FringeArts Blog

Fringe at 20: Gunnar Montana

Posted May 31st, 2016
Gunnar Montana, Credit: Neal Santos

Gunnar Montana, credit: Neal Santos

Name: Gunnar Montana

Type of Artist: Visual/Physical Artist

Company: Gunnar Montana Productions

Fringe shows I’ve participated in:
Sanctuary, Brian Sanders’ JUNK, 2010: dancer, performer
Dancing Dead, Brian Sanders’ JUNK, 2011: dancer, performer
The Gate: Reopened, Brian Sanders’ JUNK, 2012: dancer, performer
RUB, Gunnar Montana Productions, 2012: director, producer, choreographer
BASEMENT, Gunnar Montana Productions, 2013: director, producer, choreographer, performer
RESURRECTION ROOM, Gunnar Montana Productions, 2014: director, producer, choreographer, performer
PURGATORY, Gunnar Montana Productions, 2015: director, producer, choreographer, performer

2016 Fringe show I’m participating in: WROUGHTLAND, Gunnar Montana Productions – director, producer, choreographer, performer

First Fringe I attended: My first experience of the Fringe Festival was Urban Scuba by Brian Sanders’ JUNK. Brian crafted a visually stunning performance in a deserted pool on the basement level of the Gershman Y. The entire performance was a huge inspiration and highlight.

First Fringe I participated in: The first show I ever performed in for the Fringe Festival was Sanctuary by Brian Sanders JUNK. Brian and I performed a duet together on stage that involved swinging about on spansets while artfully entangling our bodies together in the air. At one point I botched the sequence of the dance. Brian then took the liberty to completely break character and scream corrections at me in front of a sold out audience. I was traumatized, but in the nights that followed, I didn’t screw up.

Gunnar Montana, Credit: Garrett Mathews

Gunnar Montana, credit: Garrett Mathews

First show I produced/created at the Fringe: The first show I ever produced was RUB. I was working with a handful of strippers at the time. One night a performer of mine invited one of her clients to come see the show. It was a very intimate experience and as the night progressed this particular performer strutted up to her “friend,” straddled him, and slowly spit into his mouth. Everyone in the audience was somewhat disgusted as he swallowed and smiled. He seemed to really enjoy it.

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Rejected Thoughts Emerge at SoLow Fest

Posted May 31st, 2016

“It’s almost like kindergarten in a way because we give ourselves full permission to just be in awe or repulsed by what we’re sharing.”

"Rejected_Thoughts,"  Mira Treatman and Irina Varina

SoLow Fest begins soon and June 22–25, Mira Treatman and Irina Varina present Rejected Thoughts, a result of the performers’ exploration of what makes them vulnerable, joyous or angry. Through dance and dialogue they present the ideas they have labelled “rejected thoughts.” “It’s almost like kindergarten in a way because we give ourselves full permission to just be in awe or repulsed by what we’re sharing,” Mira told FringeArts. Mira and Irina, met at Headlong Performance Institute while studying hybrid performance making. They were paired to work on a provocation piece based on “found materials,” which they later performed at a FringeArts Scratch Night.

"Socks Brick," David Brick

Socks Brick. Photo: David Brick

Their shared interest in detail-oriented work, getting to the bottom of things, and the resulting laughter has led to their continued collaboration beyond Headlong. Irina has a background in film, and Mira in dance-theater. They began Rejected Thoughts with a Headlong tradition—a constellation—a collection of objects they were curious about. “We would then share, talk, embody, investigate things from our constellations, and give each other provocations. For example, after watching videos that Mira brought of different vloggers talking about very personal things on YouTube, I asked her if she wanted to make a vlog herself,” Irina explains. Although Mira’s vlog didn’t go beyond a rehearsal room, this research became important along with the idea of convenient intimacy, DNA tests, a speculum, and old family photos from Siberia.

