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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Dito van Reigersberg

Posted December 11th, 2019

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

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Feature Photo: Plate 3 Photography


[Music Intro]

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

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

Dito: Thank you. I’m also drinking.

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

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

Katy: It is 1:00 in the afternoon.

Dito: It’s only 1:00.

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

Dito: Oh, is it good?

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

Dito: Honey situation.

Raina: Yeah.

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

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

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

Raina: We’ll start asking questions.

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

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

Dito: From the beginning.

Raina: From the beginning. Tell us about that?

Dito: Should I tell you about the beginning?

Katy: Yes.

Raina: Yes.

Katy: What’s the origin story?

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

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

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

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

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

Katy: And the rest is history.

Dito: And the rest is history.

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

Dito: Congratulations.

Katy: Crazy.

Dito: That’s insane.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dito: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

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

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

Katy: It’s crazy.

Dito: Yeah.

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

Dito: That’s true.

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

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

Raina: it evolves.

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

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

Dito: You do, but-

Raina: So rude.

Dito: But it is face down.

Katy: But it’s face down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katy: Of course.

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

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

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

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

Dito: Can we erase this movie?

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

Dito: Totally, totally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dito: No.

Raina: You sit on laps.

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

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

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

Katy: Yes, absolutely.

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

Katy: Yes.

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

Katy: Nothing stops you.

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

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

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

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

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

Katy: Definitely.

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

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

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

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

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

Katy: They’re drawing on it.

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

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

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

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

Katy: Oh, great.

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

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

Dito: Oh my God.

Raina: Oh, wow.

Katy: Last show of the 2010’s.

Dito: Last show of the 2010’s.

Raina: Is that what we’re calling this?

Katy: I don’t know, actually.

Dito: The teens.

Katy: The teens.

Dito: The 20-teens.

Katy: I like that. I like that.

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

Katy: Our 2020’s.

Dito: Hindsight is 20/20.

Katy: Good vision coming forward.

Dito: I hope.

Katy: I hope so too. We need it.

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

Katy: That is true.

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

Raina: Yes.

Katy: Absolutely.

Raina: Please do.

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

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

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

Raina: In what?

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

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

Dito: Yes.

Raina: Like an angel.

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

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

Katy: Yes, yes.

Raina: Yeah.

Dito: Maybe Yannick from the orchestra would conduct me.

Katy: Collaborations in the future.

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

Katy: Duets are the future.

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

Katy: 2020. So much to look forward to.

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

Katy: Exactly.

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

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

Dito: That’s right. Maybe Patti LaBelle.

Katy: Yeah.

Raina: Yeah.

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

Katy: Yes.

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

Raina: I don’t.

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

Katy: I’ve seen this.

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

Raina: Okay.

Dito: Patti LaBelle.

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

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

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

Katy: Team Sunshine.

Raina: Team Sunshine.

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

Raina: No.

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

Raina: Yes.

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

Katy: Important.

Dito: And who doesn’t?

Raina: I go to Costco.

Dito: Oh, you get your underwear at Costco?

Raina: Yeah.

Katy: Value package.

Raina: They have value packs.

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

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

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

Raina: Yeah.

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

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

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

Dito: Yippee-I-ay.

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

Raina: Thank you.

Dito: Do it.

[Exit music]

Esperanza + FringeArts: A Match Made in Heaven

Posted December 11th, 2019

At the end of October, a bus full of talkative and excited ninth graders descended upon FringeArts, dressed up in sparkly dresses and ironed slacks. When they rounded the corner to enter the theater, they were greeted with two ceiling-to-floor panels displaying their original artwork. There were squeals of excitement.

These ninth graders, students at Esperanza Academy in Hunting Park, had worked hard the previous spring in their eighth grade art class with teacher Kala Parthemore-Estrada to generate original artwork inspired by FringeArts. Several of the students had come for a site visit that fall to see the building and hear about FringeArts’ role in the Philadelphia arts community. They took pictures of the theater, went on a tour with FringeArts staff-members, and learned about the historic High Pressure Fire Service pumping system. Kala asked them to pay particular attention to the color scheme of the theater and the details in the building. “We want to create something that feels like it belongs in the architecture,” she told them.

Esperanza, a nonprofit in Hunting Park addressing systemic poverty, provides services like housing aid, legal counsel, and immigration advocacy to the Hunting Park neighborhood, and has grown to include a middle school, high school, and a theater space (modeled with inspiration from FringeArts’ space!). We at FringeArts knew we wanted to be in partnership with the amazing educators, administrators, and artists up at Esperanza, particularly as Teatro Esperanza began to build its programming. Esperanza was the host of two of the Step Library locations for our 2019 Fringe Festival show Úumbal: Nomadic Choreography for Inhabitants, and was featured on one of our podcast episodes about a First Person Arts co-presentation for Power Street Theater Company’s show Pa’lante.

For FringeArts, the goal is not only to be in relationship with another arts organization serving an entirely different neighborhood, but to engage with young people on a level fundamental to our mission: art-making. On October 29, 2019, the Esperanza students and members of their families, as well as a core team from Esperanza Academy and Teatro Esperanza came to toast (with grape juice) the successful installation of their artwork into two of the Fringe hallway panels outside our theater. FringeArts staff joined and listened to remarks from our President and Producing Director Nick Stuccio, and ninth grader William Batista (who we’re pretty sure will one day become the President of the United States).

Come check out the panels for yourself and take a peek at the incredible artwork that weaves performance, High Pressure Fire Service, FringeArts, Philadelphia, and Esperanza all in one!

 

Happy Hour on the Fringe: John Jarboe

Posted December 5th, 2019

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

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zach: That’s great.

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

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

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

John: Really?

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

John: Five years?

Zach: February 2020 will be …

Katy: I think will be our fourth year.

John: Fourth year.

Katy: 16, 17, 18, 19 –

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

John: We’re on 19.

Katy: It is four years.

Zach: Four years. Four years.

Katy: To our listeners out there.

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

John: It feels like five, and –

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

John: Oh, my God.

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

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

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

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

Zach: It was really fun.

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

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

John: Oh, crap.

Zach: That was the cookie jar.

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

Zach: With Messi on the water tower, yes.

John: Wow.

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

Zach: On stage?

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

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

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

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

Katy: Love her.

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

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

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

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

John: That you want to date.

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

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

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

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

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

Katy: 100 percent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katy: It’s eight bucks.

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

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

John: That’s fun.

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

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

Zach: Me too, but never at Get Pegged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katy: That’s huge.

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

Zach: Oh, my gosh. Obsessed.

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

Zach: Putting their whole house up on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zach: Feral Wild Girl Child.

Katy: Thank you.

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

Zach: That was so good.

John: It was so good.

Katy: It was really.

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

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

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

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

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

John: Fleabag. Is that highbrow or lowbrow?

Katy: I think that’s the question.

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

Katy: Buying my tickets to Akhnaten today.

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

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

Zach: Katy, any highbrow lowbrow obsessions right now?

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

Zach: You watched any good TV?

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

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

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

Katy: Well, also, I think the The Crown

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

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

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

Zach: Great.

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

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

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

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

[Exit music]

Happy Hour on the Fringe: Producers Circle

Posted November 21st, 2019

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

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

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.


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

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

Jane Pepper posing with

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

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

Jane: Thank you. Delighted to be here.

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

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

Jenn: I’m rocking a Sprite Zero today.

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

Jane: He’s a teetotaler today.

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

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

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

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

Jarod: That’s really cool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jenn: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christie Hartwell laughing

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

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

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

Christie: Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christie: I have, seriously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christie: I did, yes.

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

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

Raina: Is it Gunnar Montana?

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

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

Christie: Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tenara : That’s awesome.

Raina: Yeah.

Tenara : We like Jerome Bel over here.

Raina: Big fans.

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

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

Christie: The Convent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christie: Thank you.

Tenara : Bye, Christie.

Christie: Bye-bye.

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

[Exit music]

Happy Hour on the Fringe: DJ Dame Luz

Posted November 4th, 2019

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

Featured photo: Halloquweens Event

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Conversation with DJ Dame Luz 

[Music Intro]

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

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

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

Dame Luz: Hi. Thanks for having me.

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

Dame Luz: Water. I always stay hydrated.

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

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

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

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

Raina: Yeah.

Dame Luz: Throw a big party!

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

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

Raina: Awesome. That is Hawkmoth Events?

Dame Luz: Yes.

Raina: How did you build that collaboration?

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

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

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

Raina: Awesome.

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

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

Raina: Okay, so two Virgos together is good?

Dame Luz: It’s a super Virgo team.

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

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

Dame Luz: Then, what was the other question?

Raina: How are you excited to see Halloqweens grow?

Dame Luz: Like, how am I excited?

Raina: Yeah.

