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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Interview between ADAPT activist Tony Brooks and A Fierce Kind of Love cast member Shawn Aleong

Posted February 14th, 2019

We’re back! On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, A Fierce Kind of Love cast-member Shawn Aleong and ADAPT activist Tony Brooks sit down and talk about living with disabilities in an exclusive world, and the missing history of disability rights advocacy. The podcast episode is now available online or you can read the full transcript down below.

 

Interview between ADAPT activist Tony Brooks and AFKOL cast member Shawn Aleong

 

Tony: Hi, I’m Tony Brooks. I live in West Philadelphia. I am an advocate and activist for people with disabilities and a member of ADAPT.

 

Shawn: Why don’t you tell people what ADAPT is?

 

Tony: ADAPT is a grass-roots organization of activists and advocates for people with disabilities. Now why don’t you tell people who you are.

 

Shawn: Hi, my name is Shawn. I am a Temple University student studying legal studies with a minor in real estate. I am also a disability advocate. When I say justice for all I mean justice for all.

 

Tony: Be it black, white, green, blue. I think what people don’t understand is that everybody has a disability in the first place, you know that, right?

 

Shawn: Well, I tell people that society has the disability, because they fail to recognize people’s abilities. No matter if you have cerebral palsy, down syndrome, or what have you, we all have an ability. Sometimes societies fail to realize that.

 

Tony: True. People don’t understand disability or its history – that is one of the problems ADAPT is trying to solve. You remember when the ADA was signed in 1990 by the late George H. W. Bush? He signed it with Justin Dart, a disability activist, and everybody on the White House lawn? But many people don’t know that before the ADA, we just had ADAPT and the Gang of 19. They were the first 19 people with disabilities who broke out of nursing institutions with Reverend Wade Blank. We actually just celebrated the anniversary of the original Gang of 19.

 

Shawn: Congratulations on your Gang of 19 anniversary!

 

Tony: No it’s yours too! It is yours too. You see, I just recently got disabled maybe four or five years ago. When I got disabled I noticed that the first thing that happens to you is you are stigmatized.

 

Shawn: Yes. Very often. As soon as people figure out that you are just a little bit different, they will shut you out.

 

Tony: Too true, man. We are trying to fight that with ADAPT. We work with an independent living center called Liberty Resources to try and progress our people.

 

Shawn: Yes, Liberty Resources. Your President is Thomas Earle. I know Thomas Earle very well. Good man, very good man.

 

Tony: He’s the CEO of Liberty Resources.

 

Shawn: Liberty Resources is one of the staples in the disability rights movement just like the Institute on Disabilities. I learned most of my advocacy skills from a program at the Institute called the Academy for Adult Learning, which is now Career Studies. When I tell you the Institute has been a major staple in my adult life, it has – I learned how to advocate for myself. That’s why I’m here today because of what the Institute and my mom gave me. The support. We have to make sure that people are educated about the history of the disability rights movement so they can help support us. Like people like Justin Dart, the father of the ADA. People like –

 

Tony: Ed Roberts, the activist at the University of California.

 

Shawn: Yes, Ed Roberts. Civil Rights Leaders like Roland Johnson who created the organization Speaking For Ourselves – he was a great advocate for people that have disabilities, who were trapped in institutions. I play him in A Fierce Kind of Love. I like playing him because I can relate to him. Even though he had struggles, he never gave up. All that he’s been through – it just was a stepping stone. And of course then, ADAPT – y’all do a lot. Y’all do protests, y’all stop buses, y’all stop trains.

 

Tony: Yeah we were the ones who started the curb cuts, which are the concrete ramps that are on the corner of curbs and crosswalks. It wasn’t for mothers rolling their prams, or deliveries to pull their carts across, it was for us – people with physical disabilities. And it’s not just physical disabilities – I see invisible disabilities on us all as well. That’s why I said earlier that everyone in the world has a disability, even if they don’t have it yet. I just met a lady in Denver last month for the anniversary of the Gang of 19, and she told me, in this world, we have two passports: passports that we use to fly around and go wherever we wanna go, and the disability passport. It is when you get the second passport, the disability passport, then you shall see the struggles in life. And it is true. I was born and raised in Ghana. But I came here, I got into a motor-vehicle accident, and this is where I landed. And I noticed immediately how stigmatized I became.

