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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Dito van Reigersberg

Posted December 11th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, we sipped tea and spilled the tea with Dito van Reigersberg AKA THE Martha Graham Cracker. As one of the founders of Pig Iron, Dito shares his experiences with the very first Fringe Festival, his artistic journey since, and the development of Martha Graham Cracker as we know her today. Intro features “Let Me Sit On It” from Martha Graham Cracker’s newest album out December 12, Lashed But Not LeashedAvailable to stream on Bandcamp. Martha Graham Cracker will be performing for two nights at FringeArts on December 19 & 20 at 8pm.

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Feature Photo: Plate 3 Photography


[Music Intro]

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

Katy: And I’m Katy Dammers, Artistic Producer here at FringeArts. We invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversation with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence. Today, we are thrilled to be joined by Dito Van Reigersberg, known for his work as a theater and cabaret artist who has upcoming performances here at FringeArts as Martha Graham Cracker on December 19th and 20th. Dito, welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe.

Dito: Thank you. I’m also drinking.

Raina: Yes. Well, so our first question is always what are we all drinking.

Dito: Oh, yeah. I’m drunk. No. I’m drinking some crazy rose tea, sweet rose tea. So I’m not drinking anything alcoholic.

Katy: It is 1:00 in the afternoon.

Dito: It’s only 1:00.

Raina: I’m having a morning moringa organic tea.

Dito: Oh, is it good?

Raina: It is. I think it’s a honey something.

Dito: Honey situation.

Raina: Yeah.

Dito: We got some real teetotalers here that are not drinking a thing.

Katy: I know. We’re so boring over here. Janet’s drinking water.

Dito: Should I just start answering questions? Is that what we should do?

Raina: We’ll start asking questions.

Dito: Yeah, yeah. I was like, “What’s the question?”

Raina: So just to take it all the way back. You’ve been working with Fringe Arts for a while now.

Dito: From the beginning.

Raina: From the beginning. Tell us about that?

Dito: Should I tell you about the beginning?

Katy: Yes.

Raina: Yes.

Katy: What’s the origin story?

Dito: Okay. The origin story is this. In 1997, Pig Iron Theater Company had only been in existence two years but we only worked in the summer times. We would make shows at Swarthmore College, a small liberal arts college outside of Philadelphia. And then we would take these shows to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Then in 1997, which was our third summer, we made a piece at Swarthmore and then we brought it instead of to Edinburgh, we brought it to the very first inaugural brand spanking new Fringe Festival in Philadelphia. We were like, “Well, we’re thinking about moving here, but we hope this city welcomes us and is cool.”

Dito: So we made a piece called Cafeteria, which maybe some of you remember, you oldies. It was a piece that only had three performer, myself, Quinn Bauriedel, and Suli Holum. And it had no words and it was set in three cafeterias to represent the American lifecycle. The first cafeteria was the junior high cafeteria. Then it moved to a corporate cafeteria. And the last cafeteria was the retirement home cafeteria. It was kind of a gestural ballet, maybe you could call it, telling the story of these three cafeterias. It had a big, enormous set with a cafeteria table and all these chairs and then this ramp that went along the cafeteria setup with mashed potatoes and the milks and it was all set up all on this one light.

Dito: Anyway, we had been to Edinburgh so we knew that in Edinburgh in order to get anyone’s attention because it’s the largest arts festival in the world, you just have to run around and busk and tell people your show’s great and hand out fliers and be obnoxious and sing songs and make a fool of yourself. So we thought we should do that in Philadelphia and no one had ever done that before so I think people were like, “Well, we better go because these people are crazy and maybe a little desperate.”

Dito: So a lot of people had heard about the show and we were about to perform the first ever performance in Philadelphia of Pig Iron and we were performing at the Seaport Museum Theater, which is huge. And our stage manager came backstage and said, “We have to hold for 10 minutes.” We were like, “Is something wrong? What’s going on?” He said, “There’s a line of people to come to see the show around the block.” Here we were, we were worried. We were like, “Will people come see our show? Is Philadelphia the right place for us to put down roots? Is there an audience for this kind of more experimental work?” I guess the answer was yes.

Dito: So that was a very good omen of things to come. So I think that’s the origin story. And that was the beginning of a year where Pig Iron did I think at least three shows. We did Cafeteria, Joan of Arc, and Gentleman Volunteers. Gentleman Volunteers became … That was the first ever, during that year was the first performances of that show and that show became the most toured show we ever created because it’s a show where the audience moves around and we can adjust it to any space. That was in the ’90s, when you were just a glimmer in my eye.

Katy: And the rest is history.

Dito: And the rest is history.

Katy: Pig Iron has been in almost every Fringe Festival thereafter. We’re now heading into our 24th Fringe Festival in the fall of 2020.

Dito: Congratulations.

Katy: Crazy.

Dito: That’s insane.

Raina: Where were you working before? If you were thinking about making Philadelphia your home, where were you primarily working?

Dito: So I went to acting school in New York. Most of the rest of the company went to acting school in Paris at a place called Le Coq. So I was at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theater, which is a Meisner based acting program. I think we were deciding between are we all going to move to New York, are we going to move to Chicago? We were young and had all our lives ahead of us. We just graduated from college. We were like, “What should we do? The world is our oyster.”

Dito: So I think we were just trying to decide what would be the smartest move. I think we made a really smart move because we were like, “Not only is New York expensive, but it’s distracting.” Because if you’re trying to keep an ensemble together and keep a cohesive group working and developing together, it’s hard if you have the distraction of like, “Oh, there’s an audition for a movie over here and I could be on Broadway.” In Philadelphia things are much more inexpensive and also you have the lack of distractions where you can really focus in on what you want to make and there isn’t as much noise and chatter around the art. You can really band together and make an ensemble, which I think is a lot harder in a place like New York.

Dito: So I think we chose wisely. We’ll never know what it would have been like if Pig Iron had moved to Chicago. But who cares? It’s a very nice town, Chicago is. Yeah. I think we made a good choice.

Raina: Yeah. I think that’s so interesting, because when you first said distracting, I thought you were talking about for the audience like ‘there’s so much to see in New York.’ It’s interesting that you brought it up from the artist’s perspective and actually being able to make your art without as many distractions.

Dito: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Which is not to say that there wasn’t even back then a big scene in terms of people making work. Actually, Andrew Simonet was just here. When we performed Cafeteria … Actually, this is another part of the mythical story. It was on stage. Dan was directing and Suli, Quinn, and I were performing on stage. Headlong was in the audience and Headlong was also two men and a woman. They saw us and they were like, “What is going on?” We were dancing or moving. This is very weird. We found a sister company that is … And they also chose Philadelphia a little randomly. Or not randomly but they were like, “We could choose a number of cities,” and they chose Philadelphia maybe for similar reasons, like avoiding New York, but within proximity of it.

Dito: But anyway. Early on in our time in Philadelphia, Pig Iron and Headlong were really like sister companies and we had a lot of … We encouraged each other and also had a lot of good advice for each other. We’ve survived. That’s encouraging. Yeah.

Katy: Then you both went on to start schools and be I think really big players in the arts community of Philadelphia, not only as these ensembles that created work but then also steward a next generation of work. I think those two groups and then Fringe Arts are these three pillars of the experimental scene in Philadelphia that all started at the same time.

Dito: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Katy: Now, nearly 25 years later, looking around and being like, “Wow. We did something actually really big, really amazing.”

Dito: Yeah. And there’s a lot of overlap between all three organizations and there’s certainly people who have studied at HPI who have then gone on to perform with Pig Iron and Pig Iron teachers teaching at HPI, which is the Headlong Performance Institute. And then both companies, both performing in Fringe stuff and sending our students in to also perform things. Yeah. It does feel like it’s sometimes hard to know what the chicken and the egg is, but it does feel like when you look back, there was a wave that was starting to crest and in 1997 all these things started to happen where there were just a lot of great coincidences and that set some of the fertile ground for what was to come. 24 years of Fringe. Yay.

Katy: It’s crazy.

Dito: Yeah.

Katy: Well, and in those 24 years you have done many works, of course, with Pig Iron as part of Fringe.

Dito: That’s true.

Katy: But also some solo works as well. Do you want to talk about some of those pieces?

Dito: Oh, yeah. Well, so many things. This is the one I’d totally forgot about. I did a piece with Lee Etzold and Sarah Sanford was in it too. We played husband and wife. It was a clown piece about … I’m looking down at my spoon. Etiquette. Lee was really interested in etiquette and how we could think about etiquette in our more modern world and is etiquette just an old fashioned thing or does etiquette evolve over time and still have something to day to us in these days, which certainly it does. If you’ve ever tried to get the attention of three people who are on the phone, not that that’s happening right now, but that happened to me recently where I was in a room with only people who were on their phone. Weirdly if felt rude for me to interrupt them. I was like, “Oh, they’re busy.” But then I was like, “This is also rude of them.” Everyone’s tuned out.

Raina: it evolves.

Dito: it evolves and there’s got to be a kind of … And I think people are starting to determine kinds of etiquette around phones, like do I leave my phone off the table at a meal?

Raina: I have my phone sitting right on the table.

Dito: You do, but-

Raina: So rude.

Dito: But it is face down.

Katy: But it’s face down.

Raina: That’s true, face down or face up.

Dito: It’s face down. No. I don’t know. I’m fascinated by how that stuff … I mean, I don’t think there’s anything about cell phones in this piece which was called Dear Sir or Madam, which I totally forgot the title. But anyway, that was a physical theater piece we did at the Ethical Society upstairs. That was a lot of fun being directed by Lee.

Dito: And then I Promised Myself to Live Faster was a piece I guess we did two or three years ago here. That was a piece we had brought to the Humana Festival, which is a big theater festival in Kentucky, in Louisville, Kentucky, and Actors Theater of Louisville. It was a piece that we made … I guess I’ve always been inspired and moved by the story of Charles Ludlum who had a theater company called the Ridiculous Theater Company, which I think also is related to Martha Graham Cracker in some ways. I think I never had read any of his plays but I saw pictures of him performing in the 70s and 80s and he was an impresario who wrote his own plays. He directed this crazy company of downtown weirdos. And he performed.

Dito: He performed most famously Camille, which is a famous melodrama where he’s wearing bit ringlets and false eyelashes. His face is all made up and he looks feminine in the face and hair department and then he has a hairy chest and then he has a beautiful gown on. I guess maybe when I was starting to do Martha Graham Cracker, I was like, “Oh, that’s a forbearer of mine.” So in Camille, it’s one of those classic stories. I think there’s operas written about Camille too, maybe La Traviata. But anyway, it’s the story of this woman sacrificing everything. She falls in love with someone of a higher class but his father tells her to stay away. So she sacrifices her love and she tells him to go away even though she doesn’t want to. And then she’s dying of consumption and he comes and he’s like, “I heard that you pushed me away not because you wanted to but because my father told you to.” She’s like, “It’s true. Hold me. It’s so cold. I’m dying.”

Dito: So he would perform this melodrama as this partially ridiculous man/woman. But then people would say, “Oh, you get to the end of this play and you would cry.” He was very moving in his portrayal of this woman who dies kind of love and kind of of consumption. And then the sad truth is that Charles Ludlum then contracts HIV and dies of AIDS. I’ve always felt like that’s such a weird story where this person in the 70s became famous in acting from this person who dies over and over and over again, dies every night, dies every night, dies every night. And then it’s almost like he’s practicing dying and then he contracts HIV and then dies. Maybe because he feels like an ancestor that I feel like, “Oh why? Why was it him and not me?” There’s a real … You know when you see a person from the past and you’re like, “Oh, that person is related to me in some spiritual way.”

Dito: That was all to say that we made this piece called I Promised Myself to Live Faster, kind of inspired by Charles Ludlum but in terms of it’s big ridiculous style. It was set in outer space. There was a gay every man named Tim who gets swept out into … On a dark and stormy night he gets swept out to outer space and he gets embroiled in this galactic fight between the nuns of Virginea who have lost or someone has stolen the holy gay flame. They give birth to homosexual babies but they’re like, “We need the holy gay flame in order to give birth.”

Dito: Then there’s an evil planet and they’re the ones who’ve stolen the flame. I play this evil bishop who is also from the evil planet who wants to retain control over the holy gay flame. And I’m using the earthling to get me to the holy gay flame and it’s a race between the nuns and us. And then wouldn’t you know it, the angry bishop is actually a closet homosexual himself.

Katy: Of course.

Dito: Because he was adopted maybe from Virginea. And so he falls in love with a humanoid who’s been his prisoner and things get very complicated after that and there’s a betrayal, double betrayal, triple betrayal and finally the holy gay flame gets given back to the nuns. And of course, the bishop sacrifices himself for his love. So we made this ridiculous piece but in a way, that piece sounds totally just like a romp, which it is, but I think there is some connection to … There’s some underneath layer of connection to the AIDS crisis and also we were talking a little bit about assimilation and about how as Ru Paul’s Drag Race becomes more of a thing that everyone has seen, even if you don’t have a TV, you’ve seen it on your computer.

Dito: Anyway, people have seen Ru Paul’s Drag Race. People know what drag queens are. People are very well versed in what used to be more borderline or underground gay culture, which means in a way that there’s a loss there and there’s also a gain. I somehow think we wanted to capture that feeling in a play in a crazy mythical story. We wanted to capture the idea that there’s losses and gains in terms of becoming absorbed by the majority culture. This idea of the holy gay flame, which is totally goofy, there is a weird responsibility of people, of the youth going forward to not forget how they got to where they are and the sacrifices that were made. Stonewall was a really terrifying and difficult event that set things in motion so that people have some more comfort and some more safety than they would have normally or would have before.

Dito: So that was a very long winded answer about I Promised Myself to Live Faster but it’s a piece that began with a homage to Charles Ludlum.

Katy: Well, I think this question of what is gained but what is also lost is really important. Even just thinking of Stonewall for people of a much younger generation, I can imagine people now seeing it first as that terrible movie that came out. It’s like, “Oh, my goodness. That’s actually not what it was at all.”

Dito: Can we erase this movie?

