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Nomadic Dancing in the Streets with Úumbal

Posted May 31st, 2019

This Spring, we launched our latest public practice work, Úumbal: Nomadic Choreography for Inhabitants, which will be part of the 2019 Fringe Festival. Made possible by the William Penn Foundation, and following last year’s favorite Le Super Grand Continental, Úumbal is a dance piece that builds a nomadic choreography out of dance steps “donated” by Philadelphians that are then woven together to form a piece performed by 100 people through the streets of the city. Each phase of Úumbal involves Philadelphia residents to create a dance piece that is truly by, for, and of Philadelphia, and now we’re looking for people to participate in the final performance this September!

Choreographer Mariana Arteaga came to Philly from México City in April to collect dance steps from all of you for Phase One of the process: the Step Library. Below are some of our favorite moves collected at Mighty Writers El Futuro, Teatro Esperanza, and the Kensington Storefront:.

You can view all the donated steps on the Úumbal website.

Next, the Úumbal choreographic team met for Phase Two, stringing together these steps into larger choreographic sequences that were then tested out and further developed by a group of 25 people during multiple Knitters Laboratory workshop sessions.

Now we’ve arrived at Phase Three of Úumbal, and we’re looking for even more people to participate in the final iteration of the piece! We’ll be holding open auditions on June 11, 13, and 15, and invite all Philadelphians who like to dance to participate! From July to September, 100 people will rehearse the nomadic choreography to ultimately perform it in the streets of South Philly duringthe first two weekends of the Fringe Festival! If you came to see Le Super Grand Continental last year, you know just how exciting these kinds of public dance pieces can be. There is something so beautiful about a diverse collective of people moving through public space in a way that is definitively joyous and celebratory. Like last year, Úumbal will end in a big dance party with the audience!

Uumbal dancers rehearsing under a tree

If you’re interested in learning more about Úumbal, including the opportunity to participate in the final performances, please visit uumbal.fringearts.com. You can sign up to find out more updates, including audition and rehearsal dates!

Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Cecily Chapman on Public Practice Works

Posted March 15th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, hosts Zach Blackwood and Tenara Calem chat with FringeArts ambassador and Le Super Grand Continental (2018) dancer Cecily Chapman. The trio discuss the importance of public practice performances and Cecily goes into detail about her personal experience as a performer in a large-scale production. The conversation acts as wonderful insight for people interested in getting involved in the 2019 Fringe Festival participatory piece, Úumbal: Nomadic Choreography for Inhabitants. Learn more about Úumbal and how to participate in the Step Library here!  Listen to the podcast or read the full transcript below.

Conversation with Cecily Chapman

Tenara: Hello, and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premiere presenter of contemporary performing arts. I’m Tenara. I’m the Audience Engagement Coordinator at FringeArts.

Zach: And I’m Zach. I’m an Artistic Producer, here. We invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversations with some most imaginative people on this plane of existence.

Tenara: Here at FringeArts, we’re getting ready for The Appointment by Lightning Rod Special previewing on Wednesday, March 20th and running through March 31st. Make sure you visit fringearts.com to grab your tickets for this spectacular show exploring misogyny, hypocrisy, and absurdity surrounding the abortion debate in America.

Zach: But today, we’re talking to a very special guest, Cecily Chapman, one of our FringeArts ambassadors, and dancer in last year’s public practice dance piece, Le Super Grand Continental. Welcome Cecily.

Cecily: Thank you.

Zach: One of our first questions we always ask. What are you imbibing? What’s your beverage today?

Cecily: Ah, sparkling water. It’s my go-to beverage.

Zach: Spicy water.

Cecily: Spicy water. Yeah, that’ll do.

Zach: We have a young friend that calls it that.

Cecily: Like a child. Yeah, that makes sense.

Tenara: Yeah, that makes a little bit more sense. And now that I’m thinking more about it in the context of a child’s brain, it actually is a perfect description.

Zach: What are you having tonight?

Tenara: I’m also having spicy water.

Zach: I’m actually having spicy water. I’m having a Turmeric Ginger Tea. [crosstalk 00:01:33]. It’s very, very good. It’s sometimes too spicy. And we’re gonna get too spicy today on the podcast, right?

Cecily: Ooo spicy. I am ready.

Zach: So we’re to talk to you kinda about your experience in public practice work. You got to participate in Le Super Grand Continental. Are you willing to tell us a little bit about how Le Super Grand Continental worked, as though we’ve never heard of it.

Cecily: It was like we spent the whole summer preparing for a two-day weekend performance for the first weekend of the Fringe Festival, and it was like 150 may 200, normal, regular, Philadelphia area people who are not professional dancers learning a 30 minute piece. It was ranging from little five-year-olds to like probably close to 80. I don’t know. I have no idea. Like at some point, you don’t ask people their age.

Tenara: Correct.

Cecily: But it was all of us together practicing twice, sometimes much more than that a week to get our dance steps down and it was fun event.

Zach: And were you costumed for that?

Cecily: We could choose our costumes. There were no real limits as long as we could move in them, and it wasn’t advertising anything. But there were people in just their regular jeans and t-shirts, and dress things or whatever, and then there were people in sequins. I had a sequined shirt on top. It was very bright and red. There were people with tutus. There were multitude of different costumes per se, but that was our chance of being creative and letting our own personalities show to a certain degree ’cause in a group dance you’re supposed to be doing all the steps, all the same steps that everybody else is doing, so it’s nice to be able to at least show some of your personality.

Zach: And what was your experience with dancer performance before jumping into Le Grand?

Cecily: So, I actually did the first Le Grand. I’ve taken dance classes and things, but not anything that I can really remember where I was like I’m a dancer. I did do a musical theater camp at one point.

Tenara: Heck yeah.

Zach: I was reading about that. So Cecily’s an amazing stand up performer in town and also a storyteller, and some of Cecily’s stories are so so good WHYY has published the transcripts of them, so you can definitely look those up and check them out. I looked them up and had a great time reading about them. What was the title of the piece, I had a nightmare time at musical theater camp, or-

Cecily: Oh, I don’t remember what the title was.

