NOW CURATING: YOMI
s t r e e t a r t i s t
You don’t know what shows you want to see in Fringe. That guide is freakin huge, the descriptions are tiny, and there are like 150 shows. And it’s coming up soon: Sept. 9-24.
For two years Curate This co-founder Julius Ferraro has leveraged his experience and knowledge of the Philadelphia theater scene to produce a series of Fringe Bike Tours, helping audiences to navigate the ocean of possibilities that is Fringe. This year there won’t be a bike tour, but you can take a look at his Fringe schedule, below.
-Amanda V. Wagner, co-founder
Fringe always reminds me of firsts! One of my first outstanding Fringe shows was Nichole Canuso’s Wandering Alice, and now she’s back at Fringe in Pandæmonium with Geoff Sobelle, whom I first saw in Pig Iron’s Chekhov Lizardbrain, also at Fringe. I first saw Mary Tuomanen perform in Vainglorious many years ago (and have seen her many times since then), and now she’s back in another immersive Applied Mechanics show.
If there’s a theme among the shows I’m seeing in this year’s Fringe, it’s that so many fall under the label of “immersive” performance. Think critically about this descriptor, which is inarguably a hot one these days. What does it mean? Is it a new way of engaging “presence” in performance, or is it a gimmick? Is it vital to the changing meaning of theater in an increasingly digital world, or is simply a new way to stimulate oversaturated audiences?
And what counts as immersive? If actors are on all sides of me and sometimes touch me, is that immersive? If I am allowed to choose in what order I see scenes, is that immersive? Or do I have to be picking fruit with the artists, or making real in-the-moment choices with my body which affect the ways I relate with other individuals, for a show to be truly “immersive”?
Look out for my reviews of many of these at Phindie and thINKingDANCE as the festival goes by. Hopefully this list will help you to navigate the notoriously massive and ponderous list of shows. I’ve also tabulated running counts of how many shows I’m seeing and how many hours that means in actual time in the theater. Just for fun.
THURS, SEPT 8
8 pm. Animal Farm to Table by The Renegade Company. Immersive theater and food together. Immerse yourself in both, like an arty jello bath.
Total shows seen: 1. Time spent in theater: 1 hr 15 mins.
FRI, SEPT 9
8:30 pm. Feed by Applied Mechanics. What’s Feed about? I can’t tell from the description and I don’t really care. Applied Mechanics “makes plays you can walk through,” and they’re good at it. Mary Tuomanen was a wonderful Napoleon in their Vainglorious so many years ago. I’m excited to see her alongside Thomas Choinacky again.
11 pm. Crave by Sarah Kane, this production by Svaha Theatre. Kane’s first major production was Blasted, a play which blew up theatrical orthodoxy by having the seedy motel room from the first act bombed by an invading army. Graphic staged (and often sexual) violence was a hallmark of her first three plays; Crave is a departure from this, with the violence still present but abstracted into language and monologue.
Total shows seen: 3. Time spent in theater: 3 hrs 45 mins.
SAT, SEPT 10
3 pm. Cellophane by Mac Wellman, this production by Jenny Kessler and John Bezark. I wrote a preview about this play for thINKingDANCE. Wellman is a master of modern wordplay, “James Joyce reborn as a rap artist.” If you think there’s something weird and wiggly going on underneath the grinning, whitecapped veneer of contemporary communication, take a peek under the sinister skirts of Cellophane.
7:30 pm. Two Stories. In a house, dance happening in different rooms, choose your own adventure. “Immersive.” Why not.
10 pm. Shadow House. Immersive opera directed by Brenna Geffers and with a libretto by Brenna Geffers. Another choose-your-own-adventure, follow the performers around the house and get a different story depending on where you go play. I saw Geffers’ La Ronde in the same building last year. My choices didn’t seem to matter because I was able to catch everything that happened, eventually . . . but Geffers is super talented and experienced so this is worth checking out.
Total shows seen: 6. Time spent in theater: 7 hrs 30 mins.
SUN, SEPT 11
2:30 pm. The Chairs by Eugene Ionesco, created by, of course, Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium. Ionesco is the French absurdist who wrote The Bald Soprano, the anti-play which you’ve seen performed in 24-hour cycles with an increasingly exhausted and loopy cast.
7 pm. The Sincerity Project by Team Sunshine Performance Corporation. The hook: two years ago, seven performers signed on for a 24 year experiment. Every two years they’ll perform The Sincerity Project, perform the same rituals, answer some of the same questions, and re-weave their lives together.
Total shows seen: 8. Time spent in theater: 10 hrs 30 mins.
