Posts Tagged ‘Theater’

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.

International Fringe 2018: A Welcome to Artists from Around the World

Posted September 2nd, 2018

The United States government may be pursuing an isolationist policy but the Philadelphia Fringe is doing the opposite: opening its doors not only to the most creative American performers and performances but also to the best and most creative theater artists and their productions from around the world—overcoming the ancient fear of the symbolic Tower of Babel with people not understanding each other.

To show the worldwide scope of the 22nd Philadelphia Fringe Festival, we offer this spotlight on performers from abroad and productions by American artists that present a global perspective.

Theater writer Henrik Eger, editor of Drama Around the Globe and contributor to Phindie and Broad Street Review, among other publications, has lived in six countries on three continents and has visited Africa and Australia as well. He bids everyone a hearty WELCOME to the City of Brotherly Love—this year in 18 different languages: Arabic, Celtic, Chinese, English, Esperanto, Estonian, Farsi, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Irish, Italian, Latin, Polish, Romanian, and Spanish.

We start this year’s overview with a special welcome to two programs featuring a wide range of global creators:


  1. le super grandBienvenue & welcome to Montreal-based choreographer Sylvain Émard and Le Super Grand ContinentalLe Grand Continental wowed audiences during its run at the 2012 Fringe Festival and has garnered enthusiastic response across the world. Fully realizing a blissful marriage between the pure delight of line dancing and the fluidity and expressiveness of contemporary dance, the celebratory event enlists hundreds of local people to perform its synchronized choreography in large-scale public performances. The world’s most infectious performance event returns to the front steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in an even larger spectacle of dance.

More info and tickets here

  1. Bonvenon, willkommen, bienvenido, witamy, bienvenue & welcome to Do You Want A Cookie? from The Bearded Ladies Cabaret—a world premiere with an international cast. Do You Want A Cookie? serves up a delicious romp through cabaret history, with an international cast of artists performing a live revue of cabaret from the Chat Noir to Weimar nightlife to 21st-century drag. The all-star cast comes draws from around the world, including Bridge Markland (Berlin), Malgorzata Kasprzycka (Paris/Warsaw), Dieter Rita Scholl (Berlin), and Tareke Ortiz (Mexico City).

More info and tickets here


  1. ear whispered

    As Far As My Fingertips Take Me. Photo by

    وسهلا اهلا (ahlaan wasahlan) & bienvenu. Welcome to Tania El Khoury who lives in Lebanon and the UK with her multifaceted program ear-whispered. Little is known about Palestinian refugee camps and their communities. El Khoury presents her Fringe work in five parts through interactive performances and installations at Bryn Mawr College:

    1. Gardens Speak, an interactive sound installation containing the oral histories of ten ordinary people who were buried in Syrian gardens. (Bryn Mawr College.) Read more.
    2. Camp Pause, a video installation that tells the stories of four residents of the Rashidieh Refugee Camp on the coast of Lebanon. (Bryn Mawr College.) Read more.
    3. As Far As My Fingertips Take Me, an encounter through a gallery wall between a single audience member and a refugee. (Old City & Bryn Mawr College.) Read more.  
    4. Stories of Refuge, an immersive video installation that invites audiences to lay down on metal bunk beds and watch videos shot by Syrian asylum seekers in Munich, Germany. (Old City.) Read more.
    5. Tell Me What I Can Do, a newly commissioned work featuring letters that audiences have written in response to Gardens Speak. (Bryn Mawr College.) Read more.

More info and tickets here

  1. Bienvenido & welcome to the bilingual (Spanish & English) cast of La Fábrica performing Gustave Ott’s Passport. Lost in a foreign country, Eugenia is detained and thrown into a vicious maelstrom of miscommunication. This poetic and immersive Kafkaesque thriller delves into the question of immigration—exposing the mechanics of language and power. Some performances will be presented in English, some in Spanish, and some will be decided at the toss of a coin.

More info and tickets here

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Is Your Coke And Grass Worn Out From Traveling?

Posted September 17th, 2015

grassandcokeFolks have gotten obsessed with Narcos lately–and hey, did you know that Pride of Philadelphia (and, ok, Bogota too) Thaddeus Phillips has a small part? He has a bigger one in ALIAS ELLIS MACKENZIE, up now through September 19th.

Anyway, I came across an article on AdWeek last night about folks at the The World’s Best Ever, who pulled together unbelievably ridiculous–and real–ads marketing cocaine paraphernalia.

What world could have created such beautiful ads? What was that world like? Read Thaddeus’s interview with John Timpane at the Inquirer over here. Then come see the ALIAS ELLIS MACKENZIE. It’s here all week. Tickets here.

Big Voices: Suite n˚2, Saul Williams

Posted September 15th, 2015

encyclop--diedelaparolecbeaborgers_small-1024x683Since working here, one way I’ve come to think about the Fringe Festival is as an assembly of voices, juxtaposed and recombining in different ways to different ends for each of us who goes to the shows. And tonight, we have some strong voices coming through the Festival.

First, Suite n˚2 opens tonight at 7:00 pm at Christ Church Neighborhood House for shows tonight and tomorrow. Found words juxtaposed as choral, it’s among the more innovative compositions that FringeArts has brought through.

Then late night: freaking SAUL WILLIAMS with Nguyen Smith, and then King Britt spins until closing time. Starts at 9 pm. See you at both? Yes, I will.

“Underground Railroad Game” on Radio Times Today!

Posted September 8th, 2015

Underground RR Game DypticheditedshirtTop of the morning to you! Underground Railroad Game has been in the works for a while, and premiered in its full glory here at the 2015 Fringe Festival. It’s also a “huge hit,” and wildly interesting, according to just about everybody.

Fresh off their audio diaries for WHYY’s Morning Edition, Jenn Kidwell and Scott Sheppard are slated to talk Underground Railroad Game on Radio Times today, live, in hour 2 (11:00 am). If you miss it, audio usually goes up in the afternoon. But you won’t miss it, right? Right.