Zach: When you talked about turning over and looking at the 10-year-old boy in the face, like it is so so fantastic. No more spoilers. Check it out yourself.

Tenara: So what was it like for you returning to Le Super Grand after you did it in 2012? So, it was like six years have gone by and then you came to not exactly the same piece but something similar.

Zach: There’s some old people, some new people. [crosstalk 00:05:23]

Cecily: I was excited to sign up again to do it because my memory said that it was great experience. And I only say that because physically I’m six years older, and all the things which I’m still young and I look at [crosstalk 00:05:46] but my body is different than six years ago, so that is the only thing that came to mind. But I was excited because I do like the idea of meeting people from my community per se, like people I might see on the bus, or might see at a performance, or wherever I am, and getting to have some form of connection with them. And it was really nice to see a couple of my friends from six years ago return because some of them I hadn’t stayed in contact with, but as soon we saw each other, it was like “Yes! I’m so happy you’re here,” and basically kinda like an old friend like you just picking up where you left off, almost literally, ’cause we left off dancing and we’re picking up dancing.

Cecily: So, that was exciting to have like a portion of people that were familiar and even a couple of the instructors were familiar. So, it was nice to know that there were people who remember our previous performance, had some energy about it. And then, there were a lot of new people, and so it was a chance to kinda meet new people and I’m not the most social person, so I’m sure coulda connected way better, but like to me it was nice to just be in our room or a huge ice rink with people every week, a couple times a week coming together. We’re in different stages of our life and different ethnic and different all the things. All the things we can come up with. So, it was really good to kinda see that happen again. My body was just like, “you forgot.”

Cecily: I was told that this piece was a little bit more challenging than by one of the instructors. They said it was a little more challenging than six years ago. So, my body my not be lying to me and my memory. But it definitely felt, I was like, I’m actually working out, and like a couple times in a week. There’s some fun contrast and similarities.

Tenara: Yeah, when I was hanging out at rehearsal, some people told me like the main, similar to you, they end up find a sense of community and connection with everybody around them, but originally they wanted to do Le Super Grand in order to build in exercise into their week. So, they like literally did it at first because they were like, “Oh, I will just be moving for two hours twice a week.”

Zach: And I think a lot about my experience, I was a marching band nerd in high school. And to get with all those people to learn the drill, [inaudible 00:09:14], to get injured together in some cases, to share nasty moldy water bottles together, it feels almost you share in this joy but almost bodily trauma in a certain way that’s not bad, it’s just [crosstalk 00:09:35]. There’s something in that sense of shared accomplishment that’s like, it compounds my personal sense of accomplishment in a certain way. And its’ funny, I see so many Le Grand dancers around town like at the Whole Foods. Last night at the Rosenbach Museum, I saw a person, who I won’t name ’cause this is being recorded. And Yeah, it just makes me feel like I have friends all over in certain way.

Tenara: Do you run into people?

Cecily: I have. Yes. I’m also at this weird stage in life where I don’t know where I know people from. So, it’s like do I know you because you know me from [inaudible 00:10:11]. Do I know you from some other, like the bus. Or do I know. But I have seen some Le Super Grand people in my travels and things, and some of them recognize me, some of them don’t because there’s some many of us, like you might not remember everybody.

Zach: The other day I was just walking up the street and Sarah Gladwin Camp rides by on her bike and just goes, “Hey, looking forward to the next one.”Just like that. Just so funny like it just it feels like, it makes the city feel smaller to me in a certain way and that’s exciting. When you’re looking at the first Le Grand opportunity back in I guess this is 2012, when you’re reading through the description, what made you say this is for me and I can do that?

Cecily: So, I honestly don’t really remember what … I think my mom sent me an email and it was just the idea that as long as I could move, I could be a part of it. So, auditioning and all the things, it … the pressure of being like a perfect dancer, and I didn’t have to worry about that.

Tenara: So, the pressure to be like a perfect dancer was off and-

Cecily: Yeah, so I think also at that point in my life I was just kinda more willing to try something new, try something different. I don’t really remember. It was six years ago.

Zach: Were you new at comedy then?

Cecily: Yes, I was very new at comedy then.

Tenara: Do you feel …or I’m sure there is a difference, but maybe you can speak a little bit about the difference of being a participant in these big, large-scale performances versus being an audience member watching a performance.

Cecily: Well, I think in some ways when I watch a performance I want to be a part of it to a certain degree and usually it’s, “I wish I could do that.” And so, I think there’s just a certain amount of aw in seeing people moving their bodies or any creative form that either not using or just haven’t got to a certain level of using. So, it’s always fun to see people performing and then when the opportunity comes to being able to be a part of something, it just seems right because now I’m getting to do what I have wanted to do when I’ve been a spectator. So, if it happened again and I was physically able to do it again, I would still do it and not be a spectator.

Zach: I watched all three performances from different places each time. Like one time I was up high on the steps of the art museum, another time I climbed up weird sculpture and was on top of that, that was fun. And I just felt this immense sense of like pride. Right? ‘Cause I was there in some rehearsals, I did a lot of recruitment for this, and I felt proud of everyone who was dancing, but I felt more proud broadly of the city and I just don’t know that there are … It’s funny they take this piece all over the world, and what’s interesting to me is I feel like Philly, it’s just very like–

Tenara: It’s very different.

Zach: Like it … something just locks into place. Philly, especially it’s such a big, small town in a certain way. The footprint of the city, geographically is kinda teenty, but there’s so many people here, and there this kind of … There’s this thing that I don’t feel like you have in New York anymore where you run into everybody you know all the time here. And sometimes it’s great, and sometimes it’s like ugh, there’s my ex again. [inaudible 00:14:09]. There’s someone I ghosted. What do they want from me? You know, but it’s just, it felt like there was this immense interconnectivity that I don’t know [crosstalk 00:14:22] but was foregrounded.

Tenara: Yeah, it was just so celebratory. It was really infectious. I was there doing, essentially recruitment for this year’s public practice performance. I was like basically like if this seems interesting to you, write down your name and email address, and we’ll send you information about next year’s show. It won’t be the same thing, but it will be something very similar and I can tell you that the number of email sign ups we got after the show, like tripled the number that we had right before the show started because you can’t watch that without being like oh my god that was amazing. I wanna do that. I wanna be a part of the crew.