Dame Luz: I mean, yeah. I’m like –

Raina: What are you excited about?

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

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

Dame Luz: Yeah.

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

Dame Luz: We’re still figuring that out.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

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

Raina: Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raina: Okay.

Dame Luz: Spooky only.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jarod: I’ve never dressed up.

Raina: Never?

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

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

Jarod: For Halloween?

Raina: Yeah.

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

Dame Luz: Maybe this is your year!

Jarod: Maybe.

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

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

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

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

Raina: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

Raina: Rhythm?

Dame Luz: Rhythm and Flow, yeah.

Raina: Yes.

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

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

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

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

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

Dame Luz: Who else? Baby Mutha.

Raina: Awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

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

Raina: Did you start DJing in New York?

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

Raina: Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raina: Okay.

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

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

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

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

Raina: Do you know what the documentary is called?

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

Raina: Okay. Susanne Bartsch?

Dame Luz: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Raina: Okay.

Dame Luz: You should watch it.

Raina: I will definitely check it out.

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

Raina: Good goals to have. Awesome.

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

Dame Luz: Yeah, you know, money talks.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

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

Raina: Yeah.

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

Raina: While also keeping ticket prices.

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

Raina: Where can we find you on social media?

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

Raina: Great.

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

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

Raina: Yeah, thank you.

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

[Exit music]

Happy Hour on the Fringe: Un Poyo Rojo

Posted October 18th, 2019

In this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, Zach Blackwood, FringeArts’ Artistic Producer, talks to artists Luciano Rosso and Nicolás Poggi of Un Poyo Rojo, which ran Sept 19–21 at Christ Church Neighborhood House. They share the origins of their relationship to each other, the work, and how they prepared for this dynamic physical piece.

Featured photo: Luciano Rosso and Nicolás Poggi, Un Poyo Rojo

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Conversation with Un Poyo Rojo Team

[Music Intro]

Zach: Hello, and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. Happy Hour on the Fringe is FringeArts’ podcast. What is FringeArts? FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premier presenter of contemporary performing arts and the producers of the 2019 Fringe Festival. Like I said, I am Zach Blackwood. I’m an artistic producer at FringeArts, and I invite you to pour one up with us. The bar is not open yet. Spoiler alert to our listeners at home. But I invite you to have a cocktail and enjoy our conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence. We used to say in Philadelphia, but it’s not where you’re from.

Luciano: No, we are from Argentina.

Zach: That’s great.

Luciano: Yeah, far away.

Zach: So before we jump into this conversation, I just want to take a moment to thank all of our Fringe Festival sponsors: the Durst Organization, the University of Pennsylvania, M&T Bank, Parx Casino and Getaround, the Airbnb of rental cars. I also want to thank our Fringe Festival bookstore partner, Head House books, for helping curate the selection of books you see all around you here at the Fringe Festival Bookstore. Today we’re excited to talk to the creators of Un Poyo Rojo, Luciano Rosso and Nicolás Poggi. Un Poyo Rojo is a dance performance in this year’s 2019 Fringe Festival happening tonight and tomorrow night at 8:00 PM still, that’s over at Christchurch Neighborhood House over on American Street, so a little bit around the corner. I have so many things I’m supposed to start with, so let’s do that. As we stated, me and Katy – my Artistic Producer partner here at Fringe – first saw this piece as a part of a circus festival in Montreal. It’s interesting because here in this festival, the piece is being treated as a work of a physical theater, kind of a dance theater work. That’s how we’re describing it to people. But how would you describe the piece in formal genre?

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2019 Fringe Festival Spotlight: Immersive Theater

Posted September 3rd, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

FringeArts: What’s your experience in immersive theater?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

FringeArts: What inspired Know Thyself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FringeArts: What drew you to immersive theater?

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

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


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

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

 

 

Happy Hour on the Fringe: Fringe Festival Veterans and Virgins

Posted September 2nd, 2019

In this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, April Rose, FringeArts’ Fringe Festival Coordinator, talks to independent artists Tara Lake, Terry Brennan, Joseph Ahmed and the Executive Director of Da Vinci Art Alliance (and former Fringe Festival Coordinator) Jarrod Markman about their independent show offerings for this year’s Fringe Festival and their experiences as newbies and seasoned veterans of Fringe.

I Know It Was the Blood: The Totally True Adventures of a Newfangled Black Woman will play September 20-22 at The Whole Shebang.

Operation: Wawa Road Trip will play  at the Proscenium Theatre at The Drake on September 5–9, 12–16, and 19–21.

 Dissonance and Generations are visual art exhibitions that will be showing at Da Vinci Art Alliance during the Fringe Festival. Free / Gallery hours: Wednesdays–Sundays, 12–5pm. DVAA is also presenting Composition in Concert, displayed at International House Philadelphia daily from 8am–10pm during the Fringe Festival.

Featured photo: Tara Lake, I Know It Was the Blood: The Totally True Adventures of a Newfangled Black Woman

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Conversation with Fringe Festival Veterans and Virgins

[Music Intro]

April: Hello. This is Happy Hour on the Fringe. I’m April Rose, the Fringe Festival coordinator, and I am here with Tara Lake, Terry Brennan, Jarrod Markman, and Joseph Ahmed. I’m going to let everybody go around, introduce themselves, and say who they are, and how they’re involved with the Fringe Festival.

Tara: Hi, everybody. My name is Tara Lake. I am super excited to be here. I’m here to talk about my show, I Know It Was the Blood: The Totally True Adventures of a Newfangled Black Woman, which will be part of Fringe Festival this year. I am a storyteller, and a soprano, and a performer, among other things. Yeah. That’s me.

Terry: My name is Terry Brennan. I am the artistic director of Tribe of Fools. This year Tribe of Fools is doing a show called Operation: Wawa Road Trip. I’m not directing it, but I’m totally in charge of stuff that has to do with that.

Jarrod: I am Jarrod Markman. For four years I was the April and coordinated the independent artist section of the Fringe Festival. This is my first year not doing that. Currently I’m the executive director of Da Vinci Art Alliance.

Joseph: My name is Joseph Ahmed. I am a company member of Tribe of Fools. I am directing Operation: Wawa Road Trip, which is happening this Fringe Festival, which I am very excited to be working on with Terry.

April: Great. Thank you all for being here. Today’s topic is Fringe Festival veterans and virgins. So Tara and I are both participating in the Fringe for the first time this year, at least the Philadelphia Fringe. I moved to the position of Fringe Festival Coordinator, and this is like I said, Tara’s first year presenting work in the Philly Fringe. We’re going to just get a little bit of background from our two veterans, well, technically three veterans, and have a little conversation about our experiences with the festival. Joseph and Terry, if you would like to do a little background on the piece that you’re presenting this year?

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: 2019 LOVE Park Artists

Posted August 27th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, we share a drink with Marc Wilken from Parks and Recreation and three independent Fringe Festival artists: Dana Suleymanova (Dear qupid), Eric Thayer (Give Your Heart), and Leah Stein with Asimina Chremos (RISE: Relationship is Self Existing).  All of the performances are participatory and engage with the City of Brotherly Love as they explore love, the beating heart, and how human bodies share space in LOVE Park this September.

Featured photo: RISE: Relationship Is Self Existing

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Conversation with Love Park Artists

[Music Intro]

Raina: Hello and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. Fringe Arts is Philadelphia’s premier presenter of contemporary performing arts. I’m Raina Searles Marketing Manager here at FringeArts and I invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence.

Raina: Today we’re excited to be speaking with some of the independent artists in the 2019 Fringe Festival who will be performing in Love Park this year, presented by Fairmount Park Conservancy and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. With us here today, I’d like to welcome Marc Wilken from Parks and Recreation, Dana Suleymanova, creator of Dear qupid, Eric Thayer, creator of Give Your Heart and Asimina Chremos and Leah Stein, co-creators of RISE: Relationship is Self Existing. Welcome.

Leah: Thank you.

Raina: So to start off, since it’s Happy Hour on the Fringe, our first question is always, what are we all drinking? Today where we’re feeling a little light. It’s noon, but we’re having water.

Eric: It’s delicious.

Leah: It’s 100 degrees out.

Asimina: I already drank all mine already.

Raina: So just to kind of start off, we would love to do some framing for the projects that are happening in Love Park. So Marc, could you tell us a little bit about the recent renovation of Love Park and what led you to seek out these artistic activations of the park?

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: FringeArts Ambassadors

Posted August 20th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, Ambassadors Josh and Meesh to talk about their 2019 Independent Fringe Festival picks. 

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Conversation with FringeArts Ambassadors Josh and Meesh 

[Music Intro]

Tenara: Hello, and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premiere presenter of contemporary performing arts. I’m Tenara. I am the audience engagement coordinator at FringeArts. 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’re getting ready for the Fringe Festival. Fringe Festival 2019. It is here. Tickets for curated and independent shows are on sale now, so you can go to www.fringearts.com to grab your tickets and download the FringeArts app to start planning your festival schedule.

