Results tagged “Fringe Festival” from Drama Queen
There are still a few days left in the 2009 Philadelphia Live Arts/Fringe Festival, but what with the Jewish new year and other obligations, including the start of the regular theater season, I've had to cash out early. Good news is, this year--the festival's lucky 13th--paid out a jackpot. Bad news is, the house is in big trouble.
So first, about the good news. Of the 18 shows I viewed and/or reviewed, there was nary a pair of snake eyes in the bunch. Even better, though not for me, it sounds like I missed or am about to miss roughly 10 more don't-miss events. Even better than that, some of the world premieres--and not just the bussed-in ones, but shows by Philly-based companies--received national and international attention. My own experiences varied from being friended by a number of Facebook chimeras, then fed some sort of pill by one of my chimerical "friends" during the show (which, btw, turned out to be a Sweettart; Danh Marks, I want my money back) to being led, blindfolded and barefoot, onto the floor where I was ultimately buried alive while listening to Samuel Beckett, to getting dumped in public. It was a very good year.
Both of the festival's arms, comissioned (Live Arts) and indie (Fringe), stepped up, as did audiences who sold out performances in droves. Additionally, patrons at the Festival Bar (which, due to dueling official/unofficial cabaret entertainments was a source of contention in past years) seem to have forgiven and forgotten; last year's echo chamber became this year's throng. Most encouraging, however, was that the place was packed with all those young audiences the big houses so desperately seek. One Philly expat, in town with his show, looked around awestruck and declared, "This is a very, very sexy bar." Damn right it was, and made more so by the fact that it was composed entirely of theater and dance patrons and performers discussing the day's festival menu.
[Above left, playwright/performer Greg Giovanni and I help bring sexy back. Well, he does anyway. That's an awful picture of me.]
No more excuses brick and mortar companies, I hope you did your shopping and found some inspiration or talent worthy of development. The butts are there; make them want to fill your seats.
And so we've arrived at the bad news. Due to Philadelphia's budget crisis, the Mayor's Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy is in danger of closing on October 2. Philly's creative economy is one of the city's few success stories these days, and for it to continue to flourish it needs the mayor's full, organized support. Let Pennsylvania's officials know that closing this office is not only counterproductive--considering all the money and tax dollars brought in by the arts and their audiences--but downright self-destructive. Go here to state your case.
Finally, in case you were wondering, yes, I was working. The results (and my reviews of Live/Arts Fringe shows) are here, here, here, here, and here.
I'm away on vacation right now, and won't return until the start of the Philadelphia Live Arts/Fringe Festival on September 3, when I'll go from being tanned and well-rested to a 24/7 schedule of theater/new-school-year/High Holidays insanity. I know, cry me a river.
In the meantime, here's a link to whet your appetite for the festivities ahead. From today's Philadelphia Inquirer, it's my feature on Pig Iron Theatre Company's upcoming production of Welcome to Yuba City.
Also, check out the Live Arts Festival blog, a resource that's made it slightly tougher for me to unplug and completely enjoy being out of town.
Life on Facebook can get pretty weird. Suddenly guys you dumped 20 years ago are commenting on your family vacation photos, while people you can't recall ever talking to when you saw them every day now give you the thumbs up several times a week. This summer, New Paradise Laboratories is making Facebook even weirder.
NPL will present Fatebook here in Philly at September's Live Arts Festival. But in keeping with the show's theme--the blurring of online and real life--characters who will populate the performance are now on Facebook and Twitter and available for friending or following. Actually, the process began about a year ago when NPL posted the cast's audition videos on YouTube. Me? I friended them all, the Mormon missionary, the Canadian Zamboni driver, the beauty queen. I also went from resenting the effort, to maintaining mild suspicion, to looking for their status updates, and yes, interacting just the slightest bit. Sure it's strange trading quips with a fictional character, but considering that some of my mellowest friends are deeply engaged in a Facebook game called Mafia Wars, which causes them to post sentences saying, "I need illegal transaction records and an untraceable cellphone," maybe a whole lot of us are fictional characters online. The fictional June Summer McCarthy's current update reads, "If you can pretend some aspect of yourself isn't real, then it's not real... Right?"" To which the equally fictional Julia Zelda Taylor responds, "What's real?" Indeed.
The real question though, isn't just whether or not social media has become a means of fictionalizing ourselves (though that's a good one), but whether NPL artistic director Whit McLaughlin is, with Fatebook, expanding the very definition of live performance. Most theater companies use sites such as Facebook and Twitter to promote their performances or show backstage videos. NPL uses these sites as the performance itself, and for some reason it seems more immediate, closer to the meaning of live performance than, for example, an opera simulcast live from the Met to your local cinema. Somehow--perhaps due to its interactive nature--with a Facebook-based performance, there are several less degrees of separation.
