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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.

Tenara: Yeah, I’m opting for water…sparkling.

(Laughter)

Raina: Well, we’re really raging hard here. You know, you have Moor Mother as your stage name and we wanted to kind of see where did that name come from and how did you, you know, get there.

Camae: The name comes from what I figured what was most important to me and that was with music, and that was honoring mothers. So, I said “Ok,it’s going to be mother something,” and then I picked “Moor” because I wanted to expand the idea of blackness, and not just have people feel like my music is just for America, or something, you know, it’s for the world.

Tenara: Is Moor Mother, just your like…your performance title? Is it also a persona; is it…like a stage presence; like, is just like, the title of your band?

Camae: I would say it’s the title of the project, but of course, I’m utterly in the life of Moor Mother, so I definitely would love to continue to be more dramatic and more theatrical with my work, and creating the world of Moor Mother. But, uh, right now it’s the name of a project and I’m just taking where my imagination goes, you know, with the limitations that I have, you know?

Tenara: Mm hm.

Raina: Yeah. And with looking at where you’ve gone so far; looking at visual art, music and like now, this world of creating a play, have you found a medium that you kind of lean more into as like, your favorite?

Camae: Well, I would say that…I think Punk Rock is my favorite, and I’m not doing that in a traditional sense, you know, I do that with I have the attitude of it. But, um, I was just saying recently that, you know, I would like to have a rock band, you know. I really would love to do that. So, I’m still figuring out all the pieces to me. There’s a lot of things that I’m not doing yet that I would love to do.

Tenara: What is the attitude of, like, Punk Rock, that you feel like you feel to like you channel in your work?

Camae: Just the no fear to be free and the no fear about perfection or masters or rules, you know; just to say like “Hey, I’m just gonna do it and trust that and not trust the accomplishments that I need or the prerequisite of whatever, you know.

Tenara and Raina: Mm hm.

Raina: So when you enter into a new form, are you also going into that mindset of also breaking the rules and kind of changing that form into whatever you want to to be?

Camae: Well, yeah, and I mean, I speak about Punk like it’s a choice. I mean, it’s kind of a choice to say what kind of punk you like or whatever you chose to listen to, but…it’s more about the…the idea of punk, you know, the idea of “Hey you wanna be a famous Rock band, well get in the basement, find two other people…”

Tenara: Mm hm.

Camae: “…find some sort of instrument, make a bunch of noise until you figure out how to make a song.” You know, just kinda like that attitude of like, “You don’t need anything,” or feeling like you are enough, you know. Kind of like that is what…that’s how I came into the game, you know. If I came into music coming from Berkely and I did all of this a youth, playing violin or something, then maybe I’ll have a different perspective. But I didn’t…I didn’t come from that, I just come like dreams and imagination. So, it’s like…

Tenara: Yeah.

Camae: …everything has that approach to it because I’m must trusting my heart and just saying that I have an interest in this…what skills do I have that I can try to pull this off.

Raina: We had the chance to kind of read a little bit about you and…so you kind of grew up going to like, joining like, your gospel choir at church, but you didn’t play instruments growing up?

Camae: No, I did not. You know, I wish I played instruments as a kid but, you know I didn’t know where you buy instruments, it was like, do you play in the school band, what is that? I’m a dreamer type of kid so, my head was more in the clouds then actually being practical. And I…I love basketball, so that was the first dream that I had to like, be a professional basketball player.

Raina: Really?

Camae: Yeah.

Raina: Wow. That’s such an interesting, like, path can go from like basketball to music. Do you kind of still think like…I could have made it?

Camae: Definitely!

(laughter)

Camae: Definitely! But you know, school is like a business and everything so you gotta be able to get through the school part, you know, and I was never a good student.

Tenara: Do you still play basketball?

Camae: Well…, I…yeah, when I can, I mean, I coached, for over ten years at Friends Select school, here in Philadelphia.

Tenara: Wow.

Camae: So, when my album dropped, that was my last year of coaching, and I just said, this music thing is doing better than this coaching thing.

(laughter)

Tenara: So when you were in those…like you were singing in the gospel choirs even if you weren’t playing any instruments?

Camae: Oh yeah, as a kid, yeah.

Tenara: So, you grew up singing. There is like, was there…did you come from a particularly musical house, like was there music, like, you know, everywhere in your life?

Camae: Yeah. Yeah…like my dad was a singer in the choir, my grandmother, my aunt, you know the choir was jumping. So, it’s kind of like you wanna be a part of it. But I…, I quit the choir as a kid to practice Taekwondo.

Raina: Okay.

Camae: I also was like, in love with this idea of like, monks, and ninjas and…so that was end of my singing in the church, or pretty much going to church.

Raina: Well, I’ve…I just decided I’m gonna take up kickboxing.

Camae: Cool! That is so cool!

Raina: So I’m…(laughter) I’ve yet to take my first class but I just signed up for this Saturday, so, it’s gonna happen.

Camae: You gotta sign up two more people.

Raina: I signed up my boyfriend; I drag him everywhere.

Camae: Ok. So you got one more, you gotta bring one more person. (inaudible) little bit, you know.

Raina: Yeah.

Camae: And then bring someone because…especially women because we need all these fighting skills.

Tenara: Yeah.

Camae: Why not?

Tenara: Yeah.

Raina: Yeah.

Tenara: I took kickboxing for like, a couple of months and it was really like…they form an entire community, and it’s like mostly women, that like, they want you come to matches, they want you to like, like hang out. It’s like, really supportive and it’s all about…don’t do a move that you’re not proud of, you know, it’s like, always like, finding your strength and being like, holding the integrity of the strength, which is a lesson we can take to every part of our life.

(laughter)

Raina: So, I’d love to shift gears a little bit to talk more about Circuit City. So for us, High Pressure Fire Service as a festival is all about Philly, all about artists who are making Philly their home, and creating work that’s centered in about and kind of reflecting Philly in a lot of different ways, and so, I kind of wanted to ask you then, about how Philly’s influenced your work, and thinking about different elements like the Philadelphia housing crisis and how that’s become rolled into your thought process as you develop this.

Camae: I came to Philly in 1999, so Philly, like I’m sure many other communities…they go through a lot of waves, yeah, like, where I used to live now is like, luxury condos, you know, downtown where my college dorm was. So like, wow it’s been through so many different changes, so I would just say the, you know, the relationships, every day relationships with people and neighborhoods and students that come in and out of the city; just a movement of the city and the people, the everyday people that I’ve been able to meet. It’s just really, um…amazing. Philadelphia…we don’t…we’re not really known for like, celebrating its citizens.

Tenara and Raina: Hmm.

Camae: You know, besides the old kind of Revolutionary War kind of thing, you know.

Raina: Ben Franklin is everywhere.

Camae: It’s everywhere. And I’m not, you know, saying that…well I…whatever but like, John Coltrane should be everywhere.

Raina: Mm hm.

Tenara: Yeah.

Camae: Billie Holiday should be everywhere. These are people that…not only we can appreciate their music, but there’s so many levels, that we can learn from them.

Raina: Mm hm.

Camae: W.E.B. DuBois, you know, Patti LaBelle, all of these…so many studios…. We…Philadelphia really, um, pales in comparison to other places where they celebrate it you know. Like, I went to Vienna; had no idea Mozart was from there. But, I mean, it’s in your face so much. I mean, that’s just one person, you know, or just a person that went to a…Andy Warhol went to this coffee shop.”

Tenara: Right.

Camae: And it’s like, we’re celebrating this moment, and not in a milking way of being like…here pay a ticket to come see this kind of thing. So, I feel like, and not just people who are well-established or rich, like the people that I, uh, named, celebrity-wise. Everyday citizens. North Philly has amazing community members that, you know, won’t get any type of shine, with…outside their own community that have been doing a lot of work, whether it’s street cleanup, whether it’s organizing citizens to vote or…and there are a lot elders doing this work that have been, so those type of people make Philly to me; these lone heros.

Raina: Mm hm.

Camae: You know, these people are dedicated to their community, no matter what the changes that come in, ’cause like I said before, Philly goes through so much changes since I just been here…

Raina: Mm hm.

Camae: So…in mainly housing.

Tenara: You know you touched on it a little bit, but, you know, all the things you love about Philly, but I’m curious…like…why…you moved here in 1999 and then you sort of stayed and continued to make work here. What is it about Philly that you here and keeps you making stuff here?

Camae: I mean…that’s a good question, you know, because I definitely prefer warm weather.

(laughter)

Tenara: Whoops.

Camae: You know what I mean?

Tenara and Raina: Yeah.

Camae: Like…I definitely prefer it. I want to always keep working; not have the option of being like, ahhh, it’s too cold to go outside.

Tenara: Right.

Raina: Mm hm.

Camae: You know like…I would prefer to move. I…you know, the relationships that I formed…

Raina: Mm hm.

Tenara: Yeah.

Camae: You know. I was here to form the band, you know. My best friend that was in the band moved to California. That was like a chance. Then I was in a relationship and then had this coaching job that, you know, like a mentioned before, basketball was, like my first love.

Raina: Yeah.

Camae: So, to be able to coach for so long is like…I can can get this kind of thing that I’m not getting in music.

Tenara: Mm hm.

Camae: But, you know, but, yeah…just…relationships. I was doing an event for about 14 years called. “Rockers, ” and it was a monthy event here in Philadelphia, so that was another thing. But, we just recently ended about three years ago.

Raina: Okay.

Camae: All of these things keep me tied to Philadelphia but, I’ve seen so many…some great places all over the world but I would love to build connections; build bridges.

Raina: Mm hm.

Tenara: Yeah.

Camae: I feel like a lot of people that I was here with, you know, when I first came to Philadelphia, have been able to do that. Or move to different places and create this bridge. Hopefully, yeah, I would love to continue repping Philly I guess.

Raina: Yes!

Tenara: Yeah!

Camae: That kind of thing.

Tenara: Yeah…I’m curious because lots and lots of artists that make Philadelphia their home. And like, I think a huge part of it obviously is the relationships and the collaborations that you make. But, I’m curious if there’s something like…quintessentially Philly, that is friendly to artists?

Camae: It’s really hard, because in Philly there’s not a lot of places that I know, that you can turn to that support artists.

Tenara: Mm hm.

Camae: And there’s still a lot of artists that I know in Philly that’s been working forever that don’t know certain grants that are available to them. You know, just yesterday, I told my friend, who was at the first Rockers performing with her band about the Leeway Foundation, and I’ve won it twice. So it’s like, we’re close friends, you don’t even know that I’ve won this, you don’t even know there’s this award….

Raina: Yeah.

Camae: You know, it’s just like, you feel as an artist kind of like in the dark. Philly is like, a working artists’ city where you go to do some work in your house or in a studio and build things and get things done kind of. And then you’ll go to of course, New York or something to showcase it, you know?

Tenara and Raina: Mm hm.

Camae: But Philly…and we’re getting new venues and I think more connections are being made at the City Hall level where we can start to have these conversations about, um…highlighting this and making Philly a place where other musicians can come to do a show instead of coming to go in the studio with one of our drummers, you know?

Tenara and Raina: Mm hm.

Camae: So it’s kind of like…you know, we’re like Newark or something, you like, they’re like the industrial artist city, you know. We write, we…you know?

Tenara: Yeah.

Camae: Um…but yeah, no, Philly’s hard. Philly’s hard.

Raina: Do you find that there is…this information gap between different people like where, you may have found out about the Leeway Foundation, like…why wouldn’t someone find out about that. Is there like a…marketing issue on the part of, like, these grants and foundations or, do you think it’s more just people being in different area of the city?

Camae: I think sometimes you feel like you don’t know the people that are winning these awards and you think, “Oh, they must be from Harvard, they taught for 10 years…all the kind of things, you know, and not understanding that being a musician for 10 or 5 years is a lot of work in your community, you know. And you don’t actually…you didn’t actually have to graduate from here, you know…just going back to that punk mentality thing that I was saying before…and I feel like…people don’t know…

Raina: They psyche themselves out…

Camae: Yeah…

Raina: …even if they do hear about it.

Camae: Yeah, because you kind of…I mean, I won the grant…I don’t know, it was a long time ago, very long time ago when I won the first Art and Change Grant. And no one…it was a crazy thing, they were like “Whaaat?” You know, we were so poor, we couldn’t even build the project, we were like, “Aww, we got this money! What?”
You know what I mean? It was just like a surprise. No one we ever knew had anything; I had did it from Rockers, you know? And so I didn’t apply for a very long time after that, because it was kind of like a fluke, or like…

Raina: Yeah.

Camae: …what was happening, you know? And so…to get the next one, then I’m like “Oh!” The next one was the Transformation Grant, years later, you know. Then I got to meet the Director of the thing and I got to meet this person, and I’m rubbing elbows, or…

Tenara: Right.

Camae: You know what I mean?

Raina: Yeah?

Camae: …with this other Humanitarian kind of charity group world, you know?

Tenara: Yeah.

Camae: So…that was like blessing and then I also started doing workshops for Girls Rock Philly.

Tenara: Hmm. Cool.

Camae: And then I was like, “Oh…well…now this workshop worked out, now I’m with the workshop people.”

Tenara: Yeah.

Camae: “Ok, let me keep me keep developing this skill.” Now I do workshops all over the world, you know? But it’s like, I didn’t know about that world.
Tenara: The thing that I like, really respect about Philadelphia artists is that even if they do get themselves into a cycle where they like, psyche themselves out, and they think, Oh, like yeah obviously Camae has won a Leeway grant, you know, Camae has done so much and blah, blah, blah, not really considering the fact they could get it if they really, like, worked at the application, but I also really love that there’s a spirit in Philly of like, even if I don’t get this grant, I’m just gonna do the thing anyway. I mean, that happened, you know, our Fringe Festival in September we have like, hundreds and hundreds of independent artists that just do it; they just put on their show and they find any way that they can for whoever wants to come, and that…that feels like really Philly to me. Like, and very punk also, like “Whatever. I don’t need to be authenticated by these other people in order to just do what I want to do.”

