to be able to create work that really says something and is meaningful to them and to audiences and is sort of vital for the world? Yeah, again I feel like I didn’t really answer your question, I just went off on a different tangent!

Raina: I thought that was all great commentary.

Ben: Yeah, five years ago, Philadelphia school-

Raina: Can I just give you maybe one more question? What made you start Almanac as a dance and circus and theater group when that wasn’t as big five years ago?

Ben: Yeah, absolutely. Well, okay, so I was at the Pig Iron School, with such giants as Jenn Kidwell and Scott Sheppard and Jess Conda, all the people who are here for High Pressure Fire Service, and a classmate of mine, Nick Gillette and I started to get really interested in acrobatics, and we started to look at… “What if we could create a language of storytelling that was acrobatic inherently?” And we got inspired by some videos that another classmate, Justin Rose, was sharing with us because he had some connections to the contemporary circus world, and we started watching some videos from some French companies, like [inaudible 00:13:37] and some 7 Fingers videos and performances we were able to see, and we also were learning about clown at this moment on our, you know, Pig Iron track, and so we were really interested in this idea.

“Okay, what if we could just play ourselves and not have any real performative character-based artifice, and what if acrobatics can become kind of like task-based choreography, and so it was really hard for us. We were very, sort of thought of ourselves as folk artists in this way, we didn’t have any real technical training, but we were like, “We can learn how to do this”, right? So it really was us self-teaching ourselves in a studio for many, many hours, sometimes biting things off, like clips we found on the internet, and sometimes just contact improvising until we found some kind of lift or something that we thought was interesting, or some kind of balance, and because we didn’t really have any technique and because these things were so new to us, I think the performance of them felt really new to an audience, and then one thing that people have always said about Almanac is that we really…

The work that we make lives in this place that just vibrates between the kind of risk that makes them really concerned for the performers and also this place where they’re like, “Okay, I get that there’s some craft and some artifice around this risk”, but definitely that thing that I think a great circus does, which is it puts you on the edge of your seat, and I think the thing that you realize which was really awesome is that you don’t have to be doing the best tricks in the world in order for audiences to be engaged in that way. Actually, if you’re approaching your own limits, and if you’re testing them, if you’re letting that be seen, that’s just as exciting or can be just as exciting for an audience as seven back-tucks off a Russian swing.

Katy: But I like what you’re saying, Ben, about circus being… I think it’s so enticing for people because on the one hand, people are doing amazing virtuosic things that an average person probably looks at and is like “Oh my God, I could never do that. I could never balance in that way, I could never juggle 20 balls at the same time.” But at the same time, they’re also, as an audience member, being like “I can see myself in those people, like what would it mean to get myself there?”, or “I do know the feeling of a fear of falling, even if it’s just down the stairs”, and so circus is kind of this fascinating balance between something that’s so out of this world and yet something that is so deeply human.

Ben: Exactly, and when I think about one of the reasons why I’m interested in continuing to make circus, I think it’s because now Cirque Du Soleil, just to, you know, hate on them for a little second, not really, it’s all based in love, but it becomes so great because their shows are so amazing, they’re so spectacle-based, but for me, there’s something that’s lost, because there’s not really a sense of intimacy.

I think the scale of the production value and some of these really elaborate costumes that sort of obscure the humanity of these people. If you see people do five back flips, they sort of seem… It’s almost like you’re watching a movie, it’s almost as if it’s a special effect, right, and you don’t really get to feel breath, you don’t get to be connected with those people in any kind of human way, often, and so I think that’s why there’s a movement now in contemporary circus, to make things that are smaller in scale and more intimate and let audience members more directly interact with performers as people.

I always tell a story because when we were first making Communitas, we heard… I think it was Totem was in town, and we just overheard someone recount the story of being outside after a show, and they were like “I want my money back! If I’m going to pay that much money for a ticket, that juggler better not drop any balls!” I mean, that’s so funny, because it’s like, “Right, how have we come to a place where we watch circus performances in Cirque Du Soleil, and we expect perfection, which is the opposite of humanity, right?”