Katy: That movie was really awful in what it did to that history. But it in some ways amazing that people don’t necessarily know what Stonewall is and that they live a life where they don’t have to think about that. But it’s also so crazy and so terrible. One thing that I love about Martha Graham Cracker is that that persona, that character thinks so clearly about the predecessors, Charles being one of them, but Martha Graham also being one of those.

Dito: Totally, totally.

Katy: So I wonder if you can talk about other predecessors to that character and how you developed it?

Dito: Oh, well, yeah. There’s definitely … I studied at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, which was amazing, and also was kind of like … I got there right after Martha had died. So she was even more of a mythical figure because people would tell different stories about her and there were different views about how nice or not nice she could be or how much of a diva she was or how much of a … But everyone agreed that she was a genus. Some people were like, “Is she is a mad genus or was she a genus who then drank too much and then became a weird cruel genus?” But she’s a super fascinating figure.

Dito: Again, there’s Charles Ludlum and I guess when I was studying at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York, I was also going out at night and seeing other drag queens. I don’t want to say other drag queens. I was not yet a drag queen. I was seeing drag queens and especially singing drag queens. There’s one who’s performed here named Joey Arias who is a big influence of mine, a big … I just was like … You know, you’re in scene study class and you’re in acting school and there’s a drudgery to it. It just doesn’t seem … It’s fun in a muted or understated way. But then you go to a bar and people are carousing and being crazy and in the center of it all is this person who can sing Billie Holiday Songs and is also the most filthy mouthed hilarious person. That person is having so much fun, is whipping the crowd into a frenzy of enjoying themselves.

Dito: I was like, “Oh, maybe that’s more what I want to do.” Or maybe that’s part of what I want to do as opposed to just learning my lines and reciting them for a scene or in a play, which is also something, of course, that I do. But yeah. It blew my mind that there was this naughtiness that was available to me. Because I think … I don’t know. I guess I grew up very … My poor dad. I always give this as an example because I think my dad … We grew up in a house where my dad was like, “We don’t swear in this household.” There’s a beautiful thing to not swear and you actually use more complicated words and vocabulary. But then there was something forbidden about swearing or talking about dirty stuff. I think there was something to it when I saw Joey Arias. I was like, “Oh, I really want to do that because it’s something that has been a little bit forbidden to me.”

Dito: Yeah. I think in general cabaret is a place where you have permission and hopefully when I’m performing as Martha people also feel that permission and I think there’s a freeing and also … This sounds too highfalutin, but communion where there’s like a, “Oh, we spent so much time on our individual computers, our individual phones.” I find that in modern life there’s very little chance for people to bump into each other and actually interact and feel a part of a group in a way. Even when you go to see a play, you feel each other watching the play but you don’t really interact as much. There’s not as much breaking the fourth wall.

Dito: I don’t know. That’s one of the things I really enjoy the most about Martha is feeling there’s a weird communion/meeting/I don’t know, some sort of ritual that’s happening where we’re like, “We’re all here together.” And one of the things I … I’m actually teaching cabaret right now at the Pig Iron school and one of my favorite things, and every once in a while you’ll even have this happen in the fourth wall play where clearly an actor is distracted by something and will say something. Sometimes it’s bad. It’s like, “Can you shut off your phone?” But something like that wakes everyone up. Sometimes the power of just saying what is in your real life or in the cabaret is a real superpower and it wakes people up.

Dito: It also happens sometimes in a play where there’s a technical difficulty and they have to stop. That also wakes everyone up in the audience. And when they start again, the audience is that much more invested. They want it to succeed. So there is a lot of failure built into Martha Graham Cracker so that people really root for me to succeed at least a little bit.

Katy: When you performed here, you walk up and down the isles. There’s no audience member that is off limits, so to say.

Dito: No.

Raina: You sit on laps.

Dito: No one is safe. Yeah. I’m very … What’s the word? Intrusive. Yeah. I definitely get my leg workout because those-

Katy: It’s the whole mountain we have in our theater [crosstalk 00:26:38].

Dito: That seating is steep, the K2 of cabaret.

Katy: Yes, absolutely.

Dito: Yeah. I find that to be really fun. It’s sometimes hard to get down those rows though because they’re quite skinny.

Katy: Yes.

Dito: And usually there’s more tables and I can easily thread. But I make my way. People move their feet.

Katy: Nothing stops you.

Dito: Yeah. We were talking about ancestors and I somehow got into … Phones.

Raina: I think you were talking about this relationship to the isles, which I think is crucial in cabaret, that of course, you’re rehearsing and particularly with all the singing numbers and the special guests and the band, and all that. But so much of that can’t be rehearsed. It’s really in the moment. It’s reactive with the audience. So what has it been like to develop the Martha Graham Cracker character with audiences over the years?

Dito: It’s been a real training. I feel like the first … So I want to say it was 2005 when L’Etage, which is my home base on 6th and Bainbridge, they said, “You can have a monthly gig here. We give you our permission.” Which was a real gift because I could hone that kind of skill. Because at first I think I was really afraid and I think I would just sing the songs. I don’t know what I would say in between but I think I was more nervous about interacting with the audience. I think I developed an ability to interact and be playful and read people.

Dito: At first, you’re operating on nerves and then after a while you’re like, “Oh, I can see. This person would be a fun person to interact with. This person is clearly saying, ‘Do not speak to me.'” And then sometimes it’s fun to say, “Oh this person doesn’t want me to speak to them.” That’s another example of I’m telling the truth and that sometimes will open them up. Yeah, sometimes, especially in this day and age where people are worried about consent, I have also had my moment where I’m like, “Am I okay in terms of the theme consent?” I do think I’m pretty good. Just pretty good. No. I’m pretty good at reading people and knowing when no is no.

Dito: But usually people who come to a drag performance are looking forward to some sort of interaction, I think. Let’s just say, I haven’t gotten any complaints. No. Probably I have gotten complaints. But I think in general, I think that’s part of what makes it unique is that you see me working in real time and I’m doing a juggling and so that’s the risk that is being taken, I think. I’ve done pieces where all the material is set and all the pattern is also set. And there’s a joy to that and it’s almost more like doing a play. But I do think that the audience can feel. Just because they can smell it, they know if this has been prepared or not.

Katy: Definitely.

Dito: They’re like, “Oh, this is off script.” Or “She’s going on a crazy tangent now.” So normally, I think people enjoy the tangents. Sometimes I’m like, “Oh, that tangent took too long.” Yeah. We’re starting to craft how many songs is the right number of songs. I think I used to do less patter and we would do more songs. I think our golden rule used to be plan for 11 songs in the set list. We make a list of 11 songs. And then it got cut down to 10 maybe with an encore. And now it’s usually nine. Am I getting more long winded in my old age? Yes.

Raina: Because you have more life lessons to pass on.

Dito: Exactly. So soon it’ll be three songs and just me talking and the band will be like, “We quit.” Just sing to some Karaoke tracks, you crazy lady. Yeah. So the banter is developed and I guess we have more and more repertory in terms of music. So 2005 was when we started. We’re in 2019. Yeah. We’re over 14 years of doing it once a month plus shows here, shows other places, now Joe’s Pub in New York. So there’s a lot of material there. Yeah. Now I have to go through the encyclopedia of set lists. I keep every set list. Every once in a while Max, who styles me and often makes my clothes, will be like, “That was a particularly good set list. Remember that one.” She’s like, “Asterisk that one.” So I do.

Dito: Max also, she’s watched a lot of shows. Poor thing. She’s like, “Oh, the rule for her, the Max rule is Martha Graham Cracker is all about flirting and that is you have to do that toward the beginning of the show and then everything follows from there.” Because different cabaret performers have different presences, obviously, and different kinds. Within flirting there’s more innocent flirting, there’s more aggressive sexual flirting, there’s … I think of Martha as more of a romantic, which is maybe why also people haven’t complained too much about her being handsy. I think she’s much more like, “Do you want to fall in love with me? Can we fall in love with each other?” As opposed to like, “Do you want to bone?” Which is fun and I’m sure there are cabaret artists who are more down and dirty. Let’s make it happen tonight.

Dito: Yeah. There are just so many kinds of cabaret singers, some who are much more aggressive and much more angry and some that are more introverted and quiet. I don’t know. It’s such an interesting form because it can really absorb a lot of kinds of presences. I was talking to my class about this just the other day that there’s some cabaret singers who are very … I think of them as introverted maybe or they are not pushing out to the audience. They are like-

Katy: They’re drawing on it.

Dito: They’re like, “Come into me.” Sometimes they sing very quietly or they speak very quietly or they’re really thoughtful. I love that kind of performer but I also love the kind of performer who’s like, “I’m crazy. I’m coming.” Obviously more in maybe the extroverted camp, but I like coming out touch everyone. I’m talking about you and you. You’re not safe. I’m coming to get you. But I feel like even a Martha show has both of those in the spectrum. I feel like it’s not a complete Martha show unless there is a moment of introspection or sadness or some sort of emotion that’s not just, “I’m so excited to flirt with everyone.” Which is a primary color.

Dito: Yeah. For a long time we’ve been doing this medley called The Beatles Medley where we sing Beatles songs but we do them in different arrangements. We do a version of “Ticket to Ride” that’s very sad and very slow. I always loved that version. Not only is it like I’m hearing this song in an entirely new way but also it allows you to jump on the bandwagon of her heartbreak. She’s a clown and wants you to laugh. I think one of the things that people often hopefully say is that my face hurts from laughing so much, and that’s the main thing I want people to come away with. But sometimes people are like, “Oh my God, that song made me cry” or “That song made me really feel something deeply. It made me feel sorry for Martha” or whatever. But that’s also part of the colors of a successful Martha cabaret.

Raina: Well, I think now is the right time to talk about what audiences can see that’s upcoming. The last few shows that we have here at FringeArts, A Choral Extravaganza on the 19th and then your last show of 2019 on the 20th. Can you tell us about who’s going to be there?

Dito: Yes. It’s going to be a quartet of background singers, as Patti LaBelle would say. Jess Johnson, Rachel Camp, Alex Bechtel, and Jamie Branagh are all going to sing arrangements by various members of the band and I’m excited about that. We’re going to have some new tunes. I think Alex Bechtel’s going to arrange a tune.

Katy: Oh, great.

Dito: I’m a sucker for harmony, so they’re going to be singing four part harmony. It’s going to be really lovely. School of Music, School of Rock, they’re going to sing a song with me. I won’t tell you want it is but it’s very hard rock. Shannon Turner from Glitter and Garbage is going to sing at least a couple of duets and maybe a solo. Yes. With me. Ernest Stewart who often is on the trombone will be sliding his big long sliding thing on stage. This is always very heartwarming, we hope, children of the members of the band, the two children of Victor, our pianist and the one child of Andrew Nelson on bass, they will be playing their instruments, which are harp, cello, and piano, I think as Shannon and I are singing. We got to rehearse that, but we will. Yeah. That’s what you have to look forward to.

Katy: And I will say it’s Martha’s last show of 2019, but also of the whole decade.

Dito: Oh my God.

Raina: Oh, wow.

Katy: Last show of the 2010’s.

Dito: Last show of the 2010’s.

Raina: Is that what we’re calling this?

Katy: I don’t know, actually.

Dito: The teens.

Katy: The teens.

Dito: The 20-teens.

Katy: I like that. I like that.

Dito: Yeah. Because we’re going on 2020’s.

Katy: Our 2020’s.

Dito: Hindsight is 20/20.

Katy: Good vision coming forward.

Dito: I hope.

Katy: I hope so too. We need it.

Dito: There’s something I really want to see in my rear view mirror and that is the pres.

Katy: That is true.

Dito: Oh, I can also say that this December for the first time I wrote an album of original tunes called Lashed But Not Leashed which is now available for preorder on Band Camp and will be streaming on all your streaming apps. The album is called Lashed But Not Leashed and I wrote the songs at the Kimmel Center in residency with Eliza Hardy Jones, David Sweeny, and Vince Federici and we will be doing the album release on 12/12 at the Kimmel Center, so come check that out. I should be plugging something else, I suppose. But I can plug the album, right?

Raina: Yes.

Katy: Absolutely.

Raina: Please do.

Katy: Check out the album and then come to Fringe the 19th and the 20th. Make sure you get tickets for both because they are two very different shoes.

Dito: That’s true. That’s true. I’m excited. Many dreams have come true here at the Fringe, the FringeArts Theater. I think this is the first time, first place where I got to sing with a string quartet and that was amazing. It was really like a pinch me moment because my parents are very tolerant of all the rock and roll but they really love classical music. I was like, “This is a moment where my parents will be super proud.” They’ll be like, “You’re actually playing with classical instruments.” It’s just so arresting to hear string quartet do it’s thing and then I’m like, “I’m going to sing with these people.” That’s a dream that’s come true here.

Dito: I’ve sung with a choir here. I sang while members of Ballet X danced here. Other dreams? I have other dreams though.

Raina: In what?

Dito: What they are? I mean, I don’t know. Should I enter on a horse.

Katy: So many possibilities. I’m seeing you descending from the ceiling.

Dito: Yes.

Raina: Like an angel.

Katy: Like an angel. Oh, Raina, yes.

Dito: Exactly, exactly. With wings that actually function and operate.

Katy: Yes, yes.

Raina: Yeah.

Dito: Maybe Yannick from the orchestra would conduct me.

Katy: Collaborations in the future.

Dito: He’s real cute. You know, I have dreams. Maybe a bunch of xylophones. No. I don’t know. Yeah. There’s other dreams to come. Maybe Rufus Wainwright will come and sing a duet with me. I was hearing that duets are the future.

Katy: Duets are the future.

Raina: Yeah. I’ve heard that too recently.

Katy: 2020. So much to look forward to.

Dito: Yeah. The two and then the other two.

Katy: Exactly.

Dito: So maybe the next dream is either that I arrive as an angel from the ceiling or horse, arrive on a horse, or singing horse, or duets with famous people like, hey, Rufus Wainwright, hey … Who else would be cool? Aimee Mann, my favorite. Hey, Mary J. Blige, you want to come sing a song with me? You know.

Katy: Stay tuned for future Martha dates and dreams to be announced.

Dito: That’s right. Maybe Patti LaBelle.

Katy: Yeah.

Raina: Yeah.