Camae: Mm hm.

Raina: But I do also feel like that is part of where Fringarts is able to help these artist by connecting them to these foundations and like, by sharing what information we have, because obviously we are a nonprofit, we’re applying for grants too through a lot of the same foundations, but like, we want to be able to help artists find their way because we love a success story, like, we love to see a show in the Fringe Festival and then it’s like, getting a lot of recognition, a lot of press, and then it’s going further, like that’s great for us as well as the artist. There is definitely a lot of, you know, making it clear to people that they are like, you said that they’re worth it, they can do; it’s not out of reach for them.

Tenara: Totally. So, this is a bit of a pivot, like a topic switch, but I’m curious, like so much of your work can be described by other people as Afro-futurist, do you describe your work that way?

Camae: I don’t really describe my work as anything, but, yeah, like, I’m a part of that Afro-futurism community.

Tenara: Mm hm.

Camae: I mean figured that some people say that, right?

Tenara: Yeah, totally.

Camae: Yeah.

Tenara: So for any listeners who might not know, could you define what Afro-futurism is?

Tenara: Afro-futursim was a term coined by a critic named(?) Mark Dery, and…it basically was just like a question or, you know an idea which had already been, you know, stated about black people, seeing themselves in the future. And also, using this idea of Afro-futurism also as a lens to see how we’ve been cut out of the future, you know whether we’re talking about movies, where we’re talking about literature, government, media, all kinds of things like this. But of course, black people have always thought about the future. I’ve always looked to the stars, I’ve always, you know, imagined this documented history of that, but, because of how the world is set up, because of economics, classism, racism…it’s not…everyone doesn’t have an equal playing field. We’re all not dealing with the same time, the same privilege.

Tenara: One of the other questions that we have of like, what is the sort of classic definition of Afro-futurism, and then also, what does it mean to you?

Camae: I mean, I guess that would be…I don’t know what the classic definition of it, you know.

Tenara: Or the more like, popular definition of it, like you saying it was originally coined by Mark Dery…

Camae: Yeah, I think it’s just about black people taking agency in their future. It means to me, I mean…that’s based…it means to me in way of like, imagination, and to visualize what you want for yourself and your future. And I feel like…it has worked for me, not just for me, other countless people. One famous…Octavia Butler, a famous writer wrote down dreams and aspirations and goals for herself that she was able to accomplish just by writing it down and believing that you, you know what I mean, that this can be for you; that you can daydream a better place for yourself, you know. Sometimes people don’t even take the time, to do that kind of thing.

Raina: I wanna tie this back in a little bit to Circuit City, because we talked about your show and that it isn’t set in one place in time.

Camae: Right.

Raina: But, I’m kind of curious because you’ve talked about how the characters are working towards something; they’re building something over the course of the play. Can you tell a little bit more like, what that means…however much you want to spoil for the audience ahead of time, but, you know, like, what is this idea that they’re working towards?

Camae: I guess, I mean it can be so many ways, you know that you can say “oh it’s too that; it’s too that,” you know, that’s why I like the audience to kind of, make up their own minds. But, just thinking about it for myself, I think it goes to this idea of freedom. You know, in your own accord, you know, and I feel like this is something that’s been, you know, it’s a historical word, grained in war and enslavement flipped in a way of Civil Rights of being a light at the end of the tunnel kind of thing; this idea of freedom. I feel like it’s towards that, but that’s such a clouded…thing, this idea of freedom, you know, and I’ve been playing around with this long walk to freedom kind of idea of this, that’s so many people have spoken about before but, it’s kind of like, what is this thing? We get there and we actually realize it’s not what it means. Who defines what it is…this idea to escape of freedom. So, kind of like that kind of idea.

Raina: Yeah. And even unless all the people who have talked about it, we’re still not there in so many ways and it’s still a long walk to get wherever it really is.

Camae: Right. You know, because I think about like, we just passed Martin Luther King’s birthday which is recently, was this what he envisioned that freedom was? You know, I don’t know, you know. That “I Have a Dream Speech” is really amazing and this kind of way of creating these multi layers of a dream, and also what freedom is. Because equality…and how do we get to that.

Raina: There’s also the idea, you, know, where you don’t quite know what you can achieve if you don’t see it. Like the…I forget the exact kind of hypothetical but like, where there’s a person and they’re like in a box and so they don’t know that if they get to the other side, like there’s all this around them because all they know…

Tenara: …is the box.

Raina: …is the box. And so as even as we talk about freedom like, that definition is constantly changing because we can only see what’s right in front of us a lot of times.

Camae: Mm hm.

Tenara: I think a lot about how like, the kind of equity that so many people, you know, in this country, in this community are trying to achieve. We don’t really even have the words to describe it yet because we’re only working with the words that like, accurately describe the box.

Camae: Yeah and trying for figure out how to be more inclusive, right? We’re still at the Basic Humanity 101 kind of thing.

(laughter)

Raina: Yes.

Camae: And then, when do you reach this inclusiveness that we’re all onboard?

Raina: Yeah. Just to kind of go back a little bit to, you know, your experience growing up…we really would love to kind of wrap up to hear what your advice would be for young people of color who are interested in the arts; interested in finding a creative path and what advice you would give them to start pursuing that future.

Camae: I would say don’t be afraid to reach out to other musicians who are doing that you’re doing and ask if, you know, they’re willing to mentor. I feel like you at least have to ask 100 people before someone says yes. Don’t be afraid; it doesn’t have to be someone that you want to be, as far as identity. It could just be someone in the field and you can still get valuable information. So, sometimes it’s not about setting our goals high to keep reaching out to Rhianna or someone, and it’s more about, okay, well here’s a video director that’s in the industry, you know, or here’s an engineer. Everyone has important pieces to the puzzle for you to learn, and it’s good to just ask questions and not feel embarrassed about it because most of the artists do this. So don’t think that no one’s reaching out to each other to get advice or mentorship.

Raina: And we haven’t had too much time to talk about this, but I also wanted to touch on you work with the Community Futures Lab in North Philly and like, what that means for you and how that’s centered in your work.

Camae: My collective, Black Crime Futurism received a grant of Blade of Arts, Blade of Grass Foundation in New York and we decided with the money we want to build a community space that would not only offer workshops and information to the community, but would chronicle what was happening in the community. They demolished two affordable housing towers right around the corner from the lab…Community Futures Lab, so we took pictures, we interviewed residents, we collected oral histories, and what we call oral futures…visions of what they would want in their community. We brought all kinds of specialists in that could share information on housing. My partner, Rashida Phillips, is a housing attorney, so was definitely able to pull resources in from her colleagues to come in. It was a beautiful project. It was for a year, and we just received the archives for all the oral history stories and oral future stories, and photographs and everything. So, we hope…we don’t hope…it will be a part of the community.

Raina: Wonderful.

Tenara: Is it going to be like, displayed in like a gallery or accessible to the public in any way?

Camae: We’ve been working on an online website for that.

Tenara: Okay, cool.

Camae: And hopefully, some library will take it.

Raina: Thank you.

Camae: Yeah, thank you for having me. I hope everyone enjoyed the show. Thanks for having me on, hope to see you in June for Circuit City.

Raina: Yeah.

Tenara: Thanks, Camae!

Raina: Thank you!

[Music Outro]

Reverse Gentrification of the Future Now: Essay by Rasheedah Phillips

Posted May 3rd, 2019

Commissioned in conversation with Moor Mother’s Circuit City, running this June 20–22, as part of the High Pressure Fire Service series.

The present realities of housing for low-income people living in Philadelphia are located temporally-spatially near the one in Circuit City. We are experiencing an affordable housing crisis, and this crisis is exacerbated by the average of 22,000 eviction filings each year and the unknown number of illegal evictions.  In my work as Managing Attorney of the Housing Unit at Community Legal Services, where we provide legal representation and advice to more than 3,000 low-income tenants a year, I hear countless stories of tenants who face racial, sex, gender, family, ethnicity, and disability discrimination from landlords; stories of tenants intimidated into not complaining about substandard housing conditions that exacerbate health and safety problems; or tenants who received eviction filings from disgruntled landlords that have resulted in virtual blacklisting from future homes and opportunities for stability. Growing displacement and mass evictions of entire buildings of often low-income residents is a particularly vicious form of eviction that has widespread health and economic impacts, and destroys economic, cultural, and racial diversity in neighborhoods. Mass evictions, often unexpected, further aggravate the city’s shortage of affordable housing—existing affordable housing units are often lost forever, putting pressure on resources and housing stock elsewhere in the City and concentrating poverty in particular neighborhoods.

Compounding these issues is pervasive housing discrimination –  single mothers and their children, seniors, Black people, LGBTQ people, immigrants, and people living with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by evictions and lack of access to safe, habitable, and affordable housing.  Tenants face systemic and individual discrimination at every stage of the process – they are barred from getting into a new home for discriminatory reasons, and often kicked out of their homes for those same reasons.1 The ACLU, for instance highlights how “women of color bear the burden of eviction,” noting that women of color made up 62% and 70% of the tenants facing in eviction in Chicago and Philadelphia respectively.2 These and other instances of structural inequity related to housing disproportionately impact the City’s poor, Black and Hispanic populations live in racially concentrated poverty.3 This loss of housing has a distinct racial impact, where 63% of African-Americans live in project-based housing compared with 44% of the city’s population, and where African-Americans are disproportionately more likely to carry severe housing cost burdens in the city.

These types of inequalities are often framed in terms of spatial inequality and displacement from location.  However, as Helga Nowotowny notes, “power, exercised by central authorities, establishes itself over space and over time.”4 (emphasis added). Hierarchies of time, inequitable time distribution, and uneven access to safe and healthy futures inform intergenerational poverty in marginalized communities the same ways that wealth passes between generations in traditionally privileged families. Sociologist Jeremy Rifkin says that “temporal deprivation is built into the time frame of every society,” where people living in poverty are temporally poor as well as materially poor.”5 For example, time poverty is routinely used to penalize marginalized people in the justice system, where being ten minutes late to court can mean losing your job, kids, home, and freedom. Time and temporal inequities show up at every step of the eviction process, for example, from the short or fully waivable notice requirements for termination of a lease agreement, to the time required for an evicted family to vacate a unit that is severely out of line with the time needed to secure new housing.  Inevitably, marginalized Black communities are disproportionately impacted by both material, spatial, and temporal inequalities in a linear progressive society, with many Black communities forced to occupy “temporal ghettos” as well as spatial ones.   

Circuit City considers both the implications of time and of space involved in privatization of public housing, gentrification, displacement, and redevelopment. There is no set year or place in the play, but instead a layering of multiple temporal spaces.  The residents of Circuit City  are integrating the time(s) of redevelopment, privatization,  and hyper-gentrification, into the pre-established temporal dynamics of the community, layered over and within the communal historical memory and the shared idea of the future(s) of that community. Nested within those layers are individual, subjective temporalities and the lived realities of the residents, at odds with the linear, mechanical model of time on which Circuit City and its external spatial-temporal constructs are etched.  It takes as its central provocation a practical strategy for achieving a Black flight, a reverse gentrification, and inverse displacement, and the conditions necessary for temporal autonomy and spatial agency.  Circuit City is presented using Black Quantum Futurism praxis as a critical framework, fusing Afrodiasporan philosophies and rituals with quantum physics, recovering artifacts of Black temporal consciousness, and dismantling oppressive social temporal constructs.

These images overlay cosmic time with slaveships with microchips, circuit boards, and public housing layouts, attempting to catch a psychic space that transcends times, or co-mingles with past, present, future.

1A recent study by the Urban Institute shows that two-thirds of landlords in Philadelphia refuse to accept tenants with Housing Choice (Section 8) vouchers,  A Pilot Study of Landlord Acceptance of Housing Choice Vouchers, The Urban Institute, (August 2018) https://www.urban.org/research/publication/pilot-study-landlord-acceptance-housing-choice-vouchers.

2Sandra Park, Unfair Eviction Screening Policies Are Disproportionately Blacklisting Black Women (August 19, 2017). https://www.aclu.org/blog/womens-rights/violence-against-women/unfair-eviction-screening-policies-are-disproportionately

3Philadelphia’s Poor Who they are, where they live, and how that has changed, Pew Charitable Trusts, (November 2017) https://www.pewtrusts.org/-/media/assets/2017/11/pri_philadelphias_poor.pdf; City of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Housing Authority Assessment of Fair Housing (December 12, 2017) http://fairhousingrights.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/afh-2016-for-web.pdf

4Helga Nowotny, Time: The Modern and Postmodern Experience, p. 148 (1994)

5Jeremy Rifkin, Time Wars, p. 192 (1989).

HPFS Splash: Never Change, Philly

Posted April 16th, 2019

Continuing our HPFS Splash blog series, we’ll be taking the tops off the metaphorical fire hydrants* and spilling out the information you want to know from our High Pressure Fire Service (HPFS) artists about their HPFS shows, local inspirations, and living in Philly.

Today’s big question: What do you hope never changes about Philadelphia?

Jess Conda as bartender at Fergie’s Pub

“Fergie’s Pub. The place has kept its welcoming, rock and roll authenticity through all of the gentrification in Center City. The Fergie’s attitude IS Philadelphia. It was here before Craft Beer was cool and it ain’t going anywhere. Hell, the place had an entire 26 story condo literally built around it and stayed open the whole time. Now THAT’s True Grit. It’s also where I cut my teeth as a bartender and have had the most one on one conversations with the widest range of people in the city. A bar is a tiny stage, and while I was coming up and waiting to get more work as an actor, I was learning about real life working there…[I don’t want] anymore diner closings. We’ve lost too many already. The day the Melrose or Broad Street Diner closes, that’s it, I’m outta here.
–Jess Conda, A Hard Time

“Rittenhouse Square and Christ Church. And walks along the river in several places, West side, East side and along 24th street and the bridges that are lit at night. And the Rowing Houses on Kelly Drive that are lit at night. And the sculpture gardens.”
–Marcia Saunders, A Fierce Kind of Love

Image result for chop shop south street“That old men in South Philly will continue to use the sewer drains as their trashcans. That the wheely gangs will continue to wheely their bikes against traffic down Broad Street. And The Chop Shop on South Street. No one works there for longer than a day and you’ve never had a worse haircut for under $20. Just kidding. If you go, go to Kate or Ruki.”
–The Berserker Residents, Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House!