If these are fictional characters posting in real time, is it live theater whether or not the whole thing culminates in an actual humans-congregating-in-one-place experience? Aren't humans already congregating in one place when all of the characters' "friends" read their status updates, watch their videos and respond to their messages?
Thus far the cast averages around 100 friends each (the women are slightly more popular; read into that what you will) and I'm curious to see how many of their friends and followers will attend the festival performance and how many are along solely for the virtual ride. Are you following? Will you be at the show?... That is, in person... That is, physically in the same room and within touching distance of the performers? Weigh in.
Below: Darren Bobich, Zamboni jockey. Or not.
Here's how talented last night's Obie Award winner James Sugg is: he got me a job as the Philadelphia Inquirer's theater critic without even knowing it. In fact, we've never even spoken face-to-face, but I should probably have thanked him a few years ago anyway.
Sugg is a member of Philly's own polymorphous and occasionally perverse troupe Pig Iron Theatre Company. Pig Iron and its people have won much acclaim here and elsewhere, this, for Sugg's performance in Chekov Lizardbrain, being their second Obie (the first was for 2004's Hell Meets Henry Halfway), along with who knows how many other awards--Sugg already has 4 Barrymores of his own. The group's work is as eclectic as their multiple personalities. Dito Van Riegersberg often hosts cabarets as his much-beloved, hairy-Hedwigged, Bowie-channeling alter-ego, Martha Graham Cracker. Geoff Sobelle rocked both coasts with his critically hailed Buster Keaton homage All Wear Bowlers. As a collective, they've skewered Quinceaneras, turned Joan of Arc into a French clown, and revisited Measure for Measure in a morgue, with puppets. And if you're tempted to say, "Nice. Sounds pretentious," well, yeah, sometimes they are, but mostly they're not. Somehow they pull it off nearly every time and leave you basking in their awesomeness and ever-expanding potential. The company's dozen or so members come and go, and even when they're together don't always appear as expected. Sugg won his Obie as an actor, but he's just as comfortable behind an accordion, pen, or soundboard.
Sugg first showed up on the local stage in 1998 and astonished audiences as a sort of one-man-band in Gentlemen Volunteers, (At right: Dito Van Riegersberg and Gabriel Quinn Beauriedel) a musical-ish examination of World War I ambulance drivers, Ernest Hemingway included. But the reason I'm thanking him here is because at the 2006 Philadelphia Live Arts/Fringe Festival, he premiered an original musical work called The Sea. It's the story of a drowned sea captain and his lost daughter, and watching it was like sucking down a saltwater Waits and Weill cocktail from deep below decks.
I wasn't working at the time, which meant I actually had to pay for my tickets, and yet I was still disappointed he wasn't selling recordings of the show. As in, I would have gladly shelled out for that, too. Anyway, upon reading the next day's Philadelphia Inquirer review, I was shocked--Shocked!--to find the assigned reviewer considerably less impressed. That week, I called up the paper, asked if they were short a critic, e-mailed some clips, and got myself a new job. I hadn't realized how much I missed being moved by a piece of theater, and having the privilege of telling the city about it, until I found myself powerless in the face of unfair, unenlightened criticism (ok, it was neither unfair nor unenlightened, but I totally didn't agree with it). And yes, I get the irony here, but that's another discussion for another time.
So I'm declaring my love openly, for all to read: thanks Mr. Sugg, for being the kind of artist whose performances inspire action, and thanks Pig Iron, for keeping your work in Philly and giving us first dibs on everything you do.
For more on James Sugg, read this article by my colleague Howard Shapiro, from today's Philadelphia Inquirer.
The 2008 Philadelphia Live Arts/Fringe Festival is over, but my extracurricular work--sorting out what I've seen and divining new ideas, trends and rising stars from the pack--continues. Rather than summarize the whole experience, click on the word cloud below. It's composed of all my festival reviews and is almost as chaotic as the fringing experience itself (who knew "balls," and "blood," would figure so prominently)?
Want more? Here are links to every review in the cloud (bonus: they're attached to reviews from my Philadelphia Inquirer colleagues).
If that's still not enough, well, fine, I'll summarize anyway.
