By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) –The Philly Fringe Arts Festival kicks off this week, and it’s bigger, edgier, and sometimes even a lot closer than ever before.
With more than 150 performances, this year’s festival promises to take you there and back.
“It’s super edgy, it’s not your typical theatre, it’s not your typical dance,” says Tara Demmy, program manager. She says the festival has expanded its program to 18 days and includes national, international, and local productions at popular venues in center city as well as in unique performance spaces right in your backyard.
“We have the Neighborhood Fringe, where local folks can just sign up to participate in the festival,” Demmy says. “They’ll be performing in Kensington, Fishtown, West Philly, (and) in the suburbs.”
The Fringe Festival at one point merged with the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival, but has returned to its previous focus to stay outside the box.
“We are constantly refusing categorization,” says Demmy. “We are mixing different categories and genres.”
Demmy notes that this year The Fringe includes more than 150 shows including theatre arts, musical performances, films, circus-type performances, visual arts, puppetry, and much more.
And artists hail from all over the world, including Italy, Norway, and Greece.
One Fringe production, “All the Sex I Ever Had,” features local senior citizens talking about their sexual evolution. Another, “Pay Up,” is a choose-your-own adventure production that’s part theatre, part circus.
There are also local and national artists thanks to the “Presented Fringe” series.
Adrienne Mackey, founder of Swim Pony Performing Arts, is putting on “The Ballad of Joe Hill,” a 90-minute production that uses music and vaudeville-style performances to tell the story of Joe Hill, a labor organizer who was framed for murder and executed in the early 1900s.
Part of what is unique about this production is its location: Eastern State Penitentiary.
“I really wanted a place that would just evoke this sense of just being stuck and waiting and just being caught,” says Mackey, who notes that the performance space is 9½ feet by 200 feet. Hill sat in jail for two years during his trial. Mackey says the play’s narrator only sings, and the effect is enchanting.
“She is this super haunting, mysterious presence that takes you through the story,” Mackey explains. “And the way we tell the story, with the visuals, we can do things in this location we wouldn’t be able to do anywhere else.”
Other notable performances include:
Life and Times: Episodes 1–5, by Nature Theater of Oklahoma (Sept. 10-14), which concludes with a 16-hour marathon performance about the life of a theatre member.
Leo (Sept 10-22), by Y2D Productions in association with Chamäleon Productions, a circus performance-meets-Fred Astaire show that includes gravity defying feats.
On the Concept of the Face of the Son of God (Sept 12-14), by Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio, is an international production that asks where is God in the world’s time of need.
Moseses (Sept 19-22), put on by Fist and Heel and choreographed by Reggie Wilson. The dance production explores the many faces of Moses and the migration of the African people.
The Fringe Arts festival runs September 5-22. For more info, go to fringearts.com.
“It’s international artists and unique performances you may never see in Philadelphia,” Tara Demmy, the program manager says.