Results tagged “pig iron theatre company” from Drama Queen

I know, it's been a long time, and I've missed you too. But it's not like I was just sitting around ignoring theater. In fact, I've been in graduate school working on a paper about classical performance reception theory and Lysistrata. Wanna see it? No? Fine, I wouldn't either.

Here's something I very much want to see: a gift guide for lovers of Philadelphia theater. Broadway bundles abound, and that's great, especially when they benefit fabulous organizations such as Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS

But giving one of these gifts is practically like giving your loved ones a backstage (or green room) pass to street cred, that street being the Avenue of the Arts, of course. Best part? When you've finished snapping up and doling out all the merchandise, your friends and relatives might just take the hint and get you a subscription of your very own for next season.  Even out-of-towners can get in on the action with a few of these, and perhaps sporting/owning some Philly swag might inspire others to get here and check out the theater scene (hint: September = awesome), which is still under the radar enough to have an entrant in the Under the Radar Festival, but appreciated enough on its home turf to make a hot ticket something of a commodity. 


1. Read all about it: The nation's oldest theater, the Walnut Street Theatre, just celebrated its 200th birthday and put out a pretty cool little tome about it. In fact, it's sits prominently placed in my guest bathroom today, and judging by how often I have to straighten things up in there, it sees much leisure-time riffling by visitors. Don't want to play favorites? Try Philadelphia Theaters, a Pictorial Architectural History, which traces all 200 years of our sawdust-coated, gaslit stages. The American Theatre Wing's (ATW) The Play That Changed My Life has both a great premise and a local connection; it includes a chapter by Philadelphia-born Pulitzer-winning playwright Charles Fuller. Finally, if, like me, you're annoyed that ATW cut journalists from its Tony voting ranks this year, then go on and support your local critics--we don't get paid enough anyway. Philadelphia Inquirer critic and University of the Arts professor Toby Zinman wrote Edward Albee last year, and though yeah, I know, it kills you to do something nice for a critic, American Theatre magazine gave it a great review, and they don't care what you think of her. Go on, maybe you'll learn something.

2. Someone still wants A Christmas Carol, right? Otherwise there wouldn't be an entire section in my paper devoted to places you can see it. Rose Valley's Hedgerow Theatre hosts tea parties before performances on the second Sunday of every month, and they don't cost anything extra, which is nice, because even though your kids/grandma might be having the time of their lives, you're probably thinking Hedgerow owes you big. Have a scone and consider the debt paid. Jews, however, generally don't care for Scrooge and his tsouris, so Hedgerow has wisely brought them an offering, and it's better than frankincense: a bus trip to New York to see The Addams Family musical. And no, a bus trip to New York doesn't defeat the whole purpose of Philly theater gifts, because lookit, for some reason Jews always want to take bus trips to New York, no matter what you try to tell them, so at least this way a local theater still gets to make a buck off them.

3. Screw Teams Jacob and Edward. Romance-minded adolescents and teens need to get with Team Romeo. The Arden Theatre offers a full-day Shakespeare workshop--yes, it includes stage combat--for kids in 6th through 12th grades. Philly heartthrob Evan Jonigkeit (he also recently finished a successful run as Dakin in the Arden's production of The History Boys), who just happens to play Romeo in the company's Romeo and Juliet later that afternoon, leads the workshop. Also included? A ticket to the show and all the raw materials for weeks of copious swooning, parries and ripostes at the dog, and sudden cries of "Alack the day!" No teens? That's okay, the Arden's date night package gets you a pair of Romeo and Juliet tickets and a $25 gift certificate to Serrano restaurant, and you can do your own swooning afterward, in private, where it won't annoy anyone.

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4. You may have noticed that I think Pig Iron Theatre Company is pretty dope. Chances are, you do too, but even if you don't, there's no denying their steampunk-ish, Edward Gorey-esque, line-drawn, Trey Lyford-designed logo looks great. It's compelling on a t-shirt or tote bag without being too obvious, but recognizable enough to elicit appreciative nods when you're trolling the Piazza for hipster camaraderie. Best of all, they're both so cheap that if you stuff the bag with the t-shirt and toss in a copy of the company's indie-pop Lucia Joyce Cabaret CD, you will reap all the benefits of being cool and generous even if you're neither.
UPDATE: Apparently Sens. John McCain (You remember him, right? Old guy, has a thing for crazy backwoods ladies?) and Tom Coburn think Pig Iron is JUST LIKE SHAKESPEARE! Sort of, anyway. Like, because they both drain the public coffers (See items #25 and #26). But I guess that's even more reason to buy their stuff; get 'em off the dole and into your hearts.

