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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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HPFS Splash: Never Change, Philly

Posted April 16th, 2019

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

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

Jess Conda as bartender at Fergie’s Pub

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

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

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

Posted April 12th, 2019

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

Feature Photo by Jauhien Sasnou

Conversation with Jess Conda, Jenn Kidwell, and Betty Smithsonian

Musical interlude

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

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

Betty: Yeah.

happy hour on the fringe

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

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

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

Jess: I love it.

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

Jenn: Jenn Kidwell.

Jess: And Jess Conda!

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

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

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HPFS Splash: Gritty Edition

Posted April 9th, 2019

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

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

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

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HPFS Splash: Philadelphia Favorites, Bonus Edition

Posted April 4th, 2019

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

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

Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted March 29th, 2019

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

Conversation with Bradley Wrenn and Christa Cywinski

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

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

Brad: Wow.

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

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

Christa: Especially with a child audience.

Brad: Yeah!

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

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

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

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

Christa: Like gum under their seats.

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

Christa: Okay. Makes sense.

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

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

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