Jo Strømgren on “The Doll’s House”

Posted September 4th, 2015

StromgrenFor9-4A while back, Festival information manager extraordinaire Josh McIlvain caught up with Jo Strømgren about A Doll’s House, which opens tonight. Advance tickets for tonight and tomorrow afternoon are sold out, but tix for Saturday night and Sunday afternoon are still available. And hey, it’s at our pretty new(ish) home! Catch up with Jo below, about what it means to interpret and interpolate Ibsen today.

Why did you feel compelled to do a version of A Doll’s House? And now that you’re in it, what has emerged as the most compelling aspect of doing it?
A Doll’s House is probably the most frequently performed play in history, which means that audiences around may be familiar with the story or at least the theme. Common references are always good for directors as it allows them take the audience on off-piste hikes without necessarily causing confusion. In other words, a classic can often give more artistic freedom than new plays.

How are you treating the script? And what does this allow you to do?
A classic text, like Ibsen, can easily become archaic if one has to much respect for the words. By not treating it as literature but as spoken dialogue, I have of course made major changes. Nevertheless, I feel this production is far more true to the original text than many other versions of the play. I have not made major cuts, nor have I chosen to focus on certain scenes to pursue statements or interpretations. It’s Ibsen to the core, and he is not a hostage for my own personal ambitions and ideas. I hope the balance between respect and disrespect will be appreciated.

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Adrienne Mackey on Fear and Pleasure in Performance Life

Posted September 4th, 2015

stars surviveWe’ve been running a number of pieces on the artistic life lately, in the context of After the Rehearsal/Persona. To wrap them up, we reached out to Philadelphia’s own Adrienne Mackey, who’s been involved with all sorts of wonderful, adventurous, collaborative and indeed critical work on her own and with her company, Swim Pony. She wrote movingly for us about life as a theater artist and how theater forms and informs the lives of those who create it:

By Adrienne Mackey

There’s a common stereotype of theater artists as loud, brassy, attention-loving people. This image that those who would associate themselves with the stage must be naturally larger than life, filtered down from Broadway’s multimillion-dollar enterprise all the way through the nooks and crannies of high school musical theater, is a false one, I think. I think this size and showiness is a put-on. I think it hides a deeper layer, one that is common in a great number of theater makers, of uncertainty and fear.

For a lot of us who actually go on to make a career in the arts, theater begins as a kind of training ground for being human.

In middle school I was shy and intensely quiet. My mother likes to point out how all the pictures I drew of myself in this phase of childhood show a figure with massive eyes that take up half of my face and a tiny and tight little mouth. I was a thinker, an over-feeler, a not-quite-sure-how-to-connect-with-the-world-around-me-er. I was fundamentally uncomfortable in my own skin, uncertain about how to express the person I felt myself to be, afraid of showing too much lest I do it wrong.

After the jump, theater and transformation:

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Tonight! Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium Opens “Exit the King”

Posted September 1st, 2015
The Royal Scam: (clockwise from left): Patricia Durante as Queen Marguerite, Robb Hutter as King Berenger, Anna Lou Hearn as Queen Marie, Jenna Kuerzi as Juliette in Eugene Ionesco's classic.  Not pictured: Susan Giddings as The Doctor, Bob Schmidt as The Guard. Photo by Johanna Austin.

The Royal Scam: (clockwise from left): Patricia Durante as Queen Marguerite, Robb Hutter as King Berenger, Anna Lou Hearn as Queen Marie, Jenna Kuerzi as Juliette in Eugene Ionesco’s classic. Not pictured: Susan Giddings as The Doctor, Bob Schmidt as The Guard.
Photo by Johanna Austin.

One of my favorite groups of absurdists (and the one that gives me the greatest problems with proofreading) is back! Tonight, the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium returns to preview its latest dive into the absurd with Exit the King. The play opens Wednesday, September 2 and runs through September 20.

First staged on Broadway in 1968, New York Times critic Clive Barnes called Exit the King a “masterpiece . . . incomparably, Ionesco’s greatest work.” Exit the King tells the story of megalomaniacal ruler whose incompetence has left his country in near ruin. Despite the efforts of the Queen and the loyal members of his court to help him reconcile his remaining time, he refuses to relinquish control, attend to matters at hand and make peace with his destiny. The play saw few productions in the 40 years following its 1968 premiere until a stunning Broadway production in 2009, directed by Neil Armfield, featuring Geoffrey Rush in the lead role for which he won the Tony Award for Best Actor. The critically-acclaimed revival also featured performers Susan Sarandon, William Sadler, Lauren Ambrose, Andrea Martin and Brian Hutchison.

Exit the King was conceived during a period of illness when the author was consumed with fears of death. The playwright’s inspiration was borne from a childhood obsession that one could avoid being sick and simply live forever: “I told myself that one could learn to die, and that I could learn to die, that one can also help other people to die. This seems to me to be the most important thing we can do, since we’re all of us dying men who refuse to die. This play is an attempt at an apprenticeship in dying.”

Watch the beautiful cast pose below, while thinking about how to die lively, and think about which show you’re going to hit up. (Pro tip: opening night (Wednesday, September 2, aka tomorrow) has “wine and such.”)

Exit the King preview is tonight at 7:30 pm ($10-15). Opening night is tomorrow at 7:30 pm ($20-25; 9:00 party), and then runs Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:30 pm, through September 20. All shows at Walnut Street Theatre Independence Studio on 3, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. Tickets here.

Monday Night is Scratch Night: the Itch Returns!

Posted August 24th, 2015

Welcome back to Scratch Night at FringeArts!

Come see a roster of Philly’s most talented artists perform new material from shows they are working on in this fast-paced sampling of contemporary theater, dance, performance art, and everything in between. Scratch Night features short performances by four-to-six companies/artists, offering an inside look at the future of performance.

This week’s lineup includes artists from our 2015 Northern Liberties Fringe, South Philly Fringe, and Fishtown-Kensington Fringe festivals. Performances begin at 7 on our main stage at FringeArts at 140 N. Columbus Boulevard. Admission is free!


