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The Fringe Hit Experience (And Now What?): An Interview With Terry Brennan About 2011’s Heavy Metal Dance Fag

Posted April 3rd, 2012

Janice Rowland and Terry Brennan in Heavy.

In every Philly Fringe a few shows capture the festival buzz, and take off in popularity, audiences, and critical attention. In the 2011 Philly Fringe, Heavy Metal Dance Fag by Tribe of Fools definitely caught that buzz, establishing itself as a festival hit that nearly all Fringe goers knew about. It became the default show to see if you were going to see a Fringe show, and got a long glowing review from The Philadelphia Inquirer and a parade of good press from just about every media outlet. We wanted to find out how being the center of Fringe attention felt, what Tribe of Fools did to make it happen, and how, and if, the company has been able to use their Fringe success as something more than a one-off. We caught up with Tribe of Fools cofounder, and Heavy Metal Dance Fag co-creator and performer, Terry Brennan.

Live Arts: Did all the pieces just kind of come together for Heavy Metal Dance Fag, or did the buzz and the attention take you by surprise?

Terry Brennan: I can’t really speak for the rest of the cast, but the buzz and attention took me by surprise. We were hoping for some good buzz and word of mouth, we were promoting the show everywhere we could, and we tried to get as many reviewers and media folks in as we could. But Tribe of Fools has been creating shows since 2003 and every year we hope that lots of people come to see our shows and while recently we’ve been getting larger audiences, there were many times in the past when we thought we had a knock-out only to discover that the show just wasn’t received as well as we’d hoped it would be. So, I was psychologically prepared for Heavy Metal Dance Fag to be received tepidly as well. After a bunch of good reviews the first weekend, the biggest being Howie Shapiro’s glowing review in the Inquirer, I was floored. I didn’t really know how to react.

LA: Were you prepared for the attention, and did it alter the show in anyway—either as a performer or a producer? 

TB: Well, as a performer the only thing that really affected me was occasionally there would be people in the audience that I saw who intimidated me. During the show I have six sections of a eulogy for [the main character] Timmy’s father that I give. If I didn’t hit my light correctly, which was rare since it was a single spotlight, I could see people in the first row. One night I saw that Frank X was sitting in the front row and I almost went up on my lines. But usually I just tried to do the show, not think about the buzz or who might be in the audience, and if I did that it didn’t really affect the show too much.
As a producer, it altered a lot of stuff. Mostly ticket stuff and infrastructure stuff: boring stuff. But it really changed the way we deal with audience members because so many different types of people came to see our work. We usually just get Fringy young adults and a few older theater-goers who are looking for something weird and different. But Heavy Metal Dance Fag brought in everybody: young, old, theatre-types, non-theatre-types, LGBT, old-school South Philly—everybody.

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