MON, SEPT 12
8:30 pm. I Fucking Dare You by The Berserker Residents. I’m going to this completely by the virtue of the company making it. Wild and wicked; “daft, ephemeral and joyous.”
Total shows seen: 9. Time spent in theater: half a 24 hr day.
TUES, SEPT 13
8 pm. Gala by Jérôme Bel. Join thINKingDANCE after this performance for Write Back Atcha: a post-show “talk-back” combined with a mini-writing workshop, exploring the language you use to describe dance. See the show, pow wow with other audience members and some experienced writers, think and talk critically, write a few lines about what you saw, and then have some of your work compiled with other audience members’ work into a crowd-sourced review like this one.
Total shows seen: 10. Time spent in theater: 13 hrs 30 mins.
WEDS, SEPT 14
8 pm. Pandæmonium by Nichole Canuso Dance Company and Early Morning Opera. Nichole Canuso is a Philadelphia treasure – her Wandering Alice epitomized immersive work for me before I ever knew what that word meant, and then The Garden blew that out of the water a few years later. See her dance with Pig Iron founding member Geoff Sobelle.
Total shows seen: 11. Time spent in theater: 15 hrs.
THURS, SEPT 15
7 pm. 7-Chair Pyramid High Wire Act by Der Vorfuhreffekt Theatre. Puppetry. Elaborate costumes. Props and dynamic sets. Super theatrical performance. This show’s been all over the world and I want to catch it while it’s here.
Total shows seen: 12. Time spent in theater: 16 hrs.
FRI, SEPT 16
7 pm. With Flint and Steel by duende. Improvised music and dance. But, like, they seem to really know what they’re doing.
Total shows seen: 13. Time spent in theater: 16 hrs 45 mins.
SAT, SEPT 17
5 pm. Speculum Diaries by Irina Varina. Varina is an engaging, present, super-talented performer who is also capable of screaming a song at her own vagina on stage. One of my top picks for the festival.
9 pm. Explicit Female by Zornitsa Stoyanova. To quote Kat Sullivan, Zornitsa is a “neo-metal monster and a futuristic Renaissance queen.” Check out my interview with Zornitsa on thINKingDANCE for more info about why I’m psyched about this performance.
Total shows seen: 15. Time spent in theater: 18 hrs 45 mins.
SUN, SEPT 18
7:30 pm. Wise Norlina by Stacy Collado, Hillary Pearson, and Kat J. Sullivan. I don’t know much about this piece; I’m seeing it because I’m interested in Sullivan’s work.
10 pm. Exile 2588 by Almanac Dance Circus Theatre. First time I saw Almanac was at Nice and Fresh; they did a little wordless ditty about a SEPTA ticket taker chasing a fare-cheat up onto the roof of the train and then into such unlikely places as the cockpits of fighter jets. Laurel and Hardy joyfulness combined with astounding circus skill.
Total shows seen: 17. Time spent in theater: 21 hrs 45 mins.
WEDS, SEPT 21
7:30 pm. One Way Red by Medium Theatre Company. Dani Solomon first created this piece for 2015’s SoLow Fest. It’s a beautiful and moving exploration of the one-way trip to Mars proposed by popular science recently.
Total shows seen: 18. Time spent in theater: 23 hrs 15 mins.
THURS, SEPT 22
7 pm. Julius Caesar. Spared Parts by Romeo Castellucci / Socíetas Raffaello Sanzio. A nice pairing with Cellophane, this is a Caesar stripped of its words, featuring characters who wrestle desperately to communicate and fail.
Total shows seen: 19. Time spent in theater: 1 day and 45 mins.
FRI, SEPT 23
7 pm. Portrait of myself as my father by nora chipaumire. A dancer who never knew her father “celebrates and critiques masculinity: its presence, presentation, and representation” by producing it in a boxing ring.
Total shows seen: 20. Time spent in theater: 1 day, 2 hrs and 15 mins.
SAT, SEPT 24
2 pm. Le Cargo by Faustin Linyekula. A Congolese dancer explores the elimination of memory and his country’s past.
6 pm. The Performers by Erica Janko. A total toss of the dice on this one. I know nothing about Erica Janko except that she describes herself as “a movement artist who researches social phenomena through performance,” a kind of personal statement which might mean everything or nothing.
10:30 pm. Martha Graham Cracker is Martha Graham Cracker.
Total shows seen: 23. Time spent in theater: 1 day, 6 hrs.
SUN, SEPT 25
2 pm. One Way Red by Medium Theatre Company. Full disclosure: I’m filming this for the artist, so I’m seeing it twice.
