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Fringe = Regret Factory

There by Jo Stromgren Kompani. Photo by Knut Bry.

FRINGE: What you don’t want to miss.

Oops! Fringe has already happened. Too late for another one of those articles.

Theater is ephemeral. We’re always saying that. It’s here only now, and when it’s no longer now, it’s gone. You can’t hold onto it. Poof! And nothing is more ephemeral than the shows you didn’t get to see.

Unless you’re some kind of Brett Mappian superhumanFringeSeptember’s annual festival of hundreds of theater, dance, and music performances from Philly and around the worldis a regret factory. I miss shows I should have seen. I miss shows I meant to see but couldn’t fit in. I even end up missing shows I never thought I wanted to see, but then found out afterwards that I definitely did.

Last year, it was Romeo Castellucci’s The Four Seasons Restaurant and Found Theater’s Deep Blue Sleep. The year before was more regret-ridden, with Bathtub Moby-Dick, The Ballad of Joe Hill, The Sea Plays, and others. These are the shows that everyone talked about afterwards. I was left out of the conversation.

Julius’ regrets this year: I think that top of that list is Greg Holt’s 2,000 Movements followed by Hannah van Sciver’s Fifty Days at Iliam and Philadelphia Artists’ Collective (PAC)’s The Captive. Holt’s proposed deconstruction of movement is exciting and I think the piece promised an intellectual challenge; van Sciver is incredibly charismatic and funny, if the ten-minute preview I saw of her Solow Fest piece was any indication; and I’ve never seen a PAC show, and I regret it every year.

But also, I thought I’d give you my three picks of this year’s Fringe, otherwise known as your big three Fringe regrets, if you didn’t see them:

  1. If you ask people what they loved in Fringe, chances are that Lightning Rod Special’s Underground Railroad Game comes up. Not only was it the only Philly-based show in the curated festival (except for Pig Iron, but who actually saw that?), not only was it incredibly hyped, but it delivered. This piece, which has undergone plenty of workshopping and cutting and recutting and redoing and arguing by Scott Sheppard and Jennifer Kidwell, has emerged polished like a river stone. The Pig Iron Schoolwhich is where Jenn and Scott first began work on ithas left its mark on it, with smooth shifts between characters and locations, and jagged layering of persona on top of persona, reality on top of reality. And somehow, through an unjudgmental lens, it presents a clear view of the disparate perspectives on race which underly all of our politically correct discussions on it. Thoughtfully created moment to moment.
  2. There by Jo Strømgren Kompani shows what can be created by government funding of the arts. Where most American actors are freelance, director/designer Strømgren is able to hold onto his performers, develop a company, and deliver a strong, committed physical style. There is flagrant. It burns in the superheated crux of dance and theater, which is again and again the present of experimental performance.
  3. Speaking of which, Sam Tower + Ensemble’s 901 Nowhere Street: an exploration of female presence in the film noir world. A long, horizontal stage with rows of audience across from one another challenges us to choose in what direction we look. This is the opposite of the cinematic strategy of direction of attention; it is one of many ways in which Tower’s production is deeply theatrical and site-specific, and manages to be so present. Lauren Tuvell’s performance as lounge singer, often creating live atmospheric accompaniment to scenes while also being part of the action, is another; so is Tower’s choreographic character-building. Tower and her collaborators start from the overworked seed of “femme fatale” and accomplish a visual, theatrical, and verbal world.

As a footnote, this regret is one of the best tools I have for building my future Fringe calendars. Everyone else sees the Found Theater show, they say it was great, I want to see it the next year. Since missing Bathtub Moby Dick, I’ve seen every Renegade show. The buzz which generates this regret is far more useful than a single critic’s review, and is probably second only to actually seeing a show.

Julius Ferraro is a journalist, performer, playwright, and administrator based in Philadelphia. He is co-founder of Curate This, has served as theater editor of Phindie, and writes for thINKingDANCE,, The Smart Set, and the FringeArts blog. His recent performances include Micromania, The Death and Painful Dismemberment of Paul W. Auster, and The Mysteries of Jean the Birdcatcher with {HTP}, On the Road for 17,527 Miles with 14th Street, and his Phindie Fringe Bike Tours. With the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program’s Restored Spaces Initiative he coordinates community-led environmental arts projects.

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