Portrait of myself as my father by nora chipaumire. Julius Ferraro's Fringe Picks. Curate This.

I Have Always Liked Climbing on Top of Things

25 Shows in 34 Hours: Julius’ Fringe Schedule

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.

Animal Farm to Table by The Renegade Company. Photo by Daniel Kontz. Julius Ferraro's Fringe Picks. Curate This.
Animal Farm to Table. Photo by Daniel Kontz.

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.

Cellophane by Mac Wellman, produced by Jenny Kessler and John Bezark, Julius Ferraro's Fringe Schedule, Curate This
Cellophane. Image by John Bezark.

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.

I Fucking Dare You by the Berserker Residents, Julius Ferraro's Fringe Picks, Curate This
I Fucking Dare You

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.

Pandaemonium by Nichole Canuso. Julius Ferraro's Fringe Picks. Curate This.
Pandæmonium

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.

Explicit Female by Zornitsa Stoyanova. Photo by Will Drinker. Julius Ferraro's Fringe Picks. Curate This
Explicit Female. Photo by Will Drinker.

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.

One Way Red by Medium Theatre Company. Photo by Kate Raines. Julius Ferraro's Fringe Picks. Curate This.
One Way Red. Photo by Kate Raines.

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.

Portrait of myself as my father by nora chipaumire. Julius Ferraro's Fringe Picks. Curate This.
Portrait of myself as my father

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.

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, Philly.com, 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.
Zornitsa Stoyanova, Lick My Gun, Curate This

I Have Always Liked Climbing on Top of Things

Six Performances Not to Miss This Month

You’re too busy to follow performance in Philly. That’s okay—We’ve been watching the best contemporary theater and dance for the last six years and we’ll tell you what to see. We’ve got a list of the best performers, theater makers, dancers, and Philly-famous stars that you can check out in April.

1. The Fever
By Wallace Shawn, restaged by Scott Rodrigue
April 12-22
PLAYS AND PLAYERS, 1714 DELANCEY PLACE
playsandplayers.org/the-fever/

The Fever, Curate This

This political restaging of Shawn’s play about accountability and entitlement will feel super relevant. Rodrigue is a Grotowski-based performance researcher with extensive training, and this is his first major show in Philadelphia. The production follows socialist models, being communally directed by a variety of collaborators and offering subsidized early bird tickets. This Thursday night is socialist night.

2. Lick my Gun
By Zornitsa Stoyanova
Saturday, April 15
MASCHER SPACE, 155 CECIL B MOORE
RSVP on Facebook

Zornitsa Stoyanova, Lick My Gun, Curate This
Artwork by Zornitsa Stoyanova

Zornitsa is one of the most innovative dancemakers in Philly, and a favorite of Curate This. “For almost 3 months I have been rehearsing with a group of dancers asking the above questions and exploring ideas around female sexuality tied to gun violence. Statistics like, its almost 3 times more likely for you to be killed by your own child or any other toddler than any terrorist, strike home.”

3. Anna
By Brenna Geffers and the Ensemble
March 29-April 16
LATVIAN SOCIETY, 531 N. 7TH ST.
egopo.org/anna

Anna, EgoPo, Curate This
Photo by Dave Sarrafian

Brenna Geffers is one of the best directors working in Philly, and she’s also the author of this adaptation of Anna Karenina (which is, in our humble opinion, one of the most searing and intelligent novels ever written). The incredible cast, including the super charming and versatile Andrew Carroll, is just a bonus.

4. Gumshoe
By New Paradise Labs
April 8 – May 7
FREE LIBRARY OF PHILADELPHIA, 1901 VINE STREET
Reserve a session here

Gumshoe, New Paradise Labs, Curate This

New Paradise Labs has been making exciting physical theater work in Philly for decades, and this immersive performance investigates the never-ending struggle between fact, fiction, and falsehood. “Library agents will lead you through secret doors and down escape hatches into the underbelly of the building. Codes, puzzles, disguises, and subterfuge – a bobsled ride into the world of lost books.”

5. Get Pegged with Ivo Dimchev
Friday, April 14
FRINGEARTS, 140 N. COLUMBUS BLVD.
fringearts.com/event/get-pegged-cabaret-10/

ivodimchev400-263x300

Okay, so after all that serious shit just chill out with some cabaret and sexy puns. Get Pegged is always some wacky fun but this session features Ivo Dimchev, an incredibly daring and talented theater artist.

And we can’t seriously do this without upping  . . .

6. Parrot Talk
By Julius Ferraro (that’s me)
April 28-30
DA VINCI ART ALLIANCE, 704 CATHARINE STREET
parrottalk.bpt.me

Curate This, Julius Ferraro, Parrot Talk
Photo by Louise ORourke Photography

Parrot Talk is a metaphysical thriller about dying on the way to the grocery store. It features some of the most talented performers in Philly, outrageous abstracted language, and fundamentals of chaos. You’ll want to be there.

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, Philly.com, 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.
Mira Treatman, Curate This, In Search of Resting Bitch Body

Lecture Hall

In Search of Resting Bitch Body

I met director and dancer Mira Treatman at a workshop series on Grotowski technique run by Scott Rodrigue. At first I thought, who is this quiet, intensely internal person? And then I thought, wow, who IS this quiet, intensely internal person? Though we only worked together in five workshops, I was struck by her unusual seriousness and determination, and was extremely pleased when she agreed to collaborate with Curate This. Mira has performed in works by Sylvain Emard, Renee Archibald, Gina T’ai, Chris Johnson, and Cie Carabosse/Teatro Linea de Sombra. Other long-term collaborations include three full-length narrative dances with Corinne “Marilu” Wiesner (Mod Nut, Cinder Ella, and Protestant Reggae Ballet) and Rejected Thoughts with filmmaker and actor Irina Varina.