Tenara: But today, I’m chatting with two of the FringeArts ambassadors. FringeArts ambassadors are culturally curious people from all over the city who connect our work with communities who might not have heard of us before. If you’re interested in learning more about the program and about what it is to be an ambassador, you can always email me at tenara@fringearts.com, that’s T-E-N-A-R-A at fringearts.com. So pour one up, and join us.

Josh: Hey, everyone. My name is Josh Friedman, local Philadelphia resident.

Tenara: Yeah.

Josh: Ambassador to FringeArts.

Tenara: Absolutely. Our first question that we always ask in the podcast is … It’s Happy Hour on the Fringe is the name of the podcast, so what are you drinking, Josh?

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper

Posted August 16th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, we chatted with Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper about their latest Fringe Festival offering, Pursuit of Happiness. Liska and Copper discuss how reality TV and the current state of American politics have influenced this part-dance, part Western movie, and part comedy of manners. Pursuit of Happiness, is one of the curated shows in the 2019 Fringe Festival, and it will be showing at the Mandell Theater on September 20th and 21st. 

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Conversation with Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper

Raina: Hello and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premier presenter of contemporary performing art. I’m Raina Searles, marketing manager here at FringeArts, and I invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence.

Katy: And I am Katy Dammers, artistic producer at FringeArts. Today we’re excited to talk about the Pursuit of Happiness, a work by Nature Theatre of Oklahoma and EN-KNAP, that will be part of our Fringe Festival this September.

Katy: Today we’re pleased to welcome in the conversation, Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper from Nature Theatre of Oklahoma. Welcome!

Kelly: Hi.

Pavol: Hi, how are you?

Katy: Good! Thank you so much for joining us today remotely. I know you guys are not based in Philadelphia, so we’re excited that we can have this conversation. And just to start us all off since it’s Happy Hour on the Fringe, what are you guys drinking?

Pavol: I’m drinking a pineapple juice from this cleanse that I’m doing today.

Raina: Terrific.

Kelly: [crosstalk 00:01:17] And I’ve had a coffee.

Katy: Awesome. I’m drinking a big glass of water because we are in the midst of a heat wave in Philadelphia.

Raina: Yes, same.

Raina: So diving into Pursuit of Happiness, we’re going to talk a lot more about the piece and the history of the piece, but just for audiences contemplating coming to see the show, what can they expect when they walk in? What do you want audiences to know in advance about this work?

Pavol: Well they’ll walk in and see our set, which is kind of a saloon and they should come in … Ideally when you make a new piece of theater, you hope to undo people’s expectations. So whenever somebody always asks us what should people expect, it’s kind of a tricky question. You almost want to lie to people, because ultimately you don’t want to satisfy their expectations. So I don’t want to lie to you.

Katy: Well, and I know what you mean because I have seen the Pursuit of Happiness before. I thought when it premiered in the United States as part of Under the Radar, which is a festival every January at New York University’s Skirball theater, and I think the set is definitely the first thing that catches people, is that the piece is set in this kind of stereotypical western bar. And then for the first couple of minutes it starts with these kind of, they almost look like shots or some kind of a drink being kind of swished across the long bar. And it really kind of sets up this dynamic relationship between the players.

Pavol: And then it goes off into its own universe.

Katy: Very much so and totally defied my expectations as someone who was familiar with the work of Nature Theatre of Oklahoma but didn’t know EN-KNAP and certainly didn’t expect the piece to ultimately end up in Baghdad where it does, so think people are really in for a series of adventures in this work.

Katy: But I wonder Kelly and Pavol if you can tell us a little bit about the background of the creation of this piece. It was created in 2017 with EN-KNAP, which is Slovenian [inaudible 00:03:40] you would think, probably most well known, most renown contemporary dance ensemble. Tell us a little bit about how you came to be connected with EN-KNAP, and what it was like working with them.

Pavol: Well the artistic director Iztok Kovač kept inviting us to come and work with his company for several years, and since we were working on Life and Times at the moment, we could never really see ourselves leaving the project. And then we were in Grads finishing the project, and we were kind of left with nothing to do for the next couple of years. And it just happens that Ljubljana is about an hour away from Grads, and so he came over and we talked and then he took us over there to meet the dancers. We fell in love with them and went from there.

We went there for a couple of weeks and did the workshop with them to figure out if we were all a good match. And then we went home and we wrote the script and then came back and worked with them for two more rehearsal periods and created the show. And our focus changed after Life and Times. We’d been working on these recorded telephone conversations for 10 years and then we wanted to change direction and try something that we weren’t good at. So we really wanted to do writing, and because these people were dancers and had never really spoken on stage, we chose the most impossible task for them which is speaking as difficult language as possible. And at least one of the first part of the show is written in iambic pentameter, which we also had never written before. And so we just all tried to really challenge ourselves and take ourselves out of our comfort zone. And that’s what you get then.

Kelly: Yeah, I mean the surprise for us was we made it over the course of two years going back and forth many times and they kept us on our toes, because every time we went there and gave them something difficult to do and came back, they had kind of exceeded our expectations.

Kelly: The one thing dancers know how to do is work hard, and so they would work on the text in our absence and then we kept kind of having to reinvent the piece as we went and adding layers of difficulty.

Pavol: [crosstalk 00:06:20] I had to bring a lot of chewing tobacco to Slovenia because they learned how to speak, so we needed to somehow slow them down and make it more difficult. So most of them right now are chewing tobacco, real tobacco. So which at the beginning caused most of them during rehearsals to be fainting and passing out and throwing up.

Raina: Oh wow.

Katy: I’m curious if the idea for the themes in the piece came more from your end or if Iztok was originally thinking about these when he wanted to work with you.

Pavol: No, it came from our end. I mean after Life and Times, we have focused on going to a place and staying there for a while and really trying to figure out what is necessary for that particular place and making the work for the place and about the place. So we had made a film Nibelungen in the area where the story of Nibelungen happened. We went to Berlin and Cologne and researched and did work based on that research. And then we went to Austria to make our last film to work in the countryside and made the work about that.

We had been traveling with our shows one week here, one week there, constantly just on the road and felt completely disconnected from the place and really wanted to … And it felt like we were just doing exhibition games where we just showed the work that we had made someplace else and didn’t really feel like it’s necessary or integral to the place or needed. So we wanted to change our lifestyle and go to a place, stay there, make the work there and about the place. So we went to Slovenia and really kind of tried to figure out what is needed here. It all came from us. We weren’t told what to do.

Kelly: Yeah, and of course we bring our own preoccupations with us and over the course of that two years there was a lot of stuff happening in America that unnerved us, and sometimes when you go and … We were living in Louisiana for periods of time and with that distance you kind of look at things differently than when you’re living there. We felt very American, and out of our context, we were kind of able to think about some of those issues.

Katy: I wonder if you can tell us a little bit more about the research process. Thinking about the pursuit of happiness, this myth that really undergirds so much of American consciousness. Both in the colonial era, which, I’m seeing located in an old city in Philadelphia, I feel like we see all the time, but also for people who live all over the nation. I think that sense of the American dream and you’re really successful when you’re doing what you love, which is something that one of the characters speaks about in the work. What was your research process like in digging into that quintessentially?

Kelly: Well I think for this piece, I mean it started out as more of a personal look at happiness and trying to find it. We were in a bit of a personal hole, and also I would be lying if I said that we did a lot of research and that this work comes out of research. I mean for us mainly we usually start with a meeting point and in this case it happened to be an old 1930’s book that somebody had given us called Cowboy Dances, which we kind of just took in our baggage, thinking that maybe a place to start is with dancers, with dance. And it’s these really hard to imagine descriptions of weird dances and we just kind of tried to wade our way through this language, but it happened to be with the dancers, but it happened to be somewhat western themed and I mean even the bar came from the fact that there was a ballet bar in the room. So the bar started as a B-A-R-R-E, and then as you go, these things kind of layer on top of each other and more and then you follow the ideas that kind of present themselves rather than starting from ideas.

Pavol: Almost after the fact, you figure it out when you’re making work. You try to stay as open as possible to your intuition and instinct, and you’re trying to respond to different types of information. I mean we did watch westerns and we did I think, especially Kelly who was reading a lot of theoretical books or articles on American identity, and myth of the cowboy and the outlaw. But when you’re in rehearsal, it’s a much more intuitive process and then you can talk about it afterwards. Then once you have hours of material, then you see what do you have and then you shape it according to something that you feel like is relevant to the world. And it becomes yet something else.

Kelly: Yeah, I mean and it starts usually from personal and also kind of just utilitarian, like what’s in the room, who’s in the room. Keeping your eyes open.