Gunnar Montana: PURGATORY

hires_purgatory-5Gunnar Montana takes us to church with another wickedly beautiful production – his most mature and thought-provoking work yet. Be baptized in this raw and sometimes uncomfortable exploration of the state of Purgatory, examined through a series of very human struggles that bring people to their knees each and every day







Brian Sanders’ JUNK: American StandardAmerican-Standard_JUNK-crop-300x141

Escape the crush of urban living and be transported to a more bucolic way of life; American Standard mulls JUNK’s evocative style with the twangs of bluegrass, the sweet smell of rotting hay and bare flesh atop a shaggy Hereford. Where will a quest for a more tranquil existence lead us? Our roots hold a certain veracity…

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Living on the fringes: a survival guide for avant-garde theater

Posted August 19th, 2015

By Simon Joseph


Eelco Smits in A Song Far Away

Europe’s capitals have always had a love affair with art, one that is as enduring as art itself. In times of upheaval, this courtship has come into question; survival demands reality, not romanticism. To be sure, for any amorous relationship to triumph, it needs the support of others. But then the art world’s benefactors are a fickle bunch.

Cultural policy and economic crisis do not normally make ideal bed partners. As you might expect, stimulating the arts sector comes low down on the list of government spending in much of the European Union. Nevertheless, there are subsidies available, and a handful of large Dutch theater companies are benefiting from them.

Tiny it may be, but the Netherlands still lays claim to no less than eight major-city theater companies, all vying for their share of the Ministry of Culture’s ever-diminishing pot of gold. One such company is Toneelgroep Amsterdam. This fixed ensemble has grown into the largest, and by far the most popular, theater company in the Netherlands. Despite a lack of funding, in the country’s capital, theater is thriving.

In the rest of the country, subsidized theater, which is presumably of most value to society, continues to fight for its life. This raises the very question that Toneelgroep Amsterdam seeks to examine with their production of After the Rehearsal/Persona: “What place does art have in society?”

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Got an Itch? Come to Scratch Night!

Posted August 17th, 2015

Tonight is Scratch Night at FringeArts!

Come see a roster of Philly’s most talented artists perform new material from shows they are working on in this fast-paced sampling of contemporary theater, dance, performance art, and everything in between. Scratch Night features short performances by four-to-six companies/artists, offering an inside look at the future of performance.

This week we are hosting 6 artists from this year’s Center City Fringe, South Philly Fringe, Fishtown-Kensington Fringe, and Fairmount Fringe lineups. The performances begin at 7 on our FringeArts stage at 140 N. Columbus Boulevard. Admission is free!

So, what’s on tap?

MONDAY, AUGUST 17 LINEUP:Loves-Labours-Lost_Revolution-Shakespeare-271x300


Revolution Shakespeare: Love’s Labour’s Lost

“To fast, to study, and to see no woman,” (IV, iii) agree the gentlemen of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy of love, clowns, and wit. RevShakes’ second free fall outdoor production will be directed by Samantha Bellomo, and feature live, original music. Shows will run Fringe and post-Fringe, through Sept. 27th.


Photo Credit: Geoff Sheil

New Street Dance Group + The Radical Sound: Structurally Sound
NSDG and new music ensemble The Radical Sound bring you a performance experience that begs the question, “Just what are we made of -and how stable is it, anyway?” Featuring choreography by Krista Armbruster and Shannon Dooling, re-imaginings of historic music, and a world premiere commission by composer Tomek Regulski.

Haygen Brice Walker: Spookfish11707785_10153020872795980_2634809601896238907_n

A haunted house that’s not a haunted house… until it is. A play
about slasher flicks, the horrors of high school, firework accidents, cat colonies, and a Canada Goose. The meanest play in this year’s Neighborhood Fringe will have you guessing who’s the Spookfish until the end. *Audience members must sign a waiver.


Photo Credit: Kaitlin Chow

Olive Prince Dance: Of Our Remnants

The stage is set with a collection of chairs, empty frames, and abandoned objects for a dance of expressive physicality to emerge. Of Our Remnants is an intimate site-specific work where visual art and dance collide. The viewer is immersed in the installation creating an absorbing impact from all vantage points.


Brian Shapiro Presents: A Few Thousand Upgrades Later


Photo Credit: Kevin Monko

In 1995, nobody downloaded, payphones existed, and performer Brian Shapiro created a show on how people predicted computers would impact human interaction. 20 years later, we download daily, payphones died, and Shapiro revisits that show to raise questions in an era where waiting 15 seconds for answers is wasting time!

Ferdinand Presents: NOT FOR PROFIT

MJ Kaufman
Doug Greene
Jennifer MacMillan
Christina May
and Jack Tamburri
The theater is dying. Only three actors can save it by playing dozens of roles and telling all of their stories, from the box office to the boardroom, from the page to the stage, everything you love and everything you hate about theaters and theater people will be NOT FOR PROFIT.
Catch a glimpse of these performances in their infancy before they get all grown-up in September!

60 minutes

FREE / $5 Suggested Donation

140 N. Columbus Boulevard (at Race St.)
Philadelphia, PA 19106

-Brendan Farrell


We Are Told to Look at the Thing That Is Not There: Daniel Sack on “The Four Seasons Restaurant”

Posted September 11th, 2014

Daniel Sack is an assistant professor at University of Massachusetts – Amherst, where his research focuses on experimental performance and live art in the 20th and 21st centuries. For the 2014 Presented Fringe, FringeArts commissioned him to reflect on the U.S. premiere of The Four Seasons Restaurant. Here is his piece:

Mark Rothko’s extraordinary murals that he painted in 1959 for a commission with the Four Seasons restaurant depict a series of fields in dark red or maroon, nearly black, many inset with rectangles mimicking the canvas’s edge. Frames within frames, they recall, perhaps, the proscenium of a theater or the rich red of a curtain on a stage abstracted of all content. They are like afterimages on the eye, written in some dark blood-like coagulate of time. Occasional pillars that stand on the canvases act as figures briefly shadowing an empty stage. The theater appears to disappear.