Zach: So what advice do you have for people who might consider being in the large scale public practice piece in the future? Maybe in their decision-making or how to prep for a hot, sweaty rehearsal process.

Cecily: Okay. So, first with the decision making, I know a lot of times, there’s a audition type situation and it’s not really an audition as much as it’s showing you that you can do it. So, I would suggest people not take it so seriously as like oh my gosh this Broadway show. I have to get all the steps. And just know, be mindful of your body, but also in this kind of situation, know that there are people who are going to be faster at getting the steps, who are going to be more limber, and more all the things, and there are going to be people who are not gonna be good as you in picking things up and all that, and by the end of it, we’re all doing the same thing.

Cecily: So, it might take you longer. It might take you a much shorter process, but the overall, the ending is gonna be great. So, definitely go to the auditions or whatever they’re being called. And information sessions just so that you can kind of see what was being offered. For me, I think I, at some point, mostly towards the end, I wasn’t present. So, I was kinda like get this over with at some point.

Zach: In the dress rehearsal and then in that performance also.

Cecily: In the dress rehearsal, we got rained out of. And then, the actual Sunday performance, we were rained on, and for me, it was not fun. I was not interested at all and pictures prove that. It feels like all the pictures that are of me captured my inner thoughts. [crosstalk 00:17:34] But at the end, what I wanna say is don’t let the positive be the memory, but the positive be the present. So, if I do it again or something like it, I would hope that I would be able to be present and experience the joy that is around me and just being proud of myself that put in this work and you know, be able to celebrate and dance in the rain even though I really, really, really, really hated it.

Zach: There were so many audience members who stayed in the rain.

Cecily: Yeah, it was an amazing idea. [crosstalk 00:18:19] It’s great for the movies. You know. It’s a great scene to inspire people and yeah, the audience members were great.

Tenara: It was cold.

Cecily: It’s was cold and it was-

Zach: And you had to lay down [crosstalk 00:18:44]. And at that point, that was it. I was just like feeling for everybody at that point. [inaudible 00:18:52]

Cecily: But there’s so many people around me that were excited and so I kinda wish I would’ve been excited too.

Zach: And now it’s like a competition, right? ‘Cause we got rained on in 2012 too.

Cecily: Yeah, that was different though ’cause it was a mist. It was more of a … it was actually kinda nice like you weren’t drowning from looking up into the sky [crosstalk 00:19:17]

Zach: It was a torrential downpour. I’m from Florida like hurricane season and I was like this is real. Generally, I’m like “Ooo, people whine about rain here”, but like that was powerful.

Tenara: So, one more question for you. You know, I’m wondering where public practice work like what it does in terms of representation that feels different from traditional theatrical performances or performing arts where people often find that there’s a gap between who they want to see on stage and who’s actually on stage.

Cecily: Representation is such a weird kind of thing for me right now ’cause usually what I was telling you I do, just so that people know, I’m a black woman, cisgender, so when I walk into room, I know who is there and so, I’m always aware of how many black people, how many women…like I’m counting in certain sense. And I do that just about any space I’m in. When I’m in like certain parts of the city, it’s like well it would make sense that I’m the only one. But then there other spaces where it’s like well there should be more of us here because of where it is like that kind of thing.

Cecily: So like, there’s certain percentage of black people in this country, but then when you start going down to the certain percentage of black people in Philadelphia and those things, then it’s like there should be more in certain areas. So, my experience with community space is I think generally everyone was represented with this last performance and I think continuing on, in general, I think there’s a lot of possibility for representation in the fact that there would be at least one. But I don’t know if that’s accurate and I think there’s a certain amount of people trying to make it be more accurate. But in some way, you’re always gonna miss the mark.

Zach: I feel that. Yeah, it’s interesting. For me, as like a black person and queer person, and all the kind of ways [inaudible 00:21:58]. When I go to see traditional theatrical work and there’s maybe somebody who looks like me and whose identity or the identity that they’re taking on in that space is like man, and I think to myself, what a jackpot in a certain way, thinking about all of the training that you have to do, all of the opportunities that have to line up. It’s almost like the planets have aligned, and here it’s this person on stage who in some ways is speaking to me and I think where public practice work has an opportunity, and a unique opportunity, is that it says come as you are and we’ll teach you the skills you need. What you need is enthusiasm. We need your living human body and we’ll get there together. And I think what we’re really thinking about a lot as we go into this second year of this three-year initiative to a large-scale public practice work each year, is how do we take any further?

Zach: ‘Cause right, looking at what the barriers are implicitly to being able to participate in something like this. Maybe you just won’t four hours a week to commit to this. You know, maybe you need childcare, maybe you need more of a travel stipend, maybe you need a different level of engagement that you can touch the piece from. Where not having to be there four hours at all where generally, it is prohibitive of you to give up that much of your time from a financial perspective, from a body perspective, and how can you participate in other ways? So, we’re thinking a lot about kind of [00:23:21] level of engagement up to the four hours a week, and then you dance with us forever, but what if you were just able to I don’t a portion of the dance to us, or to be there the day of the performance in some capacity other than dancing. You know, maybe you don’t need to be there for all of the rehearsals, but you get to hold a speaker that plays the music that they listen to. And we’re thinking about all those things as we go into this next year’s project.

Tenara: What a great setup to talk about next year’s project. You were in the meeting where I mentioned it?

Cecily: Right.

Tenara: So you have heard a little bit about this. So, we are bringing a Mexican artist named Mariana Arteaga to Philadelphia to bring piece Úumbal: Nomadic Choreography for Inhabitants to the United States for the very first time. It’s the U.S. premiere. We’re so excited about and Úumbal does every single thing that Zach was just mentioning. There are three phases to the piece. The first is called The Step Library, or in Spanish, La Pasoteca, and it’s inviting Philadelphians who love to move, who love to dance, who are the first to get up and dance at a party, who have a gesture that’s very special to them, who like just love moving their body to come to a Step Library event with 10 to 30 seconds of dancing and bring their music with them and literally show us your favorite move. We film it. We put on a website and then, Mariana choreographic team look at all those moves and weave together a choreography that then 20 to 25 Philadelphians are invited to develop with her.