For me, the most exciting moments at this year's Philly Live Arts/Fringe were those that took theater out of the theater. Viennese artists Matsune + Subal opened Store, a social experiment wherein two performance artists set up shop on South Street, a busy, exhaust-choked urban thoroughfare that was once where "all the hippies meet," (it's not nearly as nice as it sounds on this link, but you do get a bit of historical flavor and some Dead Milkmen trivia) and is now home to an array of condom stores, tattoo parlors, bars, and--considering those volatile ingredients--a heavy police presence. So it was nothing short of astonishing to watch as everyone from hoochies to hipsters fell under the Matsune + Subal spell, purchasing ridiculous mini performances from a menu and laughing out loud as the pair ran through traffic with a plastic sheet fluttering behind them a la Christo, or posed as a .75 cent "Cheap Copy" of a grinning Buddha.
England's Rotozaza brought Etiquette, a two-person event, in which you and a friend are the two people, and the table in front of you is the stage. This link shows a video of the project's New York incarnation, but here in Philly, the setting was vastly different. It took place at the Last Drop Cafe, a local java joint that's been cultivating an air of pretentiousness since grunge, and whose grimy interior was perfectly suited to the piece. While a woman's voice (via recorded message, played through a pair of headphones) directed me to perform tasks, a man directed my husband, who sat opposite me at a cafe table filled with tiny props--a ball of clay, piece of chalk, glass of water with an eyedropper perched on its rim. We performed bits from Godard and Ibsen, and though I announced loudly "I am a prostitute," no one around seemed to care. It was a somnambulistic experience, being inside this hyper-dramatic event complete with a thrashing storm, that appeared to have no impact on its surroundings.
Anyway, these, to me were examples of the essence of a perfect Fringe fest, productions that blurred the lines between performer and audience, performance and perception. There were several others equally exciting, but the real point here is that the Fringe is not the time to mount a conventional production of a standard old play. Unless you're adding a radical new spin (Oedipus at FDR's olly-popping skateboarders, for example), save yourself the agony, save it for your regular season and make room for artists whose work expands the form and offers us a reflection of our present and a glimpse into the future.
Jerome Bel says it best:
Just a reminder that I'll be Tweeting from the Philadelphia Live Arts Fest for the next two weeks. Last night's events included Israel Horovitz's The Widow's Blind Date--review to appear in tomorrow's Inquirer--and a battle of the official/unofficial festival bars.
Official bar: It's low-key, I'll give them that. Video animations by Lars Jan and ambient music by James Sugg (and Turkish food, apparently, though it was gone by 1 a.m.). Unofficial bar: Last night, a cabaret hosted by local arts impresario Scott Johnston, and featuring the band Black Landlord (picture, if you can, Run-DMC with a horn section and hipster backing band), Pig Iron's phenomenally talented Dito van Reigersberg as his alter ego Martha Graham Cracker, and the gals from the Peek-a-Boo Revue (winners of this year's Miss Exotic World "Best Troupe" category) shaking their artsy can-cans. Winner: the unofficial event, hands down, which is kind of fitting considering this whole thing started out as a fringe festival anyway.
The link to my Twitter page was supposed to be in today's paper, but wasn't. Go to www.twitter.com/wendyrosenfield. If you're not currently receiving Tweets from anyone, sign up. It's so easy you'll be embarrassed you waited so long.
Don't worry, I won't tell anyone.
Just joined Twitter and though I'm fashionably late to the party, that doesn't make it any less fun. Who wants polite introductions and a table full of appetizers when you can show up to a boozy, smoke-filled room packed to the walls with bodies and crazy talk?
My principal interest in the tweet was for Philadelphia Live Arts and Fringe Festival purposes. Initially, I wanted to live blog the fest, but why do that when Twittering is so much more immediate and accessible? It's like the journalistic equivalent of the SmartCar, both timely and frill-free, the shrinking newsroom taken to its logical extreme. So I've voluntarily added one more unpaid activity to my arts coverage. Why? I guess because it seemed like the thing to do. I figure I can use it as a teaser for my actual reviews and blog posts, or to supplement them. But the truth is that if the tech zeitgeist whizzes past your head and you don't grab hold, well, probably nothing will happen, but isn't that that also the problem?
Anyway, after you've been stuck in Facebook's quicksands for a while, Twitter, which is essentially a glorified status update, seems downright revolutionary in its sheer simplicity. Not only is it embarrassingly easy to join and use, it's pure communication, a haiku-length transmission that forces you to use your word count wisely. Of course there are those Twitterfiction cheaters who've expanded the service's 140-character limit into whole micronovels released two or three sentences at a time. But I think they've got it all wrong.
Getting it right are contributors to Twittories, literary versions of the surrealist game Exquisite Corpse. I mean, it's not like they're "getting it right" in the sense that they're creating great literature, but that they saw the thing whizzing past, grabbed it and forced it to veer off course. The beauty of Twitter, particularly for lovers of the arts, is its strict rules and the creative innovations that emerge from within those strictures.