-Julius Ferraro, co-founder

In making a performance my prerogative is to have supreme control over how people view the performer. This stems not from narcissism, but from an authentic desire to communicate my ideas clearly. Keeping folks’ attention is the only surefire way to get my points across and if no one gets those points, then I find the whole process of mounting work to be meaningless.

To create a performance I seek credibility. To appear this way, especially when portraying a version of myself, I forge a powerful and control-demanding physicality. I do not think this is necessary for all performers to gain credibility, but with my social status as female and youthful and 5 feet tall, it is perhaps a necessary evil (although I do derive much pleasure from feeling powerful and strong). To appear powerful in front of a public, I seek a neutral stance when I am not engaging directly in an action, one I lovingly dub “resting bitch body.”

Much like a “resting bitch face,” this neutral way of holding the body communicates disinterest in others while commanding others’ attention toward itself (see this summary in the New York Times). The stance frightens but no one can look away. This tension of “I want to look but it scares me” or “I want to look but I don’t know what I’m seeing” or “I’m looking and I like it but I don’t want to like it” is my goal. I desire the bitchy resting body because it serves as a poker face and is open for interpretation. At times this body’s manifestation is an authoritative public speaker; for example a lecturer may easily command attention because she’s moving intuitively like some kind of bird of prey. The tension of tracking her next move makes it hard for an audience member to look away. Other times this body is Mona Lisa-subtle. An audience member could stare at a bitchy resting body performer for the entire duration of her performance and have no sense of her emotional state. I am attracted to the fear-inciting ambiguity.

Codified performance forms come with their own neutral or default body positions and dance is probably the finest example of this. For concert dance-forms there is a default way that a trained performer carries herself when not executing a major step or theatrical action. Concert dance audiences come to the theater with a set of expectations, regardless of their familiarity with the choreography, of how to interpret or even read the performance through the neutral body stance of the performers. On the balletic end of the spectrum dancers are supported from their core with an erect spine conjuring a regal image while perhaps on the contemporary side dancers may have more fluidity and asymmetry in their spine. Regardless of these differences these neutral stances serve the same purpose in concert dance, which is to communicate the status of the performer. Through reading the bodies in neutral, the audience is primed to know who’s a hero or villain in a narrative and non-narrative work alike within the context of the dance-form. This is exactly the kind of tool kit I am pursuing in dance-theater making: to create a bitchy resting lens from which an audience clearly views my creation.

In addition to priming audience members, having a default neutral body serves as the barometer of normal. This might be one of my favorite parts about making new work, which is that I can sculpt the status quo to be whatever I desire. I create and set the barometer of normal. If a performer is portraying an ingenue, I can hypothetically have her assume the physicality of a wild turkey vulture and she can still be an ingenue in the world I’ve created. In actuality, I can also have this ingenue hold herself in a bitchy resting body stance where she’s still holding the role of the ingenue thematically, but her body is powerful, tough and authoritative. Using my own barometer of normal, this bitchy ingenue anomaly makes total sense.

Then there’s what in all of this keeps me up at night: my concern over whether or not having a resting bitch body as my neutral stance in fact reinforces stereotypes and the structures that cause cycles of violence and injustice propagated by the hierarchy resting bitch is trying to get away from. I know that I am perceived as a weak, lower status body in the Western performance canon, therefore I should present myself as tough and powerful to counteract the binary, right? But what if I just eschew the Western performance canon altogether and just have fun and portray my body ignoring all of that uber liberal crap drilled into my head since age 5. I seriously do not know! That’s why this keeps me up at night. Intentionally performing a resting bitch stance is reactionary and defensive towards the powers-that-be and it could be more powerful to ignore those powers altogether.

My favorite physical theater teacher of all time once made a comment to me that has stuck forever. I was trying to negotiate something with him, probably something like a deadline for an assignment or something of little consequence. He happened to be about a foot taller than me and so it was next to impossible to make eye contact with him without jutting my face up unless he was sitting. I found myself addressing him in this way frequently and began to develop a habit of sticking my chin out and widening my eyes for reasons I didn’t fully understand at the time. In my memory it was an instinctive way of communicating with a superior. That one day when I was making the negotiation, he called me out that sticking out my chin and widening my eyes did not make me appear more powerful whatsoever in the bargaining process. Ever since I’ve tried to figure out how to make things go my way through my physicality knowing that every little movement, whether consciously or subconsciously, becomes a data point for those viewing me to interpret. This favorite teacher even identified as a lefty feminist non-hierarchical experimental theater PhD and still I found myself viewing him as a superior. Ultimately, my drive to cultivate a powerful physicality comes down to something of a Napoleon complex. I’m okay with it.

Mira Treatman and the finger wag, Curate This, photo by Lauren Karstens

In the Studio

All-Consuming Zealotry

I met director and dancer Mira Treatman at a workshop series on Grotowski technique run by Scott Rodrigue. At first I thought, who is this quiet, intensely internal person? And then I thought, wow, who IS this quiet, intensely internal person? Though we only worked together in five workshops, I was struck by her unusual seriousness and determination, and was extremely pleased when she agreed to collaborate with Curate This. Mira has performed in works by Sylvain Emard, Renee Archibald, Gina T’ai, Chris Johnson, and Cie Carabosse/Teatro Linea de Sombra. Other long-term collaborations include three full-length narrative dances with Corinne “Marilu” Wiesner (Mod Nut, Cinder Ella, and Protestant Reggae Ballet) and Rejected Thoughts with filmmaker and actor Irina Varina.