Katy: And I was really struck by one of the lines that the dancer says pretty early on in the piece, that “Happiness is always in the past, a mutated form of melancholy.” And hearing you all talk about the process of developing the work, it makes me think so much of it’s relationship to your larger body of work with Nature Theatre of Oklahoma and kind of this sense of, I can imagine you all when you finished Life and Times, that was touch a huge series both in its construction and the amount of time that you spent on it. That’s actually when you were last at Fringe in 2013 with the series, and I wonder what that sense of melancholy has with happiness, both in terms of your own progression as a company, but also more broadly. I’m thinking of even slogans like “Make America great again” that might refer to a greatness that America had in the past. Whether that was actually true or probably not.

Kelly: Definitely we had come to a point in our work where we kind of broke ourselves a little bit on this monumental piece of work that was 10 episodes long and over 16 hours in performance and we had such ambition for what we were doing, but it completely wrecked all of us physically, emotionally, mentally and we were definitely in the aftermath of that. Just thinking about at what cost.

Pavol: Especially when you make theater, we put ten years of work and our life and our health into the project and then you look at what is left and you end up with three bags of dirty costumes in your basement. That doesn’t feel like you’ve really accomplished much in ten years. So you really have serious existential questions about whether all of this makes any sense.

We are American artists and we want to work in America and we want to be able to speak to this culture and be a part of the discourse, and when it takes such an effort … Now, thank God, Nick Stuccio and two others have brought the work of Life and Times to their festivals. But other than that, we don’t feel like our work here is what was relevant or really needed, necessary. And it might’ve been just self pity or it felt that way to us. And so we really, we we wanted to almost hide in Slovenia away from a kind of spotlight and just really focus on the work itself and where does the pleasure lie? It’s like we felt the same way we felt before we made No Dice, which also Nick brought through to Philadelphia-

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Pavol: Where we rejected any kind of ambition of success, but where we focused on just the work itself. No Dice was a new beginning for us and this Pursuit of Happiness was also a new beginning for us where we really ask these serious existential questions of why we make work and should we continue to do it.

Raina: So while you’re, you know, working on this piece that is centered around American values, most of your tour has been outside of the US. So in two years, what has the reception been in other countries?

Kelly: It’s not a surprise, but a lot of other countries do follow American politics. It’s not like whatever we do just happens here. We’re out there in the world and we do change things out there in the world for other people. And also this kind of political process that’s been happening here is also mirrored in many ways in places like Germany and Poland. And it’s happening everywhere.

Kelly: And so, I think they recognize themselves in it and it’s not foreign. It’s not foreign to them. It’s not like they’re looking at something that has no meaning for them.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kelly: But for us it’s super important to do it back home. I feel grateful that we get to take it to Philadelphia.

Katy: Well I’m curious if you guys have any ideas. I got in New York almost two years ago now and so much has changed even in those past two years within American politics, but as you speak Kelly, really on an international stage as many countries, Brexit comes to mind in particular, are considering some of the same challenges that we are here in America. And I wonder, do you imagine that the work might be received differently now, 18-24 months later or might there be aspects of it that hit audiences differently or might-

Kelly: Yeah, there’s aspects of it that come into focus for me differently every time we do it. Certainly after the school shootings, after every school shooting, just the amount of guns on stage and the use of violence to kind of solve every problem rings especially strongly. But at the same time, you talk about how different things in the world change. Sometimes it’s also how many things in the world don’t change. I mean all of this stuff in Iraq, insert different country here, but the same story, the same thing going on, some kind of proxy war somewhere, so, the more things change, the more things stay the same as well.

[FringeArts Commercial Break]

Katy: Hey Zack, are you ready to party?

Zack: Always.

Katy: FringeArts is kicking off opening weekend of the 2019 Fringe Festival with a late night rager featuring the Illustrious Blacks, a dynamic, out of this world duo, fusing music, dance, theater and fashion.

Katy: Come join us on Friday, September 6th at 10:30 in La Peg.

Fringe Festival Kickoff Party 2019 featuring the Illustrious Blacks

Zack: That sounds great. Then halfway through the festival we’re throwing a halftime party with DJ Heavenly. It’s called Feels. Stripping back genres of themes, DJ Heavenly and a special guests do what feels right at this open format dance party.

Zack: That will be September 14th at 10:30 PM in La Peg.

FEELS: 2019 Fringe Festival Halftime Party with DJ HVNLEE

Katy: And then, to close out the festival, Johnny Showcase & The Mystic Ticket will be joining us on Saturday, September 21st at 10:30 PM with an electrifying performance you just don’t want to miss.

Zack: See you there.

2019 Fringe Festival Closing Night Party featuring Johnny Showcase

[End FringeArts Commercial Break]

Raina: You mentioned violence and I’d love to touch on that within the context of this piece, because there is this juxtaposition of the old time-y western bar fights and shoot out, but then also contemporary military activity in Iraq. In what ways have you found that violence is interwoven into the ideas of what it means to be American and to this idea of the pursuit of happiness?

Kelly: I think what to me rings true to me personally or what this is the kind of violence of imposing your will upon other people, even if it has a kind of altruistic sense. Definitely for me, thinking personally about the company and imposing my own pursuit of happiness onto other people and dragging them along with me into my dream. Not everybody in the end wanted to travel the world and do this really difficult show night after night that we were doing. And in a similar way, one of the characters in this show kind of drags everyone else along into his dream, which becomes a kind of a nightmare, so. And in the way that the US sometimes with ostensibly good intentions kind of meddles in foreign countries in a way that-

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kelly: Doesn’t always have a happy ending.

Pavol: With good intentions.

Kelly: Yeah.

Pavol: We want to spread democracy.

Kelly: Yeah.

Pavol: So we’re going to beat you up into it. We’re going to beat you into having a better life.

Katy: Well, what was so striking to me when I found a piece originally is that the violence was received kind of in two different registers simultaneously, which I think speaks to really the American paradigm in a lot of different ways.

Kelly: Yeah.

Katy: Some people when they saw the violence found it really funny, actually.

Kelly: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Katy: You can tell that it staged combat, nobody’s actually getting punched. There are all these amazing sound effects-

Kelly: Right.

Katy: Who mimic cartoons and the blood that comes out in the latter part of the work is actually bright red streamers. And I think much of the work talks about the sense of the role of violence and its depiction in popular media, but also even in staged theatrical works. And I know that there has has just been a lot of discussion in the last two to three years about what it means to depict violence and who is being depicted in that moment, and I think in the Pursuit of Happiness, one of the things I think it’s been successful at is showing violence that is kind of unnerving in its depiction, where we’re not actually seeing blood and guts on stage, but in realizing how perhaps possibly comical it is, it at least made me very uncomfortable, which I think was kind of the point. I thought that was very effective.

Pavol: Thank you.

Kelly: Yeah, I mean it’s an interesting challenge and something that I think has preoccupied us in the last several pieces that we’ve made after this. Just how impossible it is to represent violence in the theater. It necessarily has to be theatricalized and it’s never convincing like it is on television or movies. You can’t make it look convincing, and so what do you with that kind of impossibility? I like it as just the potential for somehow pure theater or I like the unconvincedness of it.

Katy: Well it kind of gets me back to I think that one of the central questions is the work, which we touched on a little bit earlier, but what is the role of art, which is this awful hard question that I feel like we wrestle with every single day when we come to work, and then I’m sure you all do as well as you decide to recreate another work. Who do we create the work with? Why are we using it?

And I appreciated in the second half of the piece when we’re kind of moving into this nightmare as you described it Kelly, there’s a moment when it seems like, oh, this dance that’s happening might [inaudible 00:21:51] mechanism between NATO and Iraqi insurgent forces and then ultimately, that totally spirals into chaos, but it offers for a brief moment the sense of art as a way to sum up a very tangible problem, which I think art very rarely if ever actually does. So as you continue to present this work, how have your thoughts about that [inaudible 00:22:17] shifted, if at all?

Kelly: Oh, I think we’re always kind of in this balancing act between our hopes for what we do and also just not being able to kid ourselves entirely, that it does do those things that we wish it does.

Pavol: Well I think the work itself is in a way a quest for relevance.

Kelly: Yeah.

Pavol: It’s a kind of desire to be part of the discourse to be, almost like in ancient Greek theater where the theater itself was a place where the society came to dream of itself and discuss the irrational in our life, whereas the irrational seems to be repressed. We’re repressing the irrational nature of life, whether it’s in politics or even on television, where it could be a part of the conversation, but probably 95% of all life is irrational. We don’t understand anything. We deny the fact that we don’t really know why we’re here and what we’re doing. And if aliens are watching us from outer space, they have no idea what the hell we we’re trying to even do. And we don’t, we just kind of convince ourselves that we’re doing something that’s important, whereas it may not be important at all. And that’s what we … Every day we go into rehearsal, trying to answer that question, why are we doing this? And then if it’s not important inherently, which as American artists, we always believe … Sometimes we work with people in Europe who have state subsidies and they’re told that art is important. But we don’t believe that because we are spending most of our year in our apartment, in our underwear at the bottom of society where nobody’s willing to even acknowledge that we exist or that art is important. So we certainly have our doubts, and so if we consider that it’s inherently not necessarily important what we do, we have to create that value.