 

Shawn: Society has always tried to progress on every issue. And I love that dearly, but it seems like when it comes to people with disabilities, it seems like we try to progress but yet –

 

Tony: We are being dragged down.

 

Shawn: Right, right! But here’s what I tell people – you have people with disabilities in every culture, in every ethnic group, in every movement –

 

Tony: In every home.

 

Shawn: From the Jewish community to the Christian to the LGBTQIA, you have people with disabilities all over, but we need to get to a point that society just looks at us as people. Just normal people. That’s all we are. We cannot sit here and call this a great country until people recognize that it takes everyone to make this a good country. It takes all types of backgrounds, and all times of abilities. And see that’s what I’m trying to get at – I’m no better than you –

 

Tony: And I’m no better than you. You know, the word inclusion just came to my mind.

 

Shawn: Inclusion is key. Inclusion is key.

 

Tony: Inclusion even amongst ourselves. We should understand ourselves in the disability community. They have divided us, they have forgotten that each and every person has a disability. It may be that you are born with it or along the way as you’re growing up, your disability comes along.

 

Shawn: That’s right, that’s so true.

 

Tony: But you were right, we are everywhere. Roland Johnson and Ed Roberts, Justin Dart, Reverend Wade Blake, they all came from different backgrounds, and they all wanted to create accessibility. Ed Roberts created independent living centers. That was the same time when Wade Blake was fighting for disabilities also. They did have assistance from other communities, other activist communities. The Black Panthers were some. Reverend Blake got his start with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and marched with him on Bloody Sunday over the bridge in Selma. When Blake came back to Denver where he was like helping in a nursing institution, he didn’t love the way those with physical disabilities were ignored while the abled bodied people could go into the park and enjoy themselves. So he got them together and asked them, what is your interest? What do you want? They said they wanted to leave. So, in 1978, after the first 19 were liberated from the nursing institutions with Reverend Blake, they decided to focus on accessibility for transportation. That is when they were fighting with the buses – leapt in front of the buses, held down the buses for 2 days.

 

Shawn: Right. And that’s why it’s so important that we educate. Educate people, educate communities, educate corporations so that we can get jobs that we want to work in. And it’s very important that we educate politicians so that they can write policies that benefit all people.

 

Tony: America had a disabled President!

 

Shawn: Yes! Yes! Yes!

 

Tony: America had a disabled President, and no one ever remembers that! The late George who signed the ADA needed assistance, he needed a wheelchair, he needed a companion. They talked about his dog for four days, about the career that the dog had with George, and I’m sitting back, watching all this and twisting my head to the side and saying, really, you would rather talk about a dog than the life that signed the American Disability Act into law – they didn’t really talk much about that. It was really sad. They might have said “he was the one who signed the ADA” but they didn’t explain what it really was.

 

Shawn: Yeah. How many people do you know who know where the curb cuts originated from? How many people know what the ADA really means? About sensory lighting? ADA friendly buildings?

 

Tony: How many people think about the labor it takes for us to leave our homes? We leave our homes at five in the morning to get ready to go to work, which is 3 or 4 miles away from where we live. You have to get to work at 8 o’clock to start working at 9-5. They said, okay, for the first four hours go, you have fifteen minutes to rest and get energy. At 12 or 1pm, you go for a 30 minute break, around 3:30 or 4 o’clock, you get another fifteen minute break, and in between this time, they have told you I am going to give you $7.50 an hour. That’s the wage rate in America. The outside world cannot believe that. Especially for a country that is being called the first world, even though it’s not being called that anymore! After the election, I turned on the television and I saw an orange face, yellow hair, a beak, and it said: U.S. AMERICAN PRESIDENT. As if we are not already fighting enough. When we have natural disasters, the disabled community is ignored. We have to educate the government about that. The only thing they want to do is help the people they see as physically healthy. But the disabled community is always forgotten about. That Shawn and I just came to the table to have a conversation – that is what the government is supposed to do too. But they won’t.