Tenara: So, that’s phase two. And phase three is sort of the model of Le Super Grand, it’s a 100 Philadelphians who are learning this choreography that was developed by Philadelphians and donated to by Philadelphians, and then performing it as processional through the literal streets of Philadelphia in September. It’s exactly what Zach was saying. We wanted to create opportunities for people who don’t four hours a week, who maybe they’re in a wheelchair, and learning this kind of choreography would be very prohibitive to them.

Zach: Maybe they just don’t wanna hang out with all these new people. I think there are people who sometimes that’s enjoyable in small doses.

Tenara: Yeah, exactly.

Zach:  I’m trying to think about all of these different ways people might’ve been shut out from the process we had last year, and growing on it. And next year, who knows.

Tenara: Yeah. For real.

Zach: Next year, have everybody in a space shuttle. We’re gonna put people on the moon. Just trying to figure out what the next level up from there is how to zoom out further and do something that that says something else about Philadelphia.

Tenara: Yeah, so if folks are interested in donating a dance step. The dates are April 6th, 7th, 13th, and 14th. You can find information about the step library at https://uumbal.fringearts.com. And you can also poke around on that website and find out just like all the ways you can be involved through all different phases of the project which will really be in development from April to September, so we’re in it for the long haul, my friends. Cecily, thank you so much for joining us.

Cecily: Yeah, thank you. And you guys are doing great work and I applaud you.

Zach: Oh, thank you.

Tenara: We applaud you.

Zach: We applaud you and where can people applaud you doing some comedy stuff?

Cecily: I am all over Philadelphia and the country. I’m doing festivals and things, so you can check me out on cecilyalexandria.com or @Cecilythegreat on the Instagrams and things.

Zach: And you can follow us at fringearts.com or @FringeArts on everything in the whole world. Make sure to register for the step library and find out about the ways you can get involved with Úumbal. Thanks guys.

Cecily: Thank you.

 

 

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

Posted March 1st, 2019

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

Conversation with Elicia Gonzales and Alice Yorke

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

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

Alice: Yeah, me too!

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

Alice: Yeah, just over a year ago.

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

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

Elicia: She’s thorough.

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

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

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

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

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

Elicia: Yeah, like chair farts and stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elicia: Oh god. Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elicia: Yeah. Your show is an open door.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elicia: And doesn’t harm.

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

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

Alice: On our next next podcast.

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

Posted February 14th, 2019

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shawn: Congratulations on your Gang of 19 anniversary!

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

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

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

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

Tony: He’s the CEO of Liberty Resources.

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

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

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

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

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

Tony: We are being dragged down.

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

Tony: In every home.

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

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

Shawn: Inclusion is key. Inclusion is key.

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

Shawn: That’s right, that’s so true.

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

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

Tony: America had a disabled President!

Shawn: Yes! Yes! Yes!

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

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

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

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

Tony: Oh yeah.

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

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

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

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

Walking the Walk and Talking the Talk with Nora Litz and Rev. Danny Cortés

Posted November 28th, 2018
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“I’ve been working with immigrant populations for 10 years now, and they are so ready to talk about it. It doesn’t matter what age group you belong to. It’s like being invisible most of the time, yet you have a story–a very important story–to say, to talk about. So once you open that door, it comes right out.”
–Nora Litz

FringeArts has had the opportunity to meet and hear about the amazing work that many different people and organizations in Philadelphia are doing to support their neighbors. On the latest Happy Hour on the Fringe, our hosts sit down with members of two organizations dedicated to improving the lives of Latinx men, women, and children living in Philadelphia.

Nora Litz with a young artist

Located in South Philly, Puentes de Salud (Bridges of Health) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that promotes the health and wellness of Philadelphia’s rapidly growing Latino immigrant population through a wide variety of programs. Their services range from providing high-quality and culturally competent healthcare, innovative educational programs that support young children through adults, legal support and community building, and the organization supports community members regardless of immigration status, race, and class. Nora Litz, as Director of Arts and Culture, guides children, adolescents, and adults as they use mixed media to recount their own personal immigration stories. The artists’ work has culminated in projects such as Las ligas que nos unen (“The Ties that Bind Us), which tells the stories of children from Puebla, San Lucas Atzala, San Andrés Calpan, and San Mateo Ozolco whose parents left them in order to find work in the U.S. and El viaje de los niños (“The Children’s Journey”), which was brought to FringeArts this November and tells the stories of Mexican immigrant children who have crossed the border to come live in Philadelphia. Although, Nora does not consider her work “art therapy,” it’s undeniable the overwhelmingly powerful effect telling their own stories through art have had on the participants. She lets us in on the process behind Salud de Puentes’ beautiful and meaningful projects.

On the other side of the city in Hunting Park, Esperanza, a faith-based nonprofit organization driven by the biblical mandate to “serve the least of these,” strengthens Hispanic communities through a large variety of educational, economic development, and advocacy programs and services. Their specific programs range from seemingly simple yet impactful programs such as distributing trees to community members to running the exceptional Esperanza Academy and Esperanza College (in partnership with Eastern College) to Esperanza’s latest project, the opening of a state-of-the-art theater in December. Rev. Danny Cortés, with his older brother Louis, sits at the forefront of this 30-year-old organization devoted to improving the barrio for the here and now and fortifying it for the future. For the second half of the episode, Raina and podcast producer, Sabrina, sit down with Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff of Esperanza, Reverend Danny Cortés, in the organization’s beautiful headquarters. He gives us a picture of how the organization got started and where it is going next.

                                 Dany Cortés

Listen to the episode to learn more about Puentes de Salud and Esperanza’s work and how you can support them.