Kelly: [crosstalk 00:24:25] performance, we try to do that. I mean, I think every night we’re trying to articulate what that is with an audience. What this can be good for and who needs it. That’s, in a way, part of the actor’s job.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Pavol: It’s like we [crosstalk 00:24:39] always have to undercut the actors and tell them “Look, what you’re doing is nothing. It’s shit. You’re just kind of dancing around and prancing on stage like show ponies.”, In a good way. We’re not cutting them down psychologically, but to kind of convince them that to have that doubt.

Kelly: And-

Pavol: That’s why it’s always interesting for us to work with Americans because they know that. Every American person who’s tried to be an actor or performing artist knows that you’ve got to go out there and work your ass off in order for something to happen. Whereas Americans sometimes take it for granted that they’re on stage-

Kelly: Europeans.

Pavol: [crosstalk 00:25:18] Europeans, yeah … That they’re on stage and therefore it’s important. So we have to somehow create this existential crisis for them in order for them to be able to talk about these issues.

Kelly: And in order for them to really look out over the footlights and somehow express those doubts to an audience and to kind of enlist in their help in the search for that importance, or in that search for what it could mean tonight, not just in a rehearsal room.

Raina: Yeah. Well I think that that’s a really interesting transition to our final question. Thinking about what inspires you and specifically your highbrow and lowbrow inspirations as you go into the rehearsal room and start coming up with whatever your next idea is.

Pavol: For this particular piece I know I was reading War and Peace, especially the war sections, as far as highbrow is concerned. Lowbrow we were watching Spaghetti westerns and things like that in general for the work. I would say really horrible American television, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are our all time favorite and Survivor as far as-

Kelly: Yeah.

Pavol: Lowbrow. Reality television, which in a way was what Life and Times was based on, they’re just recordings of things that happen and then you shape them just like in a reality TV show in a series, so Life and Times, ten episodes, it was like a Big Brother TV series in a way.

Pavol: I personally find inspiration in literature. Proust, Tolstoy.

Kelly: Yeah. And I mean the highbrow stuff, I guess I was reading during this was a book on Grands Goulets and also this book of cultural criticism by David Warshaw that was … There was a great essay called The Gangster As Tragic Hero and also The Westerner. These were two essays on two different genres in American film, if we were thinking a lot about some making at that time. It was mainly about how the western could be seen as a genre that was interrogating kind of American morality, and that was interesting for me to think about. And the gangster film as well, that those were two kind of flip sides of American moral works. And both of them equally, horribly violent.

Raina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Katy: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Katy: Well thank you so much for joining us for this episode of Happy Hour on The Fringe. The Pursuit of Happiness will be presented at the Mandell Theater at Drexel University September 20th and 21st as part of the 2019 Fringe Festival.

Raina: In addition to the performances, we will also be screening Nature Theatre of Oklahoma’s video Life and Times episode seven in partnership with Light Box Film Center on September 17th.

Katy: And if you want to hear more from Pavol and Kelly along with numbers of EN-KNAP, your community partners here in Philly, about what the pursuit of happiness means today, join us for a conversation at our Fringe Festival bookstore on Cherry Street Pier on Saturday, September 21st.

Raina: Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, and download the FringeArts app.

Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Tina Satter

Posted August 6th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, we sat down with Tina Satter to talk about her show Is This A Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription, which was made with her theater company Half Straddle, and is a verbatim staging of the FBI transcription of their interrogation of Reality Winner. Is This A Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription, is one of the curated shows in the 2019 Fringe Festival, and it will be showing at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts this September 13-15.

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Conversation with Tina Satter

[Music Intro]

Tenara: Hello, and welcome to Happy Hour on The Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premier presenter of contemporary performing arts. My name is Tenara, and I am the Audience Engagement Coordinator at Fringe Arts. 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’re getting ready for the Fringe Festival. This September 2019, our city absolutely explodes with the performing arts all over the place. I’m really happy to say that tickets for our curated and independent shows are on sale now, so go to www.fringearts.com to grab your tickets and don’t forget to download the Fringe Arts app to start planning your festival schedule.

Tenara: Today, you’re going to hear a conversation that I had with one of our artistic producers, Zach Blackwood you know him well, and one of our curated Fringe Festival artists, Tina Satter. We’re presenting Tina Satter’s work, Is This A Room: A Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription. Tina Satter made this with her company, Half Straddle, and it is a verbatim presentation staging of the FBI transcription of their interrogation of Reality Winner. Reality Winner was arrested and charged with leaking evidence of Russian interference in our 2016 election. It’s a really, really fascinating, interesting, deeply troubling piece and we are really excited to be able to share our conversation with Tina in particular who, in parallel to this pretty pretty heavy tail, we also managed to talk about what I would argue is some pretty light things like the Kardashians and Harry Potter podcasts. So pour yourself a happy hour drink, pull up a chair and listen to our conversation with Tina Satter about her show, Is This A Room.

Zach: Hi there. Is this Tina?

Tina: Yes, it’s me. Hi.

Tenara: Hello.

Zach: Oh, my gosh. Hi. It’s so good to meet you.

Tina: Hi. Yeah.

Zach: This is Zach and Tenara at FringeArts and we’re so, so excited to be talking to you a little bit. So we understand that you’re in Wyoming?

Tina: Yes, I am.

Tenara: You want to say a little bit about what you’re doing there?

Zach: Unless it’s [crosstalk 00:02:23].

Tina: Yeah, I’m here because my partner grew up here and so we’re out visiting family for three weeks and it’s very, very different from anywhere I’ve ever been in my life. So I really like to come out here and sort of just hanging out, and then I’m working a lot when I’m out here, but I love a good working vacation. So that’s what I do out here, drive around in a pickup truck and then sit at the kitchen table and do my work.

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Mimi Lien

Posted July 30th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, we sat down with award winning designer Mimi Lien to learn about her inspirations for Superterranean, from seeing a rat disappear into the darkness of a subway to the immense structures, tunnels, and systems working all around us, as well as the human body’s place within it all.  Superterranean is one of the curated shows premiering in the 2019 Fringe Festival and performed by Pig Iron Theatre Company.  Superterranean will be at 2300 Arena this September 5–15.

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Conversation with Mimi Lien

[Music Intro]

Raina: Hello, and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. Fringe Arts is Philadelphia’s premier presenter of Contemporary Performing Arts. I’m Raina Searles, Marketing Manager here at Fringe Arts, and I invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence

Katy: And I am Katy Dammers, Artistic Producer at Fringe Arts. Today we’re excited to talk about Superterranean, a new work that will premiere in September as part of our Fringe Festival. Created by Philadelphia locals, Pig Iron Theatre Company in collaboration with lead artist Mimi Lien, the work is driven by Lien’s fascinations with urban infrastructure acting in concert with the human body. Today, we’re excited to be in conversation with Mimi. Welcome.

Mimi: Hi.

Raina: Hello.

Katy: Thank you so much for joining us. Mimi is currently living in Brooklyn, but commuting back and forth a fair amount to Philadelphia, so we’re excited to have her here with us today. And we’ll start with our first question. What are you drinking?

Mimi: I’m drinking Dark and Stormy with extra spicy ginger beer.

Katy: I love that.

Raina: Delightful.

Katy: That sounds amazing. It’s hot out so that sounds perfect.

Raina: Extra spicy.

Katy: I’m having a watermelon Margarita. And what are you having Raina?

Raina: I’m having a white wine.

Mimi: Very elegant.

Katy: Perfect.

Raina: Classic Happy Hour.

Raina: So to get started, you’ve been quoted as saying that you were drawn to holes, portals, pipes, partial objects and openings, which is very important to the design of Superterranean. Can you tell us more like what is it that you like about these places? What is your inspiration behind that?

Mimi: Well, I mean, I guess like, in the sort of thing that, sometimes when I’m, well often… Probably a lot of people see this, when you’re standing on the subway platforms, sometimes you see a rat. You know, well, we’ve seen a number of rats crawling around in the, in the tracks. But then sometimes it, you know, you see a rat dart into a little, a little hole that’s like perfectly sized for the rat. And it seems to know exactly where it’s going. It’s not just like, ‘oh, I discovered this hole’. Maybe I should go into it.