 

Shawn: Educate, advocate, and keep up the good fight. We got to keep on pushing.

 

Tony: Oh yeah.


Shawn: Togetherness is also the key, because look at back in the day when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for everyone’s civil rights. He had a whole sea behind him! And backing him up. And see, that’s what we need to do today.

 

Lisa: So we’re talking a lot about inclusive societies. I would love to hear from each of you what that looks like – Shawn for you, or Tony for you, what is your vision for a truly inclusive society?

 

Tony: My vision is a community of inclusion of all kinds of disabilities, be it physical or invisible. We all have a disability, the only way we can have included communities is understanding each and every one’s disability. That for me is a community of inclusion – understanding individual needs. Be it a physical, or invisible disability, it’s all part of the community where we live and work in peace.

 

Shawn: My idea of an inclusive community is no more institutions, jobs for everyone, people with disabilities wouldn’t be judged when they talk or when they make a noise – just looked at as normal people. And live in the community and work in the community, We need affordable housing, good paying jobs, good support systems and a good community. That’s how I believe that we can all be as one.

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

Posted February 13th, 2019
by Raina Searles, Marketing Manager

Opening this March, High Pressure Fire Service (or more colloquially, HPFS, pronounced “hip-fizz”) brings an incredible lineup of Philadelphia artists to the FringeArts stage for a series dedicated to highlighting the creativity and innovation that runs rampant in our city. The artists include an exhilarating mix of familiar and new faces to the FringeArts stage, from longtime collaborator Pig Iron Theatre Company’s newest work to prolific poet and noise musician Moor Mother’s first play. Some performers even appear in multiple HPFS shows. To get you ready for this new series, we’re breaking down Who’s Who in High Pressure Fire Service…part one.

Kicking off High Pressure Fire Service, is A Fierce Kind of Love written by Suli Holum, directed by David Bradley, and produced by the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University.

Wandering Alice, 2008

Many people may recognize the name Suli Holum as a staple in the Philadelphia arts community. Holum is one of the co-founders of Pig Iron Theatre Company, an award-winning director, performer, choreographer and playwright, and recently, Mrs. Capulet in the Wilma Theater’s production of Romeo and Juliet. She has been involved with numerous productions that have crossed Fringe’s stage, including Wandering Alice, written and co-directed with Nichole Canuso Dance Company and presented in the 2008 Curated Fringe Festival, and Cafeteria by Pig Iron Theatre Company in the 2003 Curated Fringe Festival, which earned her a Barrymore Award in choreography.

David Bradley is a director, producer and teaching artist who work has touched a variety of stages and collaborations across Philly. Bradley is the Founding Director of LiveConnections, in partnership with World Cafe Live, has performed in over 30 productions at People’s Light, is the Artistic Director of Living News at the National Constitution Center, has collaborated with Philadelphia Young Playwrights, and has traveled the world co-creating theater that addresses public health and social issues with Outside the Wire.

Bradley and Holum teamed up with Temple University College of Education’s Institute on Disabilities, which addresses disability as a valued aspect of diversity throughout civic life. In addition to producing the first iteration of this work in 2016 and its expanded remount here at FringeArts, the Institute is committed to innovation in pre-professional training, community training and technical assistance, research and information dissemination.

Other familiar faces in the A Fierce Kind of Love cast include Erin McNulty, most recently on the

FringeArts stage in Jerome Bel’s GALA in 2016 and 2018, as well as Cathy Simpson, a prolific and long-time Philly actress who has performed on a plethora of stages (InterAct, Wilma, and the Arden, to name a few) and was recently seen in the 2018 Independent Fringe Festival show, Day of Absence. Read bios for the full cast of A Fierce Kind of Love on the event page.