Dito: Where’s my background singers? Do you guys know what I’m talking about?

Katy: Yes.

Dito: Okay. Do you? You don’t know what I’m talking about.

Raina: I don’t.

Dito: Oh, you don’t know? So look this up. There’s a video, I think it’s from the ’90s. Yeah, the Clinton administration. She is singing (singing) and she starts singing. The band comes in but her background singers don’t come in and the guy who has the lyrics on pieces of paper isn’t moving them [crosstalk 00:41:47].

Katy: I’ve seen this.

Dito: She’s panicking. She’s like, “Next card, next card.” When she doesn’t know all the lyrics she goes, “Whoo.” She just hoping that she can just do a Patti LaBelle to cover. She’s like, “Oh my God.” There’s a moment where she definitely says, “Oh my God.” And you’re like, “Patti LaBelle, you want to start over, don’t you?” But it was live so she couldn’t. Then the background singers eventually arrive. You’re like to the stage manager, “Now check what’s going on.” It’s recommended holiday viewing.

Raina: Okay.

Dito: Patti LaBelle.

Raina: Well, so we have one I think final question. Perhaps we can invite Martha to answer this question. We are wondering what are you highbrow and lowbrow inspirations for your work?

Dito: All right. Well, sometimes … To really help me, I like doing this old timey voice. That helps me go, a mushy mouth voice. I’m a little tired and a little drunk. Oh, God. What are my highbrow, lowbrow inspirations? Well, I have mentioned Patti LaBelle messing up. That’s an inspiration because I love nothing more than failing but then succeeding then failing then succeeding. What else do I love? What’s highbrow? Shakespeare is highbrow. I once was in a Starbucks and Hellen Mirren was in the same Starbucks in New York City. I went up to her and I said, “You’re great. You don’t know who I am. I’m also great and one day we should do a duet.” She didn’t know about but my people are talking to her people. She’s a very attractive woman. I don’t know if she can sing a lick.

Dito: Let’s see. So she’s highbrow. She’s done Shakespeare. I’ve done Shakespeare. I could do Shakespeare. You know what I should do, I really want to do … I’ve talked about this with my dear friend Alex Torra, who does … What’s it called?

Katy: Team Sunshine.

Raina: Team Sunshine.

Dito: Yes. The Sincerity Project. He was like, “You know what I’d love to do with Martha Graham Cracker?” And I said, “What?” And he said, “I would like to see you as Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra by Shakespeare.” And then I was like, “Could I put some pop songs in?” He was like, “Of course you could.” So that could be something to look forward to. Think about that one. And then I’ve also talked to Eric Jaffe a little bit about Avita and how I’d love to play Avita. I want to see if he’ll return my calls. And then lowbrow … Lowbrow? I don’t know if Dolly Parton is lowbrow but I love this new … Have you listened to Dolly Parton’s America? It’s a podcast.

Raina: No.

Dito: It’s so good. It’s great. It’s so good. It’s very inspiring and makes for a very demential figure. It talks about my favorite movie, Nine to Five, which if you haven’t seen and you don’t know anything about feminism, watch it and you’ll understand what the heck is going on. So Nine to Five is a movie I watched a lot as a child because I was a latchkey child. It’s fine. And so I watched that movie over and over again on my VHS player, which do you know what that is?

Raina: Yes.

Dito: VHS? Okay. What are my other lowbrow inspirations? Let’s see. All I can think of is cheap underwear from Target. I love cheap underwear, buying cheap underwear at Target.

Katy: Important.

Dito: And who doesn’t?

Raina: I go to Costco.

Dito: Oh, you get your underwear at Costco?

Raina: Yeah.

Katy: Value package.

Raina: They have value packs.

Dito: You heard it here first. Wow. Is it comfy? Do you have to wash it first or do you just put it on?

Raina: Just put it on. They also have really good pajamas.

Dito: That’s the most highbrow thing you’ll hear all day. Oh, and I have not tried it yet but my stomach was growling and I haven’t eaten lunch yet, and I hear the new chicken sandwich at Popeye’s is incredible. It’s a limited edition. The secret is three pickles instead of two, aioli sauce, and you can choose whether you want a spicy breast or a regular breast, and a brioche bun. If that isn’t the most highbrow thing I could say, brioche bun. Right?

Raina: Yeah.

Katy: You heard it here, people. That sounds amazing.

Dito: Run to your nearest Popeye’s. I’ll be there singing a song.

Katy: Well, thank you so much for joining us for this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe. Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and download the FringeArts app. Visit fringearts.com to see our upcoming programming including the Martha Graham Cracker cabaret.

Dito: Yippee-I-ay.

Katy: December 19th and 20th. Get your tickets, people.

Raina: Thank you.

Dito: Do it.

[Exit music]

Happy Hour on the Fringe: John Jarboe

Posted December 5th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe we talked with John Jarboe, creator of the long-running monthly Get Pegged Cabaret series and founder of the Bearded Ladies Cabaret, about the Get Pegged performance at FringeArts on November 15, 2019 and the curatorial process behind Get Pegged. Listen as we talk about the people who have inspired him, along with the origins of the Bearded Ladies Cabaret.

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.


[Music Intro]
Zach: Hello, and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premier presenter of contemporary performing arts. I am Zach Blackwood, an artistic producer here at FringeArts.

Katy: And I’m Katy, another artistic producer here at FringeArts. We invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence.

Zach: Today, we’re talking to long-time Fringe partner John Jarboe, who is the founder of the Bearded Ladies Cabaret and also the creator of Get Pegged Cabaret here at FringeArts and also was just curated in this Fringe Festival in 2019 with a show called Late Night Snacks that turned an old auto body shop into a cabaret dreamscape.

Katy: Welcome, John. We were just saying it’s crazy you haven’t been on the podcast yet, so thanks for joining us today.

John: I’m glad to be here. I’m at a lot of happy hours, and normally, they’re not recorded.

Zach: She’s in demand, so I can see maybe why it might’ve been difficult to line up our schedules before now. You’ve got a lot going on, even going into the end of this year, right?

John: Yeah, we do. We love partnership at the Bearded Ladies in a sort of polyamorous sense of the word, so there are many people that we’re flirting with and dating around the city, but grateful to be here.

Katy: Awesome. For our listeners out there, the Bearded Ladies Cabaret is your long-running venture in Philadelphia, which is a real stalwart of the performing arts scene here, and it’s been around for a while, so we wanted to take a moment to talk about that and about Get Pegged, your partnership with us here. And maybe we can just start by looking at the Beards. How has that organization changed over time, what has remained consistent, and what are you hoping to continue to shift as you move forward?

John: We’re about 10 years old now. We’re going on our 10th season.

Zach: That’s great.

John: We look six years old. That’s horrifying. We’ve been around for 10 years, and we started out of my living room in West Philly. I think that we’ve functioned very much like a little barnacle in the city, a sort of parasite that attaches to larger organizations and works in collaboration with them to make work that is queer very visible but with integrity. And I think what we’re realizing in the past couple of years is that we are also a kind of host, that we’ve become a larger organization, and so we’re both kind of the whale and the barnacle in the city.Our work has shifted to being from a troupe of artists working in my West Philadelphia living room to being also a host organization that is extending some of the generosity and the partnership that we’ve found with places like FringeArts and the Wilma Theater and Opera Philadelphia to other artists often in the cabaret or cabaret-adjacent fields.

I’d just say that we really love being in intimate conversation with people and with our audiences.We’re often doing work that sits on your lap, that tells you a story, that if you speak or express your humanity will acknowledge your humanity. And in that way, you can create spaces of accountability and presence and consent and an actual conversation that is distinct from virtual planes and performances that don’t require you to show up in the same way.

Zach: That’s exciting. We don’t think of you as a barnacle.

John: Really?

Zach: Well, no. I think what’s interesting about the Bearded Ladies as a company is the Bearded Ladies has grown by being kind of a resident company of the whole city of Philadelphia, which I think is a really, really interesting approach, and I don’t know. It’s just been really, really exciting. I remember the first time I encountered the Beards was when I was running payroll for Wide Awake as a part of 2013, so it’s interesting.It’s been a long, long way, but that was, of course, a program at the Kimmel Center and a really, really large scale one, but then you’ve also worked with the Wilma. You’ve worked with the. You’re everywhere, but Get Pegged is something that we’ve been doing together for now almost five years, right?

John: Five years?

Zach: February 2020 will be …

Katy: I think will be our fourth year.

John: Fourth year.

Katy: 16, 17, 18, 19 –

Zach: But we did all of 16. It started February of 2016, and that’s a year, so one year anniversary would be 17; two years would be 18; three years, 19. Oh, that’s how math works.

John: We’re on 19.

Katy: It is four years.

Zach: Four years. Four years.

Katy: To our listeners out there.

Zach: That’s easy, so it’s graduating college in a certain way.

John: It feels like five, and –

Zach: Stop this. No, it doesn’t. It feels like a blink of an eye. But so now, as you’re graduating kind of with your undergraduate degree in Get Pegged, what are you looking forward to kind of in the expansion of the project? Are there dream guests, dream art installations that join us? I’m thinking about Adrian Trescott’s  cardboard piano.

John: Oh, my God.

Zach: There have just been so many really beautiful moments.

John: I recently put together a list of all of the artists that we programmed together at Get Pegged, and it makes me really proud. I think it’s a special program. It’s a one night stand between a local artist and a national international artist, and I think with all the Beards’ work and with a lot of the work you’re doing at FringeArts, it’s not about cultivating any one audience. It’s about bringing people together, and I think a lot of the great things about cabaret is that the performance in cabaret is the performance of the space and the audience in the space as much as it is the performer. I think that we’ve done some really fun, exciting, disturbing, shocking work, and I’m excited to continue doing that.

I would say I really want to get Dina Martina in here, who’s an artist from Seattle. If you don’t know Dina Martina, she’s a brilliant cabaret performer and drag personality. I would love to work with Jomama Jones  from New York, who is a channeler. Sometimes confused with a direct performer but is a beautiful choreographer, channeler, singer, songwriter, tarot card reader based out of New York. Those are two of my faves, but I’m also curating in collaboration with you, Zach, and you, Katy, dreams that you’re thinking about as well.

Katy: And that’s been one of the joys of working on this program with you, John, and just to take a second, my first experience of Get Pegged was the day I came to do a day-long interview at FringeArts, which was about a year and a half ago.

Zach: It was really fun.

Katy: And it was a long day meeting many people on the board here and many of my now colleagues here, which was amazing. And then I had dinner with Nick, and then I came to Get Pegged at 10:30, and it was the Get Pegged that was kind of looking towards Do You Want a Cookie?

Zach: Looking towards Late Night Snacks. Oh, Do You Want a Cookie?

John: Oh, crap.

Zach: That was the cookie jar.

Katy: It was a two hour, almost maybe even two and a half hour extravaganza, and it was incredible.

Zach: With Messi on the water tower, yes.

John: Wow.

Katy: And Adrian was there, and there were a lot of beautiful group numbers but also maybe as many as 10 different artists from all corners of the globe. And it was a real moment where I was like, “Whoa, FringeArts is doing crazy stuff.”

Zach: On stage?

Katy: I have been pushed to my limit in terms of what I’ve encountered in this day, and that’s where I want to be working. My God, I want to work in a place that has people climbing through every aspect of this restaurant and that is really privileging queer voices and people who might not be represented in the same way and carving out space for them and doing it in a really joyful way. I’m excited for us to keep doing that kind of work in Get Pegged. One thing we’ve talked about that I’m curious about is how to incorporate dance more.

Katy: Get Pegged has been primarily music-focused, which makes so much sense, and yet one of the things I love about the Beards in general is the way that it brings in people from Philadelphia who might not consider themselves a cabaret artist and gives them a platform to explore what that might mean. And that can mean a million different things, so I’d love to see how dance can maybe be a part of that as we keep working together in the future.

And I, like you, John, am so interested in the history of cabaret too and its relationship to performance art and the history kind of within the New York or the broader cosmopolitan scene in this country in the last 40 years. I think we’re also interested in what would it mean for someone like Dancenoise or someone like Carmelita Tropicana, who I really see as the fore-mothers to this kind of program and getting them in as well, so a very multi-generational look at it.

Zach: I definitely echo all of that. I think the work that we’ve gotten to do in kind of bringing poets in the Get Pegged fold has been really, really exciting for me, but I don’t know. I’m also really interested in Charlene Incarnate, which I know you share as well, and –

Katy: Love her.

Zach: And kind of people who are doing this almost pop and rock cabaret moment that feels really, I don’t know, interesting and spicy to me. Sateen is another group who I would so, so, so love to see do a Get Pegged. Who else? Meow Meow. Oh, my gosh. Bernie Dieter. There are so, so many people who I’ve just seen kind of just moving around in Australia and kind of in the UK where there’s really, really hot cabaret scenes as well.Jack Rook is one, actually. A really great storyteller from England who previously worked on the BBC really kind of covering just issues for queer youth and kind of the “It gets better” movement in the UK and then really very publicly said,

“This work of reporting on these stories is really challenging for me, and I would like to do something else,” and now creates all kinds of really beautiful storytelling shows about just kind of growing up as a young queer kid and body issues and growing up in this kind of connected app society as a queer person. Also, he’s a bit younger than me so really grew up kind of in that zone, that strike zone, so it’s interesting to kind of hear that voice as well.

John: I feel like if you’re listening, you’re getting a sense of what curatorial conversations talk like or sound like, so this is all about putting local artists on dates with national international artists. If you’re local, and you’re listening, hit us up.

Zach: Or if you have a great superstar cabaret artist that we don’t know about

John: That you want to date.

Zach: You’re always welcome to send a cute little email over to FringeArts, and it will reach us. Yes.

Katy: And I love this concept of the date where so much of what we’re trying to do is have deep relationships, and we care about people in the long term 100 percent, but I think it’s also great to be like, “We’re going to try it.” And this is not necessarily a low-stakes environment, but it’s a permissive environment. It’s an environment filled with care where we’re going to build a crash pad for you; where if you want to try to sing for the first time in your God-given life, we’re here for it. Go for it. And I think that is something really special within the field more broadly but particularly within Philadelphia. And I’m grateful that we can carve that space.