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Fringe at 20 Profile: Terry Brennan

Posted May 27th, 2016

Name: Terry BrennanTerry Brennan

Type of Artist: Devised Theater Actor/Director

Company: Tribe of Fools

Fringe shows I’ve participated in: Echo (2007), Armageddon at the Mushroom Village (2009), Dracula (2010), Heavy Metal Dance Fag (2011), Antihero (2013), Two Street (2014), Zombies . . . with Guns (2015).

2016 Fringe show I’m participating in: Antihero (remount), director

First Fringe I attended: 2004. The highlight was Pig Iron’s Hell Meets Henry Halfway.

First Fringe I participated in: 2007. The Metro didn’t review our show (Echo) because we only ran one week, but they later called us one of the “best surprises of 2007.” That was a really big deal for us at the time.

A Fringe show that influenced me as an artist: Berserker Residents—The Jersey Devil. Before I saw The Jersey Devil I was always trying to “make art” or “do what a good artist would do,” and these guys made a show that had all the kind of stuff that I loved—AND IT WAS ART. It made me realize that I was my own artist and I had the ability and permission to make the type of work that—at the time—wasn’t being made as much and that’s not only okay, that is art.IMG_1882

Artists I have met or was exposed to in the Fringe who I went on to collaborate with: The Berserker Residents. After seeing The Jersey Devil I was up in their face as often as possible about possibly helping them, working together, whatever. They needed someone to play a small role that originally was supposed to only be a mentioned character. As the process went on they realized this character was going to need to make a cameo appearance at the end of the play. Because of my intense love of The Jersey Devil and my less than subtle offers to work with them, they asked me to play the role.

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The Loop of Integrity and Light-Up Sneakers : an interview with Chelsea & Magda

Posted May 25th, 2016

“What would it be like to research yourself like an academic or test yourself like a scientist?”

Chels and Magda-246

Chelsea & Magda have been collaborating in Philadelphia for the past three years making dance theater duets. The Shame Symposium explores the link between shame and pleasure. Their research involves female friendships, public perception of aggression, the loop of integrity, Lisa Frank and light-up sneakers.

We caught up with Chelsea & Magda to find out more about their research process and work on The Shame Symposium.

FringeArts: How did you come up with the title The Shame Symposium?

Magda San Millan: We were in rehearsal sitting on the floor and talking about if we should stretch and start dancing or try to get some administrative work out of the way and we slipped into a title decision conversation. We were almost going to call it Recent Developments, Discoveries and Theories because our work is going away from the “show” format, with a unified theme, and towards a presentation of research. As an artist, what if I could present all of my interests and practices in one evening without trying to make it have a narrative or a cohesive-ish-ness? But admittedly much of our research has focused on shame and we want to give people the heads up—not everyone is interested in watching shame transformation.

Chelsea Murphy: I like the word “symposium” because it puts our work in an academic arena. It lets people know that we will be presenting research, experiments, and demonstrations. It will be a collection of performances, photographs, thoughts, and experiences around being a person with shame, which is every person. I agree with Magda, not everyone is interested in watching people explore their shame. So in that way I think this title is scary for us. It feels like it is really putting the vulnerable thing out there for everyone to see.Chels and Magda-300

FA: Describe the shame/pleasure cake.

MSM: This term originated in an improvisational movement and text score that we developed at our Yard residency this past summer. The importance of the term now resides in the linking of shame and pleasure. We are not interested in shame that is action based or traumatic. Like: I was mean to this girl and I feel guilt about it and it made me think I was a bad person, etc. We are interested in shame that is linked to pleasure and reveals something about the personality that culture condemns. So, I often feel that I am an “aggressive woman.” I feel shame because people have shamed me about it. Telling me I’m too intense, etc. I feel shame because it implies that I want to hurt others, which I don’t want (to be clear). But I also feel pleasure in the experience of power, in the act of domination, in the explosiveness and playfulness. I don’t believe these qualities are inherently bad or harmful. And the question we pose to others is: Is there an aspect of your identity that causes you pleasure and shame? Let’s look at that. Let’s celebrate that. Because when we do we are going to see your full flawed and complex self onstage. And we are going to break the cycle of idealization to shame to idealization to shame . . .