-Julius Ferraro, co-founder

For the last six months I’ve had the privilege of working with Irina Varina on Rejected Thoughts, the first full-length piece we have made together. We only met nine months ago and thus this process has been nothing short of a whirlwind, a tornado, and an all-consuming zealotry for making live performance. I welcome you into the studio with reflections on this time exclusively from my perspective. My views do not necessarily reflect Irina’s; however, I have her permission to share my thoughts on our collaborative process.

Mira Treatman tumbles for Irina Varina, Curate This, photo by Lauren Karstens

Mira Treatman stands over meditative Irina Varina, Curate This, photo by Lauren Karstens

Rejected Thoughts ended up being a collection of dance-theater experiments we performed in a home as part of SoLow Fest in June 2016. We started noticing when we would reject our own ideas in their infancy, before they even had a fighting chance to become something. This focus on the discarded eventually became the uniting force in our process. At times this was where the unity ended. Despite having a shared goal and passion for working, we came to the studio with different tools and preferences.

To give you some background: my training is in dance, but I also hold a degree in theater directing. I’m a nerd. I read statistics for fun. I founded a Latin language club in high school. I enjoy symmetry, organization, athletic challenges, and control. I don’t do well with ruminating. Irina comes from an acting and filmmaking background. She’s come to live performance after working as a director and an actor on screen. She hasn’t been on a stage her entire life the way some of my peers have, which I find refreshing. Aesthetically, though, we really differ. She loves seeing vulnerability and authenticity before anything else in performance. I love stage magic and starting from the codified rules I have studied. On my own, I prioritize magic over authenticity. I don’t believe either way is better or more correct, but it can be challenging to communicate when your past experiences have less overlap. When it comes to the meat of the work, Irina is able to lock herself up in her own mind. I find it challenging to be in my own brain without physical embodiment. I admire her ability to concentrate on thinking, but it is the opposite of my default way of working. This hit home for me when I realized that even our tea preferences reflected this: she would go for ginger and lemon to warm up and I chose peppermint to cool down.

A touch of alchemy happens when Irina and I work together because we want to make performances so badly. Despite our differences, we desire to make performances about what we care about, which I deeply cherish even though we would sometimes spend hours on a single detail. Working on my own I would never stick with one little detail for more than a few minutes. Both openly arguing and sharing disagreements were radical changes to the way I work. Our rehearsals were not geared toward productivity as at times it felt like taking a slow train towards mindfulness or something. After all, we were making art about thinking!

Irina Varina and Mira Treatman laughing about babushkas, Curate This, photo by Lauren Karstens
Mira Treatman and Irina Varina in babushkas and thought, Curate This, Lauren Karstens Mira and Irina working, Curate This, photo by Lauren Karstens

Completely unintentionally, Irina and I both had our ancestry on our minds during our process. We chose to hone in one area of our backgrounds, our individual relationships with wearing a babushka. Once we started playing with this part of our costume I began to feel so at ease, entertained, and on the cusp of making a breakthrough surrounding my identity. Physically embodying one part of my culture was the key here. No matter what I did or said while wearing the babushka, I knew Irina would be open to it, so I really really went for it and was able to say a lot of things that I had pent up for years. She gave me the full respect of truly listening. I enjoyed having space to explore our individuality in relation to the babushkas, but I still felt unity in our choice to wear them together. Just like our separate tea preferences and methods of working, our respective ancestries are another joyous celebration of difference.

Mira Treatman and Irina Varina notes, Curate This, photo by Lauren Karstens

Long shot of Irina Varina and Mira Treatman, Curate This, photo by Lauren Karstens

There were times over the last six months when I felt frustrated with the way Irina and I openly disagreed with each other. Hypothetically, if there were only one director leading the project and the other collaborator following along, I know that we would have used our time very differently and knowing this made patience hard to maintain. If we had little to no dissension we would have made the piece faster, but perhaps, if we had made the show with none of the that tension, it would have come out too vanilla or lacking intensity.

I committed myself to this project despite my frustrations because the tone of the rehearsal room was always respectful and constructive and with little whining or defeatism. When I look at Lauren Karstens’ photographs, I see two polar-opposite people who choose to build on common ground and to seek that common ground before difference. To be the artist I desire to be, which is one who stands strongly on her personal philosophy, I desire equally strong-willed people to keep me grounded in my own voice. Working just with people similar to me only provides a skewed version of the world.

Mira Treatman and Irina Varina, the art of the finger wag, Curate This, photo by Lauren Karstens

All photos by Lauren Karstens.

The dramaturg is present, Erin Washburn

$$$

Following the Money

Erin Washburn is someone I’m always excited and relieved to work with during a creative process. While she is often one of the smartest people in the room, she has a knack for making others feel that way, too. Her cool-headedness and gusto for digging into the depths of new works keep her in high demand in the Philadelphia theater scene. Erin is a freelance dramaturg and producer and currently serves as Company Dramaturg for The Renegade Company, Producing Associate for Orbiter 3, and Literary, Marketing & Development Assistant for InterAct Theatre Company. Erin has also worked with Shakespeare in Clark Park, Tiny Dynamite, Theatre Exile, PlayPenn, the Wilma Theater, and Studio Theatre in Washington, DC. She is an alumna of InterAct’s apprenticeship program and a graduate of Bryn Mawr College.