Show notes
Learn more about Puentes de Salud: https://bit.ly/2hen25G

Learn more about other projects Nora Litz has led at Puentes de Salud:

Al Diahttps://bit.ly/2HwpQW5

Buzzfeedhttps://bzfd.it/2rLLBuO

NBC Newshttps://nbcnews.to/2FJRDH5

Learn more about Esperanza – https://bit.ly/2Q2fSVG

If You Don’t Want to be Embarrassed at Your Next Ball, Start Here

Posted November 16th, 2018

“They see it [the LGBTQ community] as entertainment and forget that the entertainers you see go home at the end of the day. They don’t go home as this person. They’ve had coming out stories. Some of them have been homeless. Some of them have been in hiding. Some of them look for acceptance. Everybody. All of us look for acceptance because it’s not always given…They have to go other places to find acceptance. That’s exactly where this scene that everybody loves so much, that everybody is so interested in comes from.” – Torri Gillis

 

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Dating back to the early 1900s, balls and ball culture came to prominence between the 1960s and 1980s as largely Black and Latino LGBT youth in New York used it as a place and way to express their creativity and build community and family. The culture remains alive and well in its birthplace of course, but has spread to cities across the country including Philadelphia and world. With the popularity of documentaries like Paris is Burning (1990) and television shows such as My House and Pose, more and more people have fallen in love with the art of voguing and ballroom.

Tori Gillis, assistant director of Legendary and accomplished voguer in the Philadelphia Ballroom Scene, stops by Happy Hour on the Fringe and gives us an insider look into the the world of ballroom: The dos and don’ts of ball culture, the difference between a ‘dip’ and a ‘shwack,’ and the voguers that you need to know. She also reminds us that although balls are fun, we cannot forget about the real people with real struggles who are behind the fabulous outfits, the jaw-dropping hair and make-up, the boldest walks, and baddest voguing.

Photo courtesy of Johanna Austin

 

Required Reading/Watching
Paris is Burning (1990)
My House
Pose
How Do I Look (2006)
Voguers such as Ashley Icon, Kemar Jewel, Destiny West, and Allison Prodigy
This week’s episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe.

 

First Person Arts Festival is Back!

Posted November 7th, 2018

Everybody has a story, and First Person Arts Festival is back with a line up of personal stories that will make you laugh, cry, and reflect as well as workshops to empower you to tell your own. Jamie J. Brunson stopped by our podcast, Happy Hour on the Fringe, to give us a preview of this year’s Festival and an inside look into what the Festival seeks to represent.  FringeArts is excited to be partnering with First Person Arts to bring several shows to our own stage including:

Felonious Monk

Wed, Nov 7 to Fri, Nov 9

You may have seen Felonious Munk as the “resident blegghead” on Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show, but now Felonious Munk has updated his smash-hit Second City performance and is bringing it to the First Person Arts stage. This is a hilarious yet harrowing first-person story of how one black man went from six years in a state prison to a six-figure job in corporate America. Felonious then transitions to a new life as an activist and satirist in his one-man show debuting at the First Person Arts Festival.

Pa'lante feature image

Pa’lante

Sun, Nov 11 to Mon, Nov 12

Gabriela Sanchez, Founder and Executive Producer of Power Street Theatre Company, joined the First Person Arts creative team this year, but you might remember Sanchez and her work from Power Street Theatre’s past productions, Shelter in Place and Morir Sonyando, which appeared in the 2015 and 2014 Fringe Festivals respectively.

Gabriela is masterful at creating devised theater that is passionate and pushes for social change. Her Festival directorial debut Pa’lante is no different. This devised work asks a diverse representation of the Latinx community to share their stories of living the Latinx experience in these United States of America. Influenced by the five senses, cultural roots, and resilience, each storyteller explores traditions and legacies.

For this run of Pa’lante, we are proud to partner with Puentes de Salud, a health clinic serving the Latinx immigrant communities of Philadelphia by bringing Puentes de Salud’s El Viaje de los Niños, a visual project which tells the stories of Mexican immigrant children who have crossed the border to come to Philadelphia, to FringeArts. We invite you to explore “El Viaje de los Niños, developed by Puentes Director of Art and Culture Nora Litz, before and/or after the performances of Pa’lante.Legendary photo by Johanna Austin

 

Legendary

Wed, Nov 14 to Fri, Nov 16

Voguing did not begin with Madonna by any means. Largely Black and Latino LGBT youth created the dance style during the 1980s Ballroom Scene in New York City. Kemar Jewel and the Xcel Dance Crew pay homage to the style and era with their hit show Legendary, which premiered in the 2017 First Person Arts Festival. The one-night-only performance was so fabulous, Legendary is back for a three-night run at this year’s festival.

Stay after Thursday, Nov 15’s performance for a talkback with Kemar Jewel and the Xcel Dance Crew. On Friday, Nov 16, we have a very special evening in store. A *legendary* Vogue Showcase Ball will follow the performance. The night continues with our November Get Pegged Cabaret featuring Justin Sayre’s Storytime Pajama Party.

GrandSlam Triumph main photo

 

GrandSlam: Swept Away

Sat, Nov 17

The First Person Arts Festival closes out with the GrandSlam. The culmination of First Person Art’s monthly StorySlam series, the GrandSlam brings togeter all the StorySlam winners from the past year to go head to head and see who will take home the title of “Best Storyteller in Philadelphia.”

Sometimes amusing, sometimes heartbreaking but always relevant and moving, First Person Arts Festival is a chance to sit back and listen – something so many of us do too little of today.

To hear more about what the festival has in store, check out our interview with executive director of First Person Arts, Jamie Brunson on Happy Hour on the Fringe here.

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Get your tickets at FringeArts.com and see the full line-up visit firstpersonarts.org. Follow FringeArts on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. We’d love to hear what First Person Arts shows you’re seeing.

 

FringeArts creates new Accessibility Guide

Posted October 30th, 2018

One woman gives another woman a token after checking in for her ticket at the FringeArts Box Office.FringeArts believes in the inherent value of diverse communities, and the importance of learning, being open, and listening. From our ticket-buying process to arriving at our building, the performances themselves to our post-show experiences, we are working hard to continuously improve our accessibility. We’re excited to share our new Accessibility Guide, where you can find a description of what to expect when you come to any performances at FringeArts, including relaxed performances which are adapted to reduce anxiety and for audience members with sensory needs. We hope this new initiative creates an even greater sense of inclusiveness at FringeArts. You can find the guide under the Accessibility tab on our website, or directly here.