7 pm. Macbeth by Third World Bunfight. A bit of a cultural minefield: a South African director leads a cast of Congolese performers in an adaptation of Verdi’s opera Macbeth, translating its events to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the leading man into a warlord.
Total shows seen: 25. Time spent in theater: 1 day, 9 hrs.
Nick Stuccio is a founder and the current president and producing director of FringeArts, and curator of a significant portion of Philadelphia’s preeminent performing arts festival. It is fair to say that Fringe, with its 19-year history, has exerted a tremendous influence on the theatrical flavor of our city, and we were very excited to talk to Nick about how the organization is growing and changing past its teens, particularly in the realm of audience-building.
-Julius Ferraro, co-founder
CT: When I first mentioned Curate This to you, your first question was “Who’s the audience?” Why is knowing the audience on the top of your mind?
Nick Stuccio: Who are we making art for? That’s very important to us. What are our goals as a presenter?
We have to be careful about being too insular. I’ve been with FringeArts for twenty years, and I was a professional dancer for ten years before that, and there has never been an epoch of time in which the artist community is as broad, diverse, interesting, high-functioning, intelligent and talented. It’s a large and healthy community. Which means at any arts event, the audience is largely made up of artists.
The challenge is to find avenues and roads that lead to people who are outside that community. It’s a more diverse room when there are also people in the audience who are not artists. It’s certainly been a challenge at FringeArts, and it’s hard work.
And it’s not just about the dynamic between artists and non-artists. That’s just one example. We want to provoke conversation, and the conversation is richer and deeper when the audience demographics are representative of the city we live in.
Who are some of the artists you have curated who are actively reaching out to new audiences?
Rimini Protokoll’s 100% Philadelphia, which was performed by 100 Philadelphia citizens, entirely non-performers, representing the city’s specific demographics. Sylvain Emard with Le Grand Continental, which was another large-scale piece performed by people who are not performers in a group line-dance. Those are the big highlights. They were titanic, spectacle works. We had thousands show up.
Which I think has very interesting implications in terms of the relationship between social practice and artistic practice. Of course it’s interesting from an artistic perspective, but it’s also an opportunity to build to new audiences, to reach communities that we don’t often tap into.
What was the response to 100% Philadelphia, as you remember it?
It’s a very powerful piece, and the response was overwhelming. We had a lot of people go to Temple University’s campus to see it. Over half the cast were people of color, representing the demographics of our city. We intentionally did not put this show in Center City, because Center City is a historically white neighborhood. We put it on Temple’s campus, which is a more neutral ground between African American neighborhoods and non-African American neighborhoods, in the hope that we could attract a more diverse audience.
I was hoping for an audience that reflected the cast. That didn’t happen, entirely. But we gained enormous ground, considerably expanding the diversity of our audiences.
100% Philadelphia was a learning experience around outreach. You can curate an audience as well as the program. It’s hard work. We are always considering what will interest the public and how to engage the right people. On one level, filling seats is a win. But we are continually reflecting on what communities we have to reach to ensure that the show has the greatest possible impact.
I think it is fair to say that we all want an audience that reflects the city we are performing in, but when it comes to funding, is having diverse audiences a priority for funders?
I think that’s ultimately a question for funders.
Funders favor organizations that have clear goals and aspire to reach them. Our mission is to present contemporary, progressive performing art.
What’s underneath that mission? We believe in a deeply progressive world. And we believe that artists have a charge in creating that world. In order for these pieces to have an impact, to create the world we want to see, they need to be reaching the right people.
As a curator, how do you balance the concern of filling seats against FringeArts’ ongoing mission to bring cutting-edge work?
I’ll tell you, one of the most rewarding shows we’ve presented was Romeo Castellucci’s The Four Seasons Restaurant. That was a big risk. The show was very difficult conceptually—very dense and enigmatic. But people responded. The size of the audiences far exceeded our expectations.
When I go to one of our shows, I watch the stage about forty percent of the time, and I watch the house the other sixty percent—listening, feeling, watching faces. During that show I did not recognize the room. Which tells me there is a growing segment of our community that is hungry for sophisticated, complex, experimental art by the world’s very best art-makers.
Have we played a part in creating that appetite? I think so. But either way, we’re psyched about it.
What shows in this year’s Fringe Festival surprised you, in terms of audience?
Similarly to our experience with Castellucci, we had great success with our two masthead shows, Available Light and After the Rehearsal/Persona. Both were in hot, un-air conditioned venues, and they were dense and difficult pieces. But audiences came out for them in droves, and feedback was amazing.
The one that’s standing out for me is Underground Railroad Game. Jennifer Kidwell and Scott Sheppard worked on that for a long time, and we sold the crap out of it, even adding shows.
