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HPFS: A Commitment to Philadelphia

Posted February 25th, 2019

With the opening show in the new High Pressure Fire Service series kicking off this weekend, FringeArts Artistic Producers Zach Blackwood and Katy Dammers share what HPFS really stands for and why we’re pumped about the next few months of programming at FringeArts.

A HISTORY

HPFS philadelphia

Photo by Robby Virus

In 1903, he FringeArts building at the intersection of Columbus and Race Streets opened as the nation’s first High Pressure Fire Service system, its name carved on the east and west façades. Water was pumped from the Delaware River via a six-foot diameter pipe into the brick edifice and then funneled out to more than 900 fire hydrants from Girard Avenue to South Street. This innovative system allowed firefighters to shoot a two-inch stream of water 230 feet in the air and led to a significant decline in fire-related deaths and damages. With this reassurance, insurance companies subsequently dropped additional charges on tall buildings, and Philadelphia’s downtown area entered a renewed period of urban growth and architectural advancement. Though the pipeline from the Delaware has long since been capped and decommissioned, a spidering pathway of pipeworks still connects our building to a huge swath of the city: to cafés and community centers, taverns and libraries, and inevitably several cheesesteak spots.

A NEW PRESENTATION SERIES

With High Pressure Fire Service (HPFS), we are affirming an investment in artists living and working in Philadelphia. We believe there’s something special about this city—something tender and grumpy and people-powered. Over four months this spring, we are excited to present five new works and one expanded remount—pieces that exemplify the ways in which these artists are deepening and expanding their practices. Through residency support, commission funding, technical advising, programmatic counseling, and community engagement, each artist has approached this opportunity uniquely.

Suli Holum and the Institute of Disabilities at Temple University open High Pressure Fire Service with an expanded version of A Fierce Kind of Love, their multidisciplinary dramatization of the intellectual disability rights movement in Philadelphia, by incorporating new oral histories and contextual information in this multifaceted show that puts accessibility first. Following their Obie-Award winning theater-work Underground Railroad Game, Lighting Rod Special’s new piece The Appointment considers bodily autonomy and the navigation of reproductive rights in ways alternatively hilarious and sobering. The Berserkers are creating a work for audiences of all ages for the first time, employing their clown and physical-theater training to engage children and adults alike in Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House!. A Hard Time is the first Pig Iron Theatre Company production created by artists other than their artistic directors, with Jess Conda, Jenn Kidwell, and Mel Krodman taking the lead in a comedic cabaret that reveals the violence and absurdity of gender-based expectations. Team Sunshine Performance Corporation reflects on their commitment to long-form performance practice as they present the third iteration of their 24-year project The Sincerity Project.  Moor Mother employs a theater-based work for the first time, bringing her interdisciplinary practice in music, poetry, and performance to consider housing insecurity entitled Circuit City.

The breadth of the work in HPFS exemplifies something concrete and intangible about what we value: a bootstrapping sensibility, a rebellious empathy, and a fructifying density in the footprint. In the last ten years, our city has emerged as a particularly generative environment as young artists are drawn by training opportunities at our many universities and newer artistic programs like Pig Iron Theatre Company’s graduate program and Headlong Performance Institute. Upon graduation we have seen artists continually commit to living in Philadelphia—drawn equally by its frontiers and its gritty spirit. We hope that this program will provide a valuable opportunity not only to survey the wide perspectives of this inaugural group of artists, but to also consider the state of the Philadelphia arts ecosystem at large.

Through conversations and companion programming for each presentation we will also consider the relationship between these artists, their work, and the city in collaboration with organizations including the Free Library of Philadelphia, Women’s Medical Fund, Puentes de Salud, and Smith Memorial Playground among others. These works and artists are poised to tour and develop beyond the city limits, embracing the nimble and flexible nature of the work created at FringeArts and grounded in the DIY-ethos that rings in the air here specifically.

As much as High Pressure Fire Service is a platform for Philadelphia artists to stretch themselves, it is also a call for us to challenge ourselves and our institution. We are committed to doubling down on our dedication to local artists, investing in relationship-building across the many communities of our city, and working to make FringeArts more accessible and welcoming. This first year is just the beginning, and we look forward to the ways this festival will grow and change to include an even broader range of artists and collaborations in the future.