In addition to these efforts, we also provide Audio Descriptions, Open Captioning, and ASL Interpretation for any performance with one month notice. We always have Hearing Assistance Headsets available at the box office upon request.

FringeAccess Members, for those holding a Pennsylvania Access Card, can receive up to four $2 to any performance at FringeArts per year. Tickets may be purchased through the FringeAccess Membership login, by calling 215.413.1318, or at the box office before a show.

More detailed accessibility information can be found on our Know Before You Go sheet, or by contacting Patron Services at patronservies@fringearts.com or 215.413.1318.

Many thanks to Roger Ideishi, Occupational Therapy Program Director and professor at Temple University, and his graduate student team (Remy Binder, Vivian Hin, Christina Neroni, and Johanna Reed) for their help putting together the Accessibility Guide!

Where to Find Philly’s Digital Arts Community

Posted October 17th, 2018

Within the last twenty years, technology has changed every facet of our lives, and art has not been immune to the technological revolution. The computer and internet have given rise to an entirely new medium with which artists, whether they self-identify as one or not, can experiment and play.


In Philadelphia, the digital art community may still be a bit “underground”—some people may say non-existent multimedia artist and founder of CRUXspace Andrew Zahn notes, but they would be mistaken. The community of people using technology creatively is growing, and three very different institutions are at the center of that growth: CRUXspace, FringeArts, and Philly Game Mechanics.

Many galleries, like Philly’s Vox Populi, show digital and multimedia art, but few are dedicated solely to the medium. Bitforms in Manhattan comes to mind, but a comparable space does not exist in Philadelphia. Enter Andrew Cameron Zahn. Zahn, who started experimenting with online art and design applications like Photoshop and Quark as a kid, sought to fill that void with his new media art gallery CRUXspace in 2014. Growing out of art exhibitions for “hackers” that he organized as a student at the University of the Arts, CRUXspace found its first home at 7th and Master in Ludlow. Andrew and lead curator Kim Brickley have collaborated with the likes of Mural Arts, University of the Arts and FringeArts and have presented artists such as G. H. Hovagimyan and Molly Soda. Earlier this year CRUXspace moved out of its original location and found a new home at the WeWork in Northern Liberties, but its purpose, to provide a space for creators experimenting with technology in art and design has moved with it. In its new space, CRUXspace will be presenting a new exhibition featuring the digital media artists Swoon, who makes use of stop-motion animation, installation, and video techniques and Eric Westray, who employs cutting-edge 3D modeling techniques to bring to life impossible humans and environments. The Swoon/Westray exhibition opens October 26.


Past CRUXspace collaborator FringeArts seeks to provide digital artists with a platform of their own as well but in a very different way. FringeArts has maintained a mission “to present world-class, contemporary performing arts that challenge convention and inspire new ways of thinking” for decades. In 2015, the organization’s Fringe Festival was already 19 years old, but the team recognized that much of the art that aligned so perfectly with their mission was being created digitally but not presented nor seen. With about 15 digital art pieces, FringeArts launched its first Digital Fringe, a platform that allows audience members to experience the work of digital and multimedia artists for free, as part of the annual festival.  Three years later, Digital Fringe has grown to 26 pieces with an additional two digital works, R&J and SPIES!, featured in the traditional Fringe Festival. Digital Fringe artists provide a URL or another method (app, text message, etc.) to access their technologic creation on the FringeArts website and in the Festival Guide. This year, you were able to cook with drag queens, outsmart the undead, and escape-the-room (chatroom that is). 


Whereas Fringe and CRUXspace work with people who think of themselves as artists, that is not necessarily the case for FringeArts’ Digital Fringe partner, Philly Game Mechanics. Philly Game Mechanics is a charitable organization focused on supporting game development and indie game enthusiasts in Philadelphia, PA. PGM members take game development classes, create relationships and share their work with other gamers, creators, and makers through different talks and their indie arcade cabinet, the Philly-Tron (currently being housed at the Franklin Institute.) Through partnerships and relationships with other organizations such as The Franklin Institute and Drexel Game Program, Jake O’Brien from PGM points out, members further develop their skills and expand their perspectives. Recognizing the benefits of such partnerships herself, Jenny Kessler, a FringeArts intern brought her supervisor, Jarrod Markman, and PGM together to partner. Jake posed the question “What is digital art?” to the PGM community, and eventually, several Digital Fringe pieces were developed by members. On September 12, many of those pieces were shown at Philly Game Mechanic’s Digital Art Showcase at Harrisburg University’s Philadelphia Campus.

Although we may not be ready to distinguish digital art as its own distinct branch of art yet, CRUXspace, FringeArts and Philly Game Mechanics are filling the void and bringing the digital creative community to the surface. Once other institutions begin bridging the disconnect between themselves and the hackers, gamers, and artists utilizing technology in creative ways, these three groups will likely be cornerstones to the digital art community in Philadelphia. In a lot of ways, they already are.

 

Happy Hour on the Fringe: Circa Contemporary Circus’ Libby McDonnell & Nathan Boyle

Posted October 11th, 2018

Libby McDonnell and Nathan Boyle from Circa Contemporary Circus stop by Happy Hour on the Fringe to chat about their breathtaking show Humans.

Photo courtesy of Mark Garvin

Circa Contemporary Circus, one of the world’s leading performance companies at the forefront of the new wave of contemporary Australian circus, has been wowing audiences around the world since 2004. The company is known to use extreme physicality to create breathtaking performances that straddle the worlds of circus, dance, and physical theatre. Last month, Circa traveled all the way from Brisbane to close the 2018 Fringe Festival with a dynamic exploration of what it means to be human. Before wowing Fringe Festival audiences with their performances of Humans, Circa’s associate director, Libby McDonnell, and senior acrobat, Nathan Boyle, sat down with host of Happy Hour on the Fringe Zach Blackwood at the Annenberg Center for Performing Arts. They gave him a peek into the creation of Humans and their current tour of the piece.   To learn more about Circa Contemporary Circus visit circa.org.au. Let us know you think of podcast, and check back next week for a new episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe.