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Fringe at 20 Profile: Hannah Van Sciver

Posted May 24th, 2016
Hannah Van Sciver in Safe Space, Photo: JJ Tizou Photography.

Hannah Van Sciver in Safe Space, Photo: JJ Tizou Photography.

Name: Hannah Van Sciver

Type of Artist: Theater: physical theater, devised theater, actor, lead artist, director, playwright, producer, musician, photographer . . . I wear a lot of hats.

Companies: The Greenfield Collective, iNtuitons Experimental Theatre, Apocalypse Club, The Porch Room, Revolution Shakespeare.

Fringe shows I’ve participated in:
Alternative Theatre Festival, 2012 – actor
Raw Stitch, 2013 – actor
Alternative Theatre Festival, 2013 – playwright, director
Antony & Cleopatra: Infinite Lives, 2013 – actor
Marbles, 2014 – actor, playwright, producer
Safe Space, 2014 – actor
Fifty Days at Iliam, 2015 – lead artist, actor, producer
Love’s Labours Lost, 2015 – actor/musician

2016 Fringe show I’m participating in: King John (Revolution Shakespeare), actor/musician.

First Fringe I attended: Oh man. The First Fringe event I saw would have been the iNtuitons 2010 Alternative Theatre Festival. I was a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, and was invited to attend a night of new work by the resident student-run “experimental theater” company, iNtuitons. I fell madly in love with them, and spent the next three years serving on their board. I remember seventeen-year-old Hannah being bowled over by a piece called Going In which was about coming out as heterosexual. It was written and performed by Joshua James Herren.

First Fringe I participated in: After working with David O’Connor on Cymbeline over the summer at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, he invited me to audition for Raw Stitch–a play set in Quigs pub, featuring a bunch of lady superstars in Philly doing incredible, vulgar monologues by Jacqueline Goldfinger. I was totally out of my league. I remember auditioning on his back porch, and meeting Jackie for the first time. I was deeply intimidated. The monologue was about a Southern Jewish gal on trial for acts of public indecency. She claimed she had no control over her behavior, as she had been born with the “double-slut gene.” I remember thinking, “Oh god, WHAT am I doing? Do they care if the neighbors hear this stuff?”

Jackie and David are now both on the advisory board of my theater company, The Greenfield Collective. This July, David and I will produce our seventh show together. So, it worked out. Also, rather memorable: in that show, Jennifer MacMillan played a thirsty, deaf lesbian. She demonstrated to the audience how to give proper head, using a peach. It remains one of the most outrageous and hysterical things I’ve ever seen happen onstage in Philly.

Hannah Van Sciver and Sam Sherburne in Marbles, JJ Tizou Photography

Hannah Van Sciver and Sam Sherburne in Marbles, JJ Tizou Photography

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A Crash Course in the Works of Chatham, Shea, and Dahl

Posted May 19th, 2016

Next Tuesday FringeArts, in collaboration with the Ars Nova Workshop, hosts one of the most important figures in contemporary music accompanied by two of the most wildly accomplished and versatile musicians working today. The powerhouse trio led by Rhys Chatham, featuring drummer Kevin Shea and bassist Tim Dahl, will delve into the murky sonic depths of post-punk and return with something that will no doubt rock you in your seat (tickets/info). Minds will be blown. Maybe a few ear drums too.

Each of the performers have tirelessly explored so many varied sounds throughout their prolific careers it’s difficult to grasp the breadth of their achievements. Below you’ll find a brief introduction to just some of the boundary-pushing work these three have created over the years.

