Posts Tagged ‘Groundswell Players’

Avant-Garde Men’s Therapy with Groundswell Players’ “Go Long Big Softie”

Posted September 6th, 2013

img_3342Flourishing from its foundations in long-form improv comedy, experimental theater group Groundswell Players’s brand of ingenious theater has come into its own in the Fringe Festival. Starting as a group of friends who met while studying at Haverford College, founding members Alison King, Jack Meaney, Jesse Paulsen and Scott Sheppard have swooped to the forefront of Philadelphia DIY theater scene, provoking outrageous and refreshingly self-aware conversation surrounding of a host of topics, historical and philosophical. They have responsible for such Festival favorites including How to Solve a Bear, The Speed of Surprise, Hackles, and 2013 Jumpstart Showcase’s The Living History Project. Groundswell Players emphasize collaborative artistic outlook and recently bulked up their performative arsenal by collaborating with fellow members of the inaugural class of The Pig Iron School, including Fringe Lab Fellow Mason Rosenthal (director, Hackles).

For the 2013 Fringe Festival, they’re once again armed with concepts as provocative and incisive as ever with Go Long Big Softie, a raw, clownish dive into the complex minefield of contemporary masculinity. For more insight, FringeArts recently caught up with artistic director Scott Sheppard.

“We take  a ‘what have you been reading lately’ approach.” Scott explained to me as  he broke down his inspiration. Groundswell  takes it upon themselves to stress relevancy in their artistic efforts by extracting from everyday material; they search for trends. As theater artists well immersed in the works of their community of peers, what really turned Groundswell’s attention towards theatrical dynamics of contemporary masculinity, was the overarching themes of contemporary femininity in two previous Fringe Festival shows, BANG! and Untitled Feminist Show.

“Charlotte Ford (BANG!) and Young Jean Lee (Untitled Feminist Show) dealt with feminine issues: fluidity of gender and sexuality identity and the liberation of the female body.  We were inspired, and that’s when we starting looking at the changing nature of male identity . . . to explore that  fluidity.”

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If You Don’t Know Now You Know: Mini Artist Profiles at Philly Post

Posted September 3rd, 2013

sobelle-the-object-lesson-2Philadelphia magazine’s Victor Fiorillo runs down 10 notable FringeArts performers worth checking out this year.

It’s a pretty good quick guide to some awesome shows this year, actually: Martha Stuckey of Pay Up, Gunnar Montana of Basement, McKenzie Maula of A Doll’s House, James Michael Baker of Ballad of Joe Hill, Geoff Sobelle of The Object Lesson, Jess Conda of Eternal Glamnation and Pay Up, Scott Sheppard of Go Long Big Softie, Mary Tuomanen of St. Joan, Betrayed, Kevin Glaccum of Dutch Masters, and Brian Sanders of Hush Now Sweet High Heels and Oak.

If you’re looking for somebody to pick some especially adventurous shows for you, you couldn’t do much better than Victor’s list.

–Nicholas Gilewicz

Photo of Geoff Sobelle by Lars Jan.

Jumpstart, A Recap of our Artist Interviews

Posted May 13th, 2013

Jumpstart, a showcase that identifies new and emerging talent, rocked the Painted Bride on Monday and Tuesday nights. We at FringeArts Blog had the pleasure of interviewing each of the lead artists who created and are performing short works. Here’s a quick run down of the artists and shows with some choice quotes and links to the full interviews.

Alyesha Wise. Photo: SP Photography.

Photo: SP Photography.

A Denzel Theory by Ms. Wise

Alyesha Wise: A Denzel Theory is named after my kid brother, Denzel. Growing up in my hometown didn’t necessarily pave an easy road to success. Denzel made it look quite the opposite, remaining focused, engaging in sports and academics, then getting a full scholarship to college. This piece is about how our old city eventually swayed him in the opposite direction. This piece is about how this happens to many youth in environments like ours. This poem is a cry. And it’s a theory. Not sure when it came to me; but it’s one of the fastest poems I’ve ever written. READ THE WHOLE INTERVIEW

Higher Art by Seth Lapore

Seth Lapore: I started [doing one-man shows] in college. I like being all the characters in a play that I’ve developed, being able to just switch it up all of a sudden and be someone else fully. I enjoy being in a studio and just talking something out, getting to know a character and letting them lead the lines and then furiously writing them down. READ THE WHOLE INTERVIEW

Hello Etna Mounting!

