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2019 Fringe Festival Spotlight: Immersive Theater

Posted September 3rd, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

FringeArts: What’s your experience in immersive theater?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

FringeArts: What inspired Know Thyself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FringeArts: What drew you to immersive theater?

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

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


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

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

 

 

2019 Fringe Festival Spotlight: Digital Fringe

Posted August 23rd, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

View our 2017 and 2018 Digital Fringe works online.

Two Friends Try to Be Disappointed by Each Other: Interview with John Rosenberg of Autopia

Posted August 14th, 2019

John Rosenberg’s very first show in Philadelphia after moving from California was a 2010 Fringe Festival production, Cheap Guy Hall of Fame, Class of 2010. Subsequent years garnered critical acclaim for his Hella Fresh Theater company, operating out of a converted paper mill in the heart of Kensington. John moved to Los Angeles in 2014, but he returned last year and has retaken residence at the Papermill. This Fringe Festival, he’s utilizing the art gallery at in the room next door to his theater, creating an imaginary art exhibit from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the 1970s. In Autopia a failed teacher runs into her former mentor at LACMA while waiting in line for tickets to the King Tutankhamun exhibit and the pair awkwardly reminisce as they wander around an exhibit of an obscure Chicana artist. We spoke to John about the play.

FringeArts: How did you get the idea for Autopia

John Rosenberg: I mean, the thing comes in bits and pieces and one thing leads to another.

I lived in Los Angeles from 2014 to 2018. It was great. My wife gave birth to our son Calvero McShane Wulfrose. I got to kick it with my sister at Ross Dress For Less. I also made one for real friend in my four years in Los Angeles, Her name was Leigh, we worked at UCLA together. We would go for walks on breaks and talk about our lives and such. So the play is kinda based on Leigh.

I have been interested in how people like to be disappointed by other people and let down. It reminded me of the group of teacher friends my parents had when I was growing up. They were really committed to education and the welfare of their students but the personal cost was tremendous. I watched their lives implode, including my parents’.

I always wanted to do a play about two people waiting in line and have the actors slowly shuffle across the stage for two hours. At first it was going to be Disneyland but it didn’t make sense so the art gallery of the Papermill [the Kensington artspace where Hella Fresh is based] will become Los Angeles County Museum of Art circa 1978.

FringeArts: How did you choose that setting?

John Rosenberg: I had a temp job in Los Angeles that was down the street from LACMA. LACMA uses stickers for tickets and people leave them on a street light outside the museum. On my lunch break i would go through the museum on a 45-minute tour, four days a week for like nine months.

With the idea of LACMA came the idea to have an artist create a real fake exhibition from 1978 to be the exhibition in the show. My friend Osiris Zuniga, a steel artist or metal artist or i dont know what the fuck you call her said fuck yes to the idea. Osiris deals in blowtorches and heavy metals and makes videos. She is creating an exhibition like LACMA would probably have been showing of a marginalized unheard of Latina artist in the late 70s.

So the play is about two teachers who try their best to be disappointed by each other and feel good about themselves because they saw the art of an unheard of Latina artist.

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Blanka Zizka

Posted July 19th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, we depart from our usual watering hole (the FringeArts office and join the founder and President of FringeArts, Nick Stuccio, to toast The Wilma Theater‘s Artistic Director, Blanka Zizka, on her newest production,  There: In the Light and the Darkness of the Self and the Other, adapted from the poem by Lebanese-American poet Etel Adnan, with visual art by renown artist Rosa Barba.  There is one of the curated shows premiering in the 2019 Fringe Festival and performed by Wilma’s Hothouse Company.  There: In the Light and the Darkness of the Self and the Other will be at The Wilma this September 11–22.

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Conversation with Blanka Zizka

[Music Intro]

Nick Stuccio: Welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe, I’m Nick Stuccio, I’m the President and Producing Director of FringeArts. I’m here with Blanka Zizka, the Artistic Director of the Wilma Theater, the amazing Wilma Theater, and we’re gonna talk about There, help me Blanka, There… colon…

Blanka Zizka: So it’s There: In the Light and the Darkness of the Self and of the Other.

Nick: In the light and the darkness of the self and the other. Awesome. Before we start talking about There, of course this is Happy Hour on the Fringe, we gonna talk about what we’re drinking, and we’re at the Wilma, above Good Karma Cafe, right? Well, we’re above…

Blanka: We are above Good Karma Cafe.

Nick: Awesome. We’re looking down upon Good Karma Cafe in your awesome new office…your now windowed office…and we both happen to be both drinking the same thing. We’re drinking a couple of martinis, they’re fantastic, and we’re actually….

Blanka: Do you remember those like, those martini lunches? It used to be like in [the] 1980’s. I’m really old….

Nick: I’m close…I’m close.

Blanka: But, you know there was like, people who always had…not me, but…

Nick: I was gpomg to say….

Blanka: People, people. Those people out there used to have martini lunches….

Nick: In the other world; the for-profit world.

Blanka: Yes. Yes.

Nick: Here in the nonprofit world, we did not, except when we went to Europe on trips, I would have a beer with colleagues, which is awesome. I never actually had a martini for lunch, but dammit, it’s a tradition we should try. Anyway, so that’s what we’re drinking, we’re drinking a delicious San Pellegrino, today. So, Blanka, we’re very excited to have There in the festival this year. Very interesting…I’m very excited to hear about it…how it’s going. But, before we talk about There, I wanted to get some context from you. You and I have talked about this a lot, and I am your number one fan in this endeavor with the Hothouse Company. So, I want you to talk about the Hothouse…give us some context, it’s very, very cool…this company of actors that you’re holding, that is getting particular training, and you’re building this kind of unique, theatrical aesthetic. I actually read that on your website about the theatrical aesthetic you’re building, but what I didn’t read was what kind of particular aesthetic, if you can characterize that. Talk about Hothouse and talk about where you’re headed with it.

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

Posted July 9th, 2019

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

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

 

Conversation with Zach and Katy

[Music Intro]

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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!

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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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