You know, there’s nothing human about getting it exactly right every single time, and for me, and I think for a lot of contemporary circus artists, the moment where something goes wrong, the moment when you drop a ball is the most important moment, it’s the moment when you can really be let in, and I think that’s to discount any traditional circus lineages, because I think lots of really traditional circus families have such an artistry around crafting that sense of “Okay, we’re going to do something and it’s going to seem really hard for us, and we’re going to craft that experience”, and the artifice around that is really useful and traditional and has been honed over many years, but I think it’s easy, for whatever reason, for artists to forget that and to say “I need to only do the things that are technically the most challenging”, so, yeah. Just reminding audiences and maybe artists sometimes of humanity.

Katy: Yeah. Well, speaking of the artists that you’re working with, tell us a little bit about who we might see on Test Flights..

Ben: Yeah, absolutely. So, yeah, there have been a couple of Philadelphia-based companies that have been operating for a while, in sort of circus adjacent landscapes, and so I’m really interested in bringing their work into dialogue with contemporary circus, as it sort of comes from a more traditional circus background, so I’m really interested in creating a night where we might see a performance by Tribe of Fools, which is a parkour-based theater company, or Brian Sanders’ JUNK, alongside some artists whose work is really going in the other direction from a really strong technical circus background into interpretive expression.

And so hopefully 3AM Theater, which is a new circus company that’s based in Philadelphia that is Kyle Driggs and Andrea Murillo, will be involved in Test Flights, and also Open Ring Circus, which is an interesting new circus collective that’s based in Philly. They’re making a piece about the Hartford Circus Fire, which is super interesting, because the combination of documentary, historical theater and circus is one that I think is super challenging, and I’m really interested to see how that piece grows and progresses. And you may end up seeing something from Almanac during Scratch Night as well, so… Yeah.

Katy: I know Almanac has so many things coming up as well, you want to tell us a little bit about all that’s on your plate for that.

Ben: Yeah, absolutely, so I mentioned earlier, this is actually the five-year anniversary of our first full-length work, so we’re in the middle, now, of our run of Communitas: Five Years Later, which has sort of been a reimagining and a reinvestigation of that first piece, and that is… I think there are two more performances, May 24th and 25th at the Funicular Station, and then on Sunday, on May 26th, we actually have a pretty giant outdoor family fitness, arts and culture fitness festival, and I think it’s really like FringeArts and Almanac and everyone’s sort of humming on the same lines here, because I think the Circus Midway that will be a part of Hand to Hand…

These invitations for the public to come and try these circus things, I think are such an important part of circus programming, because it’s just like what you said, when we watch circus artists, we do put ourselves in that place, and we imagine ourselves as these people who are taking on these incredible things and we really just naturally want to try it, so FitFest is going to be really great. We’re going to have participatory workshops from Almanac and from the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, and juggling and wire-walking and acrobatics and also hip-hop fundamentals and the Old City Sweethearts, and dance and some martial arts forms…

Basically, anything that encourages you to creatively move your body will be there, and anyone can come, all ages, and it’s free, and then in the evening, we’re going to have some performances onstage overlooking the Delaware River in Penn Treaty Park, so we’ll have a special encore performance of Communitas: Five Years Later, and some performances from Circadium and other circus artists as well, and a few dance companies, so it’s going to be great.

And then, in June, we’re remounting the newest version of Almanac’s ensemble-devised solo show, featuring Nicole Burgio, which is called XOXO Moongirl, and it’s one of my favorite pieces we’ve ever made. It’s just Nicole and live music by Mel Hsu, and is a circus theater examination and processing of Nicole’s history of growing up in a house with domestic violence and physical abuse, and so… Yeah, there’s like a proposition for circus aerials, handstands and dance to be really used in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever used it before in my work, or I’ve seen often inside of that show, so I’m really excited to remount that, and then we’re taking it to Edinburgh in August, so I’ve got to hope that goes well.

Raina: Because you guys were in Mexico too, right?

Ben:Yeah, yeah, actually, yes, so XOXO Moongirl, Nicole was so mad at me when I told her that I told the producers that she would be performing the whole show in Spanish, but she learned the whole show in Spanish and we performed it in Mexico City, and also created an ensemble-devised work with emerging professional circus artists in Mexico as well, while we were there, so, yeah. Hopefully we’ll be going back again in the next Winter, so…

Katy: Awesome.

Ben: Yeah.