Zach Blackwood and Katy Dammers
Artistic Producers at FringeArts

Featured Photo by Robin Barnes

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

Posted February 13th, 2019
by Raina Searles, Marketing Manager

Opening this March, High Pressure Fire Service (or more colloquially, HPFS, pronounced “hip-fizz”) brings an incredible lineup of Philadelphia artists to the FringeArts stage for a series dedicated to highlighting the creativity and innovation that runs rampant in our city. The artists include an exhilarating mix of familiar and new faces to the FringeArts stage, from longtime collaborator Pig Iron Theatre Company’s newest work to prolific poet and noise musician Moor Mother’s first play. Some performers even appear in multiple HPFS shows. To get you ready for this new series, we’re breaking down Who’s Who in High Pressure Fire Service…part one.

Kicking off High Pressure Fire Service, is A Fierce Kind of Love written by Suli Holum, directed by David Bradley, and produced by the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University.

Wandering Alice, 2008

Many people may recognize the name Suli Holum as a staple in the Philadelphia arts community. Holum is one of the co-founders of Pig Iron Theatre Company, an award-winning director, performer, choreographer and playwright, and recently, Mrs. Capulet in the Wilma Theater’s production of Romeo and Juliet. She has been involved with numerous productions that have crossed Fringe’s stage, including Wandering Alice, written and co-directed with Nichole Canuso Dance Company and presented in the 2008 Curated Fringe Festival, and Cafeteria by Pig Iron Theatre Company in the 2003 Curated Fringe Festival, which earned her a Barrymore Award in choreography.

David Bradley is a director, producer and teaching artist who work has touched a variety of stages and collaborations across Philly. Bradley is the Founding Director of LiveConnections, in partnership with World Cafe Live, has performed in over 30 productions at People’s Light, is the Artistic Director of Living News at the National Constitution Center, has collaborated with Philadelphia Young Playwrights, and has traveled the world co-creating theater that addresses public health and social issues with Outside the Wire.

Bradley and Holum teamed up with Temple University College of Education’s Institute on Disabilities, which addresses disability as a valued aspect of diversity throughout civic life. In addition to producing the first iteration of this work in 2016 and its expanded remount here at FringeArts, the Institute is committed to innovation in pre-professional training, community training and technical assistance, research and information dissemination.

Other familiar faces in the A Fierce Kind of Love cast include Erin McNulty, most recently on the

FringeArts stage in Jerome Bel’s GALA in 2016 and 2018, as well as Cathy Simpson, a prolific and long-time Philly actress who has performed on a plethora of stages (InterAct, Wilma, and the Arden, to name a few) and was recently seen in the 2018 Independent Fringe Festival show, Day of Absence. Read bios for the full cast of A Fierce Kind of Love on the event page.

The second show in the HPFS lineup is The Appointment by Lightning Rod Special. No stranger to the FringeArts stage, Lightning Rod Special is an experimental performance company dedicated to exploring complex questions through an ensemble creation process and a lead artist for each show. Lightning Rod Special premiered their Obie Award-winning production Underground Railroad Game in Philadelphia at FringeArts in 2015, and they also performed their co-production with Strange Attractor Theatre Company Sans Everything here in 2017. They got their start, however, producing in the Independent Fringe Festival: Hackles in 2012 and Go Long Big Softie in 2013.

Sans Everything, 2017, Photo by Johanna Austin

For The Appointment (some may have seen the early draft performance titled Unformed Consent), Lightning Rod Special has assembled a stellar cast of Philly artists, and this new work is led by Alice Yorke. Yorke is a Co-Director of Lightning Rod Special, with whom she created and performed in Hackles, Let the Dog See the Rabbit, and Sans Everything. She has also collaborated on works with Pig Iron Theatre Company, InterAct Theatre, Theatre Exile, the Bearded Ladies Cabaret, Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret, and the Fringe favorite band Red 40 and the Last Groovement. Yorke also graduated from the Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training.

In April, we see the launch of the next HPFS show, Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House! by The Berserker Residents. Founded in 2007, The Berserker Residents are an ensemble dedicated to creating original works of alternative comedy with a focus on parody, absurdism, and subverting theatrical conventions. The Berserker Residents were last seen on the FringeArts stage in their March 2017 production of It’s So Learning, and they collaborated with the University of the Arts to create These Terrible Things as a 2017 Independent Fringe Festival show.