The paintings never appeared at their intended site–Rothko refused to have them exhibited at a restaurant so dedicated to the excessive consumption of capital–and they never appear in Romeo Castellucci’s performance The Four Seasons Restaurant. Instead, we are told to look at the thing that is not there, to see the artistic act as an apocalyptic event where creation couples with decreation. It has been said that this interweaving of appearance and disappearance is a peculiar characteristic of living. We know our life through its passing. So, too, in the theater–that strangely antiquarian art still caught up in a fleeting live moment shared between spectator and event–here we are, in the words of the late Herbert Blau, watching someone die in front of our eyes, dying together as it were.

But what if the only thing to see is the masking of the object we so crave to see, to know, to love? What is gained in this loss? In The Minister’s Black Veil, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1836 story that serves as a common root for the cycle of works to which The Four Seasons Restaurant belongs, the eponymous minister one day inexplicably dons a black veil that he refuses to have removed even after his death. His decision to retain possession of his appearance produces all kinds of manic responses in the eyes of his beholders. They imagine all kinds of powers–divine and demonic–in his obscured visage, project onto that black curtain their own imagined vision of whatever expression might be hiding beneath. So here the act of disappearing becomes a profoundly creative gesture. We might call it “art,” an art that the spectator produces.

The performance The Four Seasons Restaurant begins with the story of a satellite at the far reaches of imagined distance, a recording that relays the sound of a black hole discovered in the Perseus galaxy some 250 million light years away. This is a record of the end of sight and matter, taking away the paintings and all else. Originally a document outside our range of hearing, the noise has been transposed into an audible register, its hazy rough cackles and deep throbs cast huge and terrifying. The sublime depths of the universe speak a glossolalia that contains whole worlds of diversity. Not the black of negation, but of creation.

The young women that come forward to the edge of the playing space and look out at the audience are another kind of satellite around the black hole’s open mouth. They are “actors” learning to translate this other abyss–the great open maw of the proscenium theater–into a form that might be communicated. Their action, a decision to cut short their voice in the most material of ways, is visceral and unbearable. The mad visionary theater-maker Antonin Artaud wrote with terror about the everyday act of speech not only because sound cannot stand still or it would cease to be, not only because it must always leave us, but also because the speaker does not possess the word “I” he or she temporarily claims from a common language. In order to appear in speech, one’s peculiar singularity must disappear behind the uniform word “I”. Artaud would be proud of these uniformly dressed disciples. They have willed their separation from speech, forestalling the incision between speaker and spoken word with a cut of their own devising. One might say that they have refused the fruit of knowledge, refused even to sit at the restaurant, and instead suspended themselves in a pre- (or post-) lingual state.

It seems a linguistic and social suicide, irrevocable, but however gut-wrenchingly realistic, it is a theatrical game played in a place of training the body, a gymnasium. And so when they do the seemingly impossible and speak again, we can only be so surprised. The young women perform a version of The Death of Empedocles, the unfinished trauerspiel (mourning play) that the German poet Friedrich Hölderlin wrote between 1798 and 1799. Exiled from his city in Sicily because his influence threatened its politicians, the ancient philosopher Empedocles turned his back on society even as his people begged him to lead them. Like Rothko, like Hawthorne’s minister, he decided to retain possession of himself for himself rather than for a public. Seeking to join with infinite Nature, the philosopher threw himself into the depths of Mount Etna, his suicide born of a desire to transcend his human form. Supposedly, his bronzed sandal was spit back out, either mocking his ambitions or proving his apotheosis to his disciples. Something always remains from our departures, an echo across the distance, a shadow on a canvas, a small bit of flesh.

In Hölderlin’s play the philosopher is a poet who repeatedly mourns his distance from a natural world that once felt immediate. In this way, it belongs in conversation with the contemporaneous poetry of Wordsworth and the English Romantics. Yet Castellucci’s performance is not simply longing for untrammeled sublimity. The young women all wear Amish dresses; like anchorites of old, or Empedocles shunning the city for the mountains, they mark their separation from the contemporary world. But theirs is not a hermitage of isolated individuals so much as a mass joined together against the idea of the single subject. They perform the play as if it were a collective ritual handed down for generations. They all take turns rehearsing the parts, mimicking the gestures like understudies preparing for when they will be called up. At times, they switch roles, never entirely inside their part. And, as the play progresses, the women’s voices, too, become divorced from their particular bodies, seeming to issue the costume itself, as if the part spoke on their behalf. Such communal gatherings and ritual actions before the sublime may occasionally take place in theaters, in churches, and in political rallies–all sites that can turn sinister, where armbands and flags might be distributed, guns slung across shoulders, pistols brandished in honor of whatever transcendent divinity or demon. In other words, the theater is a dangerous place, perhaps most of all in those moments when it leaves us speechless, when it retains its potential to say or do many things at once.

It ends as it begins, with a kind of seething instrument for disappearance: not the sound of a black hole swallowing worlds whole, but the theater itself alighting on its potential to hide many worlds within its own black hole. Recall that “Apocalypse”–that word we use to describe the time between ending and beginning–derives from the Greek word for “unveiling”. This means that every time a curtain opens in a theater, our mundane world ends and another begins. Rothko’s paintings suspend such a curtain in the process of unveiling, in the transition to blackout where we can only just see an image taking leave of us. And in the final moments of The Four Seasons Restaurant we encounter a similarly suspended oscillation between appearance and disappearance, the theater performing a veiling and unveiling at once, without settling on a scene or sense.

What do we see in these churning folds of the curtain, these flashes of light? Worlds flicker past so fast that you may think yourself dreaming, hallucinating alone in your particular corner of perception. Castellucci has said that the theater of the future is the theater of the spectator, meaning that it concerns itself with what it means to be a spectator. Just as the villagers in Hawthorne’s story project all manner of spirits onto the veil of their minister, so the spectator in Castellucci’s theater sees herself or himself reflected in these constantly changing scenes. You see your potential to see, to create, to destroy, for better and for worse.