Mounting, Etna by Jenna Horton

Jenna Horton: The title is intentionally multivalent, as is a lot of the poetry in the show. For starters, there’s the physical action of mounting, as in mounting Etna as if she were a horse—your horse—or a person—your person [as in belonging to you]. Or you could be mounting her on your wall like you would a painting. Or maybe she’s doing that to you. Mind you, I’m also mounting the show of Etna. Not to mention, there’s a volcano on the east coast of Sicily named Mount Etna that’s very active and provides for the fertile soils surrounding the area. My parents also live in Etna, New Hampshire; but that’s more of a coincidence. READ THE WHOLE INTERVIEW

Scott and JennThe Living History Project by the Groundswell Players

Scott Sheppard: On one level, the piece is a story about a failed pedagogy that glorifies reenactment as a way of understanding historical events more intimately. On another level the piece is about two performers trying to process their relationship to history, to race, to acting, and to each other. One question I’ve been asking myself is, “aren’t we engaged in the very same project of re-living history that our piece seeks to critique?” I think so, and that puts us in the driver’s seat to say something powerful. READ THE WHOLE INTERVIEW

THe name of this artists is Marina Libel. Photo: Joshua Simpson.

Photo: Joshua Simpson.

The Supervisors by Marina Libel

Marina Libel: In The Supervisors, we had to embody the machine we’re in—the helicopter—and actually be in it. And express who the characters are and how they function as people. We needed both movement and text to do that, there is no other way. It often goes like that for me. I don’t necessarily start out saying I have to have gesture, dialogue, and choreography but I usually end up with some combination of the three. If you think of a gesture as a word or of a dialogue as a movement phrase, the performance can open up new possibilities and very often reveal something very real about human beings that would never be revealed in an ordinary interaction. READ THE WHOLE INTERVIEW


Photo by David Brick.

Photo by David Brick.

Rooster and Snowball by Chelsea Murphy and Magda San Millan

Chelsea Murphy: It’s a great collage of many forms that we’ve both been exposed to. There’s modern dance in there, and the critique of modern dance. We both went to the American Dance Festival this past summer and HATED it. But that’s another conversation. There is clowning and more performance presence stuff, which is important to us—the level of awareness we bring to the performance of each moment, and playing with that level of energy.READ THE WHOLE INTERVIEW

Monday May 13 + Tuesday May 14 at 7pm
Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
$18 / $12 Students + 25 and under

Scott Sheppard’s Living History

Posted April 26th, 2013

“I’m mostly trying to get out of my head and into a really, really stupid place.”

History comes alive!

History comes alive!

On May 13 and 14, FringeArts presents our second annual Jumpstart, a showcase designed to identify new and emerging talent. 2013 will feature six artists and companies performing short works, and we here at FringeArts Blog thought we’d catch up with them. So we turn now to Scott Sheppard, the artistic director of The Groundswell Players and a (soon graduating) student at the Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training. He will be performing his new collaborative work The Living History Project. Not new to Jumpstart, he performed in the 2012 showcase with The Brothers Beffa in Lessons for the Lobotomized.

The Living History Project is an autobiographical theater work about Scott’s experiences growing up in a hermetic, rural Pennsylvania town. The piece explores the absurdity of a backwards pedagogy that re-imagines a reenactment of the Civil War as a means to revitalize student body indifference. It co-stars co-creator Jenn Kidwell, and was developed in part with colleagues at the Pig Iron school.

FringeArts: Why is your show title The Living History Project? What inspired the initial creation of this work?

Scott Sheppard: Now that I re-read it, I think the title has the burden of sounding a little didactic at first, but ultimately, I think that’s a great starting place for this piece. The title is at once tongue-and-cheek and also really earnest. That’s the tightrope we are trying to walk throughout the performance—the moment the audience begins to laugh and feel secure with a thesis, a tone, and a set of themes, is the moment before we shove them into a new place with a new set of rules. On one level, the piece is a story about a failed pedagogy that glorifies reenactment as a way of understanding historical events more intimately. On another level the piece is about two performers trying to process their relationship to history, to race, to acting, and to each other. One question I’ve been asking myself is, “aren’t we engaged in the very same project of re-living history that our piece seeks to critique?” I think so, and that puts us in the driver’s seat to say something powerful.

The Living History Project has been bubbling inside of me for a while because it relates to an experience I had as a fifth grade Middle School student. As with most autobiographical sources of inspiration, this story has evolved with the storyteller. I’ve written about this experience before, but when I thought about turning it into a performance, it made perfect sense, because the story is about performance.

FringeArts: Where did you grow up?