It’s So Learning, 2017, Photo by Kate Raines

They have also produced the works The Jersey Devil, The Giant Squid, The Annihilation Point, and The Post Show as part of Independent Fringe Festivals past. The imaginative co-creators—Justin Jain, David Johnson, and Bradley K. Wrenn—have brought their work to a variety of other Philadelphia stages (The Annenberg Center, Theatre Horizon, White Pines Productions, and more) as well as national and international stages like Ars Nova NYC, The San Francisco Mime Troupe, and The Assembly in Edinburgh, Scotland as part of the Edinburgh Fringe.

Individually, you may recognize these performers from their work all over the city. Justin Jain is a member of the Wilma Theatre HotHouse, has been a part of the Shakespeare in Clark Park education team, and is a teaching artist for Philadelphia Young Playwrights, Arden Theatre Company, the University of the Arts, and People’s Light, in addition to performing at a number of regional theaters. David Johnson has performed with Theatre Exile, Enchantment Theatre, Mum Puppet Theatre, People’s Light, Commonwealth Classic Theatre, Theatre Horizon, and the Wilma Theatre, as well as the Baltimore Theatre Project and The Blue Ridge Theatre Festival. Bradley Wrenn has performed with Shakespeare in Clark Park, Lantern Theatre, Enchantment Theatre Company, BRAT Productions, and Mauckingbird Theatre Company, and is an accomplished puppeteer, “wiggling the dollies” for numerous Mum Puppet Theatre productions including the Barrymore nominated ensemble of Animal Farm. He also co-created the acclaimed 2013 Curated Fringe Festival work The Ballad of Joe Hill with Adrienne Mackey.

We’re excited for such a talented cohort of creators and performers to be joining us at FringeArts this March and April. Click below for more information on each show, and stay tuned for our “Who’s Who in High Pressure Fire Service, part two” blog post, coming soon!

A Fierce Kind of Love
Suli Holum, David Bradley, Institute on Disabilities, Temple University
March 1–3, 2019

The Appointment
Lightning Rod Special
March 20–31

Broccoli, Roosevelt and Mr. House!
The Berserker Residents
April 12–14

HPFS Subscriptions:
$150 Six-Show Package / $120 for members
15% off tickets to 3-5 performances / 30% off for members

Single Tickets:
$31 general / $21.70 members
$15 students and 25-and-under
$2 FringeACCESS members

A Watery, Sinking Future: Interview with Mary Mattingly, creator of WetLand

Posted July 31st, 2014
WetLand. Image by Mary Mattingly.

WetLand. Image by Mary Mattingly.

If you’ve ever wished you could live at the Fringe Festival, you should meet Mary Mattingly. The Presented Fringe artist will live on WetLand, a boat-based ecosystem moored on the Delaware River, for the entirety of the Festival. WetLand captures the uncertainties of city-based living in an age of global warming, and proposes a hopeful alternative. In addition to housing Mary and other artists, WetLand will also host concerts, workshops, skill shares, and a few performances by Neighborhood Fringe artists. WetLand will be free and open daily Aug 15–Sept 21.

FringeArts: Why is the title WetLand?

Mary Mattingly: I’m concerned about the slow erasure of wetlands around the world, as they are important ecosystems that breed aquatic and terrestrial life, protect the mainland from storms, and naturally clean the air and waterways. They are often drained for large building projects and result in areas that flood, destructing homes and infrastructure in a loss that is for some unrecoverable. The largest loss is ecosystem diversity, which has tremendous reverberating effects throughout the natural world, and in the end makes the planet a worse place for us all to live.

I wanted to bring more attention to the necessity of wetlands, and pair it with a sinking house to describe causation through a symbolic artwork. I was also thinking about the combination in a very literal way: wet and land, to describe a watery, sinking future.

FringeArts: What’s the process of creation in such a work?

Mary Mattingly: In this piece I began considering the natural zone between the river and urban space. In many cities, it’s a space that is either overlooked or that undergoes a process of quick development. It’s a place where we must consider nature, because we are so close to it and dependent on it. Reconnecting the water with a row house puts many of us in the place of the inhabitant.

I was spending a lot of time thinking about how we live in a social system that allows us an illusion of disconnect from nature. We expect our food to be in the grocery store, we are accustomed to clean water coming from the tap, but those are expectations most of the world doesn’t have, and they are things that we can’t always be dependent on. Marrying nature to the city directly describes these food, water, and energy systems we depend on.

FringeArts: How do habitat, water, and art connect for you?