Then there are the larger sociological implications in the medium, giant-sized extrapolations artists, journalists and ethnologists can all pull from something so very, very small. People complain about Twitter's glorification of the banal, but to them, I once again invoke Death of a Salesman, perhaps the modern theater's greatest glorification of the banal, and say, "Attention must be paid."
Think of Hemingway's shortest novel ever written, "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." Or Fredric Brown's sci-fi microtale, "The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door." It's the tweet in its most sublime form.
Actual tweets can be equally affecting. Check out the Twitter orphans that pop up when you conduct a search (pick a name, any name). Abandoned blogs just don't fill you with the same sense of wonder. In fact, it's sort of a relief when you find one; so much dreck, so little time. But abandoned Twitter streams are like the caves at Lascaux, cryptic relics of lives briefly revealed, then submerged again in mystery. One entry from a year ago belonged to someone making dinner for their flight test instructor. How ominous, and how compelling. I sure hope they ultimately passed that test, but fear their absence tells a different story.
So yes, I'll be tweeting my reports from the fringe fest here in Philly in what I expect will be a most traditional manner (at least traditional for Twitter, not so much for journalism). However, I'm really looking forward to the day when I'll have the micro-ironic privilege of tweeting about a Twittered performance. Any takers before the thing whizzes away again?
Enough already with trying to figure out whether or not newspaper theater criticism is still relevant, and on to imagining that it is, and that readers are interested in hearing about the process from the inside. I'm talking specifically about personal ethics emerging during the course of a review.
It's not that old question about letting an actor or director take you out for a few beers before his/her opening. You already know the answer to that one, and it's the same no matter how cool s/he seems. (Are you listening, you acting/directing sirens?) No, these days I'm worrying about a real, honest-to-goodness dilemma that involves the confluence of a reviewer, her ethical biases, and a production that violates those ethics.
I've got a show coming up that I'm not even sure will be assigned to me, but am already offended--I cringe just typing the word--by its mere presence on the roster. It's no fun feeling like Jesse Helms (R.I.P.), and coming from someone whose deep affection for performance art blossomed after seeing an '80s-era Karen Finley show, it's a bit of a contradiction. But there it is.
In short, this year's Philadelphia Live Arts Festival (check out the festival trailer for a brief peek at the show in question) features Argentinian Rodrigo Garcia's Accidens (matar para comer). This performance, written and performed by Garcia, a former butcher, involves a duet between man and lobster, which as you might imagine, ends badly for the crustacean. The trouble is, I'm a vegan and recently wrote a feature for the Inquirer's food section about this gustatory transformation (but for some reason only the sidebar is still available online. Sorry.), and I just can't abide a performance that intentionally causes the death of another living creature in order to make its point. It recalls the Habacuc controversy earlier this year, which also used an animal's suffering for its own ends. What is it with South America? First Amores Perros (well, really Pixote was first), and now this? You'd think life was brutal down there, or something.
So ok, without having seen it, I get it, and probably, on the whole, agree with Garcia. His point, at least as expressed by the Live Arts fest's p.r. folks, is really not too far off from Michael Pollan's. Food is packaged, sanitized and renamed so as to completely divorce it from the life that ended so we might feast--obviously, you can extend the metaphor as you wish. Here, Garcia and I are aligned. But when it comes to taking that next step, sacrificing a beating invertebrate heart on the altar of artistic license, well, to me, that's barbarism, and the very opposite of what art was created to combat.
But let's get away from the concept's logical extension and back to the actual creature. I'm not particularly sympathetic to lobsters. After all, they're cousin to the cockroach, a creature that just happens to be the source of a serious personal phobia. But Garcia's lobster is alive, that is, until it's not. David Foster Wallace didn't used to think much about the critters either, until Gourmet magazine sent him to cover a Maine festival whose monumental scale of lobster massacre was more decadent than anything Caligula could have dreamed up. (Most unintentionally hilarious part of the piece? A clueless little toque dingbat at the feature's end.) Still not convinced? Here's another article from the Daily Mail on the subject.
Still, it really, really pains me to recoil from a piece on principle, because dammit, I'm a theater critic, and it's my job to divine meaning from the cultural winds, be they foul or fair. However, I also know I'll be unable to judge the piece on its artistic merit alone, which is what every artist deserves, unless they're really, really depraved.
But that, of course, is a moral judgement, isn't it? The question here is really this: do a critic's personal morals or ethical code have any place in a review? And conversely, humans being the way they are, how can one possibly pretend they don't? Though it's an issue I've struggled with this season, I still don't have an answer.