Raina: This is a little bit of just a divergent question. This idea of also speaking in circus theater, because I feel like so much of circus is that your body tells the story, and so I’m really curious, like, what… Is this one of the first pieces where, you know, also it’s like a solo show, so, like, what’s that process like building in text and language around the work?

Ben: Yeah, well, for Almanac, our first show, Communitas, didn’t have words in it, and then we started using words pretty much right after that, and I think that is something that’s really interesting, because so much contemporary circus doesn’t use any words, but some does, and… Yeah, so why do we do that? I think… Sometimes I see some contemporary circus shows and it feels like the artists have a really deep relationship with the subject matter that they’re trying to address, or they are addressing through their work, and it just doesn’t come across clearly to an audience because somehow the language isn’t as specific as verbal language can be, and so I think if you want to make work that’s really personal, it’s really about complex ideas that aren’t embodied and don’t start from a somatic place, and I don’t understand why you wouldn’t use words, actually.

I feel like, lots of times, not using words makes things feel distant and feel unclear, and if you feel really strongly about what you have to say, you should say it, and I think that circus is a really great way to express a lot of things, and sometimes it’s just not the best way. So, for example, in XOXO Moongirl, one thing Nicole says is “Last year, my dad hit my mom”, you know, and I think you could see a theatrical dramatization of that, but it’s not the same thing as being able to understand how Nicole feels about that by hearing her relate that to an audience, and so after that detail was clear, the movement that comes afterwards can be grounded and contextualized in a way that makes it reach an audience more, I think, than if that was never there in the first place.

Raina: Yeah. And I think it’s very much an ongoing thing that we have just within the contemporary art sphere, you know, not every artist wants to explain their work in the same way and so a lot of times, and people want the art to speak for itself, but it doesn’t always translate the same way, and sometimes having that language jump can help people get there much easier, or just possibly like more effectively, depending on what it is you’re trying to convey.

Ben: Yeah, absolutely, I think so. I mean, yeah, I think some contemporary dance suffers from this thing, which is that it’s quite academic and quite hard to understand for an uneducated viewer, and so I think one thing about circus is that it’s sort of always been a popular art form, and I think that it should stay that way. I think it should be the sort of thing that anyone can kind of come in and understand, so…

Katy: And contemporary circus rides this line between having a narrative, which sometimes can be a really easy way in for people, but also in terms of traditional American circus, it’s often a display of physical feats, which doesn’t always have a narrative. So I think contemporary circus is pulling from many different genres to create something that is interdisciplinary and has many different ways that an audience member could engage with it, which is cool.

Ben: Absolutely. Yeah. And that’s one reason why, when we do Test Flights at Circadium, it is an interdisciplinary works in progress show, so we have dance, theater, spoken word, music and circus all together, because it’s so true. All of us need to see each other’s work, we need to be inspired by each other.

Katy: Yeah, and likewise, why we include circus in our programming at the Fringe, so it’s all very good. And what are your highbrow and lowbrow inspirations, Ben? We ask everybody on the podcast this question.

Ben:  Oh, my goodness… Yeah, I was prepared for this and I still don’t really have great answers. Okay, so lowbrow inspiration, I think I can answer because I’ve been a little bit obsessed recently with shitposting.

Katy: So for our listeners, explain what that is.

Ben: So, shitposting is basically, like, innocuous sort of trolling of people on social media, like it is trolling, but it’s not like white nationalist trolling, or anything like that, it’s like…

Raina: Great!

Ben: Yeah. I mean, I’m in a group called “Fishtown Shitposting,” and it really is just a place where people can come and make mostly absurdist comments about this other Facebook group (I’m a Fishtown resident) which is called “Fishtown is Awesome, Old, New, Everyone,” and so, you know, where is the steam valve for society when we all have to behave decorously on these neighborhood Facebook groups, and someone’s like “Oh, somebody bumped into my bumper and I’m calling 911”, or whatever, you know, you can go and you can sort of let off the steam by making shitposts. And, yeah, so I’m really… I think shitposting is awesome, and I really am interested in what live-action shitposting would be, and how that could translate to performance, and so I’ve been spending a lot of time in some shitposting spheres.