4. Relive the glory days when every crappy play that didn't make it to Broadway met its maker right here, and a couple of decent ones lived to see another day. Yiddish theater's mammeleh Molly Picon in How to Be a Jewish Mother? Nah, never heard of it. Orson Welles' "Around the World," with music by Cole Porter? Why haven't I heard of it? Today, there are 38 Playbills available on EBay from these lost treasures. Tomorrow there might be more. Wait until the 7th day of Chanukah or the night before Christmas, and who knows? You might never learn how to be a Jewish mother. Not that that seemed to bother anyone who watched Ms. Picon when she was doing the teaching.

5. Go back to where it all began. Philly owes much of its theatrical genetic code to the Barrymore family (insert your own comment about our alcoholic actors here), as evidenced by our naming the city's theater awards ceremony after them. This item might not do much to enhance the family's reputation, but it sure would make a swell gift for someone. 

If all else fails, go to the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, get a few gift certificates, and let your friends/lovers/family to pick their own damn show. Just make sure they take you.

December 1, 2009 2:12 PM |
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 |
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Okay, I'm re-posting this entry that I originally posted before the story took a strange turn (strangeness, by the way, being fairly characteristic of the Prince Music Theater's operations of late), and began bubbling over with editorial opinion from within our theater community.

Here's the latest, a rebuttal claiming reports of the Prince's death were greatly exaggerated. However, considering the theater's complicated financial entanglements, next season is still a world away, and 2011, when Pig Iron's big plans are supposed to come to fruition (read on) is even farther. Either way, maintaining the house solely as a rental hall would be a darn shame, and a waste of one of the finest, newest and best-located theater spaces in this city.

The original post: 
I imagine there will be few muffled sobs among Philadelphia's dramascenti today with news of the Prince Music Theater's demise. Its shuttering was announced in a manner keeping with its confused identity of late; during closing ceremonies at last night's QFest--a gay and lesbian film festival--the crowd was told they were attending the house's final performance. Thus the curtain fell on an institution that has recently been behaving like it ought to be institutionalized. The company's past few seasons have been a schizoid scramble of children's theater, cabaret, David Brenner, and precious few new musicals... Or seasons, really. During one incident, a show was cancelled without explanation just before its premiere; the Prince's press agent resigned shortly thereafter.

All this is to say that no one is really too surprised about the Prince's apparent closing, although many feel it was overdue, the company having betrayed its birthright as the American Music Theater Festival years ago. (I reviewed the AMTF world premiere of Floyd Collins in 1994, and recall feeling a swell of pride at what seemed the maturation of Philly's theater scene. Little did I know that era was more like the junior prom compared to what we've got today.)

I'll leave it to other writers with more time to investigate what went wrong and how and when, and instead ponder the future of that big beautiful building on Chestnut street with its marquee, offices, mainstage and cabaret space. There's no shortage of itinerant companies in this city, and I'm guessing any of them would salivate--probably are salivating right this minute--at the opportunity to call the Prince their own.

But one of those, Pig Iron Theatre Company, is thinking big. Founding member Quinn Bauriedel has announced plans to open the Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training here in 2011. The company envisions a two-year, certificate-granting institution modeled on Paris' Ecole Jacques LeCoq, but steeped in Pig Iron's unique multi-disciplinary methods. This city, in league with its grant-funding institutions and major donors could do worse than to see that the company is able to continue to work its magic for years to come in a setting that rewards them locally for the damn-near-flawless reputation they've been garnering nationally. 

Of course, who knows if Pig Iron even wants the place? (Not me.) But wouldn't it be grand if rather than allowing the house to rot--as the city did in the years between its closing as the rundown Midtown movie theater and its rebirth as the Prince--it took this just-off-the-Avenue beauty and allowed it to reclaim its promise as a premiere showplace for innovative new work? Mayor Nutter just installed a fancy new Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy. The Prince Music Theater just handed them a perfect opportunity to show their stuff.


July 21, 2009 10:07 PM |
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 |
jamessugg.jpgHere'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. 

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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.



May 19, 2009 8:14 PM | | Comments (2)
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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