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Goodnight Sweet Fringe

Posted September 23rd, 2018

And flights of angels sing thee to your rest.

See you next year.

Fancy a Tipple? Whiskey Bonanza for Fringe Fans

Posted September 16th, 2018

Founded by actors and theater fans, Twisted Tail supports Fringe fans this month with a discount off the headline event of its Bourbon Heritage Month.

The fifth annual Whisky Bonanza on hursday, September 20, features over 70 whiskeys, a pig roast, bartender competitions, and tasty blues music.

The Whiskey Bonanza runs 7–10pm with a VIP Hour at 6pm with tastings of specialty and rare whiskeys that will not be available during the main event. Tickets start at $60, but Fringe fans get a discounted ticket using code FRINGE at eventbrite.com/e/2018-whiskey-bonanza-tickets-47300906284?discount=FRINGE.

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Building Trust with Darcy Lyons

Posted September 5th, 2018

“Security is both a reality and a feeling and they’re not the same thing… The foundation of security is trust, both personal trust and global trust.” —Security specialist Bruce Schneier, an inspiration for 2018 Fringe Festival piece Proceed with Caution

Fear. Insecurity. Trust. Security.

The topics broached in Lyons and Tigers’s Proceed with Caution (September 7-9 at The Iron Factory in Kensington) are relevant on a personal, political, and geopolitical level. This new full-length dance theater work explores security in a time of global violence, the Trump presidency, police brutality, mass shootings, and the #MeToo movement. Through dance, the show asks, “How do humans build trust?”

Creator Darcy Lyons spoke to FringeArts about her timely show.

FringeArts: What was the inspiration for Proceed with Caution?

Darcy Lyons: In 2012, I created a short version of this piece that was about rational and irrational fear. I have always wanted to return to the piece and this year felt like the right time. The initial inclination came from my own struggles with anxiety. The concepts around fear and trust are important to me to continue to explore, especially in the uproar of the Trump administration.

FringeArts: Can we ever really trust anyone about anything ever?

Darcy Lyons: Yes. Trust has a lot of layers of meaning. We are constantly working with trust in our everyday lives.

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Why Wait? Fringe Festival Performances Begin Today!!!

Posted September 4th, 2018

The long wait is over!

Philadelphia’s 2018 Fringe Festival officially launches this Thursday, September 6, kicking off 17 days of world-class performing arts. But anyone who has looked at the Fringe Guide Day-By-Day knows that the excitement isn’t contained within the strict Festival dates. Some shows (FIGMAGO, Lay Me Down Softly) had performances this past weekend; many works in the Digital Fringe are already live and available for enjoyment, and tonight has a full schedule of preview performances for some of the Fringe’s hottest shows:

Do You Want A Cookie?

6:30pm
Kill Move Paradise, The Wilma Theater

7:30pm
Do You Want A Cookie?, The Bearded Ladies Cabaret
Tennessee Williams: Eccentricities of a Nightingale, Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium

9pm
Unhinged, Matter Movement Group

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Taking A Vacation with Bastion Carboni

Posted August 31st, 2018

The curator of monthly politically-minded cabaret Agitated!, Bastion Carboni has quickly established his Poison Apple Initiative as a Fringe Festival instution since moving to Philadelphia from Texas four years ago. Critiquing 2015’s Sometimes Callie and Jonas Die, the erstwhile City Paper wrote “This is what many people miss about the Fringe’s early years… holy fuck, this shit is real.” Phindie called it “a raw and shit-kicking show,” and described 2016’s An Obviously Foggot “the explosive, vibrant queer play we’ve been waiting for”.

Poison Apple Initiative’s marks something of a departure for Carboni, with his first solo piece, A Vacation. He spoke to FringeArts about this dark travel comedy about manifesting and destiny.  

FringeArts: What was the last vacation you took?

Bastion Carboni: I’m really bad at vacation. Like I’ll go places to see theatre and try to pick up gigs while I’m there, but sitting in some sand reading trash and drinking light beer makes me fidgety and feeling like I should be productive. I went to the beach for like two days last year and was so itching to get back to work.

FringeArts: What inspired A Vacation?

I had been in Philadelphia less than a year (September marks year four). I was in a pretty dark place; I’m generally in a dark place when I conceive of plays. As for the actual impetus, I never really recall where my plays come from. The base idea is always a sort of culmination of feelings and ideas, and I don’t actually end up WRITING the thing until a few years after it’s conceived.

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Scenes from a Life: Ishmael Houston-Jones on John Bernd and Contemporary Dance

Posted June 26th, 2018

Ishmael Houston-Jones has lived dance history. Now a New York-based choreographer, performer, and teacher, Houston-Jones was a staple in the East Village experimental dance community in the 1980s, having moved to the city from Philadelphia in 1979. One of his collaborators during this period of innovation was John Bernd, the interdisciplinary artist whose work forms the core of Houston-Jones’ upcoming Fringe show Variations on Themes from Lost and Found: Scenes from a Life and other works by John Bernd.

Drawing on his own experience dancing in Bernd’s Lost and Found: Scenes from a Life, as well as the reality of losing an entire generation of artists to the AIDS epidemic, Houston-Jones teamed up with Miguel Gutierrez to create a new work that mashes up seven of Bernd’s pieces. This entirely new performance displays Bernd’s lasting influence on contemporary dance and imagines what his work might have looked like today. We asked Houston-Jones about the inspiration behind the show and about his experience working with the influential choreographer.

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John Jarboe Gets Nostalgic with an Exploration of Mister Rogers

Posted June 19th, 2018

John Jarboe and the Bearded Ladies Cabaret will provide a highlight of the 2018 Fringe Festival with Do You Want A Cookie?, which uses live performance to trace the long history of cabaret, from Weimar Germany to 21st-century drag shows.

Before taking a bite from the poison cookie, don’t miss Jarboe performing as Mx. Rogers, an updated version of the friendly face you remember seeing on your childhood television set. You Can Never Go Down The Drain is a show that honors Rogers’s prolific songwriting career and presents the lessons in these songs—some that stuck with us and others we have long forgotten—in a new format for a grown-up audience. The show, which opens this Wednesday at the Wilma Theater, is a chance for adults to come to terms with their beliefs when confronted by life’s realities.