And then in terms of highbrow, I really love the contemporary circus company Finzi Pasca Company. I’ve seen a handful of their works and the way that they integrate spectacle, storytelling and heart into everything and make it sort of really inspiring. They made a show called Donka: A Letter to Chekhov, which was sort of Daniele Finzi Pasca’s relationship to this, to Chekhov and all of the themes that are in Chekhov’s work, exploded into contemporary circus, and it was really a moving piece, and, yeah, I don’t know… We just performed at a benefit with the PA ballet, and now I definitely want to go and take ballet classes, so I don’t know what that’s about, but that’s another highbrow inspiration right now.

Katy: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us for this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe.

Ben: Yeah, thank you so much, it was super fun.

Raina: So, we will be having Ben Grinberg back here on July 1st, so Monday at 7 pm, and we’ll be hosting Test Flights, and we’re excited to see what that lineup of artists will be.

Katy: Yeah, and in the meantime, check out the rest of our Hand-to-Hand Circus programming, join us for our midway the Sunday before on June 30th and performances by a number of other companies. In the meantime, make sure you follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, and to download the FringeArts App.

[Music Outro]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE TOP

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

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

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

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

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

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

Circuit City
Moor Mother
June 20–22

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

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

In Essence, Things Move: J. Wolfgang Fry talks Quiddity

Posted September 21st, 2018

Ideas form and dissipate. People move and imaginary things travel. Ideas, memes, concepts, and theories all move and grow, some grow old and obsolete, some grow strong and vibrant. What are the migration patterns of imaginary things? What is their essence?

J. Wolfgang Fry asks these questions in his 2018 Fringe show, Quiddity: Migration Patterns of Imaginary Things, which opens and has its sole performance this Tuesday. He spoke to FringeArts about the name and inspiration behind the piece.

FringeArts: Where does the idea for the show come from?

J. Wolfgang Fry: The idea for the show comes from the name of the show, Quiddity: Migration Patterns of Imaginary Things. Originally it was just art speak jargon meant to hold a place, a placeholder concept, but the more I thought about it the more I wanted to do a show about the movement of ideas.

FringeArts: What does quiddity mean?

J. Wolfgang Fry: Quiddity is a word that means essence, I first learned it reading a Clive Barker novel in which he had named a sea Quiddity, which in the story brought things into the essence of what they were or would become.

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

Posted September 19th, 2018

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

Good Good Comedy Theatre.

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

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

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

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

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

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Gerald van Wilgen and Love Across Time and Place and Fringe

Posted September 18th, 2018

Gerald van Wilgen (“Gerhardus”) has an eye for a good story. He worked as a journalist in the Netherlands before he moved to the United States. He became an active member of the early 1990s South Street theater collaborative the Brick Playhouse, an institution which helped spawn the careers of dozens of local actors, directors, and playwrights. He moved to Nebraska to get an MA in theater from the University of Nebraska in Omaha; since his return he has produced and directed a variety of Fringe shows under hjs own name and as Ari Flamingo.

Gerald van Wilgen headshot by Christopher Kadish.

His 2018 Fringe Festival production, I ???? Adriaen (listed in the Fringe Guide as “I <3 AvdD”) is a time-spanning monologue about a scholar who fall who falls for Adriaen van der Donck, an ambitious Dutch lawyer born 400 years ago who had big plans for America. Van Wilgen spoke to FringeArts about the play, which opens tonight at Old Swedes Church in South Philadelphia.

FringeArts: What inspired the show?

Gerald van Wilgen: Van der Donck has always been on my to do list, but I never knew how or what to do with him. This guy was a rebel, but one who fought with his pen. When I interviewed Julie van den Hout for a magazine I work for about her biography of Adriaen van der Donck, she told me she liked him a little bit “too much.” I loved the idea of a scholar falling in love with her own subject. I put the two together and started working on it. When I was in the Netherlands, I visited Adriaen van der Donck’s hometown, Breda, there the story started to crystallize.

FringeArts: How would you describe your style of writing?

Gerald van Wilgen: Someone once described my style as “economic.”

FringeArts: What themes or message are you trying to convey?

Gerald van Wilgen: I’m an unassimilated immigrant living in two worlds simultaneously.