–Daniel Sack

The Four Seasons Restaurant
September 11-13, 8:00 pm
23rd Street Armory
22 S. 23rd Street
$39, tickets here

Get to Know Romeo Castellucci

Posted September 10th, 2014

For the 2014 Presented Fringe, FringeArts is offering the U.S. premiere of one of Romeo Castellucci’s major theater works, The Four Seasons Restaurant. Last fall, he spoke with Carlos Basualdo of the PHiladelphia Museum of Art, at The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, which is also supporting this year’s performance. Full interview below, for those interested in some Castellucci insights before catching The Four Seasons Restaurant this week.

The Four Seasons Restaurant
September 11-13, 8:00 pm
23rd Street Armory
22 S. 23rd Street
$39, tickets here

Tonight! FREE Castellucci Screening and Discussion

Posted August 19th, 2014

castelluccifilmscreeningTonight, FringeArts wants you to come talk about Italian theater director Romeo Castellucci. We presented his On the concept of the face, regarding the Son of God as the centerpiece of last year’s festival. As part of the 2014 Presented Fringe, we’re offering The Four Seasons Restaurant.

If you saw one, or want to see the other, stop on by. We’re screening Castellucci excerpts, and Yale School of Drama professor Tom Sellar (who also edits the renowned performance journal Theater) will discuss things like: why does Castellucci use a NASA-recorded sound of a black hole? Are those police in that picture actually helping that guy? And why might women appear to cut of their tongues? I’m not sure if there will be free beer, but I’m guessing the evening should be mind-altering anyway.

RSVP here.

Romeo Castellucci Film Screening and Discussion with Tom Sellar
7:30 pm
140 N. Columbus Boulevard

–Nicholas Gilewicz

Romeo, Romeo: Castellucci Film Screening and Discussion

Posted August 12th, 2014

castelluccifilmscreeningOn August 19, FringeArts wants you to come talk about Italian theater director Romeo Castellucci. We presented his On the concept of the face, regarding the Son of God as the centerpiece of last year’s festival. As part of the 2014 Presented Fringe, we’re offering The Four Seasons Restaurant.

If you saw one, or want to see the other, stop on by. We’re screening Castellucci excerpts, and Yale School of Drama professor Tom Sellar (who also edits the renowned performance journal Theater) will discuss things like: why does Castellucci use a NASA-recorded sound of a black hole? Are those police in that picture actually helping that guy? And why might women appear to cut of their tongues? I’m not sure if there will be free beer, but I’m guessing the evening should be mind-altering anyway.

RSVP here.

Romeo Castellucci Film Screening and Discussion with Tom Sellar
Tuesday, August 19
7:30 pm
140 N. Columbus Boulevard

–Nicholas Gilewicz

AE$OP: Interview with Drexel Players

Posted August 12th, 2014

AE$OP_Drexel PlayersMeet the Drexel Players, who decided for this year’s Neighborhood Fringe Festival show to tell an old tale with a mature and modern twist. It opens on September 5 and runs through September 14.

FringeArts: What inspired the show?

Drexel Players: AE$OP is not like previous productions we’ve done in that it is an adapted piece. This challenge to adapt is exactly what made us want to do this show. Over the past academic year, we were exposed to adapted work in a couple different capacities: we preformed Yasuhiko Shashi’s Godzilla in the fall and worked with Book-It Repertory Theatre in the winter to premier a reading of A Tale of Two Cities. Aesop’s fables are classical Greek stories, but they are very different from the Greek tragedies like Medea and Oedipus. Still, we felt a desire to bring these tales about cute little animals screwing each other over to life. We knew we wanted to make them modern and mature. In exploring the fables themselves, we saw pretty early on that the stories lent themselves to the corporate setting. We were also inspired by writers who have explored the office environment in their work, such as Elizabeth Meriwether (The Mistakes Madeline Made), Carly Churchill (Top Girls), and Mike Judge (Office Space). We’ve used these works to guide us as we develop this piece.

FringeArts: What have you gained from performing?

Drexel Players: This will be our third performance in the Fringe Festival and from our participation in the past, we’ve learned that theater isn’t easy! That’s not a complaint or a discouragement, just an honest realization. And yet somehow, we figure it out and put on super-fun and challenging shows. It’s that earned satisfaction that I think keeps us coming back to FringeArts.

FringeArts: Who are your role models?

Drexel Players: As a group, we have a number of different role models. The Drexel theater faculty (Nick Anselmo, Bill Fennelly, Mark Andrews, and Paul Jerue) has certainly shaped the way we approach theater. They have all provided us with diverse exposure to all manifestations and aspects of theater. At times, we find ourselves emulating their styles, but yet at others we may be emulating the styles of other theater professionals that we have met as a result of our faculty. They have inspired us to push the boundaries and create new and exciting theater.

Thank you, Drexel Players!

All 2014 Fringe Festival tickets are on sale online. Tickets to AE$OP are available here.

URBN Annex Black Box Theater
3401 Filbert Street
Wheelchair accessible
September 5 + 6 at 7pm
September 6 at 11pm
September 7 at 6pm
September 8 + 11 at 7pm
September 12 + 13 at 8pm
September 14 at 2pm

—Devan Sims

Absurdity and Chaos: Interview with Neighborhood Fringe artist Emily Schuman

Posted July 28th, 2014

“We are wired to seek solace and meaning even in the most absurd of worlds.”

Fando y Lis in the 2014 Fringe Festival.

Fando y Lis in the 2014 Fringe Festival.

Fando y Lis, an absurdist play by Spanish playwright Fernando Arrabal, is coming to this year’s Neighborhood Fringe Festival. The play tells the story of two lovers, Fando and Lis, journeying through a barren nowhere-land while Fando pushes Lis, paralyzed from the waist down, in a cart. Director Emily Schuman translated the play into English, and has adapted her production to focus on the complexity of Lis’s story. Fando y Lis will run Sept 20–22 at the Shubin Theatre. We caught up with Emily to find out more.

FringeArts: How did you decide to work with Fernando Arrabal’s Fando y Lis?