The piece was a great conversation starter about race. On one hand it was a big hit, but on the other, I wish we could have curated the audience differently. We’ve met with Scott and Jenn about bringing the show back to FringeArts, in part so we can work on continuing the conversation they started while aiming at a more diverse audience. We certainly need to partner with other organizations to help us find more networks of people that we’re not connected to.
But you know, we’re 19-year-olds, and . . . well, 19-year-olds are messes. I know I was. These are muscles we have to build.
FRINGE: What you don’t want to miss.
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 superhuman, Fringe—September’s annual festival of hundreds of theater, dance, and music performances from Philly and around the world—is 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:
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.
Emily Bucholz is a photographer, illustrator, video artist, and renowned adventurer. Her films have recently been seen in STROBE Network at Flux Factory, NY, and the 2015 Digital Fringe. Her work is filled with joyful detail, and often captures the humor and frailty of intimate moments. She is an inspired event planner, maker of unique, handmade party decor, and defender of fun. You would be lucky to take a road trip with her. See Emily’s work at www.emilybucholz.com.
-Alisha Adams, Curator
I found out about playwright Alisha Adams on my deep reads of the FringeArts guide. After speaking to her over the phone, I chose her as one of fifteen curated artists in my Fringe bike tours, and though I haven’t met her in person, the people I’ve sent her way—Curate This photographer Lauren Karstens and Women Bike PHL’s Katie Monroe—have thanked me, as apparently it’s a joy to get to know her. I still have not seen an Adams production, but through her writing, and the work of artists she curated for Curate This, I’ve come to respect her as a serious and deeply integrated Philadelphia artist, and I’m proud to feature her here.
-Julius Ferraro, co-founder
I don’t have my own writing studio, though I have vivid dreams of what it might look like: high ceilinged, bare and white, with plants that aren’t too needy and generous windows overlooking trees. I don’t even have a desk.
What I have is a six-by-eight-foot bedroom with a child’s futon on the floor and walls covered in fading posters. I can sit at a round table in my cluttered-yet-breezy living room, or recline with my laptop on the thrifted La-Z-Boy. It’s a quick walk to the coffee shop where I know most faces and linger to read every business card and flyer neatly stacked by the half and half. And I have all the spaces near and between.
When I’m working on a play, where I write changes based on the where I am in the play’s development. Park benches and sunny cafes without wi-fi are for early drafts with pen and paper, and the La-Z-Boy and side table are perfect for quickly typing up raw scenes. The generous back table of Franny Lou’s Porch is the perfect spot for outlining story arcs and rearranging plot points with color-coded notecards. Then I read and tinker in bed, propped on several pillows, until I can take a freshly printed first draft out to a cafe and scrawl all over it. If I’m lucky enough to reach the workshop or rehearsal stage, I may find myself in a black box theater, borrowed office space, or gallery.
My most recent play, Shelter-in-Place, brought me to Las Parcelas, a community garden and Puerto Rican cultural space in Philadelphia’s Norris Square neighborhood. We performed the play without mics or lights or a set. The only thing separating us from the noise and activity of the neighborhood was a chainlink fence. The actors—in character—danced to hiphop from passing cars, waved to kids playing outside, talked back to sirens, and laughed as one man slowly rolled a giant plastic barrel down the street. I was more comfortable working here than under a proscenium.
My writing process has always been connected to place. Fresh out of college, I wrote a book of poems about the strange, sunny depression of living with my parents in Santa Barbara. The first play lab I ever joined met in the basement of my East Los Angeles apartment building, and my writing had a blind, plunging, subconscious quality. Then, my first “real” plays were all inspired by the foggy shores and singing whales of the San Juan Islands. Other Tongues came from childhood road trips to the Navajo Nation and undergrad studies in Sierra Leone led to Go Yeri Ston. And I can’t leave out Holler Farm in upstate New York, the North Fork John Day Wilderness, and my downstairs add-on bathroom.
Writers are famously particular about their space, and I’m no different. Only I need variety more than reliability, public spectacle and communal clatter more than seclusion. I do wonder sometimes how my constantly shifting “studio” shapes my work. Would the continuity of a single writing space better enable me to hear and hone my singular voice? Maybe. But then maybe my voice is singularly variable.
Once, in an Artist’s Way workshop hosted in a neighborhood church, I broke down in tears sharing a quilt design I’d intuitively made to represent my “patchwork” life—the many places I’ve lived and visited and all the jobs, relationships, and creative projects attached. They were tears of acceptance. In my ham-handed way, I was making peace with having often divergent interests and impulses; with having a life full of seams.
All photos by Lauren Karstens