Mimi: And like, I just have always really loved, really loved that. And I think that, you know, that, that hole, which I don’t know what is on the other side of it, and it seems to suggest this kind of vast elaborate parallel civilization of rats that’s just underfoot. And I can kind of imagine the vastness of it, but I can’t see it at all.

Raina: So I guess, I guess, you know, tunnels, conduits, this suggestion of, of a kind of complexity and vastness that we can sort of sense with our bodies but can’t really visualize or comprehend. And I know that that has always caused a kind of like breathlessness in me. And, and curiosity.

Katy: So I know as part of the development process for Superterranean, you’ve worked with Geoff Manaugh from BDLGBLOG who’s a writer and scholar and kind of all around thinker, and done a number of different field trips to places like this.

Katy: What are some of the other systems that you’ve looked at as part of your research?

Mimi: Yeah, well, I mean I first met Geoff when I was participating in a studio that he led called Landscapes of Quarantine, at the storefront for art and architecture in New York. And, and so as part of that studio, we were examining different environments of quarantine of like, geopolitical, medical and biological. And I mean he, this is kind of a great resource for, you know, thinking about all of the different kinds of facets of, of architecture and design and how that impacts or civilization. I guess, and so we invited him. I initially started out thinking loosely about utopians as I was contemplating the beginning of this project. And Geoff has, actually had recently curated an exhibition about utopias and we invited him to yeah, talk to us a little bit about that.

Mimi: And while he was here, we also went on a field, a couple of field trips to, you know, I guess yeah, thinking about intentional communities or where a built environment dictated, you know, a certain kinds of human behavior within that. So we started out actually visiting the Arch Street Meeting House, and also we went to Ephrata, a religious community that’s like 40 minutes outside of Philly.

Mimi: And then maybe the most transformative one was going to visit a wastewater treatment plant down in southeast Philly. And that was just, I mean, super eye opening. I mean I had never had access to a facility like that. And then just the, just the, you know, sheer number of steps involved in the process of water filtration and the sheer like, acreage that that takes up. It’s like vast sluices and things like that. So that was really, I think, pivotal in terms of really the direction that this project went in.

Katy: Well, and that’s so interesting to think about cause it looks like you determined a number of different systems, some of which are very exterior and known. Like I think about the meeting house or an intentional community. It’s really built with that design and it’s not seeking to obscure it or hide it. Whereas like a wastewater treatment facility or even a subway, they kind of do their best to obscure those passageways so that you don’t see the rats running through or you don’t have to think about what happens when you flush the toilet and where it goes.

Mimi: Yeah, exactly.

Katy: How does that you know, come into your design?

Mimi: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I definitely feel like I started out thinking about systems in general and kind of worked from the outside in. And I think eventually I did start feeling that these more visible or overt systems were somehow less intriguing to me. And I found, well I guess at one point, Dan Rothenberg our director, co-artistic director at Pig Iron, just asked me what my obsessions were. And as I started thinking about that and relaying them… Oh, I found that a lot of them were of sort of, concealed spaces of tunnels and a lot of them happen to be like, underground or they’re places that were not meant to be like industrial spaces that are generally forbidden to the public that I found particularly enticing and sort of seductive in a way. And more and more I think about places that I’m drawn to like with my gut or with my body more than with my brain, in a way.

Mimi: And I think that that… Like, in a way, the process of working on this piece has been quite intuitive. And like, sort of following, following my nose. But now I’m sort of thinking of it as like, following my gut. I was like, I think I’m after a particular, visceral sensation of space, or a visceral experience of space. And the kinds of spaces that I have been obsessed with are those that affect me bodily. And I’m trying to figure out, you know, how do we make that in a performance context? Or how do we talk about that in a performance context.

Raina: Yeah. I, I’m really curious cause this kind of leads very naturally into a question of what should the audience expect to experience when they come see the show? What can we tell them ahead of time to kind of prep them and let them know what you’re, how what you’re thinking transits into this performance?

Mimi: Well, I guess I can start by saying that, we’re not really considering it like theater, theater. I guess we’re calling it visual theater. Like it’s pretty… It’s, it’s pretty out there. Like, you know, I’m, I’m, I’m sort of feeling the air with my hands right now, which you can’t see. But I’m like, I feel like what we’re after… What we’re, what we’ve made so far and what I think we’re gonna continue to make is stuff that you don’t quite… It’s not, it’s certainly not narrative. It’s definitely very visual. I think spatially, I think one thing we’re trying to figure out is like how, how do we focus the audience’s attention on a space? Although I have decided that it’s not an environmental. Like it’s not a performance that the audience walks through.

Mimi: I think, you know, as I was saying like, Oh, you know, I want to create the kind of experience that you feel that’s really been in your body. That is, you know, often thought of this something that maybe you’re in an immersive experience and it’s not, it’s not that, actually. I guess maybe one challenge that I set out for myself is, is there a way for me to try to evoke that sensation without, without actually walking through it? We did this workshop a couple of months ago and maybe one of my favorite things that an audience member said after it was that, ‘oh, I kind of like, although I didn’t touch anything, I kind of feel icky’.

Mimi: And there is, yeah, maybe I’ll say that there’s some fluids. There’s some like, soft substances. You know, we’ve been, we’ve been sort of curious about, I don’t know, this basic relationship between the human body and it’s like softness and squishiness, in relation to these hard structures made out of concrete and steel and this sort of peculiar relationship between the soft squishy features that created these massive, harder structures.

Katy: Well, and I wonder if that makes sense as it comes out of your development and the devising process where often, in a more traditional theatrical context, there would be script with media story or at least a thematic. And then they’d come to you as the set designer, and then after that is all creative and say, ‘put this in an environment’. But, this working process has been the opposite.

Mimi: Yeah.

Katy: So you have kind of developed the environment or the stage space and then they are devising the theatrical work within that.

Katy: Like how has that flipped process helped for you?

Mimi: Yeah, it’s all pretty, it felt pretty crazy and intense. I mean, definitely I found myself thinking like this is probably, you know, like we’re playing, right field. Like when you’re sitting there facing the blank page of like, what, this is going to be about? You know? Because certainly as a set designer, I’m most often responding to something. Like whether it’s a script or a piece of music or a poem or you know, it is definitely, you know, a kind of response as opposed to making the first scratch.

Mimi: And I think there’s a lot of, you know, I think throughout the years I’ve definitely had a lot of impulses. Like, oh, like you know, I see a, I see a landscape, or I see a photo and be like, that would be an amazing set for something.

Katy: Mm-hmm(affirmative)

Raina: Mm-hmm(affirmative)

Mimi: But also knowing that this is a piece that I’m making with Pig Iron, and that particular ensemble and the way that they make stuff.

Mimi: I’ve also sort of… Trying to think a little bit about, well, not every space is gonna have like, like vibrate in a particular way with that ensemble. So there’s also trying to calibrate a little bit. And what, what that, what that kind of, what that environment would be. But yeah, and at the same time thinking about something that is both aesthetically and spatially captivating to me, but also thinking about what would have dramatic potential as a performance piece.

Katy: Yeah.

Raina: So how does this process differ since you’ve worked with Pig Iron for a number of years? How has that relationship grown and changed over the years and how do you feel like this project is taking it to a new level?

Mimi: Yeah, I mean it definitely as a designer working with… I mean Pig Iron was the first ensemble company that I had worked with. I mean, it was pretty early on that I did my first show with them, which was Love Unpunished in 2006. And at that time I think had been doing theater for like two years and it was my first encounter with working this way. So, I mean it definitely, even, even, you know, other Pig Iron pieces that don’t start with the set design, the design enters the picture very early and is part of the room as the piece is being made.

Mimi: But I guess the difference is that with those pieces, there’s already an idea, even if it’s a very vague idea and just to kind kernel or a distant early germinating seed. But I’m still responding to that idea. So I guess the biggest difference was that, you know, I was coming up with that germinating idea.

Katy: I wonder if we can also talk a little bit about Philadelphia as a site, or more broadly, all of the research that we did to come up with the final site for the performance, which is, you know, the Fringe Festival, for all our listeners out there, like takes place all around the city. Some things happen in our theater here at FringeArts, but many things including super training, take place offsite. And so we thought a lot about, you know, is it going to be in a proscenium theater, is it going to be in a warehouse? And kinda ended up somewhere in the middle. And so we were thinking, can you talk to people who weren’t part of that process. What was that like and how did that affect your design?

Mimi: I think I said a little bit earlier about this piece not being an environmental piece that the audience walks through. So definitely, as we started thinking about making this piece that’s going to start with the design and, and all of my, you know, known interests in like in you know, three dimensional space being a really powerful tool. And wanting the audience to experience three dimensional space. And a lot of my designs and you know, and in the past have been like 360 degree experiences and designing a space that the audience enters. So that, you know, that’s certainly something that I thought about.