Emily Schuman: I first read Fando y Lis as part of a summer research project I did at Denison University. I was really into absurd Spanish theatre at the time. Though we read so many of those plays in my Spanish literature classes, we never touched them in my theater classes. This project was my excuse to delve into Spanish theater and find a way to share it with English-speaking audiences. I found this amazing Spanish theater library when I was home in New York called the Jorge Luis Borges Library at the Instituto Cervantes, a Spanish cultural center. I was there for hours, reading play after play until I picked out Fando y Lis. I had never heard of Fernando Arrabal, but the first line of the play caught my attention and I couldn’t stop reading it. It was also the first time that I had read something in Spanish that I instantly understood without having to translate to English while I read.

I was drawn to Fando y Lis because it is a play that exists in complete absurdity and chaos, and yet these real, tangible issues, like relationships, love, identity and self-worth, are able to seep through the cracks and affect its viewers. That is why I find theater like this so powerful, because we are wired to seek solace and meaning even in the most absurd of worlds.

FringeArts: How has your production evolved from Arrabal’s play?

Emily Schuman: My production has evolved from the original play in our further exploration of the character of Lis, who is very complicated and enigmatic. She is paralyzed in her legs, which makes her extremely dependent on her lover Fando, who pushes her in a cart. I wanted to find interesting ways to shed light on her character and make this Lis’s story. I wrote a monologue for her that I believe gives her character depth, grounds her, and makes her more accessible to the audience. I also incorporated movement sequences that take us further into their absurd world and give variety to the tone of the piece both musically and visually.

The biggest development from Arrabal’s original play is that I decided to incorporate a burlap-covered mannequin that is used to represent Lis’s body. Lis experiences a lot of violence throughout the play both mentally and physically and I wanted to find a creative and effective way of conveying that violence to my audience without using stage combat. I might be alone in this theory, but I feel that when we see physical violence on stage, we say one of two things: “That punch looked so fake!” or, “I hope that actress is okay.” Either way, we are in our own heads, distracted from what is really happening to these characters. The incorporation of the mannequin into Fando y Lis is my way of exploring a symbolic and creative method of stage violence that viscerally affects my audience while keeping them in the story of the play.

As soon as we started using the mannequin in rehearsal to represent her body during these violent scenes, we started to see a whole new layer to the play that didn’t exist before. It is a layer that allows us to see this story through Lis’s eyes, a layer that gives new perspective to Arrabal’s vision.

FringeArts: What process did you go through to translate Fando y Lis?

Emily Schuman: I spent the first two weeks of my research directly translating the text of Fando y Lis into English, and then spent the rest of the summer adapting the language, choosing the right words, and incorporating my own concepts into the play. The process helped me to grow as a theater artist because it forced me to approach the work from new angles. I would not have been able to accomplish this project without the aid of professors Dosinda Alvite and Dr. Mark Evans Bryan, who guided me through the process and supported me the entire way.

FringeArts: Can you give us a little background on Fernando Arrabal and his work?

Emily Schuman: Fernando Arrabal is a playwright, poet, essayist, and novelist who is often associated with writers like Eugène Ionesco and Samuel Beckett. He was heavily influenced by avant-garde, surrealist artists of the 20th century, and is known for joining forces with filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky in 1962 to create the Panic Movement. It is a theatrical form that was inspired by Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty and designed to shock its audiences with surreal imagery and chaotic performance art. The Panic Movement was their response to surrealism turning mundane and audiences becoming passive participants in theatre. Even though he wrote Fando y Lis before the Panic Movement, the play definitely carries the values of that movement. His characters actively engage their viewers by surprising us with their sudden switch to chaos and absurdity.

Arrabal currently lives in Paris, and seems like such an eccentric character. He has an interesting blog called Ceci n’est pas un blog (French for This Is Not A Blog), where he posts interviews, photos, and upcoming productions of his plays. When I wrote to him to ask his permission to perform Fando y Lis, he wrote back giving me his blessing, and posted my play’s information to the blog!

Thank you, Emily! We can’t wait!

Tickets for all Fringe shows are on sale now online. Get tickets for Fando y Lis here.

Fando y Lis by Fernando Arrabal
Shubin Theatre
407 Bainbridge Street
$10 / 65 minutes
Sept 20 at 2pm, 5pm + 8pm
Sept 21 at 4pm + 7pm
Sept 22 at 7pm

—Miriam Hwang-Carlos

Fighting Back: Interview with Neighborhood Fringe artist Colie McClellan

Posted July 24th, 2014

“It’s infuriating to realize the enormity of intimate partner violence, the prevalence it has in our society—I couldn’t not do something about that.”

Colie McClellan in They Call Me Arethusa

Colie McClellan in They Call Me Arethusa

Stories of abuse and sexual violence against women run throughout Ancient Greek mythology. Actor and writer Colie McClellan came across these stories countless times while majoring in classics at the College of Charleston. In her one-woman play, They Call Me Arethusa, Colie weaves Greek mythology with stories of real, modern women who have experienced partner violence. They Call Me Arethusa runs throughout the 2014 Fringe Festival (September 5–20 at Pig Iron School Studio One). We caught up with Colie to find out more.

FringeArts: What inspired the creation of They Call Me Arethusa?

Colie McClellan: Once you’ve experienced dating violence, it’s like you enter a club. This club is made up of women who all have their own experience to relate. Sometimes these are small instances. Others extend over the course of a lifetime, recurring again and again. Women share with you the secrets they don’t share with anyone else, because once you’ve experienced it, you understand. What I’m seeking to do is bring these stories to light, for the world to see. It’s infuriating to realize the enormity of intimate partner violence, the prevalence it has in our society. I couldn’t not do something about that.

I didn’t know what the piece would look like when I started talking to women, started doing research. I just knew that I wanted to record and honor their stories. At first I envisioned a piece that used a lot of different forms of expression from the women: poems, stories, songs. I also had the idea to bring in themes from pop culture to represent the pressure we place on women to perform a certain way. Those things didn’t make the cut. The creative team and I felt that it drew too much away from our mission of focusing on the survivors, their stories, and how often we diminish or romanticize abuse.