Folks are a little rude, the food is awesome, and the arts are appreciated. I like that the Ave of the Arts gets mobbed by sports fans celebrating/rioting on occasion. Also, Broad Street moves through a lot of different neighborhoods and reflects that.
–Alex Torra, The Sincerity Project #3 (2019)

The only constant is change. And litter.”
–Alice Yorke, The Appointment

Image result for arch street umc

Arch Street UMC Church

The lone heroes, elders doing community work, people organizing voters and doing street cleanup, really make Philly for me, these people who are dedicated to their communities no matter what changes come because Philly has changed so much since I’ve been here, especially around housing.
–Camae Ayewa, Circuit City

“My church, Arch Street UMC is deeply involved in this city’s social and economic concerns with a focus on justice for those without shelter, the LBGTQ+ Community, Refugees/Immigrants, Education, higher wages for low income jobs and so much more. My involvement with Arch Street gives me a great sense of responsibility for those who are unjustly treated and the ability to feel as though I am making a difference.”
–Cathy Simpson, A Fierce Kind of Love

Read last week’s HPFS Splash: Gritty Edition, and thanks for joining us for the final installment of HPFS Splash!

hpfs splash hydrant*High Pressure Fire Service (HPFS) takes its name from FringeArts’ historic building, the first high pressure pump house in the country. Opened 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. You can see the old HPFS fire hydrants across the city between the Delaware and the Schuylkill Rivers and between South Street to Girard Avenue. You may even see them of them sporting a fancy new HPFS sticker. Tag us on Instagram @fringearts if you see one!

Click here to learn more about all of our High Pressure Fire Service shows.

 

Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Jess Conda, Jenn Kidwell and Betty Smithsonian

Posted April 12th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, Jess Conda and Jenn Kidwell, two-thirds of the artistic team behind A Hard Time, sit down to chat with comedian Betty Smithsonian about what’s so freaking funny. They chat about what men should do at talkbacks, what audiences can expect at A Hard Time, and why people (men) believe that women aren’t funny. This episode contains explicit language.  Listen to the podcast or read the full transcript below.

Feature Photo by Jauhien Sasnou

Conversation with Jess Conda, Jenn Kidwell, and Betty Smithsonian

Musical interlude

Tenara: Hello and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premiere presenter of contemporary performing arts. I’m Tenara, the Audience Engagement Coordinator here. I invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence. Here at FringeArts we are getting ready for the Berserker Residents upcoming family-friendly piece Broccoli, Roosevelt, and Mr. House! which opens TONIGHT. Come on by with the whole family for this spectacularly silly show about fun, adventure, and friendship. Tickets are available on our website at fringearts.com. But today, you’re going to hear a conversation between three fantastically funny comedians: Jenn Kidwell and Jess Conda – two-thirds of the trio of Pig Iron Theatre’s newest show, A Hard Time, opening at FringeArts on May 1st. Jenn and Jess sat down with legendary comic Betty Smithsonian, also known in Philly as Beth Eisenberg, whose claims to fame are vast and who organizes and curates the amazing comedy night The Bechdel Test Fest. Jenn, Jess, and Beth talk about A Hard Time, what’s so funny, and what men at talkbacks should do.

Jess: And the safe-word is: cut that, don’t you dare fucking put that in the interview.

Betty: Yeah.

happy hour on the fringe

Betty Smithsonian at Blue Heaven 2019. Photo by Kevin Monko.

Jenn: In my “interview.” Get that out of my “interview.”

Betty: Yeah, the safe-word is “these are new, is that a new stain?”

Jess: I love it.

Betty: Alright everyone, welcome to the podcast interview moment, this intersection of essay podcast and real conversation. I am Betty Smithsonian and I am joined by two fantastic individuals who are:

Jenn: Jenn Kidwell.

Jess: And Jess Conda!

Betty: Heyo! Today we are going to be chatting about something that we all know is the most non-controversial thing ever – women and comedy. Tell me how your show is going to fix the world. Tell me in ten seconds or less.

Jenn: This is what I was thinking this morning – I keep going back to this thing that our director said – our director who is a man. His name is Dan Rothenberg.

Betty: I know Dan!

Jenn: Yeah, everybody knows that guy. That guy.

Jess: That scalliwag.

Betty: I saw him falling asleep at a show once.

Jenn: That just means he likes it. So Dan said – he was relaying this quote that ‘women are afraid that men are going to kill them. And men are afraid that women are going to laugh at them.’ And I was thinking this morning that ultimately perhaps this show gives male-identified people – gives the patriarchy an opportunity to laugh at itself. And notice how silly and idiotic it is.

Betty: The patriarchy.

Jess: OUR FRIEND THE PATRIARCHY.

Betty: The patriarchy! So that’s fantastic, can’t wait to see the show. Go on and remind me what the name of this show is.

Jenn: It’s called A Hard Time. But the official title is Jess Conda, Jenn Kidwell, Mel Krodman Want to Give You A Hard Time.

Jess: Duh duh duh da duh duh.

Betty: Beautiful.

Jenn: *laughing* How do you spell that?

Betty: Is this a noir piece? Where is this piece living? What’s happening in the show?

Jenn: It’s not noir!

Jess: It’s like a pastiche, which is a snobby word for collage, of different things that are funny to us until they’re not funny. So we kind of were inspired by vaudeville and quick change and the way like, our bodies can morph into different characters. You know, cause we’re all trained in this kind of clown way.

Jenn: Yeah like using your body.

Jess: But also like what can this body do, can this body take on all these different identities over the course of the play.

Jenn: And is that funny?

Jess: Yeah, and is that funny?

Jenn: But it starts off with this sort of – so some men got together and defined comedy as the benign violation theory. It’s their theory about comedy. And we open the piece by discussing this benign violation theory, and then we sort of put it into practice in this Vaudevillian, quick-change manner. And then we continue to put the theory into practice in a long, drag sequence in which we are playing three drag personas. Two of them are Len and Stan. And I pointed at Jess when I said Len because Jess is Len, and I am Stan.

Betty: So you’re talking about what is going on in this show.

Jenn: Yes. This is what happens in this show. We start off with the benign violation theory –

Jess: SPOILER ALERT – that was the first forty minutes of the show.

Jenn: But just to say actually there’s a throughline which is: what’s so funny?

Betty: Yeah, so tell me that. What do you think is the issue right now with women being called out for either being too sensitive around comedy or women being called out for not being funny? Tell me what you think of that?

Jenn laughs

Jenn: Do you call somebody out for not being funny? I feel like, the call-out – I always attach that to politics.

Betty: Well, I guess like people saying that women aren’t funny. That is a thing that people have said. Men specifically. For a long, long time.

Jenn: I mean, they also say that women aren’t powerful. But that’s not true! Why would I believe them?

Jess: That is funny.

Betty: So what do you think about this show proving that thing that you just said? Do you think it’s possible to create theater that can unravel that very frustrating thing? I am a comic, I hear it all the time that women aren’t funny. So tell me how your show could unravel that. What do you think about it personally, not even just your show?

Jess: I’m going to go back into something I was tapping at, and this is just true for me – about my body. Which is that sometimes, I think that women get labeled as unfunny, because you’re too caught up in my damn body. And that’s a complicated thing that we maybe can’t unpack as a society in a play. But I think there is something in the way in which my/our bodies are revealed to this audience over and over and over and over again where hopefully my body becomes fucking irrelevant by the time I’m through. That’s just how I feel. I think that that’s one key that we offer to the audience.

Betty: And this concept of making your bodies into – like you were saying you morph into things in this show, and you’re kind of pulling apart that concept with that through-line?

Jess: There’s a lot of shapeshifting in the show.

Jenn: Can I go back to something – what you said, ‘I feel like maybe people don’t think women are funny because they’re so caught up with my body,’ meaning like they can’t even listen to what you’re saying because they’re so focused on appearance? Is that what you mean?

Jess: Yes. I think there is a –

Betty: Like the first thing that a female brings to the world is their body and the second or third or fourth thing is what they say, or the space that they take up outside of that. I think it’s part of the reason why we see some comics who have different shaped bodies have to do different kinds of comedy, right? The people that on the planet would be considered less average body shapes, and bigger shapes would have to do a different kind of comedy.

Jess: Or what are you looking at when you look at this? I’m doing a stand-up and you have to like rank my tits for five minutes before you maybe listen to what I say. And that is part of why the drag piece is kind of important to me because it’s just like, watch our bodies do this, now this, now this, now this, now this, and like, have you listened? Have you taken my tits out of the equation of your listening? Cause I don’t need to be sexualized when I do public speaking about whatever I might be public speaking about.

Jenn: I think, I appreciate what you’re saying and I think that the drag section works in a couple different ways. It works in the like, how about we take my tits out of the equation, or like, all of the ways that you want to sexualize me as like a woman out of the equation because we’re playing these dudes – I mean, they’re not calendar guys. I don’t know. The other way that that section works is this thing that you were trying to say which is like, how are you hearing me? We might actually be saying lots of the same things, so how is the humor working now that we’re inhabiting these other bodies? And also don’t forget that we’re still here. So actually all of this stuff is being said by and written by women. We just decided that the mouthpiece for this section is going to be these dudes. And then there’s more, but that would be spoiler alert.

Betty: What do you think is funny?

Jenn: I have no idea how to answer that question. You mean, just in general, in life?

Betty: Yeah, what’s funny to you?

Jenn: I’m trying to think of the last funny thing that happened today…

Jess: We’re just gunna cut that part out –

Jenn: Yeah, edit that out! “What do you think is funny?” “Uhhhhhhhhhhh…..um. Stuff.”

Jess: We do make each other laugh a lot. Have you ever done that game with kids? Or adults? The theater game where you have two partners facing each other and you have to like make the other person laugh?

Jenn: Just like, do whatever you can do?

Jess: Like I would say a funny word and then you would say a funny word?

Jenn: Yeah, I think so. In like clown class.

Jess: I’m just thinking about that.

Betty: Have you ever done the game where you look at someone and you just have to just start fake laughing together? And then turn that into fake-crying?

Jess: Oh yeah. The membrane is so thin between laughing and crying!

Jenn: It’s true!

Betty: Well I guess I want to know what’s funny because I want to know what drives this show for you as you build something comedic. So you’re playing in a space and the thing that makes you laugh, or delights you is the thing that you’re doing, and then you have this like other social thing that you’re trying to push out there, so that’s why I’m wondering what’s funny to you.

Jess: I wish Mel Krodman, who is a comic genius, was here.

Jenn: She’s in Atlanta.

Jess: She’s in Atlanta. I mean, there’s general weirdnesses that are delightful to us. And I’m talking about like when we first started rehearsing basically we sourced this gigantic amount of – I’m going back to vaudeville – a giant amount of vaudeville costumes and put them in the rehearsal room. And we just followed our bliss in terms of inventing these characters and a lot of that is based on like stupidity, just like what tickles us in this stupid way. I’m thinking of our French teacher in grad school. She would say, ‘That is so stupid!’ and that was like the best compliment you could get in art school. So stupid things are funny to us. Mel has this real talent for being like, these teeth and these eyebrows and this belly and this cape make me wanna go, wooooo, and it’s just because it’s so pleasure-based, so that’s kind of the practice.

Jenn: You have a talent for those one-liners that are so wise but also just like everything gets distilled in just a few words.

Jess: Well, Len is dumb. Len is kind of a base man. But the maker is smart, so he gives me a vehicle to the kind of like, to have some dead air.

Jenn: But there’s some real wisdom there.

Jess: Yeah.

Betty: Do you ever feel – so I’m faced in comedy to be super clever, we have to be super clever, we have to always be at the top of our intelligence, we have to create and craft these words and these kinds of concepts and things that are the smartest. But the way I do it is more towards this, because I feel like that’s where you get people to really open up, to get them to laugh at something that they don’t realize is the funniest thing. It kind of shuts off their brain center a little bit and they react to the fun.

Jenn: I think it can be visceral. It’s visceral at times.

Betty: Mm. Yeah. So, if you could wave a magic wand and have someone who’s leaving your show have a thought in their bodies because of what they just saw, what would it be?

Jenn: Uhhh…I kind of would love for people to be like, I think I have to go throw up right now…but like enjoy it.

Betty: YES! Yes!

Jess: I mean, it would be nice – I would like to have a talkback where the old white men in the audience said nothing. But like, in a way where they were checked in but they didn’t want to speak first, or perhaps at all.

Jenn: That’s what the magic wand really does. It says: ‘you don’t have to say nothing.’

Jess: Right?! Like if they were like, ‘perhaps this is a gentle time in my life to allow listening to enter.’

Jenn: ‘Let me unburden myself from the feeling that I need to insert myself.’

Jess: Can you sing that again?

Jenn: ‘InSERT myself.”

Jess: No, what’s the song?

Jenn: You don’t have to say nothing, just sit there and be quiet.

Jess: But like if they really meant it! If they were like, ‘ahh…I can free myself from all this…. penetrating.’

Betty: Yeah, yeah, that’s what’s up.

Jess: That would be amazing.

Jenn: *impersonating a pastor* And every man becomes a wide receiver!!

Betty: A wide receiver for like a football team?

Jenn: I don’t actually know what wide receivers do.

Betty: *impersonating a pastor* Every man becomes a titan!

Jenn: I was just thinking like instead of constantly pushing themselves, you know it’s like, they expand, take it all in.

Betty: So they can check their privilege and really check in?

Jenn: But we don’t even have magic wands. We have magic vagina lips.

Betty: Yeah! Some of us do! I can’t wait to see your show. Is there a talkback for your show?

Jenn: We were just talking about that today.