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Cocktail Plays: Recipes for a Great Night of Theater

Posted September 17th, 2018

One morning, a few weeks ago, Sonya Aronowitz sat at a bar in Fishtown, double-fisting cocktails. The executive producer of indie theater company Juniper Productions had good reason: she was tasting cocktails for the company’s 2018 Fringe production, Cocktail Plays, which opens tonight.

Aronowitz sent the four short plays in the production over to Canyon Shayer, beverage manager at Philadelphia Distilling. The experienced bartender shook up four cocktails, one to represent the themes and characters of each play. Cocktail Plays runs September 17-26 in the spartan bar of distillery and each drink contains a spirit made in the copper stills which loom behind Shayer as he describes the cocktails.

For Date Night by Mark Costello, about a woman who’s uncomfortably dressed up for a meeting, Shayer created a sparkling pink drink made with lemon juice, raspberry simple syrup, Bluecoat gin, sparkling wine, and fresh raspberries. “I wanted a redness reminiscent of lipstick,” he says. “It’s about being too classy for a situation.”

For Out of Time by Bill D’Agostino, Shayer favored an “old man’s drink” to represent one of the characters onstage, so he used the distillery’s barrel aged gin, with birch bitters and maple syrup for a twist on the old fashioned.

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The PINK HAIR AFFAIR Returns, Heartbroken

Posted September 14th, 2018

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

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

She spoke with FringeArts about the project.

FringeArts: What inspired the show?

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

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

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

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Where Have All the Black Actors Gone? To Flying Quilt’s Day of Absence

Posted September 12th, 2018

Opening tomorrow at Painted Bride Arts Center (after two free performances for community groups), the thoughtful comedy Day of Absence explores the dilemma of an unnamed Southern town awakening to find all black folk…gone. Who will tend the children? Who will do the menial work? Who really wears the mask? It’s as relevant today as when Douglas Turner Ward wrote it in 1965.

The list of actors performing in Flying Quilt Productions’ Fringe show reads like a who’s who of black actors in Philadelphia: Joilet F. Harris, Cathy Simpson, Brian Anthony Wilson, Anthony Cooper, Steve Wright, Nastassja Baset, Rich Bradford, Kim Brown, Carlo Campbell, Niya Colbert, Walter DeShields, Andre N. Jones, Tiffany Bacon, Renee Lucas Wayne, Olivia Wayne, Lenny Daniels, Eric Carter, Chyna Michele, Jack Drummond, and Lary Moten. FringeArts spoke to Moten, artistic director of Flying Quilt, about his impressive cast and contemporarily pertinent play.

FringeArts: What first moved you about Day of Absence?

Lary Moten: When I first read it, I was in college—called Hampton Institute when i attended, now Hampton University—studying theater. It was 1968 and we were studying the plays that exploded from black playwrights during that turbulent time. Day of Absence struck me so much because it’s a comedy. It showed how all of the anger and frustration, analysis and commentary, could be turned into genuine laughter without casually dismissing the underlying causes, facing those issues unflinchingly. It grabbed me then. Unfortunately, it still grabs us now.

FringeArts: Why did you want to bring it to this year’s Fringe? 

Lary Moten: There is so much turmoil in the U.S. at this moment—people questioning black lives matter, political, social, cultural and economic upheaval—and Day of Absence speaks directly to those issues. And with lots of laughs. Day of Absence is castor oil smothered in honey. As usual in times like this, the best art rises to the challenge of connecting folks with issues that affect their daily lives concretely. That is why i wanted to see this show mounted. Especially during the Fringe. And at the Painted Bride given their history of community work.

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Gimme Shelter: Drip Symphony Returns to the Fringe

Posted September 12th, 2018

Nick Schwasman and Nate Barnett are local Philadelphia artists who run Drip Symphony, an experimental performance company now entering its second season. This Fringe, Drip Symphony presents Shelter, the story of a group of artists living together in an abandoned theater, brought together by a shared sense of artistic integrity. Staged using an immersive design where the entire theater is transformed into performance space and the audience, seated on stage and scattered throughout the house, lives among the action, Shelter explores the value of art, the nature of creation, and the power of physical boundaries to shape our realities.

Shelter runs September 19-22 at Plays & Players Theatre (and Barnett also sings with the Grammy-winning ensemble The Crossing in its Fringe show Of Arms and the Man, September 16). Schwasman and Barnett spoke to FringeArts about their artistic process, upcoming production, and views of the Fringe Festival.