FringeArts: What makes theater the right artistic medium to explore these issues?

Colie McClellan: Theater is the right artistic medium for me to explore these issues because it’s my artistic medium. Theater is about sharing stories and reflecting on human experiences. And I’ve been doing theater since I was a kid. It all makes perfect sense for me, and, again, I couldn’t not do it this way.

FringeArts: Has creating this play made you think differently about partner violence?

Colie McClellan: There are a few things that creating and performing this play have made me think about differently: A. Oh yeah, people don’t talk about intimate partner violence. This sounds obvious, because it’s the reason I wanted to do the thing, but I can be so steeped in the telling of these stories that I forget that other people aren’t talking about this. When certain audience members are stunned or shocked, it sometimes still surprises me. You can feel it from them while the piece is happening. I’ve built in soothing moments, moments of reprieve to help with that sting, but it is a lot to take in, and I don’t let anyone off the hook.

B. Everyone has a story. Every single time I’ve performed this piece, at least one person from the audience has approached me and said that they, or their sister, or their girlfriend, or their mom, or their grandmother, or their friend is a survivor of intimate partner violence. Some of the women who experienced it firsthand would leave right after the show and send me messages later. Their messages kept—and keep—me doing this. I’m doing this for them.

C. Some people won’t ever get it. They also get upset with me for sharing these stories, like I’m making them confront issues that they wish they could keep ignoring. I could write a whole essay about this. I’ll keep it short and simple: I don’t like it either! But ignoring things doesn’t make them go away.

FringeArts: Why did you decide to include Greek mythology?

Colie McClellan: I was a classics major in undergrad. The stories of the women who are chased and attacked and abused, they are all over the place. I wanted to frame the testimonials with something universal—these myths that reflect the way we diminish abuse today.

I like that the stories are a bit removed from the audience. It gives them a chance to breathe between these heavy, hefty testimonials. I also like that the mythological storytelling lulls them into a sense of security, so you can draw them back in a little before continuing to the next heavy hitting piece.

FringeArts: Is there anything you would like the audience to know before your show?

Colie McClellan: I’d like for the audience to come with open minds and ready hearts. I’m not out to prove anything; I’m just seeking to share and hopefully empower.

Thank you, Colie!

Fringe Festival tickets are already on sale! Tickets for They Call Me Arethusa available online.

They Call Me Arethusa
55 minutes
Opening night $10
All other performances $20

Pig Iron School Studio One
1417 North 2nd St
Wheelchair accessible

Sept 5 at 10:30pm
Sept 6 + 7 at 3pm
Sept 10 + 11 at 8pm
Sept 12 at 10pm
Sept 13 at 2pm + 6:30pm
Sept 14 at 5:30pm
Sept 15 at 9pm
Sept 17 + 18 at 6:30pm
Sept 19 at 8pm
Sept 20 at 2pm + 8pm

—Miriam Hwang-Carlos

A Couple Airwaves Removed from Reality: Interview with writer and director Tina Satter

Posted July 22nd, 2014

“It’s a slightly abstracted, theatricalized space, because it’s theater and I’m always interested in theater taking me beyond the edges of reality.”

In the Pony Palace/FOOTBALL. Photo by Hunter Canning.

In the Pony Palace/FOOTBALL. Photo by Hunter Canning.

Coming to this year’s Fringe Festival, In the Pony Palace/FOOTBALL, brings an all female and genderqueer cast of football players, coaches, and cheerleaders on stage as part of the Presented Fringe. The play by Half Straddle combines the iconic imagery of football with the linguistic particularity of high school girls, all backed by a live brass band. Half Straddle is a New York City-based company that produces plays, performances, videos, and music written and directed by Tina Satter. We caught up with Tina to find out more about her In the Pony Palace/FOOTBALL, which will be in the Festival Sept 17–19.

FringeArts: Why is the show title In the Pony Palace/FOOTBALL?

Tina Satter: I was calling the show just “FOOTBALL” for a while because it was about football and that worked for me. Then I was trying to work more on the script and push further into it and I was struggling. Jess Barbagallo, who plays the quarterback in the show, told me that they had overheard these young cool-looking girls having this awesome conversation where they referenced something being “downstairs in the pony palace…” Neither of us knew what that meant at all, but the concept of girls discussing a “pony palace” totally opened up the conceptual premise of the show to capture this more intangible special athlete-girl world of the play that I wanted to feel slightly off to the side of real life.

I made “pony palace” the name of their locker room in the play as well. I was able to then create the script and overall concept I was looking for. And then it seemed really important that the wonderful, weird phrase/idea of “Pony Palace” was actually reflected in the title of the show

FringeArts: How did your experience with sports in high school and college inform this play?

Tina Satter: My main sport I played all throughout high school and at Bowdoin College on a Division III team was field hockey. I totally drew from my experience of working really hard with, laughing with, riding buses with, losing with and feeling utterly devastated, and then winning with these groups of girls with whom I had been on these teams all these years. The coded language you have. This incredible sense of effort and honor towards something that, at the end of it all, you know is just a sport, a game, but that really signifies a kind of personal integrity and group effort and belief in something bigger than yourself that, even at that time, and definitely after, I found very inspiring.

So I took all the feelings, memories, and dynamics of playing field hockey and put them onto this idea of a team playing football instead of field hockey. There was something about the larger iconic significance of football that seemed to be what I wanted to use as opposed to field hockey, which is much more obscure in the U.S. I also wanted to use the idea of girls just totally playing without comment in this sport that, the vast majority of the time, only males are allowed to play on a competitive level.

FringeArts: How did the work evolve from your writing of it to your directing of it?

Tina Satter: I don’t think of the plays I am making as just scripts that can be filled out by someone else in a directorial capacity. They are these whole conceptual worlds and feelings that I am just as invested in as I am in the characters and narratives. There is almost not a difference between the writing and directing, because I ultimately have this idea of how every molecule of it should feel, especially the overall rhythm. Of course I’m constantly taking advice, ideas, and in-the-moment inspiration in the rehearsal room from my incredible performers and design collaborators, and adjusting my ideas.