Jess: We have to talk about that, I think there will definitely be. I think it’s nice to have a chance to put discussion in the room after a performance. I mean, all that said about how I want all the men to be quiet, but still be in the room and engage with the material.

Betty: Have the two of you ever done work before that’s tried to shift the understanding around gender on the stage? Or at least leave your audience with a new understanding? Have you done theater for social change before? I mean, I know nothing about the two of you except for a little bit. Where does this rank in terms of on your road of work?

Jenn: I tend to do politically charged work that sometimes makes people throw up.

Betty: Nice.

Jenn: Or faint.

Jess: Send emails.

Jenn: Oh yeah, send emails. Respond.

Betty: Did you get emails from a show you did?

Jenn: Oh yeah. I once had somebody watch something I did and when we were doing the talkback, and this individual stood up with no question, but just told me in no uncertain terms how much he hated what I had just done and how terrible it was. He was like, ‘I don’t know what you are, if you’re a man, a woman, a lesbian.’ It was beyond.

Betty: Was that the worst moment – well, I won’t say worst – was that the most intense review you’ve ever gotten?

Jenn: Noo…

Betty: Alright then, what was the most intense review you’ve ever gotten after a show?

Jenn: I’ve been accused of pornography, I’ve had an entire campus of students hate me and everybody else associated with the show. And they’re still mad, I think! I mean, that’s just such a long story. Somebody on the faculty just quit not because of our show, but I think our show kicked off some things on that campus that, uh…so yeah.

Betty: You shook it up! You jostled it!

Jess: I was recently called some things by the local press that were motivating.

Betty: What local press? Is there still local press?

Jess: I just like the phrase, you know, the local press.

Jenn: They were motivating?

Betty: Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Jess: Well, yeah! I was doing a cabaret in the Fringe with the Bearded Ladies, and the reviews came out, and one said, ‘the half-screamed, half-bleated vocals of Jess Conda proved particularly inept.’ Bleated like a sheep.

Betty: Oh shit!

Jess: Baaaa.

Jenn: Baaa.

Jess: And the other one said ‘I wish I had skipped the self-indulgent Jess Conda’. Cause I do a lot of rock and roll singing in my underwear.

Jenn: I would say – a gentleman asked us – accused – it was an accusation. It was a j’accuse.

Jess: Oh! Are you going back to the very first question of our talkback in our works in progress showing?

Jenn: We had a work in process. He said, ‘I have a question. I mean…is metaphor dead?’ Right? That’s what he said. Is metaphor dead.

Jess: It was like louder and grumpier though. I HAVE A QUESTION.

Jenn: Yeah. ‘I have a question. I mean. Come on! Is metaphor dead?’ And then were we like – ‘do you mean, did we kill it?’ Is that what we’re getting at here?

Betty: Did you watch the murder of metaphor here?

Jenn: What did we say?

Jess: I’ve kind of erased that question.

Betty: I have a question. In terms of like why we make work and what the reviews say or don’t say, what is for you the ultimate point of doing this show?

Jenn: It’s pleasure. It’s fun.

Jess: Yeah.

Jenn: And it allows me to ask myself questions about like my point of view and how I’ve been conditioned, how I’ve been gendered or accepted a gendering of the world. How am I feeding into the patriarchy, what am I doing to buck up against it?

Jess: I do think humor is a rad vehicle to have conversations that are important but can maybe feel too earnest in other mediums. You know, I’m thinking about the funniest thing that I think happened this year was Michele Wolf’s White House Press Correspondents dinner bit. In the way that humor can be the thing that lets us say all this shit that if we were just doing some kind of autobiographical monologue play perhaps would be tedious for all. Perhaps. But you know, comedy is this boat that allows us to be like, ‘this is stupid. This is so stupid. This is so pleasurable, this is so stupid, stupid, stupid.’ And this is also so fucking stupid and it’s actually not funny anymore. And I think it’s just a medium to have these kinds of harder talks.

Jenn: It’s the truth-telling medium, and I think that is why tears and laughter reside so closely. I mean, I’m a big proponent of this. You know, just peeking over the fence of comedy is devastation. And that’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking about the patriarchy. That’s some real suffering.

Betty: Yeah, just to plug one of the things that I do –

Jenn: To anal plug it?

Betty: Just to anal plug one of the things that I do is an event called Porn Stash, which is a panel of comics where we look at porn and review different –

Jenn: Like a mustache? Or…

Betty: And a stash of porn.

Jenn: A stash of porn!

Betty: It’s a double entendre, I guess. We always have sex educators in the audience just to be there, but it’s all about sex education and sex positivity and we’ve been doing the show for a couple years, our goal is just to shift – by getting somebody to laugh, their mouth is open, which connects directly to their brain, and we can just throw the stuff in there, and it kind of jostles in there while they’re laughing. Like if you can get their mouth open laughing, you can insert in the bigger things, even if it’s just questions or curiosities or whatever. It sits in a different place, because you suddenly have all this access to the ‘HA!’

Jess: You mean something clinical’s happening when you’re laughing?

Betty: A hundred million percent.

Jess: I believe that.

Betty: It shifts a part of open mindedness that removes all barriers.

Jess: Boi-oi-oi-oing.

Betty: Well I think we’ve said it all – what do you guys think?

Jess: I think there’s plenty of material to cobble together into a piece!

Betty: I think women are funny, I think people are funny, I think men are funny, I think that we can do more, we have to do more–

Jenn: Anybody who would make a statement like, ‘women aren’t funny’ – I’m like, what? I just want that person to look themselves in the mirror with a finger in their butt –

Betty: I mean, are you in the comedy community? I’m about to bring you into some groups with specific comics where their main goal is to continue to make sure people know that women are not funny, that women can’t be funny, that women are not as funny as men, and there’s like incredible comics in this city. We’re talking Mary Radzinski, Chanel Ali, Michelle Biloon, who are phenomenal comics, who do not get booked as often as the most mediocre, straight white dude fucking two years out because there is this overwhelming sense that men are funnier than women. Or that audiences want to see male comics over female comics. So the reason that I’m saying it is because for some reason there’s a community out there that doesn’t fucking think it.

Jess: That’s so stupid.

Jenn: If you wake up in the morning and you think to yourself in any semblance of rational sense that women aren’t funny, you need to take your dominant hand and put it on your genitals. Take a finger from your other hand and stick it up your ass. Open your mouth. Thank you.

Betty: Well, you two are in the theater world, I think core, and then music and then comedy and clown and all that stuff. I do a bunch of shows every month and am always looking for comics to come on up and do a bit, a character, a song, even if it’s just chatting with the audience. There are stages with microphones filled with a bunch of people who think that women aren’t funny. So, when y’all wanna come down and fucking shake your shit out, I got a mic for you.

Jess: That is so kind!

Jenn: That is kind! We might take you up on it.

Betty: And when can I come see your show?

Jess: Come through! It’s May 1-12.

Betty: Dan is the director, and you three are the writers, and who is the lighting designer?

Jenn: Amyth. Justin Hicks on sound, Meredith Ries is on scenic design, Jack Tamburri on the Dramaturgy. LeVonne Lindsay on costumes. That’s a heavy lift.

Jess: That is a heavy lift, she’s doing great.

Betty: Where is the show? It’s going to be at FringeArts?

Jess: Right here at FringeArts.

Betty: Well, I wanna thank y’all for doing this, and please come to the Bechdel Test Fest –

Jess: Yo, thanks for all you do man, in the trenches, getting the funny to the people.

Betty: I’m in those other trenches in the other side of the stream, but I want to jump into your brook once in a while and you can come into my pond.

Tenara: Is metaphor dead?!

Jenn: TAKE THAT!

Betty: I also think we should start a Facebook group that’s just the bad reviews and emails and everything –

Jenn: Let’s start a WhatsApp group, cause I quit Facebook, because…fuck Facebook.

Betty: Yeah, dude, I’ll do a WhatsApp.

Tenara: You know, Facebook owns WhatsApp.

Jenn: FUCK.

Betty: Fuck!

Jess: Oh no.

Tenara: Thank you for joining us for this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe. Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, and download the FringeArts app. Visit FringeArts.com to purchase tickets for A Hard Time, which runs May 1-12. We’ll see you soon.

HPFS Splash: Gritty Edition

Posted April 9th, 2019

Continuing our HPFS Splash blog series, we’ll be taking the tops off the metaphorical fire hydrants* and spilling out the information you want to know from our High Pressure Fire Service (HPFS) artists about their HPFS shows, local inspirations, and living in Philly.

Today’s big question: What are your thoughts on Gritty?

“He’s ugly and he’s orange.  Someone said he looks like Elmo on speed.”
–Erin McNulty, A Fierce Kind of Love

hpfs splash

Photo by Kyle Ross

“He’s Philly AF of course and we love him dearly. I think it would be amazing if he helped lead some trash clean up campaign in the city. I think we can be gritty but not grimy, no? I would still have my angry edge if my city were cleaner and I think he would too.”
–Jess Conda, A Hard Time

“Crazy eyes, mad pride, pure mischief. Feels like a good representative of Philly.”
–Alex Torra, The Sincerity Project #3 (2019)

“He’s cute. Like, I would love to kiss him on his face.”
–Camae Ayewa, Circuit City

“After the initial shock, I’ve come to love him. I even put Gritty in Cinderella, the holiday panto I directed at People’s Light.”
–David Bradley, A Fierce Kind of Love

“He’s kinda cool. There’s more to come.”
–Michael McClendon, A Fierce Kind of Love

“We all know who’s under that mask…Geoff Soebelle.”
–The Berserker Residents, Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House!

“Unpopular opinion, I have no opinion on Gritty.”
–Alice Yorke, The Appointment

Read last week’s HPFS Splash: Philly Favorites, Bonus Edition, and stay tuned for next week’s splash!

hpfs splash*High Pressure Fire Service (HPFS) takes its name from FringeArts’ historic building, the first high pressure pump house in the country. Opened 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. You can see the old HPFS fire hydrants across the city between the Delaware and the Schuylkill Rivers and between South Street to Girard Avenue. You may even see them of them sporting a fancy new HPFS sticker. Tag us on Instagram @fringearts if you see one!

Click here to learn more about all of our High Pressure Fire Service shows.

 

HPFS Splash: Philadelphia Favorites, Bonus Edition

Posted April 4th, 2019

Continuing our HPFS Splash series, we’ll be taking the tops off the metaphorical fire hydrants* and spilling out the information you want to know from our High Pressure Fire Service (HPFS) artists about their HPFS shows, local inspirations, and living in Philly.

Today’s big question: What’s your favorite Philly…?

Park

“Parallel and Jurassic”
–The Berserker Residents, Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House!

hpfs splash

Shakespeare in Clark Park, Photo by Kyle Cassidy

“Clark Park, West Philly (I’ve done 6 seasons of Shakespeare in Clark Park, which is an incredible summer pleasure of mine)”
–Jess Conda, A Hard Time

Not exactly a park, but I love the Navy Yard.
–Alex Torra, The Sincerity Project #3 (2019)

Fairmount Park
–Camae Ayewa, Circuit City & Cathy Simpson, A Fierce Kind of Love

“LOVE Park”
–Erin McNulty, A Fierce Kind of Love

Place to Get Coffee

Starbucks at the National Constitution Center

“The Starbucks at the National Constitution Center”
–The Berserker Residents, Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House!

“Cafe Ole, Old City”
–Jess Conda, A Hard Time

“It used to be Elixir but then they replaced their almond milk with oat milk.”
–Camae Ayewa, Circuit City

“ANYWHERE”
–Alex Torra, The Sincerity Project #3 (2019)

Song

“TubThumping by Chumbawamba”
–The Berserker Residents, Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House!

“‘When You’ve Been Blessed’ – Patti LaBelle”
–Camae Ayewa, Circuit City

“Um, Bruce Springsteen ‘Atlantic City’ I guess?”
–Alice Yorke, The Appointment

Image result for lizzo truth hurts“Lizzo ‘Truth Hurts’ is my forever theme song”
–Jess Conda, A Hard Time

“Elena Burke’s ‘LO MATERIAL’ (featured in ¡Bienvenidos Blancos!)”
–Alex Torra, The Sincerity Project #3 (2019)

“Otis Redding’s, ‘Try A Little Tenderness'”
–Cathy Simpson, A Fierce Kind of Love

Word/Expression

“Do No Harm/Take No Shit”
–Jess Conda, A Hard Time

“That’s the job!!!!!”
–The Berserker Residents, Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House!

“Young Bol”
–Camae Ayewa, Circuit City

“The Harry Kalas classic ‘That ball’s outta here!'”
–David Bradley, A Fierce Kind of Love

“Jawn'”
–Shawn Aelong, A Fierce Kind of Love

Read last week’s HPFS Splash: Disconnecting With A Good Book, and stay tuned for next week’s splash!

hpfs splash*High Pressure Fire Service (HPFS) takes its name from FringeArts’ historic building, the first high pressure pump house in the country. Opened 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. You can see the old HPFS fire hydrants across the city between the Delaware and the Schuylkill Rivers and between South Street to Girard Avenue. You may even see them of them sporting a fancy new HPFS sticker. Tag us on Instagram @fringearts if you see one!

Click here to learn more about all of our High Pressure Fire Service shows.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE TOP

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

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

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

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

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

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

Circuit City
Moor Mother
June 20–22

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

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

Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Brad Wrenn of The Berserker Residents & Christa Cywinski

Posted March 29th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, Bradley Wrenn, part of the The Berserker Residents and Christa Cywinski, Director of Trinity Playgroup, sat down to talk about the planning and playing behind Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House! and the connection between learning, playing, and building a show for a family unit to enjoy.We took a field trip to record at Trinity Playgroup, so you may hear the sounds of…well, playtime! Listen to the podcast or read the full transcript below.

Conversation with Bradley Wrenn and Christa Cywinski

Brad: My name is Bradley Wrenn and I am one of the ensemble members of the Berserker Residents. We’ve been making work together since 2007. Me and two other ensemble members – Justin Jain and David Johnson make up the Berserker Residents. And we’re making a show called Broccoli, Roosevelt, and Mr. House!.