FringeArts: What was the inspiration behind Shelter?

Nick Schwasman: I just turned 19. I was sitting around a fire behind a barn, talking to my dad and friends. My dad had recently received a letter from his dad, who is homeless and schizophrenic, and whom I had never met. I was talking about how I wanted to meet him. The idea came to me somewhere in this moment, that any homeless person I saw could possibly be my grandfather, and that’s essentially where it started.

We began writing the script for it back in 2013, in a barn on winter break. We still have scraps from back then, and many of the characters still exist in evolved forms. But it’s changed a lot. We’ve allowed this process to take any twists and turns that appeared, so much had changed. The show is now most strongly inspired by our artist colleagues and ourselves, and the experience we all have trying to navigate a very fraught artistic landscape. It’s about the decisions we make to survive and stay true to ourselves, and the spaces we create in support of those decisions.

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Hello Darkness My Ol’ Chum: REV’s Graveyard Cabaret

Posted September 11th, 2018

Since 2012, REV Theatre Company has brought Fringe Festival audiences into the iconic Laurel Hill Cemetery for a macabre cabaret of music and theater. As Philly Voice put it, Death is a Cabaret Ol’ Chum has become “a consistent favorite and top ticket seller… head to the cemetery for free cocktails and cabaret that spooks and stirs the soul.” The 2018 Fringe show opens this Friday and has four performances through September 22.

REV’s artistic codirector Rudy Caporaso spoke to FringeArts about this years happening.

FringeArts: Describe Death is a Cabaret Ol’ Chum for the uninitiated?

Rudy Caporaso: First of all, the show is listed in the Fringe Guide as a happening because that’s exactly what it is. Audiences will enjoy free cocktails as three “departed souls” appear out of the darkness of historic, iconic, beautiful Laurel Hill Cemetery, to music ranging from Bessie Smith to the Scissor Sisters and Cole Porter to Sonny and Cher. The music is a “Whitmans Sampler” of death-centric songs, all sung by—according to a critic—”performers with killer pipes”. And another critic said they’ve never experienced a more life-affirming theatrical event. An adventurous audience seeking a truly unique and immersive theater experience will like this.

FringeArts: What makes Laurel Hill Cemetery so suitable for this piece?

Rudy Caporaso: The piece was specifically made with Laurel Hill in mind—and I hope this doesn’t seem too terribly self-aggrandizing, but Laurel Hill is tailor-made for this production. It has the prerequisite mysterious and splendid Gothic grandeur. I always think of the Cemetery as the fourth character in the piece.

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Take Two Plunges with Brian Sanders JUNK

Posted September 11th, 2018

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

Daytime

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

Meg Saligman’s Theatre of Life mural.

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

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

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Like Mother Like Daughter

Posted September 10th, 2018

Jennifer Blaine was in the first Philly Fringe. This year her daughter Lily Blaine is in her first.

Lily and Jennifer  last week.

Performer Jennifer Blaine got a feature in the latest Philadelphia Weekly, detailing her long history with the Fringe Festival and how she has used it as a jumping off point to launch numerous successful shows.

Blaine was part of the very first Philly Fringe in 1997, performing her solo show Safety By Numbers in an Old City alleyway. As she related to Philly Weekly, she’d use reviews from her Fringe shows to book tours across the country, eventually opening up for George Carlin, Chris Rock, Joe Piscopo. This year, Blaine returns to the Festival for the 16th time with narrative stand-up show Ridiculous at L’Etage in South Philadelphia.

“It’s such an opportunity to open yourself up to an audience that you wouldn’t have reached otherwise,” Blaine told writer Andrea Cantor about the Fringe Festival. “You have no idea where it could end up for you.”

At the FringeArts Blog, we were struck by tidbit in the article about where it has ended up for Jennifer: this year, her 11-year-old daughter Lily is performing in her very first Fringe Festival. The younger Blaine dances in Paprika Plains, another family affair by two artist-sisters combining dance and body painting

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The Plague Comes to Philadelphia: Pestilence: WOW!

Posted September 7th, 2018

Playwright and director Savannah Reich recently moved to Philadelphia after making work with her company Eternal Cult for ten years and touring it to bars, basements and warehouses across the country. Opening tomorrow night, Pestilence: WOW! marks the Fringe debut for her raw and immediate style of theater, produced punk-rock style: collaboratively, accessibly, and strange.