Mimi: But then, you know, for some reason I had this gut feeling that I wanted to make it in a kind of more proscenium relationship for the audience. Or I didn’t want to make a site specific piece. I guess I was interested in the role of design or the potential for design in a, in a word neutral laboratory container.

Mimi: So I feel like a site specific experience is great, and really powerful, but like, the site is doing so much of that work. And I, I guess I wanted to challenge myself to see what a design from scratch could do. So I sort of wanted to start from scratch and therefore, I thought maybe, you know, the neutral space of a proscenium theater is where I want to make it. And you know, and I do kind of love prosceniums for the very fact that you can then break it.

Mimi: So we set about, you know, trying to find the proscenium space, but I also knew that I wanted something that I, that had a pretty big volume of space, so I wanted to, I wanted to be able to shape the volume. Yeah. I mean, and you know, we’ve looked at, you know, armories and navy yards and you know, these kinds of spaces.

Katy: So many different spaces. Yeah.

Mimi: But, but there’s all, you know, there’s all sorts of logistical considerations and-

Katy: For sure.

Mimi: You know, some of them were actually like too tall, you know, I’m like, if I want to build something that feels like it fills the space, if the space is big, then that doesn’t really work for us.

Mimi: So we’ve, we’ve landed at a venue that I didn’t think, you know, I didn’t imagine we would be in.

Katy: It’s a venue we’ve never worked at before and it’s 2300 arena. It’s actually usually a wrestling space or an event space. But it kind of fit the bill in a really unexpected way for this piece because in some ways it’s a blank space so it essentially looks like a black box. And yet we are kind of creating a proscenium feel within it. So I’d like to think it’s the best of both worlds. But every site has its own challenges and specificities.

Mimi: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. No, I mean it turns out that this space has like an 80 foot by 80 foot footprint that we could, you know… With, you know, very few columns and so we could basically kind of place the audience wherever we wanted inside it and really create our own container potentially to be broken.

Raina: So I’m curious, in conjunction with Superterranean, you’re also working on an installation at Cherry Street pier. Can you tell us a little bit more about what that’s going to be and what that’s gonna look like?

Mimi: Yeah, so we’ve been talking a little bit about this like feeling of of a, of a gut, like a visceral response to architecture. And I guess I was inspired recently by… I went to see a Bruce Nauman exhibition at PS1 in New York. And I’ve always loved his work so much. You know, a lot of them are like corridors, like very long skinny corridors if you go down, and I think I even made a piece that was sort of in an homage back when I was in Grad school. But you sort swished your way around this very skinny corridor and peered into this space within. So like I was… You know, so for the performance or the show, you know, in some ways I guess we’re creating a visual theatrical work that speaks to particular spacial sensibilities. But I, I was interested in maintaining this frame and this proscenium relationship.

Mimi: And so with the public artwork I thought, well this is my opportunity to actually, to have someone move their body through a space and orchestrate that experience in a particular way. We looked at a couple of different sites and I mean this piece did really want to be very site responsive but, but I did always have this notion of going into a very enclosed space. Because I knew it was going to be, probably is going to be on an outdoor site. And so there’s this, you know, sort of larger, broader idea of this public artwork somehow how funneling the person from an exterior to an interior space.

Mimi: From an open air to an enclosed space and, and essentially like a gradual awareness of your… You know, I guess I have this hypothesis that when you’re in a really, really enclosed space, like a really tight space and maybe a dark space, like I’ve always imagined this as being quite a dark space, that it’s like an inside out experience. Like maybe you feel like you’re entering some part of a body or like you, you sense that in, innards of your body a little bit more when you’re, when you’re in a space like that. You like sense your breathing or your heart rate a little bit more. I guess because you know, your senses are being limited in a way. And so if you’re in an anechoic chamber, you probably hear the sound of the blood rushing through your ears a little bit, and you kind of imagine the capillaries that the blood is rushing through and you’re inside this kind of tiny artery. And so there’s this kind of conflation of body and architecture.

Mimi: So I was just interested in exploring that idea on whatever site we ended up in. And, I first made a proposal for one site but that ended up, you know, it was like infra-structurally challenging because it’s like underneath the Ben Franklin Bridge and I-95. These days it’s really hard to build an enclosed structure underneath an interstate highway.

Katy: Yeah, we learned so much about the security system at the state, the local and the city level.

Mimi: Yeah. I mean it’s actually, I kind of suspected, I mean in my brief foray into the public art world, definitely these considerations of what people might do in a public space, which is interesting. That’s, that’s sort of not unrelated to the, to the project at hand. But anyway, we’ve ended up at Cherry Street Pier, which is a very different vibe from being like underneath a bridge anchorage and like a rumbling highway. And so I kind of wanted to respond to that a little bit. So, I think the project has become a little bit more whimsical. There’s also a Little Baby’s Ice Cream truck is there at the end of the pier and maybe like that’s part of the experience.

Raina: Just walk through a tunnel and get a free ice cream.

Mimi: Well, get the ice cream and then walk through a tunnel and then eat the ice cream while you’re inside the tunnel and feel it going down your esophagus.

Katy: Yes. Yes.

Raina: I wonder also about the sound bleed because Cherry Street Pier is this really vibrant place. People are like walking and talking outside. So that is also very different than what the sound would sound like underneath a bridge. So do you plan to shut that sound out? Is it like a space that you enter in and you’re kind of closed off audibly from the world as well?

Mimi: That is my hope. I’m been working with a composer and sound designer named Lea Bertucci on Superterranean, but she’s also done a lot of the sound installations and things like that all over the world. She actually made this amazing sound installation in… There’s a bridge in Germany that has like, enclosure, sort of flat, tunnel like space that goes right under the road bed of the bridge. And so she made this sound installation inside that space. She’s really cool. So we are collaborating on this public art work as well. And so there’s gonna be a sound component, which I hope and imagine will drown out the existing surrounding and that you’re going to enter into this kind of other sonic world.

Katy: Well, we are so excited to see both when you’re hear in September. I think to finish after the conversation we always ask everybody what’s your low brow and your high brow inspiration? Could be for Superterranean or more broadly.

Raina: Well, I already mentioned Bruce Nauman, but I guess this is maybe similar. I guess Donald Judd… when I went to, I went on a trip to Marfa, Texas and saw a bunch of Donald Judd works out there in the, in the grasses of Marfa. And have, it’s just really stuck with me.

Raina: And can you tell us a little bit more about Donald Judd?

Mimi: Yeah. So Donald Judd is a sculpture, visual artist. I think he would, he would… He did not want to be called a minimalist, although I think a lot of people described his work is somewhat minimalist. But I feel like a lot of his work straddles the line between sculpture and furniture. And I actually recently went on a tour of his apartment slash studio and Soho and so that, he had this building in Soho and like one, one floor was the studio and then a couple other floors he lived on with his family. But he also designed and built a lot of the furniture, so his entire living environment was totally curated and very crafted and a lot of people describe it as minimalist. I actually noticed recently that the Cherry Street Pier, there’s some chairs and tables at Cherry Street Pier that seem a little bit inspired by Donald Judd.

Mimi: Yeah, but I guess I’ve always been really inspired by the crossover between his art and life. That’s, that’s just something that’s always inspired me. But also this particular work in Marfa. I can’t even remember the title of it, but it’s like, there’s like a hundred aluminum boxes that are displayed in this huge former airplane hangar and they’re all like, all hundred boxes are exactly the same dimension and they’re made out of the same aluminum. They’re like three foot by three foot cubes. But then on the inside they’re all divided in a slightly different way. Like divided into two compartments or three compartments, or with a horizontal shelf or with a vertical divider.

Mimi: And it’s a very cold work, you might say. Like it’s, the aluminum and it’s like hard corners and everything. But, I oddly fell up very motional or moved by it and, I don’t know, I’m like, maybe it was something about the, the human attempt to like discover all of the possibilities of dividing this box. Or like there’s some sense of effort or labor and it’s meticulously done.

Mimi: So, I don’t know. That, I talked about that piece a lot with our factors as we started working on this piece. Low brow? Maybe, well, I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I’ve been, I’ve tried to watch Battlestar Galactica.

Katy: Mm-hmm(affirmative) We have some fans of that at our office.

Mimi: For the past like, seven years. I mean, I didn’t even start watching it until the entire thing was over. But it’s taken me like seven years, and I still haven’t finished watching. I just watch it like a tiny bit at a time when I have, when I have the time. But that’s certainly an example of a sort of insidious system of sorts.

Katy: Yeah.

Raina: Yeah.

Katy: Totally. Cool.

Mimi: Awesome.

Katy: Well, thank you so much for joining us, Mimi. So great to have you on the podcast.

Mimi: Thank you for having me.

Raina: Yeah. Superterranean will be presented at 2300 Arena September 5th through the 15 as part of the 2019 Fringe Festival. So we hope to see you all there. make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram and download the FringeArts app. You can also visit us at fringearts.com.