Mary Mattingly: These things are all necessities for me, and I need one as much as the other. As artists we often work with our own needs, and sometimes those are universal. Water has always been a particular concern for me. I grew up in an area that continually flooded, and where the drinking water contained dangerously high levels of agricultural runoff, having long-term effects on the area. I watched bottled water become a popular commodity, and learned about Bechtel and the World Bank’s privatization of water in Bolivia, which was eventually reversed through long protests.

FringeArts: Why is it important to live on WetLand?

Mary Mattingly: Living on WetLand is an essential part of an experiment that needs to be played out in real time. Like a form of performance art, it’s an exploration through endurance, and we also keep the living systems running. It’s an act of creating an ecosystem from which three people will eat, drink, shower, work, sleep, learn, and share.

FringeArts: How do you see this relationship between the solitary artist and the need to construct a community?

Mary Mattingly: Like many people, I thrive on both solitude and solidarity. I believe we need to make more time and physical spaces to be together, to strengthen the ties we have found in the virtual space and regain those that have been lost because of those separations. We need to make a better world to live in, and when we are confined to inside spaces it’s easy to forget about the larger world around us, and how something we do here affects someone across the world.

FringeArts: Why the clearly human-made aesthetic of WetLand?

Mary Mattingly: It’s important for me to distinguish this work from doing something in a “back to land” context. Many times people leave cities because they want to be closer to land, and because they can. But many people cannot. Leaving the city in most cases is a luxury that allows for a different perspective. I want to have more chances for some of that perspective here in our cities, and bringing nature and natural living systems to a city’s periphery is a way I’ve thought to do that.

Living in a city is such an asset. There are always people around we can turn to, learn from, and work with. I believe that our urban centers will need to be the future sites that produce our daily necessities (especially food, energy, and water) and we need to strengthen citywide projects that focus on that production, on small scales with our neighbors, and on larger scales with our entire city. When we are solely dependent on a large supply chains for our daily needs, then we are beholden to it and it’s virtually impossible to see the larger picture of how these systems exploit the environment and human labor.

Thank you, Mary.

WetLand event information available here. Events are free, but may require an RSVP. Tickets and more information about Fringe Festival shows here.

WetLand
Independence Seaport Museum Pier
211 S Columbus Boulevard (at Dock Street)
Aug 15–Sept 21, ongoing daily 10am–5pm

Notes on “Notes on the Emptying of a City”: An Interview with Ashley Hunt

Posted September 10th, 2012

You may have noticed that we’ve been spreading our wings a bit, and wrapping them around visual and performance art more than ever before. At the 2012 Live Arts Festival, Los Angeles-based artist, Ashley Hunt, will perform Notes on the Emptying of a City for one evening only, September 11th at 7:00 pm (tomorrow!) at the Broad Street Ministry. And it’s a free event. After the jump, Theresa Rose, our visual arts program director, talks to Ashley Hunt about the project.

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My Life in [Performance] Art

Posted March 22nd, 2012

Theater artist Domenick Scudera begins a regular column about his experiences in the performing arts.

The author and his garb.

Performance art is easy. You get onstage, share comic yet painful childhood memories, strip naked, smear chocolate on your body, and you are done. If you want, you can throw in a few innovations. Tell about your painful teen years wearing nothing more than communion wafers on your nipples while sitting in gynecological stirrups strapped to a bobsled dipped in a vat of urine. Anyone can do it. Who are performance artists anyway? Out-of-work actors doing cheap marketing stunts by being provocative, right?

That is what I used to think. I have since discovered that none of these perceptions are true. Performance art is not so simple, and good performance artists are not failed performers vying for attention. They take the “Art” part of performance art seriously. Effective performance artists weave their life experiences into something memorable and meaningful. Smeared chocolate represents layers of difficulty. Communion wafers are a metaphor for a confused spirituality. Performance artists place their othered lives front-and-center in creative, poetic ways. The performances may be uncomfortable and weird, but they are noble. There is a larger purpose to “exposing” yourself and sharing your differences.

I see the nobility and complexity in performance art because I have actually tried to do it myself. It is not easy. How do you go about selecting and editing parts of your life? In everyday life, people think whatever they want about you. In performance art, you construct your own identity and decide what you want people to think about you. This is a much more daunting task than it appears to be.

One Philly Fringe season, I decided to throw my hat into the ring and create my own performance piece. I figured I was secure and comfortable enough in my own skin to pull it off. But what was it going to be about? Was my life all that interesting? What kind of formula would I follow? My brand of performance art probably would not include nudity or urine, so what was I going to do?

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