Reich spoke to FringeArts about this new play about the bubonic plague that lives somewhere between a game show and an acid trip.

FringeArts: What’s the worst illness you’ve ever suffered?

Savannah Reich: I was a sickly child and always had some kind of a cold. I have a real fascination with the the intimate nature of illness, and the way it takes away our illusions of control. I did a lot of reading about illness in preparation for this play: Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor, and Eula Biss’s On Immunity; An Inoculation are particular favorites. None of this ended up in the play directly, of course.

FringeArts: What brought you to Philadelphia?

Savannah Reich: I graduated from Carnegie Mellon with my MFA three years ago, and I’ve been kind of an art tumbleweed ever since. I lived in Chicago for a few years, and I’ve been bopping around and doing plays in Pittsburgh and Minneapolis and traveling a lot. I think I’m looking for my artistic home.

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Getting In A Tangle: Meredith Rosenthal Goes In the Forest

Posted September 7th, 2018

A Fringe Festival favorite since 2011, Tangle Movement Arts is a contemporary circus arts company whose performances mix traditional circus like trapeze and acrobatics with dance, theater, and live music to tell multidimensional stories. Tangle’s work reflects individuals of diverse identities, with an emphasis on queer and female experiences, and is devised collaboratively by its all-female ensemble.

Meredith Rosenthal

FringeArts spoke to Meredith Rosenthal, a member of this ensemble, about Tangles new work In the Forest—an immersive world of circus-theater that surrounds the audience with a 360-degree display of aerial dance, live music, giant yarn sculptures, and circus magic. The show comes to the 2018 Fringe Festival September 12-15, at the Sanctuary at the Rotunda in West Philly..

FringeArts: How did you become involved with Tangle?

Meredith Rosenthal: About five years ago, Lauren Rile Smith discovered me at a student showcase at Philadelphia School of Circus Arts. My first ever performance! She asked me to be a guest artist for a TinyCircus show, one of Tangle’s pop-up circus events.

FringeArts: What do you like about the company?

Meredith Rosenthal: Tangle feels almost more like a community than a company. Everyone is so supportive and encouraging. We try to make accessible circus for the masses, whether it’s by outdoor performances or our energetic narrative shows.

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Revisiting Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago. With a Bear.

Posted September 6th, 2018

This my excavation

In 2006, musician Justin Vernon left North Carolina after two breakups: with his band and longtime girlfriend. Broke, heartbroken, he drove back to his home state of Wisconsin and spent a cold autumn and winter in his father’s hunting cabin. There he cut wood, drank, and wrote and recorded one of the finest, most emotionally moving, rawly authentic albums of this young millenium.

That’s the story.

It’s one that playwright Doug Williams and director Maura Krause wanted to explore and flip over. “We’re both music obsessives, and the story behind Bon Iver’s first album is a modern music legend,” says Williams. “But there are larger questions about the ‘broken male genius’ that feel really primed to be pushed back upon right now.”

These questions get a outlandish treatment in the pair’s world premiere Fringe Festival show, Bon Iver Fights A Bear, which opens tomorrow. “We figured, if we’re really trying to tell this story in the most outrageous way possible, we gotta have this talking bear narrate it and sort of call bullshit on the mythology of the whole thing,” says Williams.

“We want to explore the ways in which we romanticize the story of the white-male-genius-type that retreats to the woods to get over his heartbreak,” adds performer Emily Schuman, who plays Bon Iver, hipster beard and all. (The moniker was taken from French for “happy winter,” a repeated greeting in cult TV show Northern Exposure.) “Really, he was just a 24-year-old kid who was trying to figure himself out but ended up doing something incredibly honest.”

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Building Trust with Darcy Lyons

Posted September 5th, 2018

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

Fear. Insecurity. Trust. Security.

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

Creator Darcy Lyons spoke to FringeArts about her timely show.

FringeArts: What was the inspiration for Proceed with Caution?

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

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

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

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Tanaquil Marquez’s Passport Across Language Borders:

Posted September 5th, 2018

Heads: English; tails: Spanish.