The second show in the HPFS lineup is The Appointment by Lightning Rod Special. No stranger to the FringeArts stage, Lightning Rod Special is an experimental performance company dedicated to exploring complex questions through an ensemble creation process and a lead artist for each show. Lightning Rod Special premiered their Obie Award-winning production Underground Railroad Game in Philadelphia at FringeArts in 2015, and they also performed their co-production with Strange Attractor Theatre Company Sans Everything here in 2017. They got their start, however, producing in the Independent Fringe Festival: Hackles in 2012 and Go Long Big Softie in 2013.

Sans Everything, 2017, Photo by Johanna Austin

For The Appointment (some may have seen the early draft performance titled Unformed Consent), Lightning Rod Special has assembled a stellar cast of Philly artists, and this new work is led by Alice Yorke. Yorke is a Co-Director of Lightning Rod Special, with whom she created and performed in Hackles, Let the Dog See the Rabbit, and Sans Everything. She has also collaborated on works with Pig Iron Theatre Company, InterAct Theatre, Theatre Exile, the Bearded Ladies Cabaret, Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret, and the Fringe favorite band Red 40 and the Last Groovement. Yorke also graduated from the Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training.

In April, we see the launch of the next HPFS show, Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House! by The Berserker Residents. Founded in 2007, The Berserker Residents are an ensemble dedicated to creating original works of alternative comedy with a focus on parody, absurdism, and subverting theatrical conventions. The Berserker Residents were last seen on the FringeArts stage in their March 2017 production of It’s So Learning, and they collaborated with the University of the Arts to create These Terrible Things as a 2017 Independent Fringe Festival show.

It’s So Learning, 2017, Photo by Kate Raines

They have also produced the works The Jersey Devil, The Giant Squid, The Annihilation Point, and The Post Show as part of Independent Fringe Festivals past. The imaginative co-creators—Justin Jain, David Johnson, and Bradley K. Wrenn—have brought their work to a variety of other Philadelphia stages (The Annenberg Center, Theatre Horizon, White Pines Productions, and more) as well as national and international stages like Ars Nova NYC, The San Francisco Mime Troupe, and The Assembly in Edinburgh, Scotland as part of the Edinburgh Fringe.

Individually, you may recognize these performers from their work all over the city. Justin Jain is a member of the Wilma Theatre HotHouse, has been a part of the Shakespeare in Clark Park education team, and is a teaching artist for Philadelphia Young Playwrights, Arden Theatre Company, the University of the Arts, and People’s Light, in addition to performing at a number of regional theaters. David Johnson has performed with Theatre Exile, Enchantment Theatre, Mum Puppet Theatre, People’s Light, Commonwealth Classic Theatre, Theatre Horizon, and the Wilma Theatre, as well as the Baltimore Theatre Project and The Blue Ridge Theatre Festival. Bradley Wrenn has performed with Shakespeare in Clark Park, Lantern Theatre, Enchantment Theatre Company, BRAT Productions, and Mauckingbird Theatre Company, and is an accomplished puppeteer, “wiggling the dollies” for numerous Mum Puppet Theatre productions including the Barrymore nominated ensemble of Animal Farm. He also co-created the acclaimed 2013 Curated Fringe Festival work The Ballad of Joe Hill with Adrienne Mackey.

We’re excited for such a talented cohort of creators and performers to be joining us at FringeArts this March and April. Click below for more information on each show, and stay tuned for our “Who’s Who in High Pressure Fire Service, part two” blog post, coming soon!

A Fierce Kind of Love
Suli Holum, David Bradley, Institute on Disabilities, Temple University
March 1–3, 2019

The Appointment
Lightning Rod Special
March 20–31

Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House!
The Berserker Residents
April 12–14

HPFS Subscriptions:
$150 Six-Show Package / $120 for members
15% off tickets to 3-5 performances / 30% off for members

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

Announcing New Festival: High Pressure Fire Service

Posted November 8th, 2018

 

We are pleased to announce programming for a new FringeArts festival! High Pressure Fire Service will run from March through June 2019 and feature six new productions—five world premieres and one expanded remount—from some of Philadelphia’s preeminent performers.