Zach: And I think the data approach flattens out the hierarchy in a really, really specific way. It’s not like resident artists and presenting organization inviting this guest artist in. It really is seen as this exchange where we’re both going to learn more about each other’s work, that it’s really about kind of our shared development as a field.

Katy: Absolutely, and building those relationships. It was great to hear you talk, John, and this is one of the things I love so much about cabaret, about the relationship between audience and performers. And for those of you who haven’t been to a Get Pegged, it happens within our resident restaurant, La Peg. And so as an audience member, you can engage with the performance in many different ways. There are some people who sit in a table and eat a hamburger and fries while they watch it. There are other people who stand at the bar and have a drink of their choice. There are other people –

Zach: There are people who just make out in the back of the room.

Katy: 100 percent.

Zach: That would be me, but thanks for that.

Katy: I think, John, that’s one of the things we also wanted to talk about is that the Beards and FringeArts work really carefully and sensitively to make it a care-foregrounded experience, and so how does that impact the type of audience that we are hoping to get to these performances and the very different levels of experience one could have at a it Get Pegged?

John: I think we’re in a dynamic, evolving conversation about the cabaret form and also values of consent to experience. If you’re interaction-adverse, you can still come. You’re welcome to come to a Get Pegged, and there are tools that we will give you on the day to signal that you don’t want interaction –

Katy: Or that you want a particular kind of interaction. Some people are like, “Oh, please do not touch me, but I am happy to be seated at the bar while you’re performing on the bar.”

John: Totally, so it’s about you having power to control your experience. And what’s amazing about that is I think that that’s sometimes seen as limiting to the art, but my experience over the past few years is that it actually allows the art to go further because everyone feels like they’re in a respectful, thoughtful environment. And I don’t quite believe in safe spaces. I don’t believe in that language, so it’s not a safe space, but it should be a thoughtful, healthy space where artists and audience can be a little dangerous and really try something new, which means that it’s hard to say, “You can expect this if you come to Get Pegged.”What you can expect is that I will be hosting, or someone that the Beards and FringeArts choose will be hosting, and there will be a certain amount of caretaking.

The host’s name is Peg. It’s Get Pegged at La Peg with Peg, and Peg is not always happy that you’re there, especially if you came from Dave and Buster’s, but Peg will empower you and will give you the kind of context and care that you need to get you through your evening. It’s not about you liking the performers. It’s not about you getting your money’s worth, and it’s very accessible in terms of pricing too. I think it’s eight bucks?

Katy: It’s eight bucks.

John: But it is about giving you an experience that maybe you needed, maybe you didn’t know you needed.

Zach: What I always love to see is somebody who just happened to be walking by and saw the performance through the window and maybe doesn’t come inside, but they stand, and they just kind of look. And they take it in, and you can see that they’re having this kind of performance experience they didn’t expect to have that night, and that’s all very interesting to me. And whether they come in or they don’t, I always think it’s interesting. You stop, and you look through this window, and you see this thing going on in there, and then you decide if it’s for you or not. And if it is, that’s great. I think it’s for everybody. If it isn’t, thank you for not coming in and being disruptive, but I always think that’s really interesting, kind of how the ambient neighborhood community engages with Get Pegged and all the people who might already be in our bar when a Get Pegged starts who might not know what they’re getting into –

John: That’s fun.

Zach: And find themselves with a full surprise and delight moment. I’ve got so many patrons come up to me and be like, “I had no clue this was happening. I’m so excited that I was here. I just came in for champagne and a pound of wings, but this is great.”

John: I’ve interrupted a few dates before, some to great effect and some to not so great effect.

Zach: Me too, but never at Get Pegged.

John: I do want to say that I feel like what’s special about Get Pegged too in the context of the city is a lot of this experimental work is happening in the nightlife scene and in spaces like in the gayborhood, et cetera, but it’s never resourced the way that it is here. What’s I think particularly special about the partnership with FringeArts is you’re allowing the Bearded Ladies and these performers to be resourced in their experimentation and to value them as other artists who are maybe in more traditional, more easily consumed and recognizable forms are resourced. And that’s not only just a fee, but that’s also maybe housing or a tech crew that’s there and present and actually lighting them so that you’re not holding a flashlight while you perform, and … unless you want to … that feels really special and unique.

Katy: And I think it goes the opposite way too in terms of just our recognition as an institution that has some clout, I would like to think, saying that that art is valuable, and that art should be happening in more traditional theatrical institutions as much as it should be happening in a bar in the gayborhood, and that it’s not relegated to Wednesdays.

Zach: Well, and one other facet of working with the Beards that I deeply enjoy is the sensitivity and care-foregrounded way in which, John, you and your staff approach every part of the production process. I think when we have meetings together, it’s always so tender, and I think we go in, and we check in with each other. It’s, “How are you? Kind of what’s in your pockets going into this meeting? No, not what’s going on with you professionally, not what meeting do you have after this, but how are you today? How are you feeling? Are you primed and ready for this conversation?” And I guess my question is more kind of in what ways are you and the Beards working to make the kind of arts administration part of cabaret more sensitive and more equitable?

John: I think I try not to think too differently about those spaces. I try not to think that there are different values in the performance space as there are in the … maybe there are different expectations obviously, but in the administrating space, how do you be human-valued in all of the spaces? And I think the hard thing in administrative spaces is that a lot of that work is invisible, especially if it’s done really well.

You’re like, “Oh, I didn’t think about all that effort,” so how can you give love and visibility to that is something that the Beards are doing. And I have a great team. Brandi Burgess  is our general manager. Dan O’Neil  is our artistic producer. Sally Ollove is our associate artistic director, and we’ve got Heath Allen and Rebecca Kanach are Beard’s company members, so I’ve got a really great team. And obviously, we’re fairly promiscuous, so as I say, partners all around the city that are working together to make sure that our endeavors into interdisciplinarity have integrity and thought behind them. I hope that answers your question.

And there just so many different avenues and ways we’re talking about health. But if you’re talking about education, the Elevator Repair Service’s take on Gatz or take on Hemingway, that like is a much more sort of interesting and vibrant way of experiencing literature than maybe another dry reading of a book that you might hear of somewhere else. And so just adding so much more richness to the way that we layer in things that are part of our history. I just, I get so much out of it from so many different ways and I wish more people would plug in. I’m always shocked when I come to Philadelphia and I get off the train at 30th street and hop in the cab and people don’t even know the festival is going on. And I’m like, how is that possible?

Zach: Well, and it goes way beyond the administrative part. What you’re talking about as far as how we can make the performance space more accessible to two different people is so, so interesting, but also, every time I see a show by the Beards at any institution, it is priced in a way that is accessible. And I think that’s a big part of what you’re all doing, and I think there’s always a VIP level too. You can kind of self-select into all of these different levels of engagement, but there is always a way to get in and see the work, and I think that’s really, deeply important and inspiring. And because you work with so many institutions, I think it really does advance the field locally to have the Beards as this kind of instigent for a more accessible kind of cabaret environment.

We do feel like we’re a guinea pig of the city. We’ll be like the first ones to work with the PMA on a certain kind of program, and then we’ll try all the things. We’ll break all of the art, and then they’ll know what to do next time, we do feel like we’ve, I mean, tried to be a good partner and instill good values. And now, we’re experiencing that on another level because we have a follicle program with the Beards that gives artists micro-grants; and a cabaret residency program, which is a more expansive $2,000 to work with a partner on a project.

And we’re now having conversations about like, “Oh, if we’re giving this resource to an artist, how can we also gently say, ‘Our intention is that you are paid with this resource’?” But how do we learn from people’s values who have less resources, have more resources than ours, and how can we instill good values of artist care as we’re engaging with artists that come from many different walks of life in the city?

That’s really fascinating. We’re learning a lot and hopefully offering a lot in that work, and that’s some of the work that the Beards do that I don’t think is often visible is the way in which we’re cultivating community and trying to … this is maybe a lingo, but institutionalize tiny risks and experimentation, which is what the cabaret form is all about is actually try it.

Try it in front of an audience. Try the interaction and see how it goes, and then maybe it expands into a bigger piece for the theater or something, or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe what it is is a tiny experiment that continues to be that size.

Katy: Well, I know, John, as the Beards have grown bigger and older, you’ve also started doing more touring as well, whether it’s across the United States or internationally, and I know that you have learned a lot about different cabaret fields abroad or further afield, and it’s interesting to hear how then you can bring those back to Philly and work to advance our city and our arts ecosystem. And so what are some of the things that you’ve seen other places do that you’re hoping to bring here?

John: Wow, that’s a good question. I think what’s fascinating about the form is it’s a form that’s really steeped in the local and the local vernacular, so to go to Germany and go to Berlin and see cabaret, it’s really hard to translate because it’s very local, which is what I love about it. It’s like we’re making work by Philadelphians for Philadelphians, and the Beards kind of hear that, and then we bring 14 artists from around the world to Philly to kind of give their prismatic definition of cabaret, so I’m constantly in a dialogue about what is shared in this approach and what is different.

Mexico City, the history of cabaret there is very, very political. It’s more of a ground-up kind of thing. There’s a cabaret festival run by a bunch of queers, and whereas French cabaret has become more museum-like and pushed into the corners or caves around the city and can feel very nostalgic. In terms of what to bring, I mean, I have approaches. I’m like, “Oh, that’s a Bridget Everett tactic,” or, “That’s a Meow Meow tactic,” et cetera. And when I bring those into my own practice as an artist, or I recognize that in other people’s work, I try to also make sure that I acknowledge where that history comes from.

Katy: That’s huge.

John: I think acknowledging the connections and where you learn what you’re learning is part of how we’re bringing in the history, but mostly, it’s about bringing the people here, and some of those people, you can’t bring. There’s an artist named Juwelia Soraya in Berlin who is one of my favorite cabaret artists in the world, and she performs in a little gallery of paintings of herself, mostly nude.

Zach: Oh, my gosh. Obsessed.

John: With a little mix tape player and a microphone, like a kid’s tape player, sometimes a pianist, and she’s a brilliant visual artist and performer. And I’m like, “You can’t bring you Juwelia without bringing all of her paintings, and I don’t have that kind of money.”

Zach: Putting their whole house up on.

John: And even then, what she’s talking about is what happened down the street earlier that week, what’s in the local news, so I guess also what I carry with me as I travel to those places is a permission to speak directly to the people that I’m talking to. I feel like sometimes as artists, we’re like, “How do we get it outside of Philly? How do we break the Philly bubble?”

And I want to do that too. Everyone wants to, but I think also, Philly is an amazing city to make work in, and there’s a kind of unique work that’s coming out of Philly because of the resources and the ecosystem that we live in. Embracing that, I think, is a lesson that I’ve learned from other cabaret places because often, cabaret is made out of necessity. It doesn’t have that kind of higher art, “I want to be in these global festivals around the world, so my work has to look like X, Y, Z.” It’s like, “I’ve got a closet and a hairbrush and a little glitter, and that’s what I’m doing.”

Katy: I think that’s so important to remember. I feel like every artist we meet with is like, “How do I get my show to New York? How do I get my show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival?” And we are so happy to talk with people about that and to extend our connections and talk about what makes that possible. But I think it’s great to remember that there is also so much here and that I think it’s really special to be able to speak to that locality in an incredibly foregrounded direct way, which doesn’t happen in the same way when you go on tour.

Zach: Oh, absolutely. I think about that a lot as well. It’s kind of, “Are you done doing things in Philly? You feel a completion as far as reaching audiences?” It’s like, no. There are still so, so many more partners. There are so, so many more audiences to reach. There are so many artists to work with. It’s this kind of a wellspring of arts and culture.

Katy: And I think the continuity is also worth it. I think yes, it’s great to continue to work your way through the city, but I also think it’s really valuable to be like, “We do Get Pegged six times a year, and maybe we reach the same 30 regulars who come to all six of them, and how incredible to be able to have that consistent check-in with those people and to bring them along for the ride.”

John: An artist that does this really well that we’re going to have at Get Pegged I believe in January is Magda. Magda is working on the right now. And what was Magda’s earlier piece about working in the children’s hospital?

Katy: I can’t remember what that was called.

Zach: Feral Wild Girl Child.

Katy: Thank you.

John: Oh, my god. It was so good.

Zach: That was so good.

John: It was so good.

Katy: It was really.

John: It felt very, very focused on Philadelphia and experiences in Philadelphia and was performed for 20 people in a little studio in the Bok Building and was one of the best things I saw last year. I feel like that’s the kind of work that we’re talking about, too. And of course, that should and will travel, but part of what makes it so special is that it was a conversation that needed to happen and needed to happen here first.

Katy: Definitely. A big plug to everybody: Our next Get Pegged is Friday, November 15th. Jan, of course, will be hosting as Peg. And we’re excited to have the local group Girl Poop along with New York-based artist Morgan Bassichis, so everybody come out.

Zach: It’s a can’t-miss event, friends. If you’ve not seen Girl Poop, and you’ve not seen Morgan Bassichis, I feel deeply for you, and the opportunity to see both of them in a single night … In a single night, you can see both of these fantastic artists. You got to get there, and you’ll love it. You’ll love it.

Katy: Hands down, we’ll change your life. But before we wrap up, we always ask our guests on the podcast, what are your highbrow and lowbrow inspirations?

Zach: Or current obsessions. You can take it anywhere you want, really, truly. And we’ll do one if you’ll do one.

John: Fleabag. Is that highbrow or lowbrow?

Katy: I think that’s the question.

John: It’s super satisfying. And in terms of cabaret, it’s really hard to talk directly to an audience through a camera, and the only people that do that super well are Mr. Rogers, and Phoebe is an incredible actor. And I’m like, “Wow, you’re really making me feel talked to right now,” so that may hit both of those for me. But maybe another highbrow thing is I’m obsessed with Anthony Roth Costanzo, who –

Katy: Buying my tickets to Akhnaten today.

Zach: I know, who was just on another great kind of contemporary art podcast, Dance And Stuff. Definitely listen to the ARC episode of Dance And Stuff. It’s very, very good.

John: And Fresh Air, recently with Terry Gross, whoever that is.

Zach: Katy, any highbrow lowbrow obsessions right now?

