Results tagged “Philadelphia live arts 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. 

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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, herehere, and here

September 17, 2009 12:29 PM | | Comments (1)
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.
August 27, 2009 11:08 AM |
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.

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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.
July 22, 2009 11:58 AM | | Comments (3)
Right now, Philadelphia's greatest cultural export appears to be the loosely collected members of Pig Iron Theatre Company, whose newest work, Welcome to Yuba City, will premiere at September's Philadelphia Live Arts/Fringe Festival. According to them, the troupe officially consists of three artistic directors and five company members, but I don't buy it. Some members have been around since the group's founding in 1995, but other newer performers fit in seamlessly, and once someone is involved, they seem to organically break off into solo projects or new companies as though Pig Iron is some kind of Philly-wide petri dish swimming with constantly replicating, ambitious, creative amoeba. 

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(We've got an archetype convoy. Pictured from left: James Sugg, Dito Van Reigersberg, Alex Torra, Geoff Sobelle. Photo by Jason Frank Rothenberg.)

The Pig Iron hallmark is a dance-physical theater blend of non-traditional narrative and staging, and their stamp shows up in just about every side project undertaken by one of its "members." Even Geoff Sobelle's Hamlet, at the generally tradition-minded Lantern Theatre, was somehow transformed into an acrobat-trickster. Lately, Rainpan 43, a Pig Iron splinter group, has been getting a lot of press, what with the successes of All Wear Bowlers and Machines Machines Machines Machines Machines Machines Machines, but Chekov Lizardbrain won Pig Iron proper an Obie award. Not that they needed New York to vindicate their efforts--after all, they've been Barrymore Award favorites many times over and always premiere new work here at home--still, it doesn't hurt.

While critical acclaim from the New York Times might be a signal to some for a well-deserved break, Machines' cast members Quinn Bauriedel, Sobelle and its director Charlotte Ford are clearly spending their down time up and about. Tuesday night, the group hosted a preview performance for Welcome to Yuba City, directed by Bauriedel (who settles into the director's chair for the first time since 1998's The Tragedy of Joan of Arc) and featuring Sobelle, Ford, Sarah Sanford and Van Reigersberg. 

While still in its infancy, the show offers a clown's eye view of the American West. So far, the piece explores some mythic western archetypes (long-haul trucker, leader of a "compound") that populate the sort of diner whose parking lot is usually filled with more tumbleweeds than cars. To this end, the company trained with Giovanni Fusetti in an effort to locate their "inner clowns," and will perform on a set that fills 10,000 feet of a 20,000 foot warehouse. 

So why devote all this blog real estate to a preview? Because even though the Live Arts Festival imports some phenomenal artists from off the Schuylkill Expwy (this year's crop includes Mike Daisey and ex-Luna members Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips--though Phillips might not count, since she's originally from Bucks County), Philly's homegrown bounty makes this festival a destination event instead of a drive-thru window. It's why last year I couldn't even get a ticket to another Pig Iron splinter show, Emanuelle Delpeche-Ramey's Oedipus at FDR. Seriously. Never saw it. (Note to festival organizers: let's work on that this year, mkay?) 

I'm not saying the local productions are perfect, or that Pig Iron doesn't stumble. (They do. It took me years to get over their 1997 Fringe show Cafeteria.) However, I do believe that Philly is about ready for its closeup, and since I'm holding one of the lenses, I might as well use it to zoom in. 
June 18, 2009 1:10 AM |
Still wallowing through a really damn depressing news cycle here in Philly (and I guess everywhere else, too), when lo and behold, what should appear in my inbox but an e-mail from my unflaggingly positive colleague, Howard Shapiro, outlining all the theaters we cover. 

The bad news first: unfortunately, some of our coverage--basically anything over an hour's drive from the city--has been reduced. It appears we'll no longer cover regular Broadway openings, which is a shame (read: downright remiss) since as far as theater goes around these parts, Broadway's basically another one of our suburbs. However, we'll still be looking at New York productions when there's a local connection, which, considering the output of Pig Iron folks alone, ought to result in plenty of Amtrak mileage.

So that's that, and make of it what you will. (And, um, you know, if you really find yourself missing your Inquirer Broadway coverage, who am I to discourage you from letting people know?)

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Ah, but you wanted the good news. Well, the good news is that despite everything--and I do mean everything short of an outright apocalypse--we've just added two new theaters to our regular coverage, and might yet add a third. Which brings the grand total of theaters covered by the Philadelphia Inquirer right now to 44. Of those, 34 have some sort of Actors' Equity agreement, and the rest are either Barrymore-eligible or mounted a noteworthy production in the past few years. Further, those 44 are at least a dozen or so more than what existed when I started this gig back when the biggest performance you could find on South Broad Street happened on New Year's Day and involved longshoremen in drag, glockenspiels and the public evacuation of numerous bodily fluids.

And get this: that's not even the end of it. Not included on the list are the often top-rate university productions we'll occasionally peek in on, the odd company that pops up mid-season to mount something ambitious, or--HELLO!--the two weeks of manic nonstop Live Arts Festival/Fringe action kicking off every season. 

Somehow our theaters are holding steady, and improbably, in this decimated and dessicated economic climate, like Wall-E's stray sprig of green, they're even growing. The newspaper, well, that's another story, but as long as we're still getting a paycheck, as Shapiro says, "the explosion of professional theater in this city will keep us busy as all get-out." Amen, brother.

February 26, 2009 12:34 PM |
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