-Dani Solomon, curator

I’ve never met an artist who did just one thing.

I remember discovering dramaturgy in college and thinking, “This is it. This is what I’m going to do the rest of my life.” I think back on senior year as this golden period of self-assured artistry. I was working on a play I really liked, rich with dramaturgical possibilities. I came to rehearsal armed with research that enriched the play without locking the actors into set of prescriptive period-accurate choices. The director and actors listened to my notes. I remember feeling this enormous sense of control and agency—I was making something the way I wanted to. In all the theatrical dabbling I had done, nothing else had felt like this. As an actor, I felt like an inflatable doll being pushed around the stage. As a technician, I was constantly anxious about not being capable enough (with good reason—I once dropped a light from our catwalk and left a dent in our stage). I felt like I had figured out my role in the American theater.

Here’s the thing about dramaturgy: it’s a difficult practice to boil down and describe. Even reading what I just wrote, I’m thinking, “No, that’s not quite right, that sounds like all I do is Google things and watch rehearsal.” Dramaturgy is a nebulous field: it can take form in everything from research packets to new play workshops to lobby displays to Howlround essays; its composite responsibilities shift with each project. But newly armed with my degree and bursting with pride, I decided I didn’t care if no one knew what dramaturgy was. I knew what it was; I knew who I was; and I would demand my work be respected and valued.

As I began to move around in Philly’s theater community and stumbled into other working artists, I noticed that their personal descriptors weren’t as firm as mine. Instead, they would have a list of two to three roles they could fulfill at any given time. Actor and teacher. Playwright and actor and technician. Director and producer and stage manager. And as the months slipped by and I settled into the grind of searching for projects, I noticed myself falling into this phenomenon as well.

I’ve been really lucky, running into various gigs as a dramaturg, many of which I’m really proud of. But I’ve had gut-wrenching disappointments as well, when I felt like my work was being taken advantage of, or that what I had to offer couldn’t do the production much good. What use are my insights when the director chastises me for giving them, claiming I’ve offered notes outside “my” domain and essentially treating me like a human search engine? What good are my research skills when the show I’m working on is barely funded?

As I became less secure in the value I could offer as a dramaturg, I started testing the waters to see where I could be more of use. That’s how I started describing it—I’m more “useful” when I do things people “need.” People always need help raising money, so I’ll help with grants. People always need someone to organize how their show gets made, so I’ll be a producer. People always need someone to handle crotchety patrons, so I’ll work in box office. People always need caffeine; I’ll run and get coffee. Little by little I spread myself out, my crystalized identity softening to encompass as many roles as I think I can handle (a load I’m still calibrating and will probably continue to calibrate until I die or stop making theatre).

You have to be flexible to succeed as an artist. In order to find work, you need to be willing to roll up your sleeves and get stuff done, put your finger in every pie, throw your hat into every ring. And I wonder, is it because we love what we do so much we want to always be doing it? Is it that knowing how to do multiple things makes us better artists? Or is our scramble to overexert ourselves a symptom of how our work—how our field—is valued? Is it an impulse or a necessity?

My mom is an accountant. She majored in accounting in college; she studies to maintain her CPA status every year; she’s been working in accounting for commercial ventures and non-profits for a few decades. Her responsibilities have changed—I couldn’t begin to describe the high-level work she does restructuring her company’s financial accountability system here and abroad—but the department she works in has stayed the same. She’s moved up, not spread out. Her work is always needed at a higher level. She has skills that are considered necessary. She is valued.

Articulating these feelings makes me extremely anxious. I feel like one of those brats people on the internet want to “destroy.” I’m afraid of sounding ungrateful (why is that the word that comes to mind?). I’m lucky to have the opportunity to do so much (but why do I feel like I have to do so much?). A lot of this is self-inflicted; I have to take responsibility for how I manage my time (why do I feel like I have to apologize?). And the truth is, underneath the stress and the insecurity and guilt, I love a lot of what I do. I believe everyone does. I don’t think you can work in theatre without loving it. It’s not worth the heartache otherwise. So I say “yes” to something and smash it into my schedule, eschewing the daily time commitments of my life. It’s a compulsion born out of love and fear. If I say no to one opportunity, I may never have another.

There are times when Philly’s theater community feels so small, but in fact, it’s huge. There are so many of us and more are always pouring in. And we all love what we do and we all want to work, but there are only so many jobs to go around. And we’re all trying for those jobs and we’re all wishing there were more out there, but there’s only so much money for them. There’s only so much money doled out to so many people, and that money tends to favor certain opportunities, which only certain people can offer. So really this compulsive multitasking is a fiscal strategy. Expand your horizons to encompass everything so that you’re eligible for anything.

It’s proof positive of my privilege that it took so long for me to realize my surety in school was because my needs were taken care of already. There would always be an opportunity for me to work in my chosen path because there had to be, it’s part of the mechanism of the environment. And because I was fortunate enough to be supported through school, I was able to focus solely on this one occupation.

Specialization is a symptom of stability. And anyone can tell you, even if they don’t work in this field—this magnificent field that fills my heart but is wracked with scarcity—that it is anything but stable. There are too many people and not enough opportunities. There are too many projects and not enough grant funding. There are too many Indiegogo campaigns. You have to keep moving, keep following the money. I don’t know what the solution is, or if there needs to be one. The system works for a lot of people, if they can figure out how much they can take. If they can spread themselves out without spreading themselves thin.

Photo courtesy of Erin Washburn.