Christa: That’s a good title. I am Christa Cywinski and I’m the director of Trinity Playgroup. Trinity’s a small little non-profit preschool for 2-5 year olds. I’ve been here for 20 years, the school’s been here for 50 years. We’re excited to be celebrating our 50th anniversary.

Brad: Wow.

Christa: So I’m curious about the name of your show. And you mentioned a little bit about being a clown troupe, I’m curious about that?

Brad: Yeah. The way we make work is by investigating something we’re interested in and following it to a logical end. Oftentimes that will be the show. All of our shows are always live events, meaning that we’re always acknowledging the audience, they’re always in the room with us. Oftentimes we will cast them. So we did a show in 2008 that was a scientific lecture, and so the audience was at a scientific lecture. We did one that was a sci-fi futuristic one and the audience was the last of humanity and we were trying to save them. They’re oftentimes there, in the room with us, and we acknowledge them. It’s sort of using theater’s superpower, one of the super powers of theater, that the people are actually in the room with us. We can’t beat movies when it comes to effects and visuals and stuff like that, but we can beat moves in that we’re here with them, experiencing something with them and making it very live. And I think actually in our last three shows, we’ve stripped more and more of that way and thought about how much control we can give to the audience and let them dictate or provoke us? It gets scarier and scarier. Because with the audience, the more control you give them, the more you let them be the main character in the show, the more you don’t know what’s going to happen. And so it gets scary.

Christa: Especially with a child audience.

Brad: Yeah!

Christa: So is it always for kids? This one is for ages 5 and up.

Brad: No actually, all of our shows have been for adults so far.

Christa: So you could go in some really different directions from Broccoli all the way down the tunnel with the kids.

Brad: Yeah, yeah! Our last show that we did was called It’s So Learning – it was actually all about industrialized education and sort of the mechanisms of education. The audience came in sat in little chairs and were given back-packs for the show, and we sort of put them through a whole sort of American education in about 70 minutes.

Christa: Like gum under their seats.

Brad: Precisely. Yeah, and specifically exploring some of the trauma around that, some of the hard things about school. Essentially, the show was about your experience in education, and viewing it through that lens, being like, oh I remember Lord of the Flies, I remember having anxiety around tests, I remember being promised these things and not knowing why I was working for these things and the reward and the punishment and all that. But then, both of my collaborators have kids at this point.

Christa: Okay. Makes sense.

Brad: So we’re always up for a challenge, so obviously giving with an audience of kids, giving the reins of the show to kids is really scary. That’s where we headed, and we’ve been working on the show for six, seven months. We’ve done a lot of showings.

Christa: So do you think of it as an improv group?

Brad: No, no.

Christa: So how do you give the reins away?

Brad: So right now the show is just a series of what I would just call bits at this point, or lazzis.

Christa: What are lazzis?

Brad: It’s an Italian word that means like, little schtick.

Christa: Okay. Lazzi. Sounds like a good food.

Brad: I know, right? Sweet Lazzi. So for example, there’s a moment in the show where we have enormous boxes of colored ping-pong balls and we say we’re going to play a “video game,” and we give the kids the ping-pong balls and let them throw them at Dave. And it just becomes—

Christa: That is gunna–yeah. A lot of laughter there.

Brad: Yeah. And we’re sort of saying like, how far can we go in that direction, of just like – it’s a playground, and it’s chaos and we don’t have control. And then sort of riding that line of can you then regain control after that?

Christa: You definitely can.

Brad: So we do improvise, that’s how we build our shows, we’ll improvise and say, oh that’s fun, we did that, let’s script that. And now let’s put it back on its feet and improvise some more. And then we’ll script that. That’s the cycle of how we do it.

Christa: And you try it out on your collaborators’ kids?

Brad: Oh yeah. I mean we’re a little limited. The showings we’ve done, like four at this point. We’re just like, how can we get some kids in a room? But at this point it’s very much like trying to find the boundary of how much play and free flowing whatever’s happening, and then we have a structure that we sort of go from place to place, but it’s a real give and take. We’ve done a super scripted children’s show but that’s not what we’re interested in with this one. We’re interested in something that says yes to the proposals in the room.

Christa: Mhm. Yeah, we’ve done shows like that here, where the troupe will take a few ideas from the kiddos, like a character, where they’re going and what problem did they have, and then just do a whole show from there.

Brad: Yeah, yeah. And I think, you know, it’s like a pendulum of how free and how open it wants to be, and also there’s a thing where it has to be fun for us. If it’s not fun for the three of us, we know that we’ll start hating it and then it won’t be fun for anyone.  So it has to be fun and it has to be joyful for us to do because I think sometimes when things are so open, it becomes chaos and you’re like, ah, this isn’t fun. It’s just crowd control. So finding that pendulum is important.

Christa: The kid audience though, you have experience with this audience, it gives you a lot. I can’t imagine it not being fun performing to the young audience.

Tenara: But I feel like so much of art and clown school is locating play in adult bodies.

Christa: Right. Right.

Brad: Yes. I mean, that’s 90% of the work.

Tenara: Exactly.

Christa: But kids go there super naturally. Right? Like, ‘jump into the pond!’ Okay, this is the ground and that’s the pond. They go there in a second. You have to like, leave a lot of stuff behind to put yourself back there.

Brad: Yeah. It’s wild. We went and studied with this provocateur clown teacher in France named Phillipe Gaulier, at his school. And essentially, all he cares about is pleasure on stage. He says nothing else matters but pleasure on stage and joy. But it is wild to see an adult get up in front of a group of peers and just fail to find that play, over and over, or comes with too many ideas, or comes with a desire to be clever. I mean, instantly it dies and it’s not watchable. And that’s why watching kids play tag is oftentimes more entertaining than theater because they are actually just purely alive and joyful and they just –

Christa: They hide in plain sight!

Brad: Yeah! And they find stupid games, and the inventiveness is just infinite! But with adults we start to edit ourselves, and we start to be clever, and are just “funny”. We want something from the audience, whereas a child who’s playing is just in the moment and present, and so is so watchable. Trying to get to that weirdly becomes work.

Christa: I mean, we’re just part of their play world, right? We’re facilitating play, we’re putting out offerings, we’re observing. Lots of observing, lots of listening to the really funny things that they say. And looking for those little sparks of what interests them and offering them something else, repeating things.

Brad: Do you think there is an age, or do you see it – what’s the oldest here?

Christa: The oldest would be almost six by the time they leave us, but in the beginning of the year, I’m gonna say 1 ½ to 4 ½ years old.

Brad: And six is like first grade, right?

Christa: Like, kids with late fall birthdays might be six when they’re going to kindergarten. Folks can stay here until entering kindergarten.

Brad: I just am curious about when it becomes hard to play. When it becomes – and maybe it’s not until teen years, maybe that’s when you start to become self conscious.

Christa: You see changes across even just our age group though. But in terms of being self-conscious a little bit, you see a little bit of oh, I don’t want to do that even creeping up in the Pre-K year.

Brad: Being aware of your peers? Like I don’t want to do that because I’m worried of what people will think?

Christa: Yeah. I think you see a little bit of that, you just see a little bit of I know that people are thinking something, so I’m going to showman a little. You start to see that awareness changing in this year before kindergarten, so it’s early.

Tenara: And doesn’t it develop alongside, you know, like, they talk about parallel play when they’re toddlers, just playing next to each other, and as they start to integrate play with each other they also start to integrate that awareness and testing boundaries of what people think?

Christa: Absolutely.

Brad: I mean, and that’s the thing about getting in front of an audience, it’s such an odd thing because the best clowns that I know don’t care what the audience thinks. It doesn’t mean they don’t want anything from the audience, they’re just present and there and open. But they’re present the way an animal is or in the way a very young child is makes them instantly so captivating. It’s like getting rid of judgment and just trying to find that fun and joy.

Christa: There does seem to be personality types where it’s easier to keep connected to play. So you don’t have to teach kids how to learn, or how to play. Everything they’re doing in terms of experiencing the world and playing is how they’re figuring things out. You can offer things, you can scaffold things, you can be part of it in a social piece, but you don’t really have to teach them that if you put water in this, this becomes the cup, you know? They’re just going to start experimenting. The toys with no explanation are better, with no beginning, middle, and end of how you have to use them and no like, this is what this is for. You can put out a box and they’ll just start making ramps and putting things in it, turning things upside down, they learn by just being hands-on, trying things. Then they start to watch each other , help each other do things a little bit, getting ideas from each other. You see that sort of brainstorming camaraderie develop. A little bit later comes the competition.

Tenara: When does that start?

Christa: I think you start to see it pretty young.

Brad: When you say competition do you mean like footrace? Like a competition for resources? Or like, ‘that’s mine?’

Christa: A little bit of both, yeah. I mean at this point with our kids, they’re young, so it all makes sense and it’s developmentally on target but there is a bit of, oh, I gotta do that the fastest, I gotta do that first, gotta be in the front. You know, they’re all still building their ego-strength.

Brad: That’s so interesting.

Christa: And then that sort of settles out again, those are just stages.

Brad: Peaks and valleys.

Christa: Yeah. Yup.

Brad: It’s something that we’re after with this show, like we’re looking at how to allow organic games to come up in a performance, like not even plot and narrative, just for organic games to come up. Like with the ping-pong balls. But there’s also this interesting thing in that making the show, we’re very cognizant that we’re not making “just” a kid’s show, we’re making a family show. We’re making a show for a unit. We saw a show in Edinburgh that really just bowled us over, because it was made for a unit. It wasn’t like, come drop your kids off in the front and then you go in the back. It was a show for a family unit.

Christa: That sounds fun.

Brad: Yeah. There’s something about if you just let play happen, the adults in the room get anxious? They’re like – ‘who’s in charge, what’s going on? This isn’t curated enough! It’s gone off the rails!’ So we’re cognizant of the adult presence, to be like, ‘hey, we’ve got this, this is supposed to happen here. Now we’ll get things back on the rails.’ And something incredibly virtuosic and composed will happen. And then we’ll let some organic play come into it. Doing that pendulum of keeping an eye to the adults in the room is really an interesting tight-rope.

Tenara: How do you get them to play with their unit?

Brad: I mean, one of the things that always works – always works – and we’ve done it and it works even in an adult context is that you go and get a dad. There’s something about the status of a dad. You can make fun of a big dad. And dads will then be performing for their kids, and it becomes this weird thing of bringing a dad up on stage work. Doing something really silly with that dad and making him really silly causes a whole audience to lean forward. It’s weird. There’s gender involved with that, there’s status involved with that, there’s family dynamics, but I’ve seen it work so many times. Pulling a dad up and putting a tutu on him. Dr. Brown, this clown we saw in Edinburgh literally takes a dad and turns him into a soccer ball and kicks him around the stage. And the dad does it because the dad wants to make his kids happy.

Christa: You gotta connect with the right dad though!

Brad: Yes, you’re totally right. There’s a particular kind of dad. You have to pull the right dad, you have to think and be looking for that dad in that moment.

Christa: My dad.

Brad: It makes the whole audience learn forward. It’s wild. It works. That causes that family unit to lean in.

Christa: I mean, the kids laugh a lot here when teachers get pulled into things, whether it’s like, ‘alright, Heather, show us your dance moves!’ or like ‘put on the firemen’s jacket!’ Whatever it is.

Brad: Yup. And I think there’s a whole way to access a whole new kind of audience participation by modeling an adult doing it first. And then you bring a kid onstage and let a kid do something. That’s its own narrative arc. You have to do it in a way that doesn’t feel forced and that takes really good care of everybody. It’s not great when a person gets pulled onstage and is not taken care of and is just sort of forced to do something really uncomfortable. Whereas with working with audiences and playing with an audience – it feels organic and the person should always know what to do. They always know what the right answer is. And know the right way to play. And know that there’s no wrong way to play. You have to set that up. Or you just give them a very narrow path to walk on – like, hey, can you make the sound of a cow? Boom! Of course they can! There’s no wrong. I think that’s the biggest thing, that’s the anxiety with play.

Christa: Definitely with kids a little bit older, but not in the beginning. There’s definitely no wrong at the beginning.

Tenara: So I’m curious, this is a question for both of you. For you, Brad – is there an age group that you have found in the showings of this piece that is the sweet spot for those kids, before the anxiety sneaks in? Or is it really just about setting up this culture with the unit? And Christa, is there – in what age do you see that ‘there’s a wrong answer, so it’s safer to not play’ start to happen? Is it developmental or is it external?

Christa: Oh. Both. For sure both. Because you can foster an environment that says it’s all okay, or you can foster an environment with a lot of limits. And that will change the nature of the way somebody grows. But I would say for almost all the time that we see kids in this school, they’re still pretty not rule bound, in terms of they’re taking risks, they’re just doing it. Not thinking, just doing it. In terms of like their play outside of their school settings, I think they’re probably still pretty open for a while too.

Tenara [to Brad]: Have you found that there’s an age where it’s harder to reach them?

Brad: Well, the showings we’ve done tend to run with younger kids, like two, three, four, five year olds, just because that’s the age of my peers’ kids. Which is not actually the group that we’re making the show for. We’re aiming a little older than that with five plus. It’s harder to get a group of just nine year olds. And also I think the other thing is because Justin, Dave, and I have all done children’s theater in other capacities, and performing for a group of kids with like five teachers is so different than performing for kids with their families. It’s a totally different audience and a totally different beast.

Tenara: How is it different?

Brad: I mean, a group of kids where the ratio is five adults to 35 kids are a frenzied beast, just like ‘Wahhh!’. I mean they’re easy to pump up but it’s a little like going to a concert with that group. With a group of kids with their adults, it becomes much more timid, and there’s also a lot of checking in with your unit.

Christa: But we all have different personalities in our family unit than we do out there in the school world or the work world – whichever world you’re in. So it’s different sides of ourselves get shown.

Brad: Yeah, yeah. And so I think it’s tough in making a show because it’s hard to get access to that thing. I mean, we’ll do showings up until the day we open at Fringe, but we probably won’t get the audience we’re going to have at Fringe until we open.