High Pressure Fire Service takes its name from FringeArts’ historic building, the first high pressure pump house in the country. Starting in 1903, the station pumped water from the Delaware River to fire hydrants across Philadelphia, connecting the city and helping it grow and thrive. This history of creativity and connectivity is at the very heart of the High Pressure Fire Service festival, reflected in the artists’ innovative practice and uniquely relevant work that exemplifies why Philadelphia has remained such a hotbed for excellence and experimentation in contemporary performance.

For the inaugural series, FringeArts commissioned works from Lightning Rod SpecialPig Iron Theatre Company’s Jess Conda, Jenn Kidwell, and Mel Krodman; The Berserker Residents; Suli Holum, David Bradley, and the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University; Moor Mother; and Team Sunshine Performance Corporation. Addressing issues of representation, gender, accessibility, reproductive justice, and more through devised theater, comedy, and participatory play, these new productions embody the vast range and exceptional talent of Philadelphia’s rich performing arts community.

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HIGH PRESSURE FIRE SERVICE

March 1—June 22, 2019 at FringeArts

 

A Fierce Kind of Love by Suli Holum

Directed by David Bradley

Produced by the Institute on Disabilities, Temple University

March 1—3, 2019

Photo © Jacques-Jean Tiziou / www.jjtiziou.net

A cast of artists with and without disabilities chronicles the largely untold story of Pennsylvania’s Intellectual Disability Rights Movement in a remount of this deeply poignant work. Drawing from years of research and the performers’ lived experiences, A Fierce Kind of Love combines text, movement, and song to chart the Movement’s remarkable history and celebrate the struggle, activism, and fierce love that fuels the desire for dignity. This new iteration of the piece expands on the interviews and research conducted for the 2016 premiere, adding insight to the persistent issues in the disability community. The show, set, and theatrical environment for A Fierce Kind of Love are completely accessible; ASL interpretation and open captioning are directly integrated into the piece; all performances will be sensory-friendly, audio described and programs will be available in alternate formats. A Fierce Kind of Love was made possible with major support from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

The Institute on Disabilities is Pennsylvania’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) at Temple University. Since its inception, the Institute has continued to innovate and serve in four core areas: pre-professional training, community training and technical assistance, research and information dissemination. Located within Temple University’s College of Education, the Institute addresses disability as a valued aspect of diversity throughout civic life. They learn from and work with people with disabilities and their families in diverse communities across Pennsylvania to create and share knowledge, change systems and society, and promote self-determined lives so that disability is recognized as a natural part of the human experience.

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The Appointment

Lightning Rod Special

March 20—31, 2019

World Premiere

Photo by Johanna Austin

Alice Yorke and Lightning Rod Special (Sans Everything, Underground Railroad Game) address the misogyny, hypocrisy, and absurdity surrounding the abortion debate in America in this musical satire. Following women at a clinic seeking to terminate their pregnancies, this timely new work uses a pop-musical format to ask tough, important questions about bodily autonomy, race, and who gets to have access. As hilarious as it is incisive.

Lightning Rod Special (LRS) makes live performance from the ground up. Raucous, contemplative, and highly collaborative, LRS uses theatre as a provocative tool to ask questions of ourselves, our audience, and the world at large. Since 2012 they have made six full length shows that have performed in 11 US cities and internationally. Underground Railroad Game, made by Jenn Kidwell and Scott Sheppard with Lightning Rod Special, received the OBIE for Best New American Theater Work and was listed among The New York Times’ 25 best plays of the last 25 years. Lightning Rod Special is Co-Directors Alice Yorke, Scott Sheppard, Mason Rosenthal, and company members Alex Bechtel, Oona Curley, Katie Gould, Rebecca Kanach, and Jenn Kidwell.

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Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House!