Medium Theater Company - Mason in a cage

Artist to Artist

Podcast: The Mediums Make Theater

Morgan Fitzpatrick Andrews and Mason Rosenthal have been working together since 2012 under the auspices of Medium Theatre Company. Their site-specific productions in Rutherford Hall—about a two hour drive out of Philly into New Jersey—feature large casts activating multiple rooms in the suburban mansion with interactive, multi-sensual performance.

In Curate This‘ first podcast, Dani Solomon, who began working with the Mediums two years ago and is now a company member, talks with Morgan and Mason about their differences—in production style, social sensibilities, artistic strengths, finances—and the particulars of navigating differences as artistic collaborators.

The first time they worked together intimately was Mason’s one-man show Nobody’s Home. For their initial rehearsals, Morgan set up a system where Mason would create a one minute performance with only two minutes of prep in a tiny, cell-like bedroom. Morgan, stopwatch in hand, would enter the room after the two allotted minutes, and leave after one minute of performance. Then the process began again immediately.

“Morgan tortured me, basically,” Mason laughs. “It was amazing, but it felt like torture for a while.”

“It’s a bit of that exquisite corpse,” says Morgan, “of being able to take different images and then sequence them in a way that makes sense. But then also taking those starting images and branching them out and growing them into something that’s a bit more crystallized into an actual scene.”

Mason adds, “Susan Rethorst has this phrase that making is thinking. So the act of making things over and over again is a kind of thinking and a kind of very sophisticated thinking that’s different from talking about what the show might be or writing it out. And we did a lot of making as thinking.” Within these limitations, says Mason, “We were building a vocabulary together.”

Morgan will more often concede control than take it. “You have a specific way that you like to run rehearsals,” Mason describes, “as a collective, that comes from your history of organizing groups and political activism. You play this funny role as the leader but also you want people to step up in certain moments and for you to be able to step back.

“I learned very early on,” he continues, “that if I want this to go the way I want it to go I have to step up and decide that I’m the director now in this moment. And I enjoyed that. It was stressful to have to do that at the last moment, but I enjoyed it.”

“Not everyone will step up in a situation like that,” Dani points out. “It’s one thing to acknowledge an opportunity for someone to step up but not everyone feels empowered to do that, and sometimes that does leave things not getting accomplished.”

”I’m not telling anyone what to do,” Morgan responds. “I’m giving everyone a frame through which to do things.”

In workshops Morgan facilitates through Philadelphia Theatre of the Oppressed, he says, “people start by playing these games, and then the games develop into techniques. It’s not like I give a bunch of kids four crayons and [tell them what to draw]. It’s like, okay, here’s sixty crayons and a piece of paper. How was your day? That’s more the way I want a process to look.

“What ends up happening is people are able to insert their own stories into that framework. I’m basically providing the frame but they’re the artist who then provides the picture.”

Listen to the full conversation:

All photos by Amy Hufnagel

Music in podcast by Kulululu

Dani Solomon in a hood

$$$

Embrace the Artist Identity

I have had the excellent fortune to have worked with Dani Solomon on multiple projects over the last 18 months. Dani has a seemingly endless store of energy and creative force, working nonstop with a variety of collaborators while also furthering her own work. After only three years in Philadelphia she is variously accomplished: Dani is a graduate of Headlong Performance Institute, is a member of Medium Theatre Company and Thespionage Theatre Company, and has worked with Lightning Rod Special, Team Sunshine Performance Corporation, 14th Street, and the Institute for Pschyogeographic Adventure. Dani’s work as a theater maker, writer, and director has been produced at Colgate University, SoLow Festival, and the Philadelphia Fringe Festival.

-Julius Ferraro, co-founder

No matter what work you find yourself in, explaining it to someone outside your field will always be tough. When art is that work, describing it becomes a special kind of challenge.

Outside our dynamic, ever-expanding art-making bubble, art is readily conflated with entertainment—a highly consumable, available product with standardized criteria for what’s “good” and “bad.” Entertainment is fueled by cash in a way that art tries not to be. The value of a physical theater piece, sound installation, or movement experiment is inherent in the experience of it, not in the dollars that flow in and out, but this process- and experience-based value system is hard to sell to someone who is more familiar with the economy of the entertainment world.

On top of overcoming entertainment and art’s sibling rivalry, there is the ubiquitous question (of debatable value in itself)…

– What do you do?
– – I’m a performer and creator in the Philadelphia theater scene.
– So, what do you actually DO?
– – . . . Marketing . . . for a software company.

This is a hard question for me to answer. Are they asking what I like to do? How I make money? What makes me tick? In the same breath that I want to explain my artistic interests, I feel the need to also justify why I make art in the first place, as if it is the elephant in the room. Whereas the value of entertainment is justifiable in a capitalist framework, the pragmatic value of art is difficult to explain in that same frame.

So, what do you do? What do I do? What do we do what do we do what do we do?

As a young artist who cannot afford to rely solely on an artistic practice for financial security, I find myself grappling with a doubleness of identity in both being an artist and having a day job. (Of course, there is more to who I am than my artistic work and my rent-food-and-Netflix job.)

For one thing, I’m still building the confidence to consistently identify myself as an artist, something triply challenging in less artistic spaces. That inner voice constantly prods: Am I really an artist? Is my art financially successful enough to claim that I’m an artist? Do enough other artists know my work for me to be an artist? Do I make art often enough to say I’m an artist?