Christa: But then so why is that the age group that you’re shooting for? Not because it’s what you think is the sweet spot. You just want to try it with this group?

Brad: We just saw some shows in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival like 20-30 kids whows, and kids shows made for 5 and under – there was one that worked, and they did like every little bit in the book that you can think of for that age group. Cover your head with a blanket and have the person behind you sneak up, and they all go ‘he’s behind you!’

Christa: Oh they love it.

Brad: Yeah, they love it, and it works.

Christa: The slapstick.

Brad: Yes, and like, the peekaboo type stuff, yeah. But we knew that that wouldn’t be fun for us. For the three of us. We want to do something that was just a click up, and then there was something about this show that was called Dr. Brown and the Singing Tiger that was for more like a family unit, a little bit older, and it just felt really special for a unit. And we were like – I don’t know what that is, but I want to try and crack it. And I think that’s the thing that we’re interested in. We wanted to make a show that winks just a little bit to the adult not in a double entendres way, but more in the way that’s like, come along and play the way you used to.

Tenara: What is it about a family unit that is the thing that has the heat for you guys in this piece?

Brad: I guess there’s a way that there’s an audience built inside of a family unit. There’s parents watching kids and kids watching parents while they’re sitting next to each other, that becomes this force of kids watching the show, parents watching the show, kids watching parents – it’s just so interesting to me. When we’re setting up the audience at front, we thought, oh let’s put cushions down at the front, but then thought no.I want people to be sitting next to each other. I want whatever your family unit is, I want the adult/child mix that comes to the show. That is really important to me. And I think it’s harder.

Tenara: I imagine it’s harder also because of the culture around family programming specific to this country. Like, it doesn’t surprise me that it was in Edinburgh where you saw that done successfully.

Brad: Yeah, I think you’re totally right, I think there’s a way in which children’s theater in the United States is thought of as not important programming. It’s often seen as like, ‘oh well, then we’ll just do a family show.’ We’ll just put some funny costumes on and flounce about and that’ll be enough. But in Edinburgh there’s a real value behind that stuff. I mean there’s more value on family programming in general in Europe, but I think there specifically children’s shows are – well, there’s a lot more rigor in making them.

Tenara: Well I’m sort of curious about the values that foster the family programming culture of Europe. Are they the same that foster the kind of education systems that tend to have more success in those countries? Or are they’re coming from different places?

Brad: I mean, the cynical part of me says – this is really the cynical part of me – there’s just more value on art in, specifically in Scotland. I think there’s able to be more rigor around children’s programming because it’s just valued as important, so there’s more resources, more rigor, more time spent, and so you get something that is better crafted.

Tenara [to Christa]: I think a lot about something that you said to me once, which is that all preschools should be play-based, and so it’s so funny that Trinity Playgroup’s supposed ‘niche’ is that they’re a play-based preschool. But isn’t that what learning is at that age anyway?

Christa: Right. Yeah, I mean it’s – there is a little rush to ‘prepare.’ There’s this idea of preparing. You know, preparing kids for school. You know, I can’t speak for other places outside of here, but certainly we know that kindergarten is more like what first grade used to be, and so that trickles down to us. And what parents are thinking about is involved of course.

Tenara: Have you seen that trend change since you started working here?

Christa: I have. However, you know, as things change they swing. So you know, now people are swinging back, thinking more about outdoor classrooms and different, more experiential school set-ups, even all the way through into high school, and different ways to create great schools and so I feel like, it got pretty sort of – the expectations were pretty high on young people for quite a bit. But I think they’re swinging back a little.

Brad: What is a non play-based preschool?

Christa: Well, there are a lot of schools that will, in an effort to follow standards, have really specific curricula for kids. I mean, there are schools that sit everybody down and we all make this at this time, these are the parts that you use to make it. It’s out there for sure. It looks like this, this is what the outcome should be.

Brad: Like, it looks like a sun and it should have a smiley face on it.

Christa: Yeah, like, here are the pieces already cut out.

Brad: So is everything here guided by the child’s sort of curiosity and what they’re after?

Christa: Not everything. No, because, I mean, the teachers are well-informed about child development and they think a lot about what things to introduce at what time. They’re orchestrators in the scene and they’re paying attention to what kids are interested in, and they’re putting out things related to that interest. The kids are moving around the space with whatever is out and available to them, the kids are moving around like, oh I want to go there, I want to go there, so that’s driven. But it’s not that they just walk in and everything is put away and they just go for it. The teachers are part of that process and creating the invitations for play.

Brad: Yeah. I mean, it’s not dissimilar from what we’re doing, and the stage we’re at right now with this piece. Where we’re just like, we have an idea and a provocation and we’re going to put it in front of the audience, and then we’re going to do our best to just be present and just be curious about what’s going on. And we have an outcome that we probably do imagine but if something else happens, that’s okay.

Christa: Oh, you’ll always be surprised.

Brad: Yeah, and to be open to that I think is the real fearful thing, the anxiety of like I want to control and I want it to go a certain way. But it’s always better if you just stay in the moment and just follow what’s in front of you. When you’re listening to your audience or your classroom.

Christa: Or to anybody in your life!

Tenara: Yeah, well there’s that too. Hopefully we carry that into adulthood!

HPFS Splash: Disconnecting with a Good Book

Posted March 28th, 2019

Continuing our HPFS Splash blog series, we’ll be taking the tops off the metaphorical fire hydrants* and spilling out the information you want to know from our High Pressure Fire Service (HPFS) artists about their HPFS shows, local inspirations, and living in Philly.

Today’s big questions: Where do you like to disconnect, and what are you reading?

Favorite Places to Disconnect:

“The Korean Spa”
–Alice Yorke, The Appointment

“Best Buy”
–The Berserker Residents, Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House!

“My room in my pajamas”
–Jess Conda, A Hard Time

“My deck which overlooks the whole city.”
–Alex Torra, The Sincerity Project #3 (2019)

“Outdoors, listening to music.”
–Michael McClendon, A Fierce Kind of Love

“The shower”
–Camae Ayewa, Circuit City

What our HPFS artists are reading (though maybe not in the shower…):

Waiting for Godot was a very proto starting point for us. The piece has some texture from this early research, a few moments of quiet seeking came from this time.”
–Jess Conda, A Hard Time

“Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful
–Alex Torra, The Sincerity Project #3 (2019)

Recurrence Plot by Rasheedah Phillips”
–Camae Ayewa, Circuit City

The Very Merry Xmas Carol Holiday Adventure Show, a Play by The Berserker Residents”
–The Berserker Residents, Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House!

“Roland Johnson’s Lost in a Desert World
–Suli Holum and David Bradley, A Fierce Kind of Love

Read last week’s HPFS Splash: Making Art in Philadelphia, and stay tuned for next week’s splash!

hpfs splash*High Pressure Fire Service (HPFS) takes its name from FringeArts’ historic building, the first high pressure pump house in the country. Opened 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. You can see the old HPFS fire hydrants across the city between the Delaware and the Schuylkill Rivers and between South Street to Girard Avenue. You may even see them of them sporting a fancy new HPFS sticker. Tag us on Instagram @fringearts if you see one!

Click here to learn more about all of our High Pressure Fire Service shows.

HPFS Splash: Making Art in Philadelphia

Posted March 19th, 2019

Continuing our HPFS Splash blog series, we’ll be taking the tops off the metaphorical fire hydrants* and spilling out the information you want to know from our High Pressure Fire Service (HPFS) artists about their HPFS shows, local inspirations, and living in Philly.

Today’s big questions: How has Philadelphia inspired your HPFS piece, and why have you made Philadelphia your home?

“I grew up in Philly. I love that it feels both intimate and grand…A Fierce Kind of Love is inspired by the intellectual disabilities movement in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. It’s all about what was an untold civil rights story happening here. Philly TV news vet Bill Baldini’s in it, as well as grassroots activists like Eleanor Elkin and Leona Fialkowski.”
–David Bradley, A Fierce Kind of Love

Photo by Johanna Austin

I moved here 7 years ago to be part of the first class of Pig Iron’s grad program. I stayed because, especially then, it was easy to be an artist here. Not only was it affordable, but people who weren’t involved in the arts were interested in them. That last bit is still true. A lot of the [The Appointment] is derived from time I spent in Philadelphia clinics observing doctors and patients. There are whole passages that have come from texts that doctors are required to pass out to patients and/or recite to them. Some of it is the lived experiences of the patients in those clinics who are my neighbors and friends.”
–Alice Yorke, The Appointment

“You know what separates Philly from other cities? A couple miles of cheese steak infested corn product. Philadelphia powers our house, our Broccolis and our Roosevelts.”
–The Berserker Residents, Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House!

“Every time I’m walking around feeling city ennui–anonymous and lonely and just about to feel sorry for myself…I run into a friend I know. That feeling of small town in a big city is so rare. That’s a Philly thing. [In A Hard Time,] we say what we want to say, when and how we want to say it, just like most Philadelphians.”
-Jess Conda, A Hard Time

sincerity project

Photo by Jen Cleary

I came (back) to Philly in 2007 to work with Pig Iron, and in the process got introduced to the people who would eventually become my friends and collaborators. I stayed because this community of makers is really special, and the kind of work that I want to make is appreciated and celebrated here. Philly is a complex, sprawling, sometimes exhilarating/sometimes frustrating place — and I like that. It’s got a big city feel, but my community feels tight and familiar. But there are always new people and new places to encounter when things get claustrophobic. Also, it remains affordable despite changes in recent years. It’s a city that embraces what I do and provides the opportunity to live the life I wanna live. Many us on the Sincerity team have embraced Philadelphia as our home, and because the piece is based on our lives, the city is baked into our experiences, and therefore the work.”
—Alex Torra, The Sincerity Project #3 (2019)

I came to Philly in 1999. Where I used to live now is luxury condos, downtown where my college dorm was. It’s been through so many different changes. The everyday relationships with people in the neighborhoods, students that come in and out of the neighborhood, just the movement of the city and the everyday people I’ve been able to meet are inspiring. Philadelphia, we’re not really known for celebrating our citizens, besides the old revolutionary war kind of thing. John Coltrane should be everywhere. Billie Holiday should be everywhere. These are people that not only we can appreciate their music, but there’s so many levels that we can learn from them. WEB DuBois. Patti Labelle. Philly pales in comparison to these other places where they celebrate it…and not just people who are well established or rich like the people I named celebrity-wise, but everyday citizens. North Philly has amazing community members that won’t get any kind of shine outside of their own community that have been doing a lot of work whether it’s street cleaning or organizing others to vote.”
–Camae Ayewa, Circuit City

hpfs splashRead last week’s HPFS Splash: Philadelphia Favorites, and stay tuned for next week’s splash!

*High Pressure Fire Service (HPFS) takes its name from FringeArts’ historic building, the first high pressure pump house in the country. Opened 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. You can see the old HPFS fire hydrants across the city between the Delaware and the Schuylkill Rivers and between South Street to Girard Avenue. You may even see them of them sporting a fancy new HPFS sticker. Tag us on Instagram @fringearts if you see one!

Click here to learn more about all of our High Pressure Fire Service shows.

 

HPFS Splash: Philadelphia Favorites

Posted March 14th, 2019

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking the tops off the metaphorical fire hydrants* and spilling out the information you want to know from our High Pressure Fire Service (HPFS) artists about their HPFS shows, local inspirations, and living in Philly. Today’s big question: What’s your favorite Philly…?

Life Hack

When UPS puts packages in my garbage can so people don’t steal them.”
–Alice Yorke, The Appointment

“Saying a calm ‘thanks for waiting’ to people.”
–Jess Conda, A Hard Time

“Charging your phone at the Apple Store”
–Camae Ayewa, Circuit City

“Drop the Facebook, invest heavily in bedding.”
–Alex Torra, The Sincerity Project #3 (2019)

Cheesesteak

Jim’s Cheesesteaks. Photo by Visit Philadelphia

“Jim’s”
–Shawn Aelong, A Fierce Kind of Love

“Jim’s”
-Camae Ayewa, Circuit City

“Jim’s”
–Alice Yorke, The Appointment

“Hot Pocket Cheese Steak Delight”
–The Berserker Residents, Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House!

“I can’t eat it, I’m allergic to wheat! COUNTEROFFER: Tierra Colombiana in North Philly.”
–Alex Torra, The Sincerity Project #3 (2019)

Place to Get Work Done

Good Karma Cafe at the Wilma Theater

“My room in my pajamas.”
–Jess Conda, A Hard Time

“Dr Hammerstein’s Nip and Tuck at Broad and Snyder is where Dave got his work done.”
–The Berserker Residents, Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House!

“Good Karma Cafe at Wilma Theater.”
–David Bradley, A Fierce Kind of Love

“Easy chair in my front room.”
–Cathy Simpson, A Fierce Kind of Love

Stay tuned for our next HPFS Splash next week!

hpfs fire hydrant

Photo by Raina Searles

*High Pressure Fire Service (HPFS) takes its name from FringeArts’ historic building, the first high pressure pump house in the country. Opened 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. You can see the old HPFS fire hydrants across the city between the Delaware and the Schuylkill Rivers and between South Street to Girard Avenue. You may even see them of them sporting a fancy new HPFS sticker. Tag us on Instagram @fringearts if you see one!

Click here to learn more about all of our High Pressure Fire Service shows.

 

Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Alice Yorke of Lightning Rod Special & Elicia Gonzales

Posted March 1st, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, Alice Yorke, lead artist of The Appointment and Co-Director of Lightning Rod Special and Elicia Gonzales, Executive Director of Women’s Medical Fund, sat down to talk about the research and rehearsal process Lightning Rod Special went through and what the American abortion debate really means for issues of health care, education, race, and more. Listen to the podcast or read the full transcript below!

Conversation with Elicia Gonzales and Alice Yorke

Alice: Hey Elicia, I’m Alice. I’m the Co-Director of Lightning Rod Special and the lead artist on The Appointment.