Katy: Was not prepared. Let’s see. Highbrow obsession, I am very excited to see Akhnaten, which both looks like the campiest opera I’ve ever seen and the best thing. I’ve read about it so much, but it’s actually never been seen in New York before, and involves Gandini Juggling, which should be incredible. I can’t wait to see highbrow and lowbrow really collide when I go see that in December in New York. The lowbrow inspirations, hard for me to say.

Zach: You watched any good TV?

Katy: To keep it really real on the podcast, I’m watching Modern Love right now on Amazon, which comes out of a essay that is published in the New York Times style section once a week that talks about love in really expansive ways. It’s not even always romantic. It is all kinds of relationships, and I have really loved reading those essays. Some of these episodes are really amiss, and some of them are more charming than others, but I do enjoy watching it. That’s true. Zach?

Zach: I would say highbrow, I’ve just been reading a lot right now. I just finally read. I’m the last person to read this, I promise. Everyone else had read this book already. It’s a long-form erasure poem that takes all of its controlled vocabulary from Bram Stoker’s Dracula to talk a little bit about queerness and identity, and it’s really, really special and beautiful. And I can read about two poems at a time before I’m like, “I have reached capacity as far as just the depth and incisiveness of the work.”

And then my lowbrow, I don’t know. Is it horror movie marathons? Because I’ve been very into that right now, but Halloween just ended. No, you know what? It’s Catherine the Great on HBO. I can’t stop watching it. It’s Helen Mirren as Catherine the Great. Yes. It’s a gay Fantasia, and I don’t understand why the girls aren’t talking. I’m upset.

Katy: Well, also, I think the The Crown

Zach: Helen Prospero Mirren, Oh, The Crown” as well. Oh, yes. Yes, yes, yes.

Katy: The Crown comes back tonight with Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret, which I just can’t wait for. That’s my lowbrow inspiration.

John: There’s some kind of horse joke that I’m just inserting into this. I’m not saying what it is.

Zach: Great.

Katy: We’ll let you all ruminate on that, but thank you so much, John, for joining us for this episode of Happy Hour On the Fringe. We hope to see you all at Get Pegged on November 15th at 10:30 PM in La Peg.

Zach: Make sure you follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and download the FringeArts app, and visit FringeArts.com to see more of our upcoming programming including Martha Graham Cracker, Get Pegged, and so much more. John, where can we see more on what the Bearded Ladies are doing?

John: We are doing a trestle engagement party, which is a fancy fundraiser for us, on November 21st. And then on December 7th, we’re doing All I Want For Christmas is a Dead Chanteuse, which is an Edith Piaf holiday show featuring Tareke Ortiz  from Mexico City is coming into town to do a special performance at World Cafe Live. If we sell out the first show, there will be a second show, so get your tickets now, and there is a promo code with that, so email us. Not all of our partners will let us do pay what you decide, so just let us know, and we’ll make sure that you’re covered.

Zach: Well, thank you so, so much, and that’s been Happy Hour On the Fringe.

[Exit music]

Happy Hour on the Fringe: Producers Circle

Posted November 21st, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, we sat down with some of the people who help give life to the arts in Philadelphia and FringeArts as an organization. Jane Pepper and Christie Hartwell are longtime Fringe fans who are also a part of the FringeArts Producers Circle, a cohort of dedicated supporters who help us present the most ambitious performances while expanding our audience and accessibility to the broader community.

Jane and Christie share their introductions to FringeArts, back when we were just the Fringe Festival, their favorite experiences over the years, and the importance of supporting the arts.

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.


[Music Intro]
Jenn: Hello and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premier presenter of contemporary performing arts. I’m Jennifer Shorstein Development Manager here at FringeArts.

Jarod: And I’m Jarod Hughes, the podcast production intern here at FringeArts. We invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversation with some of the most imaginative people in the plane of existence.

Jane Pepper posing with

Photo by Kevin Monko. Jane Pepper (right) at the 2019 FF VIP Opening Night

Jenn: Here at FringeArts, we want to acknowledge our Producers Circle members that help make everything we do here at FringeArts possible. So today we’re talking to Jane Pepper, who is a member of our Producers Circle. Welcome.

Jane: Thank you. Delighted to be here.

Jenn: So first question we always ask, what are we all drinking?

Jane: I’m drinking water and I’m thrilled to have good Philly water.

Jenn: I’m rocking a Sprite Zero today.

Jarod: I’m not having anything at the moment.

Jane: He’s a teetotaler today.

Jenn: So first question, what was the first show and or year, if you can’t remember the show, that you attended the Philadelphia Fringe Festival?

Jane: Well, you’re really stretching my memory, but I would say I was here maybe on the second or third year of your existence. And the reason I got interested in the Fringe was because I grew up in Edinburgh. And when I saw my adopted city adopting something from my native city, I thought, “I have to go and check this out.”

Jarod: That’s really cool. So you just decided to just come stop in and see a Fringe show while you were here?

Jane: Well, I started to see promotions for it during the time when you just had the one week. And there were a lot of interesting sounding things that I had no knowledge of and I thought it would be a wonderful way to try to figure out why. I didn’t know Nick Stuccio at that point, why the developer of the Fringe wanted to copy what was going on in Edinburgh.

Jarod: That’s really cool.

Jenn: Do you have any particular favorite moments from Fringe festivals past?

Jane: Yes. I became a huge fan of Junk, Brian Sanders’ Junk performances, thanks to the Fringe. And I will never forget, you did one up on Spring Garden street and all of the dancers were dressed in robes like monks and they were trampling in water and I’d never seen anything like that before. So that was the start of my interest. And I think Brian does fabulous stuff still, but that was one of my first … Probably not one of the first, but one of the shows that really sticks in my mind.

Jarod: Can you talk about initials from this year that might’ve been one of your favorites or anything you really were interested in the most this year?

Jane: Well, I like to come to the dance performances because that’s one of my favorites. And also there are always different, you always have different dance companies, And I would say Anne Keersmaeker, is that how you pronounce it? That was one of the ones that I found really interesting. I wouldn’t say it was one of the things that I was totally in love with, but the fact that they kept on doing that repetitive motion with such incredible skill was really interesting to me. And I love the way that the Fringe brings performances here for me to see very close to home that I would never see under any other circumstances.

Jarod: So when did you become a member of the Producers Circle at FringeArts and why did you decide to joint?

Jane: I guess, well, as you’ve developed your development function, you’ve introduced new ways of giving to the Fringe. And to me this was an interesting way to participate. This year, I think I sponsored Úumbal, the dance performance that went throughout the streets of South Philly, was it?

Jenn: Yeah.

Jane: Yeah, so that was interesting. And I just had a woman come up to me the other day, I didn’t know she was there, but she said, “I saw you at Úumbal.” So you never know who else is going to be in the audience.

Jenn: Wonderful. Can you tell us why you think it’s important to donate to the arts?

Jane: I’m a huge art supporter in Philadelphia. I mean not financially but emotionally. And I just think this is something that brings so much to our community and it involves people from all different backgrounds, all different generations. And as I get older, I get more and more interested in seeing young people participating. And the Fringe is particularly special, I think for young people because the tickets have been kept affordable, somewhat, depending upon what stage you’re in. But I love to … I sit next to somebody who’s 40 years younger than I am and that’s really satisfying for me to see them becoming involved in the arts because I hope then that that’s a tradition that they’ll do with their families and as they grow older they too will be able to support it.

Jenn: I think you already started talking about this a little bit, but how has FringeArts impacted any aspects of your life?

Jane: Allowing me to see, as I said, performances that I would never have a chance to see, or never know about. And I would say that that’s one of the interesting things. I like to get paper catalog to go through it because I find it totally overwhelming online. And so I thumbed through and marked them up and then try to figure out, you have so much going on that you have to figure out a schedule that you can fit them all in. And so I just … It’s sort of a ritual of early, mid September when FringeArts is going on, that it’s a great time to be in Philadelphia.

Jarod: That’s really cool. So what is your favorite thing about being a Producers Circle member at FringeArts? Like what is something that you just love? Like being in the meetings or stuff like that, that you just love to do?

Jane: I just like to be part … I like to support it because to me it’s important and you can give in a lot of different ways, but to become identified with a particular event gives me satisfaction.

Jenn: Wonderful. As someone who listens to the podcast, have you had any favorite episodes?

Jane: Well, I’m fairly new to the podcast. And I did listen to some of them this summer and it intrigued me and now my memory is going to leave me but I know that there was one that I hadn’t signed up for. And after I heard the podcast, I thought, “Well, I need to go to that.” So I think it’s a great way to get people intrigued about what you’re planning to do.

Jane: And listening to the artist talk is always incredible to me because I just never understand where people have their imaginations come from. And they could be in a different part of the world and here they are talking about the performance piece that they’re going to put on in Philadelphia.

Jenn: What are some other organizations that you were involved with in locally or elsewhere?

Jane: Well, I used to work for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, so I love that. And the art museum, the Barnes, also things like the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. So there’s so many things to do in Philadelphia that it’s always an exploration. And I’ve, for example, I’ve never been to a performance of Azuka, I don’t know if that’s how you pronounce it, theater, so I’m going to do that this fall. So in Philly you can never get bored if you have enough time. There’s just an endless series of things that you could do.

Jenn : And the big question, how many shows are you able to see this festival?

Jane: Well I was away from part of it, which was dreadful, but that was what the schedule required. So I would say I saw maybe five. And then in the summer, I came to one of your circus performances. And before you did that, I had no idea that there was a circus arts school in Philadelphia. So those are the kinds of things that you introduced to me that as I say, I probably wouldn’t have known of in another situation. So keep being innovators and keep doing things that will help people who are a little more sort of out of the … I’m not part of the art scene, I would say, but you allow me to participate in that.

Jarod: That’s really cool. So you were talking about it earlier, like how … Or how has art really influenced you throughout your whole life? Like is it something that you’ve always been a part of or you just started getting into it towards like as you just continue to get older? Like how has art been?

Jane: I think … I’m retired, so I have more time. So it’s allowed me to develop more interests. I mean, before it was fairly traditional, I’d go to the orchestra, I might go to the theater a couple of times a year, but having more space in my life allows me to just experiment more. And with the Fringe, you have to experiment because there are going to be some performances that I absolutely don’t understand and it’s good that you offer talk backs and educational pieces that go with it, the podcast among other things, because then people who have a limited understanding of some of the more contemporary performances have an opportunity to grant themselves a little bit in what the artists are achieving.

Jenn: Jane, thank you so much for coming in and for being a member of our Producers Circle and appreciating and engaging with FringeArts as you do.

Jarod: And we’re back. Next, we sit down with Raina Searles Marketing Manager and Tenara Calem Audience Engagement Coordinator here at FringeArts to interview Christie Hartwell, another Producers Circle member.

Christie Hartwell laughing

Photo by Kevin Monko. Christie Hartwell (center) at the 2019 FF VIP Opening Night

Tenara: So today we’re talking to Christie who is a member of our Producers Circle. Welcome, Christie.

Jarod: Last we recall, you were talking about how you wanted it to resonate with the people. I just want to get a feel. How do you want your audience to get understanding of what you’re showing when the event happens? More so, what do you want them to experience, to take away from it all?

Christie: Thank you.

Tenara : So this is … The title of our podcast is Happy Hour on the Fringe. So of course our first question is always, what are we drinking? Knowing that it’s noon right now, I think that that answer can go to many different ways, but are you drinking anything wherever you are, Christie?

Christie: I am. I’m drinking LaCroix coconut water, which my 15-year-old son calls mom drink.

Tenara : That’s great though. I love that.

Raina: Is LaCroix a mom drink now or is it what you always drink?

Christie: No, I think he and his friends, apparently like the mothers of teenagers right now, this is the popular drink.

Tenara : Good to know. I always like a LaCroix as well, so it’s important to know what people are reading into that.

Christie: I have, seriously.

Raina: And so, I’m having a cup of peach passion tea. It’s in a tumbler that I filled all the way up and it’s definitely cool now.

Tenara : And I’m drinking nothing, I’m quite satisfied right now, so I don’t need anything to quench a thirst.

Raina: Yeah, and you have some fruit in front of you.

Tenara : I do have fruit, I have many slices of melon in front of me, which feels important. Great. So diving right in, we’d love to just talk to you about your experience with the Fringe festival and with FringeArts. So if you can think back, do you remember the first show that you saw in the Fringe festival?

Christie: I do, actually. I go all the way back to the first year of the festival. I didn’t know anything about the festival and I was seeing Melanie Stewart at the Annenberg the year before and she was performing in the first year of the festival. And I think the show might have been called something like “Trapture”? And so I followed her. I didn’t know anything about the festival. And she and a group of dancers, including Paul Turner, and I don’t remember who else, they were all bound in some way that affected how they were able to move in the space and interacting. And I learned about the festival through the program that was passed out that night. And the following year, I ended up attending eight or 10 shows and have been a huge fan ever since.

Tenara : Wow, that’s amazing that your relationship with Fringe has like been since the beginning. That’s so great. Now correct us if we’re wrong, but you actually don’t live in Philadelphia, is that correct?

Christie: Not anymore. I lived in Philadelphia until about 10 years ago. And I live in Virginia now. And when I moved away, I thought, “Wow, I’m sad to see this connection end.” But then I realized that Philadelphia is still only a short drive or train ride away. So I still come up for a couple of weekends every festival and make the connection that way.

Tenara : Well, we have to say, we really appreciate your dedication to us and being able to come even from so far away. That’s great. And you came this year for the festival, correct?

Christie: I did, yes.

Tenara : What was your favorite show that you saw this year?

Christie: Goodness, what was my favorite show? The one that was probably the most memorable was the … And I’m blanking on his name, but the former … The dancer who used to dance with Brian Sanders, who did the very bloody show in North Philadelphia. What is his name? It was a Fringe … And I’m, gosh-

Raina: Is it Gunnar Montana?

Christie: Yes, Gunnar Montana. Why can’t I think? He’s so memorable, why couldn’t I think of his name? But yes, that was probably the most memorable of the shows just because of the transporting nature of it all. But I also, the Wooster Group was the other one that really, really sent me quite a bit, the b-side.