I try to tell that incessant voice: Yes, I make art, so I’m an artist. But this voice finds fertilizer in environments like these:

– So now that you’re done with that show, does everyone have a break from theater for a while?
– – Uhh, it’s not a universal break no, like, not every theater artist has a break right now, but yes, I have some time between projects.
– Oh, that’s nice. Once I’m finished with this wedding stuff, I should find a hobby, I’ll have a lot of free time on my hands.

I could just hide it—pretend this art-making ailment doesn’t exist. Try to pass as a hobbyist. Sometimes I do, because it’s easier. I don’t have to explain that part of myself. I just float. But floating throws away an opportunity.

As a whole, we young artists need to be better at claiming our artistic identity because it is our obligation to communicate the importance of our practice in a society that otherwise will not hear it.

So, when questions like What did you do this weekend? Will I see you on Broadway one day? What do you do? come up, let’s not take the easy way out. Move that uncertainty aside to preserve the integrity and health of our field. Don’t separate yourself from the path you have chosen when it’s convenient. Creativity is not an otherness. Humans survived through our creativity and our resourcefulness. In our own small, humble way, we help move humanity forward while preserving its sanity, vulnerability, and openness.

Let’s tell people about our artistic work. Prepare a short version and a long version, a version for someone who’s last brush with theater was skimming Romeo and Juliet in high school and one for a Walnut season subscriber. Do not be ashamed of your work in all its weirdness, rawness, and contradiction. Peel back the curtain of your art-making and let people in. Let them in, damn it! Do not judge it for others, and do not apologize for what it is or what it is not. But use your judgment: there are times when discussing the difference between boundary-pushing theater and theater built for mass consumption will go on deaf ears.

We need to be the ambassadors of our artistic community because no one else will. Though our interests may be niche, we shouldn’t assume that no one else wants in. That elitist attitude won’t grow our audiences. If you believe in the worthiness of your work and that of your peers, then won’t your co-workers deserve to experience that art, as well? Maybe they’re the ones who need your work the most.

– Lot of housework this weekend. Put up some crown molding, planted some grass in the backyard, hung some towel rods. What about you?
– – I had a rehearsal for this piece I’m making about Mars. We’re interested in questions about our place in the universe, loneliness, and our collective interest in space . . . I’m a theater artist.
– Oh, that’s cool. Would I have seen any of your work? Are you part of a theater company?
– – Yeah, I’m part of Medium Theatre Company?
– Oh, neat.
– – . . . Yeah.
– Well, let me know next time you’re doing a skit.

Photo credit: Camilla Dely

Red 40 Mike Jackson_small

Artist to Artist

If Mike Didn’t Draw It, It Doesn’t Matter

I met Mike Jackson back in 2011 when he started to hang out and draw at Indy Hall. We were the only artist/illustrators there at the time that were actively creating and drawing.

In April of 2013 I produced his solo show, Fast, for a Catcher, where he filled the entire gallery with artwork and stories surrounding his love of baseball. Since then, Mike and I have produced art shows, collaborated on pieces, painted giant murals ,and have encouraged each other to continue to live our lives as creators.

As my drawing mentor, he is constantly encouraging me to settle for nothing but my best. Mike wants everybody to be at their best so he can share the incredible things that people are capable of.

This is why I chose to interview my friend, teacher and collaborator to find out where this incredible execution of colors and lines came from and the stories he is telling with them.

-Sean Martorana, curator

Fast for a Catcher Mike Jackson

SM: Tell me the story of your earliest art and design influences.

MJ: My grandfather saw that I had an interest in drawing. He sat down with me one Saturday night and showed me how to draw a convertible in one point perspective. I remember him specifically saying “. . . and you can add a little fella in there, and then you can draw a sidewalk and he’s looking at a pretty girl at the stop light. You can just keep adding and adding to this.” This was the first time that I got permission to keep building.

I also remember drawing Batman in the frost on the bus in first grade. I did a different super hero every morning. I knew they were going to the next public school when they dropped us off. So I was leaving something behind to build a legend.

It didn’t work. I was not a legend. But my Batman got tighter.

Was there a moment when you really decided you wanted to focus on illustration full time?

I felt like everybody in grade school was the best at something. For some reason I thought I was the best of the best if I could draw really well. I wanted to be known as “the drawing guy.”

In the third grade there was a girl who took art lessons on Saturdays and I remember thinking, “I can’t afford art lessons.” I thought she was going to be better than me and I was going to lose “my thing.” She stopped taking lessons but I kept drawing because I really liked being the best.

Then I went to art school, at University of the Arts, because I figured this is what I’m good at and it’s worth pursuing. I didn’t know I had to know what I wanted to do with it. Art school was just the next logical step.

Line drawing from a live model by Mike Jackson, collection of Sean Martorana

You have a very strong style that you have crafted over time. It’s your hand, your signature. Was there a specific moment you started to find this approach?

College is when I got introduced to line. Up until then I was just trying to draw as realistically as possible. Then there was this girl in college and her renderings were beautiful. Untouchable. So I thought, ok, I’m going to have to figure out a signature. Otherwise I will just be reaching for something that I am good at, and she’s just better.

There was a class with teacher by name of Roger Roth. He encouraged that every week we draw differently. That is the first time I started thinking about bringing a voice to illustration.

He also introduced me to David Stone Martin and Al Hirschfeld, and from there I started drawing with line.

I find your lines to be very animated. They are very loose but sophisticated and intentional. Is there something in your style of line that helps tell the story of the people you draw?

Usually I try to tell as much story with as little line as possible. The more line I have, the closer I get to rendering, and I am trying to get as far away from that as possible but still pass some kind of recognition onto the viewer.