Elicia: I’m super happy to meet you again. So I’m Elicia.  We met before, from Women’s Medical Fund. I’m the Executive Director there and excited to be able to talk with you some more.

Alice: Yeah, me too!

Elicia: So we worked together, I guess last fall?

Alice: Yeah, just over a year ago.

Elicia: Right, and I was newer to this role then. I think a lot of stuff has changed since then. Can you just refresh me on a snapshot of what that first encounter looked like for y’all?

Alice: So, summer and fall of 2017, we were working on this show The Appointment which then was called Unformed Consent. We had been developing it in longer processes for maybe a year or two before then, and so summer/fall of 2017, we knew we wanted to do a public first-draft showing. But the more we were working on it in isolation, the clearer it was to me that that was the wrong way to be going about it. There are people and organizations that do the work that we’re talking about, and I really wanted to be like, boots on the ground and find out what was going on in there. So in conjunction with our development processes, I got connected to Susan Schewel, who used to be the Executive Director at Women’s Medical Fund, and so she and I had a couple conversations about the project. And they invited me to come listen to the help-line, and she gave me a bunch of books and DVDs to watch –

Elicia: She’s thorough.

Alice: Yeah, I had to find a DVD player. She was a great resource and then she put me in touch with people at Philly Women’s Center. They let me come in and tour their offices and shadow patients and chat with their doctors and really get to see what happens in an abortion clinic from the time you walk in to the time you leave. Which was super, super helpful, and both of those experiences are now directly – sometimes even word for word – in the piece.

Elicia: Oh wow. I don’t think I realized that sequence of events.

Alice: Yeah, it was really helpful. I got to come in twice, I got to sit and observe the waiting room, and then be in a patient advocacy consultation, which is an opportunity for both the patient to check in with the clinic about how they feel and ask questions, and then for the clinic to check in with the patient about how they feel and make sure they’re clear about what’s going on.

Elicia: I’m reminded of the book Shout Your Abortion, edited by Amelia Bonow and Emily Nokes, which just came out. The book takes you through the stories of folks who have had abortions, and it’s really beautiful because it’s not just monolithic, right? It’s like some folks wanted it, some folks had to have it, some folks would have carried to term, some folks were super happy, you know all these different reasons. I think there’s still such a mystery around what happens when you go to get an abortion, and/or there’s all these assumptions based on what’s in the media or what we hear being spewed from these ‘amazing political figures’ who don’t ever need to access an abortion. So the work that you’re doing I feel like is just really valuable – like, to be able to interpret what happens in that clinic setting for folks is really powerful.

Alice: Yeah, I mean because so much of the show is satire, it does have a lot of dark humor to it. And every time that we started working in the clinic world, we were like – that stuff isn’t full of satire. That dark humor, that satire – that doesn’t feel good here. We don’t want that here. Because one of the goals of the project is – I mean, similar to Shout Your Abortion – is reducing stigma, is getting people to talk about it, is asking people to be more aware of what goes on, we were like, those scenes need to be no filter. They want to have very little theatricality, no humor other than the humor of what happens when two people sit next to each other in chairs, you know.

Elicia: Yeah, like chair farts and stuff.

Alice: Oh yeah, chair farts. Like, I’m uncomfortable, you’re uncomfortable, you’re very comfortable, you’re like talking on the phone – like all that stuff can be very funny, but without satirical layering on top of it.

Elicia: Right, like without gratuitously poking fun at a thing.

Alice: Yeah. The first time we did the abortion scene in our rehearsal room, it was like the wind changed a little bit. It was like everybody was just like, oooh.

Elicia: Yeah, we’re actually here for that.

Alice: We’re here for that. And in the way that we make work, we just create so much material and so little of it ends up getting in the show. Sometimes you rarely know right away, but we made the abortion scene and we were like, oh, so, that has to go in. That has to go in the show.

Elicia: Right, because unless you’re the person that’s getting that abortion, you’re not ever necessarily going to be in that space. I worked at Planned Parenthood back when I was a little puppy, and I asked them if I could see an abortion. I just felt like if I’m out here telling people about the procedure, I need to be informed. So I went to a couple of procedures at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Denver, and I really watched the whole thing up close, cause I need to be honest with people, you know? I think what happens sometimes in an effort to be “right” we sometimes skirt over the fact that, no actually – if left untouched, right, this thing would probably possibly maybe turn into a full-fledged fetus, and then later on from there, maybe a baby, right? At that moment it was the same thing, the wind kind of changed. I’m curious to know from you – someone who’s done a lot of thinking about the prep and the portrayal, did you feel as though you were placing significance to the procedure that may or may not actually be felt by the person getting the abortion?

Alice: Oh my god that’s such a huge part of the thing that we talk about when we’re scripting. I feel like there are so many narratives around getting abortions, and so many of them are not what’s really going on –

Elicia: Or not told by the person getting the abortion –

Alice: Right, exactly – which is what’s so great about Shout Your Abortion, right, it’s so powerful because you hear people telling their own stories. Those stories are oftentimes glorified in either way. Either it’s horrible, demonized, what’s-going-on-in-that-crazy-room, or it’s like, hearts and flowers and like Lisa Frank. Like, If These Walls Could Talk, that HBO show?

Elicia: Oh god. Yeah.

Alice: Yeah, so it felt really important to be like, how do we just show? When we showed the piece in August, the character who’s getting the abortion doesn’t say very much. Just the facts, name, date of birth, does this hurt, look over here, you know like, there’s very little story, which was really purposeful. As soon as you start giving that character any backstory, then like, boom the audience is going to box her away, and box away by proxy anyone getting an abortion. They’re going to see that I’m a middle class looking white woman, and they’re going to think that this narrative is only about middle class looking white women and abortions.

Elicia: But what’s really cool too is that you leaving it open to interpretation reminds people remember that this is actually just about health care, y’all. You know? It’s not about this ritualistic, witches-in-a-dark-cave, coven conjuring whatever. This an actual medical procedure. Is it different than getting a tooth filled in? For sure. We shouldn’t actually even be having this conversation, right? It’s crazy. It’s a medical procedure, people need to be reminded of that on a constant. There was a study done not too long ago that found by and large that the connection to abortion for most folks is a hyper politicized, hyper negative, a demonized kind of thing and completely divorced from the fact that it’s actually health care that we’re talking about. So the fact that y’all are showing abortion in a sort of this-is-what-it-is, non-scripted, non-skewed way is super cool.

Alice: Thanks. What felt important for me to learn is that having an abortion is just as risky and just as safe as carrying a pregnancy to term.

Elicia: Oh my god, yeah. I mean, and then you still have to carry that child for eighteen years, you know? And maternal mortality in Philadelphia, especially for black women, is just awful, and nobody wants to talk about that. I keep plugging Shout Your Abortion because I feel like it’s just so powerful. One of the editors, Amelia said that nobody wants to talk about abortion in this country, because it’s a reminder of everything else that we don’t want to talk about in this country. You know, sex, religion, rape, racism, like all the things. And I was just like, oh my god, that’s it, that’s it.

Alice: I feel like that’s just put into words something I’ve been trying to communicate about this process in the show – it’s not an isolated issue, you know? We don’t want to talk about abortion because then we have to talk about neighborhood safety, then we have to talk about accessibility to food, to education, to sex education. It just feels so easy for us to box it off in our minds and be like, that’s bad and we don’t touch it, we don’t talk about it. But actually it’s the same as looking at white feminism and looking at intersectional feminism. Right, like let’s widen the scope a little bit. We can recognize that finding equality for women is not an isolated issue. We also have to look at finding equality for people of color, for trans people, for gay people, we have to look at finances, we have to look at class, etc.

Elicia: Yeah, I know. For real. All of these issues are intersected. It’s like, “if your feminism isn’t intersectional, it’s white supremacy.” It’s just a reminder that the work is still happening, we have work to do, and at Women’s Medical Fund, we’re grappling with that really intensely right now. Since 1985 we’ve existed as this fund, and it’s pretty radical, right? I mean we’re literally putting our money into the hands of the folks who can’t afford to get an abortion. Folks who are making less than $8800 a year. Since its inception, WMF has existed in a pretty straight-line kind of way. We generate revenue, we raise money, and put it directly into the hands of the folks who call the help-line. We are able to help so many people, but not nearly as many as the number who need our services. The former ED you mentioned – Susan Schewer – she was very visionary and recognized that funding abortions is critical but doesn’t go far enough. Why is it that 80% of the people who call the help-line are black and brown folks? Why is it that the folks who are calling the help-line are making so little money and have all these other complicating, intersectional oppressions that are affecting them differently than other folks? What do we do with the fund to address how abortion is connected to racism, classism, all the isms. Like, how might people walk away from your show and say, ‘Oh yeah, lack of abortion access actually is a manifestation of the racism in this country.’

Alice: Right. And for me as an audience member, if I already accept that I care about the rampant racism in this country, then can I also get myself to care about lack of access to abortion, reproductive healthcare, sex education? I remember hearing many years before I heard the words intersectional feminism someone call it ‘open door or closed door feminism.’ That your feminism could be closed door where you just care about rights for women, and for much of history, that meant upper-middle-class white women. Or, it could be an open door. If I am an open-door feminist, that means I also care about LGBTQ issues and it also means I care about POC issues. And see how they’re all connected.

Elicia: The metaphor of the door also means that you’re actually being invited in, there’s an intentionality to it. These conversations aren’t just going to magically happen, people aren’t just going to magically say like, ‘let’s talk about racism in America!’ Someone has to open the door and invite you into this space, and we need to be sitting at this table and having these kinds of conversations. I think that term is great. I’ve never heard it put that way before.

Alice: Yeah, it’s always really stuck with me, again because I think it felt inviting. You know, and it carries on into what we’re trying to find with the programming that we’ll do around the show. How can we make spaces for audience members, like you said, to sit at a table together? They’re being handed an opportunity to watch someone have an abortion onstage. How do you feel about seeing a group of people in a waiting room, waiting to get an abortion? How does that make you feel about your place in the world?

Elicia: Yeah. Even if you’re not a person who has ever needed to have an abortion or have access to an abortion, you probably have at one point or another felt fearful, or uncertain, or just in a hurry to get this damn thing over with, right? As an audience member, it’s important to remember that there’s so much you have to do first before you get to the scene where you see the abortion. You have to walk through all these scary people outside. You might have had to leave your kid somewhere that’s maybe scary. Most of the people who call our help-line already have two kids at home. Maybe you’ve already had to fight with your work to get the day off, or lie to somebody to get there. And in the state of PA, you have to wait 24 hours. Because you haven’t already thought about your decision long enough, right? If you’re under the age of 18, you have to get your parental consent – not notification, consent. If you don’t get their consent, you have to go in front of a judge and get that person’s consent. By the time you get to the procedure, you’ve already gone through hell and back. I’m hoping that audience members are able to connect with that level of struggle in some way, or notice that absence of the struggle that they may encounter in living their day-to-day lives.

Alice: One of the things we looked at are the informed consent materials. So many states – too many – have mandated informed consent materials that are written by the state, by politicians that have to be given out to patients before they come in. And I’ve read through maybe let’s say half a dozen of those materials, and it’s just – they’re so pejorative, they’re paternalistic, you can tell that they’re written to minimize the patient’s life experience and intelligence. They often refer to a fetus as a baby, already – like your seven week old baby – just stuff that is so coded. There’s a ton of really blatant misogyny and paternalism in it, and then there’s also such deeply internalized misogyny too. Like the fact that the government thinks that someone hasn’t thought about it before they’ve come to the doctor’s office? Like what do you really think is going on here?

Elicia: Right, and it’s just also like, it reminds me again about whose body it is. The fact that you even think that you have any say over what somebody does with their body, period, whether they want to have a child, whether they want to transition their gender, whether they want to have a tattoo, whether they want to have ten kids, whether they want to wear nothing and walk down the streets in Philadelphia – all of these things that people feel like they have the right to tell somebody else what they can do with their very own bodies really only is about certain bodies in this society, right? It’s not all bodies, it’s certain bodies. If audiences are coming to your show because they already feel concerned or passionate about this issue, my hope is that they leave there feeling impassioned to actually then do something about it. It’s not just enough to feel uncomfortable, or inspired, or relieved. What do you hope will happen when folks see your show and then do after?

Alice: I mean, that was a big part of why when we did this show in the summer/fall of 2017 that I wanted to have you and the WMF, and folks from Philly Women’s Center come and speak. It felt really important to contextualize the work, and to say – cool, we’ve just seen a piece of theater that deals with this issue. You might be feeling something, you might not, you might leave and walk into the night, that’s cool. But in case you are feeling something, here’s more information. Here’s information about what Women’s Medical Fund is, what Philly Women’s Center does, what the restrictions are in Pennsylvania. If you care, here’s where to sign up for those email lists, here’s an opportunity to toss in your change. If you care, here’s an opportunity to sign up to be a clinic escort.

Elicia: And because of that, you were actually able to impact the patients directly. I know that you guys made that $5,000 contribution in order to be able to help people actually access the very same thing that folks were there to see, so it worked! It wasn’t just this thing that happened in theory, it was in real life practice. You practiced a model that worked. I don’t think a lot of folks necessarily root their work – whether it’s political or legislative or artistic – in community. How is it actually affecting and impacting communities? How might it be led by communities? I was really appreciative not only that you reached out that first time, but that you were also open to hearing,  how it landed on folks. That’s scary! You were so vulnerable and open to the feedback!

Alice: Yeah! I mean, I remember you emailed me and we got together to talk about how the show felt for you, with really specific questions. It was cool for me as maker, especially because the show wasn’t a fixed entity, and frankly won’t be a fixed entity after March either. I got to see  how it was landing. Because it’s satire, some of the discomfort is on purpose, but if it’s not quite landing, then we still have work to do. You talked about the people who are coming to this show – I feel like I have always really been interested in the theater-going public on an East Coast city. Most of us are lefty-lefties. But I continue to be really interested in the show being an open book.

Elicia: Yeah. Your show is an open door.

Alice: I hope so. So if you don’t necessarily think abortion is the right choice for you or your family or your community, I still welcome you to come to the show.