On select nights, La Fábrica will present Gustavo Ott’s play PASSPORT in a language decided by a coin toss. The concept fits Ott’s kafkaesque tale of miscommunication and unexplainable border discrimination well. For the less adventurous, most performances of the timely work take place in either English or Spanish (see the show webpage for details).

We asked Tanaquil Márquez of La Fábrica about the unusual staging and her attraction to Ott’s absurdist play.

FringeArts: What moved you about the Gustavo Ott’s play?

Tanaquil Márquez: Yajaira [Paredes] and I were sitting in her car outside of Headlong Dance Studio. We just finished rehearsal for Azul, a production we worked on last year, when she pulled up the script on her phone and told me, “Tana, necesitamos hacer esta obra.” (Tana, we have to do this play) My first thought was, “What? We are already in a play, I don’t have space in my brain to think about another one.” But it’s the name that really stuck, PASSPORT. The title already seemed like a demand.

We had a reading a few months later and the message resonated in the room. In a beautiful and violent way. PASSPORT exposes how miscommunication can lead to distrust and confusion. Ott’s poetry is full of imagery and really blossoms throughout the hour while the main character’s situation gradually gets more and more dire. He mixes the two so well that you don’t know if you should be moved by the language or horrified by the action on stage.

FringeArts: What makes it a fitting show for this year’s Fringe?

Tanaquil Márquez: PASSPORT is a very current and important show. It spotlights the current immigration crisis. The long struggle of our community with the immigration issue has currently reached a boiling point. We cannot be but shocked at the actions of ICE against our society and the immorality of the Berks Family Prison in Pennsylvania detaining children as young as two weeks old. By presenting PASSPORT we want to raise awareness and funds to promote immigration rights.

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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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What Shamus Hunter McCarty Loves About Fringe

Posted August 31st, 2018

Name: Shamus Hunter McCarty

Show in 2018 Festival: Close Your Legs, Honey: A New Musical

Previous Fringe shows: The Jane Goodall: Experience (2010),  Branded (2011), The Playdaters (2012), The Hunchback of Notre Dame…A Mute Play (2014), Animal Farm to Table (2016), Pericles  (2017)

What I Love About Fringe: It’s impossible for me to think about my career as an artist in Philadelphia without acknowledging Fringe.

Fringe was my first gig in Philadelphia and although we were self-producing filled my 22 year old heart with all the confidence in the world that I could do it, I could make it as an artist. I connected with my first cohort of Philadelphia collaborators and whole life and career have put too many miles between us, I stand here, eight years later, nostalgic, proud and ready to unleash a brand new musical on the Philadelphia Fringe audiences. Over the last eight years I have worked on a variety of Fringe projects, grown immensely as an artist and learned a thing or two about how to maximize output and intake without burning out during one of Philadelphia’s busiest performance times.

That’s what I love about Fringe.

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The Complex Yet Simple Messages of For Colored Girls…

Posted August 30th, 2018

A theater professional with over twenty years experience in New York and Philadelphia, Ardencie Hall-Karambe, Ph.D. is an associate professor of English and theater arts at the Community College of Philadelphia and an adjunct professor and the director of theater Arts at Cheyney University. She cofounded and leads Arden Blair Enterprises,  which houses several subsidiaries, including Kaleidoscope Cultural Arts Collective.

The resident theater company of North Philly’s landmark cultural hub The Church of the Advocate, Kaleidoscope presents Ntozake Shange’s seminal work For Colored Girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf as part of the 2018 Fringe Festival. Ardencie talked to FringeArts about the work, its relevance, and the role of art.

FringeArts: What was your introduction to For Colored Girls…. ?

Ardencie Hall-Karambe: I was introduced to For Colored Girls when I was a senior in high school in LaPorte, Texas, a small town outside of Houston. I read some of the poetry in a speech/forensic tournament.

FringeArts: What moved you about it?

Ardencie Hall-Karambe: What moves me about the piece is my relationship to some of the situations the characters go through on their journeys to healing. It was one of the first pieces about black people that I read that didn’t weigh itself down with the history of black enslavement in this country. It’s there, but it is not the focus. It was the first piece that I read that spoke to the conditions of black women with an attitude that I understood. The characters experience every emotion and courageously invites the audience to join them in this communal catharsis, and I love that.

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