Raina: Yeah, that was really beautiful. I do think it’s interesting though, because one of the things that I feel like we’ve seen a lot and especially that I’ve seen a lot from the marketing perspective is that so many people hear about our festival and hear about our programming through an artist. And so looking especially at our independent artists, but also the curated artists that we’re bringing in, there are people who are following an artist or have a friend in a show and so they come to see a random show in the Fringe festival and then they kind of hear about the rest of everything that’s happening after they’ve seen a show already.

Christie: Right.

Raina: And so I think it’s so fantastic that you’re going out and supporting actually the curated works but also the independent works. Has that always kind of been really important for you, is seeing like as many shows as possible in the festival?

Christie: I do think it is important. I have, particularly since I’ve moved away, I do tend to see more of the curated shows because I just, I know the caliber and the quality of the shows that are brought to the festival in that way, and since my time is more limited, I tend to see more of those shows. But I almost feel like I haven’t really done Fringe if I haven’t taken more risks and if I don’t get at least one like sort of oddball clinker out there, I haven’t taken enough risks with it. So I do try to get a few random new things and discover something exciting and unusual. But the more you have your favorites out there, it’s hard to fit everything in once you’ve started going year after year, there are so many amazing local artists that do such remarkable work year after year in the festival. And then repeat artists that come back to the Fringe, Even this year again, Nature Theater of Oklahoma is a huge, huge favorite of mine. And one of my favorite Fringes of all times was the year that they did Life and Times and just how many hours spent in that extensive multi-performance. Time there in the Wilma just hanging out and eating barbecue out on Broadstreet and just being with them for so many hours of wonderful, wonderful theater. And when they come back, they’re a must do kind of thing.

Tenara: I’m curious because your … So now that you are traveling to Philly for the Fringe festival, like you said that you come for … How long do you tend to stay when you come to Philly? Like this time around to see the festival.

Christie: I tend to come at least two weekends from Thursday through Sunday. And will pack in as much as I can over the course of those couple of weekends. And some of the other very dedicated longterm fringe supporters, we tend to start texting in the summer and comparing notes on–uh, Ed in particular has his spreadsheet and starts sending it around of who’s going to see what when. So we’re running from show to show and barely having time to eat between.

Tenara: Well it sounds a lot like our schedules during that festival season . And so that sort of dovetailed into my question, which is, I know what it feels like for me as somebody who works in the organization, what it feels like to be saturated with so much performance in such a short amount of time. But I’m curious, as somebody who has been a long time supporter of FringeArts, how does it feel to be filling your time so intensely with art and performance?

Christie: Well, it is. It’s a very, it’s almost like, to use sort of a food analogy, it’s kind of like a buffet of time of when you’re kind of feasting on this a variety of things and you go from something that’s really dark and serious and gloomy and to something that’s bright and cheerful and hilarious and you laugh your head off and just something else where you’re like, what the heck is that? And it is a little bit draining at the same time as energizing. And so I tend to come away refreshed and invigorated from this period. Every September, I do make it a priority in my schedule and find that this time is something worthy of carving out a time in my life. And I’m delighted that in recent years that FringeArts has become more of a year-round type of thing, so that as my work travel kind of takes me through and around the Philadelphia area that I can pop in for a show here and there and not just in the fall type of thing.

Tenara : Right. Do you feel like the energy that you store for watching all of this amazing art, do you feel like that … Like do you see art during the year in Virginia as well or are you like, got to save it all for the Fringe festival, and anytime you’re in Philly, there’s a show there too?

Christie: Performing art is a big part of my life year-round. And any opportunity I have to see live performance, I … That it fits in my schedule, I take it. There’s something different about the festival and I feel like it being part of FringeArts and being in the midst of this, we’re watching an art form evolve. And being part of it, whether it’s taking the behind the curtain opportunities with the talk backs or interacting with the artists late night at La Peg and seeing some works that are more in process, it’s a little different than going to a performance even on a fairly regular basis through the year. And so, even though I’m a fairly regular attendee of arts performances, this is a little different for me.

Raina: So I think you may have already answered it, but just to very specifically ask, what made you decide to become a member of my Producers Circle and when did you make that choice?

Christie: I don’t remember when I decided to make that choice. Probably early on when Producers Circle started and as I was able to participate. I think this is the work that FringeArts is doing is very important to Philadelphia, is very important to arts in general, nationally and internationally. And I think I feel very privileged to be able to support in a small way that happening. And I get a lot out of it. And then I feel like the arts in general, the performing arts in general, I worry that it’s operating at the extremes or has been operating at the extremes. It’s either on the one hand, very plastic and commercial and yet … I mean, I love the Nutcracker as much as anybody else, but it’s very plastic and commercial and canned and exactly the same, or so ridiculously studious and serious only for the intelligentsia and very serious theater students and very rich philanthropists on the other end. And there’s no room in the middle for the average Joe or people who could have their lives enriched by performing art. And I feel like FringeArts does that. And even though probably the audiences and the participants aren’t as diverse as what you’d like them to be, eventually, I think they’re far more diverse than what you see in the traditional American theater, commercial theater in other places. And I think that’s a really fantastic and encouraging thing.

Raina: Yeah. Well, I think it’s also great to hear about all the connections that you’ve made with other people in the Producers Circle, sharing your schedules and coordinating and getting together. Did you know a lot of the other people involved when you first joined the Producers Circle or are those friends that you made through FringeArts?

Christie: They’re absolutely friends I made through FringeArts, people that you start seeing the same faces around at various things year after year. There’s Shelley Green is one person who about eight or 10 years ago, I didn’t know her at all. And all of a sudden, one year we had virtually identical schedules and kept walking into the theater and oh my gosh, there she is again. And so we started chatting and now we see one another every year and chat again.

Tenara : So you’ve already spoken a little bit about this, but maybe if we can sort of revisit that part of the conversation, but can you talk about why you personally feel like it’s important to donate and support the arts? We’re getting ready to do some big end of year appeals and we want to make sure that people know that the work that we do is totally … It’s not possible without other people’s support. So yeah, we’d love to hear from you about what motivates you to support the arts.

Christie: Well, I think the arts, I feel like creativity and … Arts is a way to dig into things that are important in life. And I see as you experience, if you look at September festival time, unintended themes emerge based on what’s going on in society around us because the artists are influenced by what’s going on in the world around us and they are working on and cracking open in a different way, important themes, whether it be the impact on technology. And I remember very vividly the post-911 world that very next year and acceptance of the LGBTQ community and other things like that that come along. And I feel like the creative arts is an important venue that contributes to our world and contributes to our society. Not as this separate bubble that exists in a box over here that’s this nice adjunct that we do as entertainment, but it’s a critically and vitally important part of life.

And so the more that I work in healthcare, and so the health and wellbeing of people, and I work in children’s healthcare and I want children to grow up in a world that has that and their health and wellbeing is inspired by their ability to have creative outlets and to be able to express themselves creatively. And so, the more that we have organizations like FringeArts that are taking creativity and the arts into the broader world and the broader forum, the better we are as a society and a community. And so I think it’s really important that all members of society are supporting

Tenara : Yeah, I can’t remember which country I read about this in, I think it’s either the UK or Canada, but they recently published like a lot of research and information about exactly what you were talking about, the relationship between the arts, arts programming, arts education, and on holistic health within kids but also just like their general population. And sort of the conclusion that they came to was that the arts are a part of health and wellbeing and it’s just, it feels like that’s something I’d really like to see more of in our community, and understanding that we need to support and invest in our arts communities because they contribute to overall health and wellbeing.

Christie: Right, right. Well, and even, I think of like the very first piece that he brought to the festival about the man caring for his aging father. And that is part of the cycle of life that every human being deals with and just kind of see that in a different way and experience that in a different way and how what a human story that is and told out and an ability to kind of learn something and experience something in a really non-traditional way that without FringeArts working their way up to that, I’m not sure that Philadelphia was probably ready for until you’d done some groundwork, prepping for him, relatively speaking. That’s a really important story and a really important message.

And there just so many different avenues and ways we’re talking about health. But if you’re talking about education, the Elevator Repair Service’s take on Gatz or take on Hemingway, that like is a much more sort of interesting and vibrant way of experiencing literature than maybe another dry reading of a book that you might hear of somewhere else. And so just adding so much more richness to the way that we layer in things that are part of our history. I just, I get so much out of it from so many different ways and I wish more people would plug in. I’m always shocked when I come to Philadelphia and I get off the train at 30th street and hop in the cab and people don’t even know the festival is going on. And I’m like, how is that possible?

Tenara : Well, you’re doing some very vital work to make people aware.

Raina: Yes, please keep telling all of your taxi cab drivers. I like, yeah, that’s where I work, it’s FringeArts. So we don’t want to keep me for too long, but one of the questions that we normally close out with when we’re speaking to artists is their highbrow and lowbrow inspirations for making art. And so I’m wondering for you if there are one or two maybe more shows, because you’ve already mentioned so many, but if there are any shows that have really inspired you in various ways and made you take something back in your life or really reflect on something that you’ve seen throughout the years?

Christie: Well I’m not sure so much … I think some favorites, I guess, I’ll take it more in that way, Jerome Bell is one that I was really, the show must go on was one that so inspired me, kind of the the artist in every person of everyday movement and how breaking down that fourth wall and making the entire venue part of the experience part of the performance and breaking down that performer versus audience member in a way that was beautiful and a little bit uncomfortable because one of the things that I thought was so interesting was in the talk back after the show must go on. One of the young performers who I think was a university of the arts student was talking about being a little bit taken aback or uncomfortable that the audience was like moving around or doing stuff in reaction to one of the songs where she felt as though … Like, I mean she didn’t express that quite this way, but that according to the rules they were supposed to be watching the performers, play by the rules as the audience member.

And I thought it was so interesting because this was coming from a very young person and I thought, she’s been programmed in her education and her teaching where he as a choreographer is blowing this up yet she’s responding from a very traditional dancers kind of kind of perspective. And it’s like wow, what an interesting kind of dynamic on that. And it gave me much more food for thought because I loved the performance and it gave me some food for thought and then her comment in the talk back also gave me some more food for thought. So it was interesting.

Tenara : That’s awesome.

Raina: Yeah.

Tenara : We like Jerome Bel over here.

Raina: Big fans.

Christie: Yeah, and another favorite that’s just Jo Strømgren, and that made up language, fun stuff with The Convent was just like so, how like transported to like take you away from your reliance on the English language and just to like get such a fabulous story out of it. I think I went to The Convent three times because I loved it so much.

Tenara : Wait, say the title again. The Convent?

Christie: The Convent.

Tenara : Man, I love it when you have to go see, I’ve done that before. I’ve seen a show once where I was like, well got to see it again.

Christie: Yes, indeed. Yeah, I think I skipped something else. So I probably missed something wonderful but I had to go back.

Raina: I had a friend in 2017 when we did HOME by Geoff Sobelle, I remember I was seeing it for the Saturday night performance and she couldn’t make it, so she went to go see the Friday night performance, but then she ended up canceling her plans the next day and seeing both the Saturday matinee and the Saturday night performance because she loved it so much. And when I saw it, I was like, I wish I had done what she did and like come back three times so I could see all the different perspectives. So it was a show that like you just had to see more than once and then get a feel for everything that was going on on stage.

Christie: I know. My sister missed it. She often comes up, she lives here in Virginia and she often comes up with me, and that was one that she missed and I was, I said, “Carrie, you missed a good one.”

Tenara : Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Christie, for joining us for this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe.

Christie: Well, thank you. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it. It’s always fun to reminisce and think back and I look forward to my next Fringe [crosstalk 00:36:21].

Tenara : We look forward to seeing you around the theater. Thank you again.

Christie: Thank you.

Tenara : Bye, Christie.

Christie: Bye-bye.

Jenn: Thank you for joining us for this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe. Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and download the FringeArts app. Visit fringearts.com to see all of our upcoming programming. Thank you for listening.

[Exit music]

Happy Hour on the Fringe: DJ Dame Luz

Posted November 4th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe we recorded musical artist DJ Dame Luz before her upcoming Halloqweens event that took place at FringeArts on October 26. Listen as she talks about the people who have inspired her, along with the origins of Halloqweens.

Featured photo: Halloquweens Event

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Conversation with DJ Dame Luz 

[Music Intro]

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

halloweens promo with women dressed as devilsJarod: I’m Jarod Hughes, the Podcast Production Intern here at FringeArts. We invite you to pour one up, enjoy our conversation with some of the most imaginative people on the plane of existence. Today, we’re excited to talk about Halloqweens, the best queer Halloween party in Philadelphia, here at FringeArts for the third year, on October 26th, from 10 PM to 2 AM.

Raina: Created by DJ Dame Luz, the party features performances by artists spanning the nightlife and drag communities, alongside some of the most exciting DJs in the city. This is the party that you save your good costume for. So, welcome, Dame Luz.

Dame Luz: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Raina: Yeah, we’re excited to have you here. So, first of all, it’s Happy Hour on the Fringe. We always record at varying times, so our first question is, what are we all drinking, though?

Dame Luz: Water. I always stay hydrated.

Raina:Yes. I am also drinking water, out of a Mason jar, to be fringe-y. Just to start off, take us back to the start of HalloQueens? How did this idea come to you, what spurred you on?

Dame Luz: Halloqweens started out from an event that I used to do, in collaboration with someone else. It was called Cut and Paste. Halloqweens was just our yearly Halloween party. I’m a really big fan of Halloween, period.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dame Luz: So, yeah, I was really excited to do that.

Raina: Yeah.

Dame Luz: Throw a big party!

Jarod: So, this will be the sixth year that you guys are doing Halloqweens, right? What are some of the highs and lows of this event for you? As you’re doing it, what is something that is extremely stressful, and something that you’re just bang on the part?

Dame Luz: The first few years, it was pretty low maintenance, as far as production wise. We held it at a smaller venue called [The Barberry 00:02:12]. We took up two of the floors there. You know, it was pretty low maintenance. Forward working at Fringe, yeah, we were able to elevate production. So, as far as what’s been stressful, low points, high points, was that the question? I think working by myself the past couple of years, I definitely felt like I was taking on a lot, you know? I’m a Virgo, so, yeah. This year, I’ve teamed up with someone else to co-curate, so I want to say that’s a high point.