Jazz Mike Jackson

One thing I appreciate with your lines is that they are so tight. In contrast, your color is not as clean. Is there a reason your color is so much looser in its execution than your lines?

Recently I’ve tried not to paint but to apply color. Color adds depth beyond the line . . . which is fun. I want people to have a smile even if it’s just internal. I want them to feel better about something when looking at my work.

Some guys Mike Jackson

Since you like to capture moments and tell stories of incredible people, is there one particular story that stands out to you?

One would be the Kinetic Sculpture Derby piece. It was just a summarization of this day that I had. We went to the Trenton Avenue Arts Festival and were walking up to Frankford Avenue as these people showed up. It was absurd and wonderful I thought if this isn’t the best gateway for telling this day I don’t know what is.

Just two people covered in balloons.

Kinetic Sculpture Derby Mike Jackson

After watching a parade of a viking ship that had 18 people peddling, which is amazing, then these guys were just wearing balloons. It was this simple display of absurdity that I appreciated.

This was a lot of fun because it is simple. The color is exactly what I wanted to do. It’s just an application of color that ended up emphasizing the story.

Is there a subject you are currently interested in?

I have been drawing the theater around Philadelphia. It’s a thing, which doesn’t get much attention, that I can add my voice to. In my world it doesn’t have a prominent voice. When I get together with my friends we talk about the Phillies.

I feel like it’s completely wide open to do what I want. I really don’t know of many people drawing the theater right now. So it seems like the wild west.

I’ve only been doing it for about 5 months but it’s gotten me into some really great shows and it’s another thing to bounce my drawings off of. I go see what other people are capable of doing and how can I show that through what I am capable of doing.

It’s been really great seeing how much work goes into a production, and then can I do it justice.

It’s so much fun.

Ok, final question, because I could go on and on. Do you have any bucket list projects, mediums or things you would like to see your career?

To be a part of a community where I am a respected influence in the community. That will be cool.

The biggest thing, which is why I do all of it, all these little tiny things, add up to the fact that I want to have been a prolific illustrator who supported himself and his family through illustration.

I also want people to say “If Mike didn’t draw it, it didn’t matter.”

Good answer.

Wait. One more question. Can you capture this interview in one of your daily drawings?

Sean and Mike by Mike Jackson

All images by Mike Jackson. Figure drawing from a live model is from the personal collection of Sean Martorana.

Team Sunshine Performance Corporation

Tip Jar

Creating a Company You Won’t Want to Murder With Your Bare Hands

Team Sunshine Performance Corporation call themselves “An Unstoppable Force for Good.” Comprised of Benjamin Camp, Alex Torra, and Makoto Hirano, their super playful persona overlays a serious and thoughtful approach to theater work. Nick Stuccio chose to curate them for this week of content, in part, because every work they create contains a public practice component; the audience is uniquely present in every plan they make. Here they drop a juicy slice of wisdom in our laps: how to run a friendly and effective administrative meeting.

-Julius Ferraro, co-founder

Like snowflakes or fingerprints, every company runs administrative meetings their own way. Whether intentional or not, those meetings become a reflection of the company’s values. We try to bring thoughtfulness to the way we accomplish our work, artistic and administrative. Our meetings are no different, and have been iteratively designed over the years we’ve been working together, evolving with the company’s needs. At this point, they’re designed to keep us in communication, which makes a huge difference in the long term prospect of not killing each other.

We’ve learned from a few sources—other arts companies we’ve worked with, jobs at restaurants and colleges, and also from the style of Quaker business meetings. We’ve settled on meeting once per week. Less than that was never enough.

Each meeting has a clerk, a position that can rotate, but doesn’t have to. For us, the clerk serves as the convener of the meeting, the timekeeper, and the person who moves us through the agenda. By being explicit about this role, we remove the pressure and guilt from the process of getting off track and back on. The clerk doesn’t take notes either, so they can focus on the flow of the meeting.

Our meetings follow this format:

1. Confirm the agenda.
We use a single document for our agenda that everyone has access to. That way, if something comes up during the week it can be added easily, and we can refer to previous agendas to see what might have gotten pushed. Clarifying and confirming the agenda helps us realize what the highest priorities are, helps us see if there’s anything missing, and gives us a sense of what we need to decide before we leave.

2. Moment of Silence.
Before we start the meeting proper, we give a moment of stillness and silence. It serves as a buffer between the rhythm of living your life and the more collaborative rhythm of the meeting, and reminds us that we are all present and together. A deep breath, before the work begins.

3. What’s News?
You know how everyone just likes to catch up a little before meetings start (and sometimes during)? We stopped fighting it. We take turns letting the others know what’s going on in our lives. This might be one of the most important things we’ve discovered in the last couple years.

When we don’t have meetings, our work suffers, and it isn’t because we’re not talking about the work—it’s because the connection frays, and communication gets harder. This sharing never feels like we’re wasting time, although it can be hard to end it and move on.

4. Projects, Events, Development, Other
We list out each of our projects on every agenda, even if there are no items. They stay in our consciousness that way. Each meeting addresses Development, and we write in the upcoming deadlines. Anything we can do to stay in front of those deadlines helps.

5. “For Newsfeed”, and “For Next Meeting”
We end our meetings by noting interesting things that could go up on our website, and writing down the items that we didn’t get to or that will be more relevant next time.