The Berserker Residents

April 12—14, 2019

World Premiere

Photo courtesy of the artist

The Berserker Residents are asking the big questions: can broccoli make you giggle? How much dance is too much dance? And does your house have feelings? The trio has whipped up a comedy for all ages that’s unpredictable, original, fun and vibrant. The three wacky title characters serve up unique impishness, snazzy games, silly sounds, physical flights of fancy that encourage interaction and elicit pure joy.

Founded in 2007, The Berserker Residents are an ensemble dedicated to creating original works of alternative comedy with a focus on parody, absurdism, and subverting theatrical conventions. They are a team of three Philadelphia-based wizards of imagination—Justin Jain, David Johnson, and Bradley K. Wrenn—who aim to plow the depths of the ludicrous and downright silly with one hand, while making a firm connection to their audiences with the other. They have been hailed as “daft, ephemeral and joyous” by The Scotsman and praised for their “refusal to relinquish that unrefined creative spirit” by The New York Times. The Berserkers’ work has been presented at Abrons Art Center, The San Francisco Mime Troupe, The Annenberg Center, FringeArts, Arcadia University, Swarthmore College, Theatre Horizon, University of the Arts, The Community Education Center, and The Assembly in Edinburgh, Scotland. They have been residents at FringeArts, White Pines Productions, University of the Arts, and Ars Nova NYC.

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A Hard Time

Pig Iron Theatre Company

May 1—12, 2019

World Premiere

Photo courtesy of the artist

Jess Conda, Jenn Kidwell, and Mel Krodman want to give you A Hard Time—an outrageous alt-comedy and futurist cabaret. Enter a boozy watering hole, where three dynamic performers play men, women, and everything in between for your entertainment, blowing farewell kisses to the patriarchy amid the absurdities and violence of gender expectations.

Founded in 1995 as an interdisciplinary ensemble, Pig Iron Theatre Company is dedicated to the creation of new and exuberant performance works that defy easy categorization.
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The Sincerity Project #3

Team Sunshine Performance Corporation

June 6—8, 2019

World Premiere

Photo by Jen Cleary

Team Sunshine Performance Corporation reunites The Sincerity Project cast for the third installment in an ambitious 24-year experiment that offers a new devised theater work every two years. A meditation on the passage of time that draws from the real lives of its creators, The Sincerity Project #3 explores the implications and challenges of aging, shifting expectations and identities, and how we all—as individuals and a culture—change, respond, evolve, and fail.

Since its founding in 2010, Team Sunshine Performance Corporation has created an eclectic array of performance works and interactive community-gathering events. Ranging from theatrical duets to massive, outdoor spectacles, the company’s body of work blends the social with the artistic, creating opportunities for people to come together and revel in the pleasures and difficulties of our collective contemporary experience. Team Sunshine returns to FringeArts after last spring’s hit ¡BIENVENIDOS BLANCOS! or WELCOME WHITE PEOPLE!

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Circuit City

Written by Camae Ayewa

Music by Moor Mother

June 20—22, 2019

World Premiere

Photo by Bob Sweeney

Poet and noise musician Camae Ayewa (Moor Mother) presents her first theatrical work, a futuristic exploration—part musical, part choreopoem, part play—of public/private ownership, housing, and technology set in a living room in a corporate-owned apartment complex. Framed by Ayewa’s bold poetry and bolstered by new Moor Mother music performed live by Irreversible Entanglements and the Circuit City Band, Circuit City is an afrofuturist song cycle for our current climate.

A prolific voice in the Philadelphia arts community, Camae Ayewa has released more than a dozen EPs as Moor Mother and Moor Mother Goddess since 2012. She has performed in the punk band The Mighty Paradocs and is also the co-founder of Rockers! Philly, an event series and festival focused on marginalized artists, and Black Quantum Futurism Collective, a literary and artistic collaboration with Rasheedah Philips (The Afrofuturist Affair).

 

High Pressure Fire Service performances take place in the FringeArts theater at 140 N. Columbus Blvd. Tickets go on sale Tuesday, December 4 (Thursday, November 29 for FringeArts members).

Support for High Pressure Fire Service has been provided by Wyncote Foundation.