[Music Outro]

Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Blanka Zizka

Posted July 19th, 2019

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

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Conversation with Blanka Zizka

[Music Intro]

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

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

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

Blanka: We are above Good Karma Cafe.

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

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

Nick: I’m close…I’m close.

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

Nick: I was gpomg to say….

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

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

Blanka: Yes. Yes.

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

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

Posted July 9th, 2019

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

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

 

Conversation with Zach and Katy

[Music Intro]

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

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

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

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

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Mariana Arteaga

Posted June 24th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, we share a drink with Mexican public practice artist Mariana Arteaga. Mariana is the artistic force behind Úumbal: Nomadic Choreography for Inhabitants, and she shares the original inspiration for the piece when it premiered in Mexico City. Now, part of the 2019 Fringe Festival in September, Úumbal is an exercise in meeting, recognizing, and celebrating a community gathered for the joy of movement and exploring new ways of moving through public space. The choreography of Úumbal is developed of, by, and for Philadelphia residents who donated their best dance moves to the project, and crafted by  Mariana and a local choreographic team. Úumbal: Nomadic Choreography for Inhabitants runs September 7, 13 & 14 as part of the 2019 Fringe Festival.

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Feature Photo by Alejandra Carbajal

Conversation with Mariana Arteaga

[Music Intro]

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

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

Raina: Now, at the time this episode comes out, summer is in full swing at FringeArts. We have our free outdoor movie series featuring popular hits every Wednesday at 8:30, in our beer garden. We have Happy Hour deals from La Peg with a beautiful view of the water front. And, we on the FringeArts staff are working hard to make sure the 2019 Fringe Festival is ready to launch this September.

Tenara: So, today, we’re excited to be chatting with one of the artists who will be helping us launch the 2019 Fringe Festival with an exciting participatory dance piece on the heels of Le Super Grand Continental from 2018. Today, we’re talking with Mariana Arteaga who’s doing … Can you say the name of your piece?

Mariana: Úumbal.

Tenara: Úumbal.

Raina: Welcome, Mariana.

Mariana: Thank you very much for receiving me here, Raina and Tenara. And FringeArts, of course.

Tenara: Yes.

Raina: So, our first question that we always have to ask is, what are we all drinking for this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe?

Mariana: Definitely coffee. I am addicted to. I’m having coffee because I already had some lunch and every time I eat I need my coffee after.

Tenara: Yeah, it’s one of those post meal stupors that you go into and, it’s like ready for a nap. Yeah, I feel that. I’m drinking water.

Raina: Yeah. I’m having, I’m in all natural Snapple. Takes Two To Mango tea. So, a very fruity flavor today.

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Ben Grinberg

Posted May 24th, 2019

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

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

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Feature Photo by Daniel Kontz

Conversation with Ben Grinberg

[Music Intro]

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

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

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

Ben: Thanks so much.

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

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

Katy: I’m drinking tea.

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

Ben: That’s pretty lame, isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Ben and Sydney Camp

Posted May 10th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, listen to Team Sunshine Performance Corporation artist Benjamin Camp discuss getting older with his four year old daughter Sydney, featuring some dynamic costume changes and a rendition of Let It Go from Frozen. Read more about The Sincerity Project #3 (2019), running June 4–8 at FringeArts. Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Feature Photo by Jen Cleary. Pictured: Ben and Syndey Camp in the second iteration of The Sincerity Project (2016).

Conversation with Ben and Sydney Camp

[Music Intro]

Tenara: Hello and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe! FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premiere presenter of contemporary performing arts. I’m Tenara Calem, Audience Engagement Coordinator at FringeArts. 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, our new works series dedicated to local Philadelphia artists called High Pressure Fire Service (or HPFS) is in full swing. At the time this episode comes up, Pig Iron Theatre Company’s A Hard Time will be wrapping up, and you can actually still buy tickets for A Hard Time. It wraps up this Sunday, May 12, and then we’ve got two more HPFS shows going through June. But before we head on into this week’s episode, I’m joined by a very special guest. Special guest, can you say who you are?

April: Hi I’m April Rose, and I’m the Fringe Festival Coordinator.

Tenara: Amazing. So April, you’re joining me today to let our listeners know about a special program that they can be a part of, correct?

April: Yes! So this is a program that we’ve created this year to make up for some losses in microgrant opportunities for artists. So there’s lots of artists participating in the Fringe Festival, and we want to make sure they have access to funding, so we created something called the 2019 Independent Artist FestiFund. So – fun combination of Festival Fund.

Tenara: Yes!

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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Shana Kennedy and Sierra Rhoades Nicholls

Posted April 26th, 2019

In anticipation of our Hand to Hand festival in partnership with Circadium School of Contemporary Circus, Katy and Raina sat down with Circadium’s Executive Director, Shana Kennedy, and first-year student, Sierra Rhoades Nicholls, to discuss the future of contemporary circus. Shana and Sierra walk the hosts through their personal introductions to the circus arts, the intense training required to pursue a professional career, the importance of Circadium’s professional program for the growth of American contemporary circus and how opportunities like the first-year student showcase, Circadium Springboard, is preparing students to succeed in the circus world and beyond. Read more about Hand to Hand June 28–July 1 and Circadium Springboard on May 25. Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Conversation with Shana Kennedy and Sierra Rhoades Nicholls

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

Katy: And I’m Katy Dammers, Artistic Producer here. We invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence. Here at FringeArts, our new work series dedicated to local Philadelphia artists, called High Pressure Fire Service or HPFS for short, is in full swing. By the time this episode is making its way to you, Pig Iron Theatre Company’s A Hard Time will be opening soon, and you can still buy a three show HPFS subscription for the final three shows through June. But today, we’re looking ahead. Coming up this summer we’re presenting the second annual Hand to Hand Circus Festival in partnership with Circadium School of Contemporary Circus. Today we’re out at Circadium’s campus in Mount Airy and are joined by Shana Kennedy, executive and founding director of Circadium, and Sierra Rhoades Nicholls, a current student at Circadium. Welcome, everybody.

Katy: Welcome.

Shana: Thanks, glad to be here.

Raina: So for Happy Hour on Fringe, we always have to ask, what are we all drinking? I’ll start. I’m enjoying a nice Poland spring water.

Katy: I have the chai tea today. And Shana, what about you?

Shana: I’m on Vitaminwater Zero. That is my drink of choice.

Raina: Which makes sense. We’re all healthy. We want to be hydrated. Excellent.

Shana: Very important.

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A Look Back at the History of Contemporary Circus

Posted April 19th, 2019
By Lexi DeFilippo, Communications Intern Spring 2019

This summer, FringeArts’ annual circus festival Hand to Hand returns to bring the wonder of contemporary circus to the heart of Philadelphia. In partnership with Circadium School of Contemporary Circus, the first and only diploma-granting circus program in the US, we’re excited to highlight some of the new and innovative performers taking on the circus scene. And in honor of World Circus Day (third Saturday in April, ie. April 20, 2019), we’re taking a look back at the history behind contemporary circus worldwide.

Sometimes known as new circus or nouveau cirque, contemporary circus can be perceived as an enigma. On a structural level, contemporary circus challenges the traditional circus by rejecting the use of animals, acts without any connected through line, and (in most cases) the big top tent as a performance space. Another notable difference from traditional circus is the shift in who is performing contemporary circus acts. Instead of the circus family model where skills are passed down generations to produce family units that travel with a circus and live on the road, contemporary circus productions employ conservatory-trained professionals from all over the world. These conscious steps away from the kitsch of traditional circus have helped push contemporary circus into the spotlight as a more intention-driven form of entertainment that highlights the excitement, finesse, and true artistry of the circus arts.

Contemporary circus began to emerge in the late 1960s-early 70s when groups in Australia, France, United Kingdom, and the West Coast of the United States began to combine the circus arts with more theatrical elements. One of the earliest circus companies credited with incorporating theater into their routines is the Royal Lichtenstein Circus, founded in San Jose by a Jesuit priest in 1971. They were also one of the first groups to use a one-ring format which allowed for the performers to create a more intimate connection with the audience.

This clip from their side-show in 1984 is an example of how the Royal Lichtenstein Circus used theater as a to tell stories through their performances. The choreography acts as a vessel to bring an abstract idea to life while showing off the physicality of the performers.

Another early contemporary circus group, the Pickle Family Circus, formed in 1975 by members of a mime troupe, was one of the first groups to start threading social commentary into their work. The troupe prided itself on being a democratic organization in which all of the performers received equal pay and played an integral part in the operation of the circus as well as the production. The Pickle Family Circus is known for telling a narrative with their productions and using circus acts to move the story along while keeping the audience at the edge of their seats with amazement.

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