Raina: Awesome. That is Hawkmoth Events?

Dame Luz: Yes.

Raina: How did you build that collaboration?

Dame Luz: I’ve just been in admiration of what they’re doing for a while now. I was like, yeah, this year, it’s a lot of work to do an event by yourself, so I was like, I’m not going to do it unless I find the right person to collab with. I was so excited when they said yes.

Raina: Awesome. So, is there anything that people might see this year, as you’re building this new partnership and trying new things, is there anything people might see that’s different this year?

Dame Luz: So, in my collaboration with Hawkmoth Events, they’re in change of the visual aspect of things. This year, expect to see an elevated, just better lighting and visuals. That’s something we’re really looking forward to.

Raina: Awesome.

Jarod: So, I want to talk about, now that you’re doing this collaboration, is there anything that’s been challenging you guys, where maybe conflicting ideas or anything, that you’ve had to work out?

Dame Luz: No. It’s been pretty organic and flowing, honestly. Yeah, they’re another Virgo.

Raina: Okay, so two Virgos together is good?

Dame Luz: It’s a super Virgo team.

Raina: Great. The goal of HallowQueens is to create a safe and equitable space for queer performers and audiences to come together, but with the success of Halloqweens, we’ve seen a number of people from different walks of life, coming together, all partying together. The question is then, what does it mean to be an ally in 2019? What are you excited about as you see Halloqweens grow?

Dame Luz: To be an ally in 2019, I feel like it’s offering support, but also knowing when to step back, you know? Yeah.

Dame Luz: Then, what was the other question?

Raina: How are you excited to see Halloqweens grow?

Dame Luz: Like, how am I excited?

Raina: Yeah.

Dame Luz: I mean, yeah. I’m like –

Raina: What are you excited about?

Dame Luz: What am I excited about? I’m excited about the visual aspect, for sure, this year. We’ve teamed up with a few artists who do 3D animation. I’m really excited to have these visuals. I feel like the visuals are going to be really queer, and spooky. I feel like it’ll resonate with a lot of people.

Raina: Are they going to be projected up on the walls?

Dame Luz: Yeah.

Raina: And moving around? Okay. Like a 360 view, or specific areas?

Dame Luz: We’re still figuring that out.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dame Luz: We have a meeting next week with the visual team to figure that out. Yeah, there’s definitely going to be a lot more visuals.

Raina: Okay.

Jarod: Last we recall, you were talking about how you wanted it to resonate with the people. I just want to get a feel. How do you want your audience to get understanding of what you’re showing when the event happens? More so, what do you want them to experience, to take away from it all?

Dame Luz: I want them to experience, you know, queer night life at it’s weirdest. Yeah.

Dame Luz: More specifically, I want them to take away, from the artists, how amazing these queer, POC artists are.

Raina: Well, it’s Halloween. You said you’re a big fan of Halloween. What are some of your best costumes that you’ve done over the years?

Dame Luz: Over the years? I was a succubus thing last year, which I was really excited about.

Dame Luz: Honestly, I’m pretty basic. I’m Lydia almost every other year. Every version of Lydia.

Raina: Yeah. I mean, I can’t say I’m much better. I usually wear black, and then call it something. So, last year, I was a business witch, because I wore a long black sweater, and black heeled boots, and went to work like that. So, I was business witch. But, it’s usually business witch, model, spy, anything you can wear black for and then call it a night.

Dame Luz: Oh, no. It always has to be spooky.

Raina: Okay.

Dame Luz: Spooky only.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jarod: I’ve never dressed up.

Raina: Never?

Jarod: Maybe when I was a child. I haven’t done Halloween since I was, like, 13.

Raina: Oh, wow. What do you normally do?

Jarod: For Halloween?

Raina: Yeah.

Jarod: The past four years, my Halloween has been studying. So, that’s what I did on Halloween. I stayed in my library, and got 10-page papers. I haven’t done a Halloween in years.

Dame Luz: Maybe this is your year!

Jarod: Maybe.

Raina: Yeah. So, do you have any hints on your costume for this year?

Dame Luz: I’m still working out the details. Halloween is a season for me, so by the time Halloween proper happens, I’ve already done three different costumes.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dame Luz: Yeah. There’s a lot to plan this season.

Raina: Yeah.

Jarod: So, you’ve been talking about some of the artists that you have. Can you describe some of the music, and stuff they’re going to be doing? Give us a little hint of what’s going to be happening, what they’re going to be doing?

Dame Luz: This year, we’ve got a live performance. We have this R&B singer, Tama Gucci, who is awesome. I’m really excited to have him. Yeah.

Raina: How do you choose the artists that you’re going to bring in each year?

Dame Luz: You know, that’s funny. Just yesterday, I was watching this TV show on Netflix that came out, it’s Rhyme and Flow.

Raina: Rhythm?

Dame Luz: Rhythm and Flow, yeah.

Raina: Yes.

Dame Luz: You know, I’m looking at the New York episode, and I’m like “Oh my God, that’s Cakes da Killa!” We booked Cakes da Killa for Halloqweens, like, three or four years ago.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dame Luz: Seeing, you know, the growth of the artist that I’ve booked for this event. Like, Princess Nokia played Halloqweens a couple years ago, and she’s really big now. I think I’m really into finding, obviously, artists that resonate with queers, and that are doing amazing things, but that are also attainable.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Do you have a reach goal, in the future, however far away it is? Someone who is on your radar, and you want to use this as a platform to let them know, you want them to come to HallowQueens.

Dame Luz: Oh my God, there’s so many! Mickey Blanco, for one. I’m a huge fan of Mickey Blanco’s work.

Dame Luz: Who else? Baby Mutha.

Raina: Awesome.

Jarod: So, what inspires you to continue to do this event, year in and year out? Like, I know you said this year, you wanted to find a partner to do it with you. Not even for just this event, but for your own artistic abilities and imagination, what continues to inspire you to do this?

Dame Luz: Like I said, I just really love Halloween. I just want to take the experience higher and higher, every year, as far as this particular event is concerned.

Raina: Where can we find you, year round, doing work around the city?

Dame Luz: I DJ all over the city. I put on numerous events.

Dame Luz: Most recently, I did a Beyonce Birthday Night, which I actually held here the first two years, at Fringe.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dame Luz: Yeah. That was one of my big ones recently. I do all kinds of events.

Raina: Yeah. What are you looking forward to? We talked about what you’re looking forward to next in HallowQueens, but are there any career aspirations that you have, or goals, what your next big thing will be?

Dame Luz: I definitely want to work more towards collaborating with other event producers, and working more on festivals, and block parties. That’s how I envision my future as an event organizer.

Dame Luz: As far as a DJ, and music maker, I’m currently working on my P, so that’s what I’m working on.

Raina: Nice. Yeah. Do you imagine that you’ll stay based in Philly, or more open to traveling?

Dame Luz: I love to travel, so if I have the opportunity to travel, I would. Yeah, I love Philly, I’ve been here for seven years. I’m a native New Yorker, and this has given me New York in the nineties, which I’m very nostalgic for.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dame Luz: Yeah, I won’t be leaving Philly any time soon.

Raina: Did you start DJing in New York?

Dame Luz: No. I started DJing when I moved to Portland, Oregon.

Raina: Okay.

Dame Luz: I mean, I learned how to DJ when I lived in New York, I grew up in the South Bronx, the birthplace of hip hop. DJing as an art form. I learned these things early on, but it wasn’t until I lived on the West Coast that I considered even doing it.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Portland is known for being kind of quirky, and weird in their art scene. Did that help shape your practice at all?

Dame Luz: Yeah, no, just my journey as a DJ and event producer has evolved so much since then. Yeah, no, I loved it. I was so … Yeah, I’m sorry. I’m just like, oh my God!

Raina: Yeah, awesome. What ended up bringing you to Philly, then?

Dame Luz: I tried to move back to New York, and after living on the West Coast for almost a decade … I’m giving my age away. It just was a different New York, and the pace was a little too much for me. I got acclimated to a more chill vibe, and an affordable, accessible type of city, at least economically so. Everyone was like, “Oh, you’d really love Philly.” So, I came to visit. Two months, and I just packed and moved to Philly.

Raina: Oh, wow. Well, that’s a great reputation for us.

Raina: It’s funny, I know Philly is often accused of having that younger sibling syndrome, or second place syndrome to New York, but Philly has its good things about it, which is always great.

Raina: Yeah, so, one of our big questions is just, in general, what are your high brow and low brow inspirations? So, high brow, like whatever high art, whatever you consider to be high art. Low brow can be what you’re watching in Netflix or whatever, like reality TV. Yeah, high brow, low brow inspirations for your work, your practice, as you’re creating?

Dame Luz: I grew up on a lot of John Waters movies.

Raina: Okay.

Dame Luz: That’s always low-key been an inspiration, as far as the kind of spaces I like to create. Just, yeah.

Dame Luz: Then, as far as low brow, high brow, Susanne Bartsch. I don’t know if you know her? She has a documentary on Netflix now. She’s this big, New York event promoter, producer.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dame Luz: She’s known for her off-the-wall costumes, and very low brow but still fashion and glamorous.

Raina: Do you know what the documentary is called?

Dame Luz: I think it’s, like … It definitely has her name in it.

Raina: Okay. Susanne Bartsch?

Dame Luz: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Raina: Okay.

Dame Luz: You should watch it.

Raina: I will definitely check it out.

Dame Luz: I want to be the Dominican Susanne Bartsch, that’s goals.

Raina: Good goals to have. Awesome.

Jarod: Another question we just wanted to ask you was, how can people continue to support you? Not just now, but for years to come? For the people that are going to be listening?

Dame Luz: Yeah, you know, money talks.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dame Luz: That’s been a hindrance to elevating this event, has been the lack of monetary resources. Yeah, that’s been a challenge, finding people who will sponsor us, and give us money so that we can have this event be more amazing.

Raina: Yeah.

Dame Luz: We can get the artists that cost a lot of money.

Raina: While also keeping ticket prices.

Dame Luz: Also, keeping ticket prices lower and accessible, exactly.

Raina: Where can we find you on social media?

Dame Luz: So, you can find me @DJDameLuz on Instagram. Something to that effect on Facebook, yeah.

Raina: Great.

Raina: Well, thank you so much for joining us on this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe. Before we close, is there anything else you want to share about Halloqweens, or what you have coming up?

Dame Luz: I think we touched on everything. Thanks for having me!

Raina: Yeah, thank you.

Raina: Halloqweens is October 26th at FringeArts, and tickets are on sale now. Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, and download the FringeArts app. You can also visit us at Fringearts.com.

[Exit music]

Let Me Answer Some Questions: Interview with Joseph Keckler

Posted August 26th, 2019

Joseph Keckler is a multi-talented performer, with an astute comic sensibility and three-octave vocal range. (Just check out his “Shroom Opera“.) For the 2019 Fringe Festival, he brings these talents to Let Me Die, a medley of operatic death arias, interspersed with original music and commentary. The world premiere features a roster of talented singers performing songs and snippets from classic opera, along with

FringeArts talks to Joseph Keckler about his absurd, yet affecting piece.

FringeArts: What inspired  Let Me Die?

Joseph Keckler: I was attracted to the scenes in part because of the paradox they present: often the deaths in opera are the most virtuosic displays. So although these moments depict bodily failure they are in reality great vocal, great physical, feats.

I also noticed people talking about opera, as an art form, in terms of death: “opera is not dead,” etc and was compelled by the idea that seeing opera once functioned as a ‘rehearsal for death.’

I’ve been circling the idea for a while. I’ll talk more about the origin of the show within the show itself.

FringeArts: Other than death, what themes and qualities do you see running through the operatic death scenes?

Joseph Keckler: The scenes are alternately, or sometimes simultaneously sublime and absurd—that’s my jam.

FringeArts: How do you frame the different segments?

Joseph Keckler: I don’t want to give too much away, but as I’m creating the piece I am negotiating interpretation vs. doing, showing vs. telling. I want the piece to be navigable without being overarchingly didactic, and part of what I’m doing in the fragmentation is to pull moments out of their narrative context. I’ll introduce a lot of ideas very directly within the piece.

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Channeling the Past: Eric Berryman on The B-Side

Posted August 5th, 2019

Three men—Eric Berryman, Jasper McGruder, and Philip Moore—listen to an LP of songs and speeches recorded in 1965 in segregated Texas state prison farms, singing and talking along with the album. This is not your typical piece of theater, but The B-Side: “Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons,” A Record Album Interpretation by The Wooster Group is a powerful experience. The voices of the performers blend with those on the album, capturing the humor and sorrow and bringing the men on the album to life. Between pieces, Berryman provides context from the liner notes and a book by Bruce Jackson, the folklorist who recorded the original LP. FringeArts talked with Eric Berryman in May of 2019 about this deeply moving piece.

FringeArts: How did you discover this album? 

Eric Berryman: I was working on a piece some years ago on the Legend of John Henry, and found myself listening and searching for work songs, as John Henry in its original form was a slower tempo work song and not the faster tempo revival version that has become popular. In my quest to add some of the work song music to my tangible vinyl record collection I discovered Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons, never thinking it would become my next major project.

FringeArts: What appealed to you about it?

Eric Berryman: What I loved was that it wasn’t an album of just worksongs but a collection of more. Worksongs, blues, spirituals, preaching and toasts.

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Camae Ayewa aka Moor Mother

Posted June 7th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, we share a drink with poet, noise musician and Afro-futurist  Camae Ayewa and discuss her latest project Circuit City. Known as a force of nature in the Philadelphia Arts scene, Camae has also made her mark world wide as the one-woman band, Moor Mother.  Camae discusses how Circuit City explores what the concept of freedom really is, through the lens of the housing crisis and its effects on those who’ve spent their lifetime in their community. Circuit City runs from June 20-22 as part of our High Pressure Fire Service.

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Feature Photo by Bob Sweeney

Conversation with Camae Ayewa aka Moor Mother

[Music Intro]

 

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

Tenara: And I’m Tenara, I am the Audience Engagement Coordinator here at FringeArts. We invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversations with some most imaginative people on this plane of existence.