Rhys Chatham

In 1971 Chatham premiered Two Gongs, one of the best examples of his early work. Featuring Chatham and Fluxus affiliated sound artist/composer Yoshi Wada on a pair of large Chinese gongs, the piece showcases the duo’s incredibly precise and controlled drumming, as well as Chatham’s mastery as a composer. What may seem like an improvisation is actually a carefully calibrated piece, each strike composed and working to achieve the piece’s rapturous effect. It’s hypnotic, it warps your sense of time, it’s really damn loud, and in it one can hear early strains of all noise music to come. Like the ebbs and flows of a raging sea or the chaotic abandon of a blustery storm, the piece tosses about its listeners and leaves them in a state of awe.

By 1976 Chatham’s work began to be shaped by the burgeoning punk rock scene. Chatham began exploring intersections of minimalist composition and punk rock instrumentation which in turn led to his most influential work, Guitar Trio. Consisting of three guitarists, a bassist, and drummer, the piece’s deceptively simple structure belies its unprecedented brilliance. “In this century (the 21st), it has never taken more than an hour to teach G3 to everyone’s satisfaction and comfort level,” Chatham wrote to performers in his 2007 tour of the piece. The framework he lays out for performers provides enough room for each to incorporate touches of their personal style, which has in turn led to more enthralling variations of the piece than would seem possible. It still stands as a perfect entry point to minimalism, punk, and no wave, a genre which Chatham helped kick start.

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Exposure: work in progress showing about living with disability

Posted May 19th, 2016

“I always had an idea of it in the back of my head. I’ve been giving lectures and talks about my life since I was about three months old. My parents would take me around. And so it’s always been kind of a part of my life,” says Mathew Purinton of his new play Exposure, which he is presenting a 40-minute work-in-progress showing at the Performance Garage on Friday, May 20th and Saturday May 21st at 7:30pm.

Purinton was born with the rare genetic disorder of TAR syndrome, and Exposure explores his life story. This weekend’s live performance is a the culmination of ten weeks of rehearsal working with a number of Pig Iron School trained performers and collaborators. In rehearsal, artists of mixed physical abilities created scenes through a series of improvisational exercises and use dance, movement, and acrobatics as a jumping-off point for telling the physical and visceral stories of Purinton’s life.

During the rehearsal process the performers explored different ways to immerse the audience in the performance and give them an opportunity to experience what it’s like to live with a disability.

Instead of writing a traditional memoir-type play, Purinton was interested in developing the work using devised theater methods and developing a movement vocabulary from various disciplines that would also be integral to to work. Explains co-producer Nick Jonczak, “In 2015, Matt Purinton and Kermit Cole approached Pig Iron Theatre Company co-artistic director Quinn Bauriedel about creating a play based on the extraordinary experiences of Matt’s life. Quinn introduced Matt and Kermit to Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training 2015 alumna Michaela Moore who joined the project as director.” In turn, that led to the inclusion of a number of other Pig Iron School alumni in the productions including Caitlin Antram, Giovany Barrera, Ben Grinberg, Lauren Harries, Bronwyn Sims, and  Alice Yorke.

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Getting to the Nuts and Bolts of Trisha Brown

Posted May 11th, 2016

On April 29, Trisha Brown’s dance legacy was represented by three generations of her dancers in a rehearsal studio on the top floor of the Main Building at Drexel University for In the New Body: Nuts and Bolts. Facilitated by Lisa Kraus, the project director of Trisha Brown: In the New Body (a yearlong festival of Trisha Brown’s work) and a former Trisha Brown Dance Company (TBDC) dancer, Nuts and Bolts was an open rehearsal and discussion for audiences to observe a Pennsylvania Ballet company rehearsal for O zlozony / O composite, the Trisha Brown dance that will be part of the Pennsylvania Ballet’s “Balanchine and Beyond” program (June 9–12, tickets) at the Merriam Theater.

Photo by Johanna Austin

Photo by Johanna Austin

The Rehearsal

The floor was occupied by three Pennsylvania Ballet dancers—Ian Hussey (principal), Lillian de Piazza (soloist), and Aaron Anker (apprentice)—along with Neal Beasley, the youngest of the present TBDC legacy, who is setting Brown’s work on the dancers. The four of them were chatting, warming up, stretching, and reviewing the movement phrases they were about to share.