“Like so many of Bearded Ladies shows, You Can Never Go Down The Drain is a poison cookie of sorts,” says Jarboe, artistic director of the Bearded Ladies. “It uses that nostalgia and power of Mr. Rogers, sing-a-long, and enormous costumes to seduce the performers and the audience into some hard questions about being human.”

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Making Art in 2017: Nate Barnett and Nick Schwasman on Wedgwood on the Green

Posted September 11th, 2017

Image by Jordan Schellinkhout.

Name: Nate Barnett and Nick Schwasman

Company: Drip Symphony

Show in 2017 Festival: Wedgwood on the Green

Role: Co-Directors, Performers

Past Festival Shows: Millennia, Damn Dirty Apes, Pay Up!

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

Nick SchwasmanWedgwood started as poetic memoir that Nick wrote in 2014. We mounted it in the 2015 Solow Festival as a live radio play. Now we’re collaborating with a variety of artists to create a fully visual show. The story deals with a group of young men who are discovering dark truths about their supposed masculinity as they approach the threshold of adulthood. We tell the story in and out of the round: the audience is seated in a circle of swivel chairs. A narrator sits in the middle, but all around is the world of Wedgwood. They choose what they do and do not see.

FringeArtsHow have your interests in or approach to art-making changed in the last year? 

Courtney Cooke and Devin Preston. Photo by Nate Barnett.

Nick Schwasman: I think the two of us are feeling like we are coming out of a part of our life where we were holding tight to our training and technique. We spent quite a few years admiring the complexities of artistic traditions, studying in discipline and reverence, the music of Leonard Bernstein, poems of WB Yeats, artists whose work have become sturdy pillars by now. I think lately, we’re less interested in the classic stuff, we’ve become obsessed with experimental techniques. For us, the clearest way forward to making new and better art is by bringing an almost scientific attitude towards its creation—testing new ideas rigorously, imagining future possibilities based on experience. It’s the artists that have done this whom we most admire, and how we intend to move forward.

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2017 Festival Spotlight: Free Fringe

Posted September 9th, 2017

Seeing groundbreaking performance art doesn’t have to break the bank. Check out these free or pay-what-you-want shows at this year’s Fringe Festival.

 

Borderlands @ Studio 34
Philadelphia Theatre of the Oppressed

“To survive the Borderlands you must live sin fronteras be a crossroads.” — Gloria Anzaldúa. Come break the fourth wall as Philadelphia Theatre of the Oppressed explores the personal journeys of immigration & homecoming from prison. Devised & performed by formerly incarcerated Philly women who have reentered society. More info and tickets here.

 

 

Monarch @ Fleisher Art Memorial
Christine Doidge, Amanda Holston, James Miller

Monarch is one woman’s retelling of the story of Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots. Fleisher Art Memorial’s beautiful sanctuary sets the stage for past to become present. Fill in the blanks of history (with an irreverent dose of fiction) as a centuries old rivalry comes to a head. Queens will rage. Crowns will fall. Heads will roll. More info and tickets here.

 

 

Perspectives @ The Galleries at Moore
AIM Academy Drama

“You look at me. What do you see? You don’t know who I am.” Young writers share their perspectives on body shaming, gender identity, anxiety, online personas, loss, and ADHD and invite the audience to join them as they confront preconceived ideas, assumptions, and judgments. More info and tickets here.

 

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Destruction, Renewal, and Creation: A Conversation with Tania Isaac

Posted April 24th, 2017

“I started to imagine all of these natural cycles of pressure and release that have created incredible phenomenon and the fact that natural forces woke in cycles of destruction, renewal and creation.”

Once called a “one-woman powerhouse of dance fusion,” Tania Isaac is bringing her fresh solo movement drama crazy beautiful to FringeArts for the first time. We got to have a quick conversation about her work and her process.

FringeArts: What made you think up the title crazy beautiful? Do you remember where you were?

Tania Isaac: I don’t remember where I was, but I had noticed one of those emoticon charts where you move the magnetic frame to the mood you’re in. I was trying to imagine creating a grid of moods using objects, then began to wonder why we spent so much time trying to be in the “right” mood all the time. I’m always plunging down a rabbit hole of questions about why everything exists as it does. I call it my eternal toddler. I started to be more curious about how anger and frustration and confusion and sadness became things we avoided and tried to fix rather than experience fully. Some time later I was in my kitchen watching my four-year-old old have a compete meltdown and was so envious for a moment that she got to feel all fully into it with every fiber of her being—and remembered that she laughed the same way.  Everything she was feeling she was fully experiencing viscerally. So while I’m not advocating adult tantrums, I wondered what happened to all of that sensation and power as we got older. And if it didn’t go away, what did we do with it when we learned to behave? Who decided what was appropriate and when and how it was best to express it? THEN I started thinking about volcanoes—which I’ve loved since I was twelve—and the pressure and nature of eruptions. I started to imagine all of these natural cycles of pressure and release that have created incredible phenomenon and the fact that natural forces woke in cycles of destruction, renewal and creation. Balance—of a kind? Could we do it? So I started to imagine what it might be like.

FringeArts: Can you describe the open notebook process you’re created?

Tania Isaac: The open notebook has been my way of sharing the questions I try to answer (that eternal toddler). The questions are usually about how we choose to respond to something within our society. I am curious about how others see the world and wanted to create a space we could step into that would allow us to be immersed in what we were thinking about and reading and how that might become translated into movement, action, imagination, and performance. I tried to create a space that could explain to my family what I did, how I did it, and why I insisted it was important. And it was about the space for exchange, expression, and conversation. I wanted to give the people interested in my work or simply curious and questioning about the world, a chance to play with this platform. I wanted an immersive world where ideas could float in space and on a paper and be available to everyone—where we could respond and could be archived. So the notebook is a room divided and created by hanging paper walls, with notes and ideas collected in rooms. It shows videos and photos and asks questions and invites you to write and record and respond. It’s a small maze and a place to indulge and sink into your thoughts.

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