Raina: Now, we’re really excited right now, because we’re really just gearing up for High Pressure Fire Service, what we also also affectionately call “Hipfizz,” from the acronym HPFS, so we’re really excited to be talking to one of the most exciting artists that we have in this incredible lineup for High Pressure Fire Service.

Tenara: Yeah, today we’re talking to Camae Ayewa, is that how I say that?

Camae: Yes.

Tenara: Excellent. Or, as some of you might know her, Moor Mother. Camae is a poet, a noise musician, a visual artist, and for the first time this Spring, a playwright. So Camae, welcome.

Camae: Hello everyone. Thanks for tuning in; thanks for having me.

Raina: Hey (laughs). So, our first question, cause it’s Happy Hour on the Fringe is, what are you drinking?

Camae: I’m drinking a spice chai.

Tenara: Oh, it’s so good. Like, vanilla spice, or…?

Camae: No, just the…just spices, ’cause they had vanilla, but I said, “No, I’ll go for the spice.”

(Laughter)

Raina: I’m opting for water today, still.

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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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HPFS: A Commitment to Philadelphia

Posted February 25th, 2019

With the opening show in the new High Pressure Fire Service series kicking off this weekend, FringeArts Artistic Producers Zach Blackwood and Katy Dammers share what HPFS really stands for and why we’re pumped about the next few months of programming at FringeArts.

A HISTORY

HPFS philadelphia

Photo by Robby Virus

In 1903, he FringeArts building at the intersection of Columbus and Race Streets opened as the nation’s first High Pressure Fire Service system, its name carved on the east and west façades. Water was pumped from the Delaware River via a six-foot diameter pipe into the brick edifice and then funneled out to more than 900 fire hydrants from Girard Avenue to South Street. This innovative system allowed firefighters to shoot a two-inch stream of water 230 feet in the air and led to a significant decline in fire-related deaths and damages. With this reassurance, insurance companies subsequently dropped additional charges on tall buildings, and Philadelphia’s downtown area entered a renewed period of urban growth and architectural advancement. Though the pipeline from the Delaware has long since been capped and decommissioned, a spidering pathway of pipeworks still connects our building to a huge swath of the city: to cafés and community centers, taverns and libraries, and inevitably several cheesesteak spots.

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Phyllis Chen & Nathan Davis talk In Plain Air

Posted September 21st, 2018

FringeArts’ signature podcast series Happy Hour on the Fringe is back with International Contemporary Ensemble‘s Phyllis Chen and Nathan Davis.

Phyllis Chen at an In Plain Air workshop.

During a residency at Christ Church, composers Chen (known for her work with hand-wound music boxes and toy pianos) and Davis (a percussionist fascinated by the mechanics of instruments) immersed themselves in the sound-making possibilities of the church’s newly installed organ, bells, and open spaces, as well as the history and public role of the venerable institution. The resulting compositions form In Plain Air, presented this weekend in partnership with Christ Church Preservation Trust as part of the 2018 Fringe Festival.

In this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, the pair chat with hosts Zach and Katy about In Plain Air, the organ that will outlive us all, and Nathan’s security record.

Listen to the episode .

Performances of In Plain Air will take place on September 22nd at 1pm, 3:30pm, and 6pm, and on September 23rd at 3:30pm and 6pm. Tickets are available at FringeArts.com or through the FringeArts app.

In Plain Air Will Close the Fringe Festival on a High Note

Posted September 19th, 2018

The 2018 Fringe Festival signs off this weekend on a high note. And a low note. And all varieties of notes in between. A free multi-movement program by International Contemporary Ensemble, In Plain Air takes listeners around the historic Christ Church campus in five daytime performances September 22 and 23.

Created by composers Phyllis Chen and Nathan Davis, In Plain Air celebrates the installation of the brand new C.B. Fisk pipe organ at Christ Church. It features work performed on the impressively huge new instrument, the centuries-old church bells, and all manners of other instruments. It’s the perfect project for Davis, a percussionist fascinated by the mechanics of instruments, whose work brings out the acoustics of sound-making devices and the physicality of playing them. Davis talked to FringeArts about the pieces that make up In Plain Air and the process leading to this weekend’s performances.

FringeArts: How does this project fit into your larger career?

Nathan Davis: I have long been fascinated with instruments, such as the organ, that place intermediary mechanical steps between the performer and the sound production. Ten years ago I wrote a piece for Phyllis called “The Mechanics of Escapement” for toy piano and clock chimes that are played by pulling long cords. And other pieces of mine explore the relationship of distance, separation, and communication. This project takes that one step further: the organ is a vast mechanical instrument. My work here is partly on the components of the machine (air, bellows, valves, keys, etc.) and their correlation with the instruments that the organ emulates.

FringeArts: How does it fit into International Contemporary Ensemble’s mission?

Nathan Davis: The project is closely tied to its multiple missions of creating and commissioning new work, building new audiences, and connection with place.

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Of Arms and the Man They Sing: Interview with Donald Nally

Posted September 15th, 2018

The artistic director of contemporary choral group The Crossing, Donald Nally has served as chorus master at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Welsh National Opera, Opera Philadelphia, and for many seasons at the Spoleto Festival in Italy. He’s been music director of Cincinnati’s Vocal Arts Ensemble, chorus master at The Chicago Bach Project, and guest conductor throughout Europe and the United States, most notably with the Grant Park Symphony Chorus, the Philharmonia Chorus (London), the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, and the Latvian State Choir (Riga). Along with The Crossing, he won the 2018 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance with Gavin Bryars’ The Fifth Century.

This Fringe, Nally and The Crossing bring their singular choral aesthetic to the Fringe for one-night only, in a new program featuring a world premiere by composer Ted Hearne. Nally spoke to FringeArts about Of Arms and the Man.

FringeArts: What inspired the use of the Virgil quote as the title? Do you remember where you were when that idea came about?

Donald Nally: The Park Avenue Armory asked me to develop a program for their ornate historic reception rooms.  Being the Armory, I got thinking about how the military has changed since those rooms were built; how it was a point of honor for the aristocracy that today mostly avoids it at all cost. So here are these beautiful rooms and they are a kind of monument to what we actually do in war: rich older people throw young people at a problem….So, we sing, and we do so about arms and about people: “Of arms and the man I sing.”  And, it’s a journey, so the first line of the Aeneid captures the whole thing well. I liked the program so much I wanted to bring it to the Fringe because you don’t need elegant 19th-century rooms to ask these kinds of questions: life, war, wealth, death, purpose. In fact, the clarity of FringeArts Theater is going to be a great environment for this musical discussion.

FringeArts: What themes or qualities unite the pieces in this program?

Donald Nally: The concert takes a look at life and war and life during war from a number of angles.  Some of it is national pride, some of it is grief, some of it is anger. Of course, I do not know quite what Ted’s new piece will be, but it’s going to fit into this overall theme of how we agree or disagree across nations and continents and what we’re actually doing when we act on those alliances or arguments.

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Happy Hour on the Fringe with Donald Nally of The Crossing

Posted September 13th, 2018

FringeArts continues its signature podcast series Happy Hour Hour on the Fringe.

The Crossing. Photo by Becky Oehlers Photography.

In this episode, Donald Nally, co-founder and conductor of The Crossing, joins hosts Zach and Raina to discuss the choral group’s unexpected origins, his brand spanking new Grammy hat, and The Crossing’s Fringe Festival show Of Arms and the Man.

Of Arms and the Man presents an enticing program of choral pieces performed by the 24-voice ensemble under the direction of Nally. In keeping with The Crossing’s mission of presenting new works for choir, the program features a world premiere from 2018 Pulitzer Prize finalist Ted Hearne—the nation’s preeminent composer of works of social advocacy—and a rare live performance of David Lang’s “depart.” Catch the Festival performance September 16 at 8pm at FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Boulevard.

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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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Kick Off Your Fringe With Johnny Showcase!

Posted September 4th, 2018

There’s more to the Fringe Festival than just the awesome array of shows listed in our Guide. Each night, after the Fringe it’s the after-Fringe at the FringeArts headquarters at Race Street and Columbus Boulevard. Performers and audiences alike congregate at La Peg and the Haas Biergarten for drinks, games, DJs, and pop-up entertainment.

The Festival launches this Friday with the annual FREE rager, the Festival Kick Off Party with popular 10-piece band Johnny Showcase, a joyful sexy psychedelic dance funk experience, complete with heavy jazz fusion elements.

An absurdist soul outfit based in Philadelphia, Johnny Showcase is an innovative, joyful tour-de-force that toes the line between performance art and a psychedelic soul revival. Carrying the torch of funk-rock pioneers like Funkadelic and Frank Zappa, the group has gained a massive following and become something of a funky Philly folk hero legend.

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2018 Festival Spotlight: Family Friendly Fringe

Posted August 24th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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Sorority of Storytelling: Sisters Combine Choreography and Bodypainting in Paprika Plains

Posted August 22nd, 2018

Natalie Fletcher and Jessica Noel are two talented creative sisters, but they’ve never performed on stage together… until this Fringe.

Fletcher, winner of the inaugural season of the body painting reality competition show, Skin Wars, will team up with Noel, a dance-theater artist who directs performance/education space and performance company Philly PACK, in an interdisciplinary storytelling performance inspired by singer Joni Mitchell’s 1977 album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter. Paprika Plains will run September 21 and 22 at 7 p.m. at the Philly PACK garage in South Philadelphia.

Natalie Fletcher bodypainting.

“This collaboration is something we’ve wanted to do for a while, but the timing was never right, until now,” said Fletcher.

Fletcher and Noel spent their childhood in Amarillo on the plains of West Texas and the sisters’ production tells a story of two sisters growing up in West Texas, finding their individual paths, but always coming back together with a common language: love. Lily Blaines-Sussman, a member of the Philly PACK company, will dance as the young dancing sister, and Noel will dance as the adult. At various times throughout the production, the dancers will pause and Fletcher will come in to the performance, painting the dancers, the backdrop, while pushing the story along.

“We are attempting to tell a story with choreography and bodypainting,” says Noel. It’s a truly interdisciplinary Fringe performance: There is also a sculptural installation, theatrical lighting elements, and live music—Philadelphia musician Heather Blakeslee of Sweetbriar Rose will play Joni Mitchell covers as the audience enters.

“We want to transport the audience to a very specific world as soon as they enter,” adds Noel. “The world is Joni Mitchell and paint. Heather and the bartenders will be painted by Natalie before the show starts. The whole project is somewhat of an installation.”

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Happy Hour on the Fringe with Heiner Goebbels

Posted August 21st, 2018

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

Frankfurt-based composer and director Heiner Goebbels has had his work produced around the world including his native Germany, Switzerland, England and New York. He taught for nearly 20 years at the Institute for Applied Theatre Studies in Giessen (1999–2018) and served as president of the Theatre Academy Hessen for twelve years (2006–2018). He was the artistic director of the International Festival of the Arts Ruhrtriennale for two years and and received the first appointment for the newly established Georg Büchner Professorship in 2018.

His works Stifters Dinge and Songs of Wars I Have Seen will be produced in Philadelphia in the 2018 Fringe Festival September 7 –9.

Listen now to the conversation between FringeArts president and producing director Nick Stuccio and world renown composer and director Heiner Goebbels covering Goebbels’ seminal works and long career.

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Pipeline of Fun: Ants on a Log Reach Kids through Humor and Music

Posted August 15th, 2018

Folk duo Ants on a Log (Julie Beth and Anya Rose) write music for children and other childlike people, songfully advocating for positivity, social justice, and silliness. They have been featured on XPN’s Kids Corner, at the Philadelphia Folk Fest, and on radio stations around the globe. In 2016 the Ants performed their debut musical Curious: Think Outside the Pipeline, using the power of eco-feminist music and humor to encourage families to stay “curious” about alternatives to fossil fuels.

Julie (a music therapist) and Anya Rose (an elementary science teacher) reworked their musical for the 2018 Fringe Festival show Music for Children and Other Curious People, performed on two dates in Fishtown and West Philadelphia. The pair spoke to FringeArts about creating a fun, socially conscious work for kids.

FringeArts: What do you like about creating theater and performing for kids?

Ants on a Log: Ants on a Log gives us an outlet for our silliness, and it’s a fun challenge to create something that is appealing to both children and adults. We love performing for kids because they are excited and curious about everything, which is how we think adults are too, but only in those rare moments when it’s deemed socially appropriate. Silliness aside, theater and music feel really important right now. This is how ideas are spread. It’s no accident that our songs are so catchy: we want you to accidentally memorize how to change the world for the better.

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The Inappropriateness of Words: An Interview with Heiner Goebbels

Posted August 6th, 2018

Heiner Goebbels is a prolific German artist, composer, and director who has created compositions and theater works for ensembles and orchestras around the world. His work often defies easy characterization, using unconventional musical composition and theatrical staging to push the boundaries of contemporary performance art.

This year’s Fringe Festival will feature two of Goebbels’s pieces: Stifters Dinge, a performative installation with no actors, only machines, sounds, and whispers, and Songs of Wars I Have Seen, a musical composition performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra and Tempesta di Mare, interspersed with text from Gertrude Stein’s World War II memoir Wars I Have Seen, recited by the members of the orchestras. Stein’s text, which uses plain language to describe her own experience during the war, is juxtaposed with orchestrations that span centuries of musical styles, played on modern and period instruments. FringeArts asked Goebbels about the many sources of inspiration for the piece, as well as the relationship between the two works he is presenting in this year’s Festival.

FringeArts: How did you encounter Gertrude Stein’s writing?

Heiner Goebbels: The first experience I had with the meditative musicality of her prose was when Robert Wilson recited some paragraphs of her book The Making of Americans during the funeral service for German author Heiner Müller. It was a moving encounter with literature, which is so hard to describe: a novel, a poem, a litany, an incantation? And with other excerpts of this book I created my music theater work Hashirigaki in 2000.

FringeArts: What inspired you to adapt her memoir into Songs of Wars I Have Seen?

Heiner Goebbels: I got the idea to work with some of that text for my opera Landscape with distant relatives, which I created in the context of 9/11, because of the difficulty and the inappropriateness of personal words when trying to talk about an experience of violence and disaster.

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