Scott Sheppard: I grew up in Hanover, Pennsylvania, snack food capital of the world! Utz, Snyders, Wege, Revonah and even the company that makes a lot of the shitty pretzels in various trail mixes. It was the kind of small Pennsylvania town that John Updike wrote about a lot, and like him, my romanticism and criticism for the place are densely intertwined.  I had to put in a lot of work to see my first real concert (Goo Goo Dolls at Hershey Park), I had to wade through a lot of close-minded religions, and the homogeneity of the culture was suffocating, but I became a master of making my own meaning and making my own fun. I found great joy in simple pleasures. My friends and I drove through cornfields in an old gutted van, I jumped off road bridges into lakes, we played basketball in driveways late into the nights. Alternately, I watched strip malls desecrate the landscape and sap patronage from the few restaurants, bars, and cafes that still had idiosyncrasy and character. I watched gay kids get mocked in locker rooms and heard church leaders clarify the evils of abortion on Sunday morning. Ultimately, I learned to love a community that I rarely saw eye to eye with. It’s not a place I like to be, but it is still a place I like going back to.

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“Hackles” Rising

Posted August 15th, 2012

Festival Blog contributor Richard Bon lives in Northern Liberties with his wife and daughter. He posts original flash fiction of his own or by a guest writer every other Monday on his blog, liminalfiction.com.

In the Fishtown flat of Nick Gillette, the Groundswell Players are devising their 2012 Philly Fringe production, Hackles. Nick sits in the center of his large living room, emerged in an intense dramatic situation with Martha Stuckey and Alice Yorke while Scott Sheppard and director Mason Rosenthal flank me as the audience. Mid-scene, Mason directs Nick to “tell us a story,” and Nick responds in stride with an impromptu tale chock full of fictional memories convincing enough to have happened in real life. When Mason tells Nick to “go deeper,” Nick reveals a crushing secret from his and Martha’s characters’ shared pasts, the ad hoc revelation as eloquent as if he’d memorized the lines from a script.

As they craft this fully devised play, collaborators/actors Scott, Nick, Martha, and Alice along with director Mason reexamine the traditional ghost story. Comparing Hackles to earlier Groundswell performances, Scott says their new show will be more “finely orchestrated” and less “reliant on spontaneity.” He also says they aim to “manipulate what’s behind the suspense” surrounding scrutiny of the supernatural, with Martha adding that “incongruities will be highlighted between the fact of death and people’s enjoyment of ghost stories.”

The living world, generally treated in genre fiction as more stable than the dead world, contains its share of believers in visitations by lost friends, relatives, or anonymous entities from the other side. “Ghosts are often thought to haunt people in certain ways,” Scott tells me. “We’re asking: what does that curiosity do if redirected?”

After the jump: inspiration from pop culture, children as ghost hunters, and the physical representation of death.

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Jumpstart Profiles: Meet Justin Rose Of The Brothers Beffa

Posted May 21st, 2012

Ladies and gentlemen, The Brothers Beffa! Photo by Martha Stuckley.

This spring (May 31–June 2), at the Live Arts Studio, we are launching our new performing arts program, Jumpstart, which showcases the work of six emerging artists from the region. The Brothers Beffa, a clown-based theatrical troupe, brings their performance of Lessons for the Lobotomized. Inspired by the words of Argentine fiction writer Julio Cortazar, Lessons follows the story of Phineaus Gage, who survived a large iron rod being driven completely through his head, as he is re-acclimated to society by a pedantic, abusive psychologist and his Pavlovian methods.

The piece is created and performed by Justin Rose, a former cofounder and artistic director of the Montana-based theater company The Candidatos, and Scott Sheppard, who is the artistic director of the Philly-based experimental theater company, The Groundswell Players. Both are currently students at the Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training. We caught up with Justin to get some info on the show and his work.

Live Arts: Why is your show title Lessons for the Lobotomized?

Justin Rose: At the time this piece was first conceived, I was living in Missoula, Montana and co-running a theater company called The Candidatos.  We were tasked with creating material for two very different festivals: The Sweet Pea Festival in Bozeman, Montana, where we‘d be performing on the children’s stage, and the Lincoln Center Outdoor Festival in New York, where we’d be performing between dance numbers by the Streb Dance Company. We wanted to create one piece that was capable of satisfying both venues. A friend had given me a book of short stories by Julio Cortazar, the great Argentinean writer, and I fell in love with the “Instruction Manual” section. The tone of these stories was great–weird and absurdist and rich with possibility! So my first thought was, what if someone tried to follow these absolutely absurd instructions? As we proceeded to explore the stories on their feet we tossed the idea of behaviorism in—Pavlov’s dog’s positive reinforcement for the task performed well, negative for failure. The final piece to come into play was the story of Phineaus Gage, the railroad worker who survived a steel spike exploding through his head. Gage was effectively lobotomized by the spike, thus . . . Lessons for the Lobotomized.

LA: Where did each of grow up and what was growing up there like?

JR: I grew up in Ankeny, Iowa, which I guess you could call a suburb of Des Moines now, but when I lived there, there were six miles of cornfield separating the two. Now it’s just like any other Midwest suburban sprawling city full of box stores. Growing up, though, it was quaint. I have fond memories of Iowa. Now, it’s kind of a scary place.

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