Elicia: Right. I also welcome you to find someone in your community who hasn’t had an abortion. You know? Everybody that we know has had an abortion, has been impacted by somebody’s decision to have an abortion, or will be impacted by that, so it’s not an isolated incident that happens to the poor girl in the corner. So, there’s that too.

Alice: I heard this amazing story last summer when I was working on the show. Someone told me about a mom’s group she was a part of in the early 80s. One of those groups where they all just had their first kid and wanted to be in a room together. There are thirteen women in the room, and somebody posed the question – who here has had an abortion? There were thirteen women – one woman didn’t raise her hand. One.

Elicia: It’s part of our lives! This is fascinating – I just learned that in Cuba, up to about six or eight weeks or so – so still pretty early on in the pregnancy – they don’t even call it abortion. They call it “menstruation regulation.” They say, “I’m here to regulate my period.” It took some time for American doctors and health care providers who were studying in Cuba to figure out what they were talking about, because so many people just kept coming in for menstruation regulation. It’s just a reminder about how politicized and alarmist this thing is that’s actually just a normal part of our lives.

Alice: The history of the politicization of abortion is crazy. It’s preposterous.

Elicia: It’s preposterous! And it’s also on purpose, it’s not an accident. All of this stuff is intentional, it’s all designed to keep folks in certain positions of power and to hold other folks away from that power. None of this is an accident, you know, I just really continue to look forward to figuring out creative ways of reminding people that that’s not just me saying, “Abortion! Abortion! Abortion!” But we have your show with dancing fetuses and whatnot, so that could be fun.

Alice: Yeah, that’s the hope! A way to shout, “Abortion!” that’s fun.

Elicia: And doesn’t harm.

Alice: And doesn’t harm, right! And like, if someone feels like it harms, I mean, my email is on the booklet. I would be happy to talk with someone about why they felt it was harmful. After the first draft showing, I did have people reach out to me and say they felt personally harmed by it. I’m so grateful that someone would take the time to do that. Not only because I’m making a piece of art that I don’t want to harm people, so now I can think about how to fix that, but also because we have an opportunity to talk human to human about what just happened and also what’s going on with you that you saw something that was harmful.

Elicia: I also think that that is an unintended harmful consequence unlike what’s happening right now in cities, especially in Philadelphia, around crisis pregnancy centers that are deliberately and maliciously lying to people about their options. They are not medical professionals. That is a very different level of harm in our communities that is violent, malicious, and actually intentional. Right? So – I just had to put that out there because I think unintended consequences that harm, that’s just going to happen no matter how well you try to control for that, and in fact like you said there can be true growth and healing when those things happen. But when it’s an organized effort to harm on purpose, on that scale, and actually getting money to do that – that’s where we have a problem.

Alice: On our next next podcast.

Installation and Impact: The Disability History Timeline

Posted February 28th, 2019

In conjunction with our presentation of A Fierce Kind of Love (March 1—3), the Institute on Disabilities’ work that tells the untold story of Pennsylvania’s Intellectual Disability Rights Movement, FringeArts and the Institute have developed two public history timelines that follow the movement for disability rights and self-determination from the turn of the 19th century to today. The first timeline has been installed in the second floor gallery hallway at the Parkway Central Library, and the second one can be found in the East-West corridor of the City Hall courtyard. The project, focused on continuing engagement for the performances of A Fierce Kind of Love in partnership with Disability Equality in Education, displays the largely untold history of this particular civil rights movement to areas of Philadelphia with high foot traffic. The timeline is made up of 24 decals that each recall an imperative moment in the struggle for accessibility and dignity.

In 2016, the Philadelphia Research Initiative reported that 16% of people living in Philadelphia had a cognitive, emotional, or physical disability. That equates to roughly 246,000 people and crowns Philadelphia as having the highest percentage of citizens with disabilities amongst the nation’s top 10 largest cities. For such a large percentage of people, it’s quite surprising that finding information around the city about accessibility, disability history, and disability activism is not exactly an easy feat. A Fierce Kind of Love was created from this disregard and its mission is to draw attention to the lost history of this movement and the overlooked reality of living with disabilities. The Disability History Timeline helps expand on the show’s mission and provides valuable information that draws connections between the movement’s past and its evolution to the present. It was also designed to bridge the gap between the intellectual disability rights movement and the physical disability rights movement which are consistently separated. This design is inclusive among those with any kind of disability and represents all of these folks on an equal spectrum.

On the morning of February 12th, members of FringeArts and the Institute met at the Parkway Central Library to install the timeline. After all of the materials were brought up to the second floor, the team organized all of the decals in chronological order on the floor against the wall. The installation process began by placing the middle decal in the center-point of the wall in order to create an anchor for the timeline out from the center. This first placement was crucial for the visual flow of the timeline, but deciding on the placement of this first decal also made us contemplate how to make the timeline visually accommodating for all. We even enlisted the help of a library security guard who had been watching us prepare for installation to determine at the timeline’s height in order to be seen by everyone, including folks in wheelchairs. With a solid prep-then-adhere system in place for each decal, the timeline was completely installed within the hour. The passersbys who had been curiously watching from afar slowly began to walk down the hallway to take a peek at the finished result. Some came with questions about what the project was for and others walked down the hallway reading through the timeline with a silent curiosity. It was incredible to see the anticipated effect of the timeline come to fruition right before our eyes. People began engaging with us about the project and that quickly developed into conversation about disability rights, accessibility, and more. Most of the inquiring minds expressed how shocked they were that they had no idea that this movement even occurred! It was clear that their interest was sparked by the informative and impactful nature of the project. Each person we spoke to during the installation process graciously thanked us for providing a resource that shines a light on the disability rights movement and promotes a dialogue about it within our community.

The installation in the City Hall courtyard on February 25th required the same precision as the first process, but involved environmental elements that amplified the experience. Although the large gusts of wind exaggerated the bite in the air, we were able to secure the giant sticker decals to the courtyard pavement quickly and efficiently with the help of the City of Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy team members and a variety of tools. We used a device made up of two wood boxes and a string to line up the decals with the compass that marks the center of the courtyard. One box was placed on the very edge of the compass and the other box was placed directly across from it a few feet away causing the string to become taut. The string became our guide for centering the decals and making sure that they were being placed in a straight line. Once the placement was correct, one person pulled off the back of the sticker while two others used their hands to smooth out the decal on the pavement. The last step was using a paint roller to apply pressure across the decal in order to ensure that it was fully adhered to the ground. We repeated this process twenty-three times until completed. This process drew a lot of attention since we were working around mid-day and the courtyard was constantly buzzing with people. Just like the installation process in the library, people began watching us work and asked us questions about the project. Once again, conversations about the disability rights movement flowed naturally. One woman we spoke to even told us about her experience with her son’s intellectual disability and how she hopes more accessible information about disabilities will be on display in the city in the future.

Using the string to line up the decals during the City Hall installation

Each timeline will occupy its temporary home for a period of several weeks in order to encourage people to interact with the information before or after going to see A Fierce Kind of Love. In concurrence with the physical presence of the timeline, intergenerational story-sharing events will be held at each timeline location in order to facilitate conversation between students and seasoned self-advocates who took part in the movement. These events will connect students to self-advocates’ stories about the events on the timeline from a first-person perspective and will show younger audience members how they can become their own activists.

The Disability History Timeline will be at the Parkway Central Library from Feb 12-Mar 15 and the East-West corridor of the City Hall Courtyard from Feb 25-end of March. You’ve got plenty of time to check it out either before or after seeing A Fierce Kind of Love!

A Fierce Kind of Love Q&A with Tenara Calem

Posted February 28th, 2019

We sat down with Audience Engagement Coordinator Tenara Calem to chat about connecting and engaging communities around A Fierce Kind of Love, March 1—3 at FringeArts, as part of High Pressure Fire Service.

FringeArts: Can you start by telling us a bit about A Fierce Kind of Love (AFKoL)?

Tenara: Sure. The show is about the history of the intellectual disabilities rights movement specific to Pennsylvania. It started out of research that the Institute of Disabilities was doing in 2012. And they learned a lot from mothers of folks who have intellectual disabilities and were institutionalized. Pulling at that thread revealed so much information about the movement for self-advocacy and they realized that sharing those stories in a performance medium was a really incredible vehicle to communicate the themes of the show, which is all about love, acceptance, and building a more just world that is inclusive and designed universally for everyone to enjoy it.

FringeArts: What about the accessibility of the performance itself?

Tenara: It’s a mixed ability ensemble. So accessibility is baked into the conceit and design of the show, so all of the performances are ASL interpreted, have audio description for folks who are blind or have low vision. There’s sensory seating, accessible seating, and closed captioning. It really is a unique piece and we are really lucky to have it here at Fringe.

FringeArts: In your role as Audience Engagement Coordinator, can you tell us a bit about your process in beginning with AFKoL?

Tenara: I always start my conversation with the artist. So, I’m very lucky at FringeArts that the pieces are brand new and that they are being created by artists that are in the room and get to have conversations with me. Not every person gets to do that. With AFKoL specifically I feel very lucky to be working so close with Lisa Sonneborn who is the Director of Media Arts at the Institute on Disabilities. She’s an amazing collaborative partner. She really really understands and practices a community engaged approach to her art-making so that all of the work that is being done to cultivate an audience that is going to resonate really strongly with the material has the flavor of “not about us without us”.

FringeArts: Where did your early conversations take you about engaging with different communities?

Tenara: I mean, AFkoL is a very interesting project because it’s already made with community performers. So it’s very involved and engaged in that way on its own. But Lisa and Suli [Holum] and David [Bradley] were really excited by the idea of locating where AFKoL performs not as well, which is with the physical disability community. Unfortunately the physical and the intellectual disability rights movements are very separate. And there are a lot of reasons for that and some of them are really arbitrary and some of them are by design of institutions of power who are holding all the funding. So Lisa and David and Suli were particularly excited by using the opportunity to create community engagement with this show that tried to bridge that gap and try to include folks of physical disabilities and those activists into the conversation of the piece so we could maybe create a more comprehensive discussion about disability rights movements at large.

So we got a bunch of folks into a room and had an open forum.

FringeArts: What came out of these conversations?

Tenara: We proposed to them an idea we had to develop a timeline of the Disability rights movement that included both the physical and intellectual disability activists and that was basically placed somewhere where there was a lot of natural foot traffic so it would accomplish a number of goals. It would create more visibility for the play at FringeArts. And it would also engage a really high volume of people on the themes. The activists at Liberty Resources and ADAPT, and Disability Equality in Education, they got super excited about the idea and said they would create the content for the timeline if you guys worry about the production and installation. So that’s what happened!

Read more about the installations at Parkway Central Library and City Hall here.

Visit the show page for more information about the talkbacks and roundtables following each performance.

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.

A NEW PRESENTATION SERIES

With High Pressure Fire Service (HPFS), we are affirming an investment in artists living and working in Philadelphia. We believe there’s something special about this city—something tender and grumpy and people-powered. Over four months this spring, we are excited to present five new works and one expanded remount—pieces that exemplify the ways in which these artists are deepening and expanding their practices. Through residency support, commission funding, technical advising, programmatic counseling, and community engagement, each artist has approached this opportunity uniquely.

Suli Holum and the Institute of Disabilities at Temple University open High Pressure Fire Service with an expanded version of A Fierce Kind of Love, their multidisciplinary dramatization of the intellectual disability rights movement in Philadelphia, by incorporating new oral histories and contextual information in this multifaceted show that puts accessibility first. Following their Obie-Award winning theater-work Underground Railroad Game, Lighting Rod Special’s new piece The Appointment considers bodily autonomy and the navigation of reproductive rights in ways alternatively hilarious and sobering. The Berserkers are creating a work for audiences of all ages for the first time, employing their clown and physical-theater training to engage children and adults alike in Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House!. A Hard Time is the first Pig Iron Theatre Company production created by artists other than their artistic directors, with Jess Conda, Jenn Kidwell, and Mel Krodman taking the lead in a comedic cabaret that reveals the violence and absurdity of gender-based expectations. Team Sunshine Performance Corporation reflects on their commitment to long-form performance practice as they present the third iteration of their 24-year project The Sincerity Project.  Moor Mother employs a theater-based work for the first time, bringing her interdisciplinary practice in music, poetry, and performance to consider housing insecurity entitled Circuit City.

The breadth of the work in HPFS exemplifies something concrete and intangible about what we value: a bootstrapping sensibility, a rebellious empathy, and a fructifying density in the footprint. In the last ten years, our city has emerged as a particularly generative environment as young artists are drawn by training opportunities at our many universities and newer artistic programs like Pig Iron Theatre Company’s graduate program and Headlong Performance Institute. Upon graduation we have seen artists continually commit to living in Philadelphia—drawn equally by its frontiers and its gritty spirit. We hope that this program will provide a valuable opportunity not only to survey the wide perspectives of this inaugural group of artists, but to also consider the state of the Philadelphia arts ecosystem at large.

Through conversations and companion programming for each presentation we will also consider the relationship between these artists, their work, and the city in collaboration with organizations including the Free Library of Philadelphia, Women’s Medical Fund, Puentes de Salud, and Smith Memorial Playground among others. These works and artists are poised to tour and develop beyond the city limits, embracing the nimble and flexible nature of the work created at FringeArts and grounded in the DIY-ethos that rings in the air here specifically.

As much as High Pressure Fire Service is a platform for Philadelphia artists to stretch themselves, it is also a call for us to challenge ourselves and our institution. We are committed to doubling down on our dedication to local artists, investing in relationship-building across the many communities of our city, and working to make FringeArts more accessible and welcoming. This first year is just the beginning, and we look forward to the ways this festival will grow and change to include an even broader range of artists and collaborations in the future.

Zach Blackwood and Katy Dammers
Artistic Producers at FringeArts

Featured Photo by Robin Barnes

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 [Sonneborn]: 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 check out “Who’s Who in High Pressure Fire Service, part two” on the FringeArts Blog!

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.