6. Closing Silence
In can sometimes be hard to tell when a meeting really ends. By taking another breath—of gratitude, of relief, of readiness, whatever you like—we wrap up the logistical and emotional components of collaborating. Then someone pays for the coffee, and we go off into the world.

By structuring our meetings this way, we maintain our friendships while making space for efficient decision making. By being clear about roles and rhythm for something as commonplace as an administrative meeting, stress goes down and joy goes up. If we’re still a company in 40 years, it will be partially because of the art, and partially because we look forward to working together, even in administrative meetings.

Photo by Elena Camp

The Dance Apocalypse. Photo by Kathryn Raines.

I Hate This Art

I Hate It

Nicole Bindler and Gabrielle Revlock, known together as The Dance Apocalypse, are dancers and choreographers who work together frequently in Philadelphia and abroad. Nick Stuccio has curated them here, in part, because of their unusual approach to audience interaction and audience building. We are very happy to present, here on Curate This, an original piece about what Gabi and Nicole hate.

-Julius Ferraro, co-founder

Nicole: I hate it when the presenter doesn’t let us bring our chickens.

Gabrielle: They’re not our chickens, they’re my dad’s.

Nicole: I hate it when a male choreographer’s female alias modeled after a porn star harrasses me on Facebook about my leg hair.

Gabrielle: I don’t have any leg hair because I went through a waxing phase and it never grew back.

Nicole: I hate it when the festival curator tries to charge the dancers in our piece $155 to perform with us because the festival is broke.

Gabrielle: Or when he schedules us to teach classes and we find out by browsing the festival website.

Nicole: Or when he threatens to sue us.

Gabrielle: I hate it when people put change in our donation jar.

Nicole: I hate it when my makeout partner* in our dance bites me so hard I bleed.

Gabrielle: I’m afraid of blood. That’s why in middle school I wouldn’t play dodge ball.

Nicole: I hate it when I see a previous makeout partner from our dance at a comedy club and they pretend they don’t know me.

Gabrielle: The worst date I ever went on was with a guy who called my parents’ community garden the “rape garden.” The second worst was with a nuclear engineer from a Birthright Israel trip.

Nicole: I told you not to go on Birthright, it’s funded by Sheldon Adelson.

Nicole: I hate it when a woman follows me into the bathroom after a performance, sits in the adjacent stall and tells me about her feces play-by-play.

Gabrielle: Not cool! Did you know Orthodox Jews never pee with the door open? I think that’s a good policy for maintaining romance.

Nicole: I hate it when one of our cast members can’t dance full out because his primary form of income is donating blood.

Gabrielle: And he’s not able to do a plié because he’s in the colorectal health study.

Nicole: I hate it when the body builder goes into a roid-rage, doesn’t show up for the performance and we have to replace him with the lady on crutches.

Gabrielle: I hate it when a famous choreographer is pitching a piece he just made to a presenter that’s like the one we made four years ago, and he’s gonna get the gig, not us.

Nicole: I hate it when my mom never comes to our shows and Gabi’s mom always brings cookies.

Gabrielle: My mom just texted me: “the cat is dead.”

Nicole: I hate it when the funder comes but doesn’t laugh at our jokes.

Gabrielle: I don’t laugh at our jokes either–it’s only you who thinks things are funny.

Nicole: I hate it when the presenter doesn’t let us drive the scooter in.

Gabrielle: I don’t know how to drive and I type with two fingers.

Nicole: I hate it when I get onstage and realize I forgot to bring the taxidermy fox hat.

Gabrielle: I hate it when we have a dead cat in a bag and you’re like “I’ll wear it if you take it out” and I’m like “I’ll wear it if you take it out” and we get nowhere.

Nicole: I hate it when a man tells us we have white, female privilege and I’m like, yeah we have white privilege, but what is female privilege? And because the comment was anonymous, we’ll never know the answer.

Gabrielle: I love that card. The writer was so full of passion. He wrote all over that tiny scrap of paper.

Nicole: I hate it that unison choreography makes people happy.

Gabrielle: I hate it that we don’t have three ears.

Nicole: We’d have a more accurate sense of where sound is coming from. Stereophonic hearing is decent but not as precise as tri-phonic.

Gabrielle: Yeah, three is more stable. You can’t have a chair with only two legs. We need a third ear!

Nicole: I hate it when people ask us to do things for free, like this article.

Gabrielle: If you would like to make a donation to The Dance Apocalypse follow this link: http://newyorklivearts.org/artist/gabriellerevlock, or come to our show, November 13-15 at AUX (Vox Populi) 319 N. 11th St. #3, Philadelphia, PA 19107.

Nicole: I hate it when my makeout partner makes me….

Gabrielle: Jeez Louise! How many makeout partners do you have??

Nicole: I hate it.

I made this for you. Photo by Kelly Strayhorn Theater.

*Makeout partner is the person Nicole kisses in “I made this for you” for four and a half minutes.

Photo Credits: (top) The Dance Apocalypse. Photo by Kathryn Raines. (bottom) I made this for you. Photo by Kelly Strayhorn Theater.

The Dance Apocalypse (Gabrielle Revlock and Nicole Bindler) is a Philadelphia-based company that makes dances with you and for you that transcend the border between audience and stage. Their work is fiercely feminist, wild, and genre defying. They are particularly interested in the Q and A format as performance; critiquing spectacle and competition in contemporary dance; collaboration as a practice and lifestyle. www.TheDanceApocalypse.org

There by Jo Stromgren Kompani. Photo by Knut Bry.

I Have Always Liked Climbing on Top of Things

Fringe = Regret Factory

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, Philly.com, 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.