In the Pony Palace/FOOTBALL. Photo by Hunter Canning.

In the Pony Palace/FOOTBALL. Photo by Hunter Canning.

FringeArts: What is the setting of this piece and how does it appeal to your imagination and artistic sensibilities?

Tina Satter: The setting is a high school football team that exists a couple airwaves removed from reality. It’s a slightly abstracted, theatricalized space, because it’s theater and I’m always interested in theater taking me beyond the edges of reality into a liminal and exciting space in subtle unexpected ways. I want it to feel like something we’ve never quite seen or felt before. To me, that’s a huge part of making something.

So in this case it’s an all-female high school football team that plays football with all the recognizable signifiers—the football uniforms, the sports language, the athletic posturing—but then all edged-out with this kind of made-up, tweaked valley girl speak and poeticized sense of what athletics and the team mean. In the play we see a snapshot of their season as they play several games and have interactions on and off the field that are related to football, to their adolescent sense of the banal, and to bigger things in the act of self-discovery.

FringeArts: Why football?

Tina Satter: It’s the iconic, totally American, very, very male sport that feels universal, but that’s also something only men can play. That’s totally weird when you actually think about it. This thing that just men play, that mostly men watch—not entirely, but primarily—so it’s really this highly segmented gender thing. I wanted to play with that.

But to me, initially it was not a political act to make the play at all, because my first draw was the awesome uniforms and the language and the toughness to the sport and getting to poeticize all that in my world and with the performers I work with. I wanted to make a kind of sports play. That was my main driving factor—an artistic interest in the framework of this particularly iconic tough sport and the aesthetics and language it allowed me to play with. But the fact that it does then become political is great by me. 

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Asaki Kuruma on Writing, Immigration, and the Racial Dynamics of Philadelphia Theater

Posted June 18th, 2014

“It’s really hard to do acting and make a living unless you’re really good—and a Caucasian man.”


“Uh, are you okay? You look like you’re giving birth,” Asaki Kuruma’s roommate asked while watching her write. Asaki, who has acted in Philadelphia for about ten years, premieres her first play, Bi(?!)lingual, as part of the SoLow Fest, June 26–28. Asaki developed the play with help from Simpatico Theatre Project’s SoLow Incubator, an artist residency program to develop shows for the SoLow Fest. Asaki describes the writing process as “fun . . . and torturous,” adding, “the idea is there, but it’s so fuzzy—I cannot put it into words.”

Months of writing and rewriting later—she refers to cutting beloved but unnecessary passages as “killing the babies”—Asaki finally feels confident in her script. Bi(?!)lingual is based upon her move from Japan to the United States ten years ago, and all the misunderstandings and laughter that accompany being bilingual in a foreign country. We sat down with Asaki to learn about her show, her life, and her view of theater in Philadelphia.

Asaki grew up in Yokohama, Japan, a hilly port city near Tokyo. She attended a middle and high school founded by American missionaries, which had a very good English program. “But it didn’t matter,” Asaki insists, “I was still terrible at it!” Asaki first experienced theater in this high school. A classmate wrote a play inspired by a tragedy from their school’s history—during World War II, an air raid destroyed the school and killed several students and teachers. Asaki’s classmate enlisted her as an actor, and Asaki immediately fell in love. She remembers knowing, from this one play, “I wanna do this as a career.” Though she quickly laughs and adds, “which is not really a career, unless you become really famous.”

After high school, Asaki attended Temple University, Japan Campus (TUJ) in Tokyo to study English. Her decision to attend TUJ, rather than an English language prep school, was directly influenced by 9/11. Following the attacks, Asaki remembers multiple rumors spreading rapidly. One theory was that the attacker was North Korean. If this turned out to be true, Asaki—who is ethnically Korean—was unsure how American attitudes towards Koreans would change. In case she could not move to the U.S., Asaki decided to go to TUJ, where she could earn a degree without transferring to another college.

But after a year, Asaki did transfer, moving to Temple’s Philadelphia campus at age twenty. At this point her English was, by her own estimate, “fairly fine.” Yet she quickly found that “speaking with native speakers is completely different.” Asaki laughs, exclaiming, “People in Philly speak so fast! East Coasters in general, but Philly especially has this weird accent.” Asaki describes being baffled by Philadelphians’ pronunciation of words like “water” and “now.” Even today, she sometimes struggles with the accent when she is very tired.

Asaki Kuruma in Polaroid Stories at Allens Lane Theater. Photo by Tracy Long.

Despite the linguistic confusion, Asaki loved Temple, where she majored in theater with an acting concentration. After graduating, she took up a smattering of odd jobs. Currently, Asaki supplements her acting by working as a house manager at a theater company in Philly, and by helping out at a friend’s cosplay company, which specializes in Game of Thrones costumes. Asaki laughs with slight embarrassed while describing sewing costumes, crafting jewelry, and modeling for photos, but admits that it is very fun.

With the support of these jobs, Asaki can afford to keep acting. “It’s really hard to do acting and make a living unless you’re really good—and a Caucasian man, and can do acting and singing,” Asaki remarks matter-of-factly. In response to whether being Asian affects her acting career, Asaki lets out a half-laugh, half-sigh: “A lot. . . . There’s a weird tension between races, especially in Philadelphia, which is really unfortunate because it’s such a diverse city.” But this diversity is segmented and stratified. Asaki maps out different neighborhoods on our coffee table—here is the Latino neighborhood, there is the Cambodian neighborhood, this is where the rich people live. These racial boundaries are reflected in Philadelphia theater, which Asaki describes as “very white, plus a little bit of black. No Asian or Latino, at least not as much as there should be.” So often, she has heard at casting calls, “Oh, she cannot be Asian, sorry.” Asaki mentions that many Asian-American actors become so frustrated with the dearth of roles in Philly that they move—usually to New York or California—or leave acting all together for backstage positions.

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