TB 4

Photo by Johanna Austin

Stephen Petronio, TBDC’s first male dancer, sat in the front row, and he was hard to miss. He’s very tall with a shiny bald head, black thick-rimmed glasses, and a stately gray tuft of hair hanging from his chin. He possessed the air of being very important—many people were trying to talk to him at all once before the rehearsal started.

Those familiar with Trisha Brown and her work know that her creative process as well as her work is far from conventional—and this was manifest as soon as Beasley counted the beat using the alphabet instead of numbers. After one or two cycles of the alphabet, Beasley revealed that using the alphabet instead of a dancer’s go-to counts of six or eight was a tradition that Brown’s dancers started.

Each movement was deliberate, and monotonous in its rhythm dynamic, evenly fitting the steady timing of the alphabet, with each position or transition filling up one count (or letter). The vocabulary he used while he practiced the phrases with the dancers was colorful and rhythmic—almost poetic.

Beasley’s directing style was less critical instruction and served more as a reminder for the dancers of the origin and intent of the movement for unification, as well as to capture Brown’s original intent.

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We Don’t Study History, We Just Keep Reenacting It: a conversation with Jenn Kidwell

Posted May 9th, 2016

It’s not easy to get a hold of Jenn Kidwell. The wildly accomplished performing artist, co-founder of JACK in Brooklyn, and co-founder/co-artistic director of Lightning Rod Special keeps a busy schedule these days. Prepping her and co-creator Scott Sheppard’s show Underground Railroad Game (tickets/info) for a remount here at FringeArts is just one thing crowding her plate, but with tech week fast approaching Kidwell still managed to find time to generously chat with me one rainy afternoon about her process, the show’s evolution, and the aspects of our country’s troubling relationship with its past, which the show seeks to interrogate. “Making everyone participate in the same way when what we’re participating in does not treat people the same way is problematic,” Kidwell said, adding, “There’s no way for us to actually learn and change what we’re doing, it just rectifies systems of the past.”

“We don’t study history, we just keep reenacting it.”

It’s that culture of reenactment that frames Underground Railroad Game, and Kidwell and Sheppard take it to task as questions of race, sexuality, dominance, privilege, and pedagogy all become inextricably tangled in their characters’ misguided attempts to educate. Based on experiences from Sheppard’s schooling, the show follows two teachers—a black woman and a white man—as they lead their middle school class (i.e. the audience) through an immersive, interactive unit on the Civil War by day and engage in a taboo-defying, sex-forward relationship by night. The 2015 Fringe Festival breakout hit—which critic Howard Shapiro called, “Hands-down the best piece I’ve seen in the Fringe Festival this year and in many years”—returns this week after months of tireless re-tuning.

When I asked Kidwell if anything had surprised her throughout the show’s development she chuckled and claimed the fact that she and Sheppard have been able to make it together at all has been one of the biggest surprises. She attributed this to their very different processes and viewpoints, but as she further explained their working dynamic it seemed as though this creative friction was crucial in developing the show and tackling such contentious subject matter. “There’s a way you can shut off your listening if you’re dealing with somebody who you know thinks the same way you do, but that’s not in this room,” she explained. “Here, it’s this constant state of being open in order to try and understand what the other person is saying or where they’re coming from.”

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A Story Without the Truth Behind It

Posted April 29th, 2016

Noelle Mercer and Julian Shapiro-Barnum, besties who saw Underground Railroad Game during the 2015 Fringe Festival, reached out when they heard about the remount, excited to help us promote it.  Luckily they’re total geniuses.  We sat them down to have a conversation about race, friendship, education, and why they think teenagers need to see Underground Railroad Game.*

Underground Railroad Game runs at FringeArts May 11-21.  Get tickets/more info here.

*Note: Underground Railroad Game contains brief full nudity and content for mature audiences.  Parental discretion is advised.