FringeArts Blog

A Story Without the Truth Behind It

Posted April 29th, 2016

Noelle and Julian, 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.

Rapid Oscillations Between the Sacred and the Profane: an interview with Bhob Rainey

Posted April 25th, 2016
Rainey at a rehearsal of O Monsters First Draft (courtesy of New Paradise Laboratories).

Rainey at a rehearsal of O Monsters First Draft (photo by Kate Raines,

This week sees the premiere of New Paradise Laboratories’ O Monsters First Draft (tickets/info), marking the company’s second collaboration with award-winning composer, saxophonist, sound designer Bhob Rainey.

Rainey’s career is marked by a tireless push against preconceived notions of what music is and how it can effect listeners, and he has over 30 record releases to show for it. After earning a master’s degree in music composition from New England Conservatory (where he studied with musical luminaries Joe Maneri, Paul Bley, Ran Blake, and Pozzi Escot) he founded Nmperign with trumpeter Greg Kelley in 1998. The highly influential non-idiomatic improvisation duo have been integral to the development of the lowercase and electroacoustic improvisation genres and have to date collaborated with a veritable who’s-who of twenty-first century music innovators. In 2000 he founded The BSC, an octet of acoustic and electronic improvisers, as a means of exploring the dynamics of large group improvisation. Throughout his career he has sought interdisciplinary collaborations.

Though it is often the case that a composer’s work is done merely in service of a production, Rainey’s work on O Monsters First Draft has played an integral role in crafting this new work. “We’re treating Bhob’s music like spontaneous expressions of something in-the-world that can be used to craft out-of-this-world stage action,” Whit MacLaughlin, NPL’s artistic director, told FringeArts back in February. “Ultimately, we are exploring something we haven’t quite found a name for yet. Symphonic theater might be a good name for it.”

We caught up with Rainey to learn more about his background and his work on O Monsters First Draft.

FringeArts: Were you raised in a musical household?

Bhob Rainey: Not really. My dad is something of an aficionado of certain music, mostly blues and jazz, but I don’t recall him sharing a lot of that when I was young. My mom would often play one side of a Barbara Streisand record followed by a side of Barry Manilow. No one in the family really knew what it was like to be a musician. It is very much to their credit that they didn’t disown me when I decided to go the music route. I got to know a lot of music through endangered species like radio, record stores, and libraries. I was usually attracted to things that seemed to push boundaries, though it took a while for my idea of boundaries to grow large enough to be interesting. In truth, so much of the richness of my musical experience as a kid came from going to a public school with a good music program. It’s unforgivable how much of that has been taken away.


Rainey at work.

FringeArts: Growing up in Philadelphia, were you involved with any of the city’s music scenes?

Bhob Rainey: I didn’t get involved with any significant music scene in Philadelphia until the mid-90s. This was the jazz scene in ’94–’95. The scene was generationally and racially diverse, so there was a lot of sacred knowledge being passed around. I grew a lot from the experience and am deeply appreciative of the musicians I played with. You had a few downtown clubs like Zanzibar Blue and the Blue Moon, plus the old Ortlieb’s and some more neighborhood-y clubs like Natalie’s in West Philly. I played with Orrin Evans, Edgar Bateman, Mike Boone, Byron Landham, Duane Eubanks, Mickey Roker, and some other scene heavyweights like Bootsy Barnes and Larry McKenna. Byard Lancaster was helpful to me early on, introducing me to other players like Lucky Thompson and being generally—and somewhat aggressively—supportive. I don’t think I ever thanked him to the degree I would have liked, and I regret that now. I was playing out most nights of the week, and I loved it. But it ultimately wasn’t my voice. It was a voice I had learned and enjoyed using. It was a tradition for which I had and still have a deep respect. But I had something else that I needed to do, and that’s when I left for Boston.

FringeArts: When did you resettle in Philadelphia, and what brought you back? And artistically, what are some of the differences between the cities?

Bhob Rainey: I have a couple friends who moved to Philadelphia from Boston. We were sitting in the FringeArts beer garden during the 2014 Fringe Festival, and one of them said, “Do you know what this reminds me of in Boston? Nothing.” Boston is a lovely city. It is well-manicured, walkable, full of winding streets and great bookstores. I know a ton of wonderful people there. But, like San Francisco, Boston long ago gave the finger to everyone earning less than six figures. It’s no place for an artist to live. There’s no O Monsters First Draft in Boston.

Philadelphia is full of trash and broken things. There can be an ambient pride in douchebaggery that is a little jarring. But it is fantastically dynamic and diverse. You feel a kind of honesty and squirmy vibrancy in all sorts of neighborhoods. And I fully comprehend how calling someone a jitbag is a way of saying “I love you.” Because my family and many old friends have always lived here, I never stopped coming back, and I watched how the city transformed. I saw how much the arts were central to that transformation. I wanted to be part of the whole thing, warts and all. I love being here.

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The Unprecedented Universe of O Monsters First Draft

Posted April 20th, 2016

Whit MacLaughlin is on his way to a tech rehearsal for his company’s latest production, O Monsters First Draft (tickets/info), yet has graciously taken the time to talk with me despite only being able to hear me through one headphone. “The world makes itself up as it goes along, it’s self-generated,” the artistic director of New Paradise Laboratories asserts.

Over the course of his commute MacLaughlin broke down some of the headier ideas that have fueled the production. Though they may be lofty ideas that are difficult to pin down, O Monsters First Draft is not a lecture or a philosophical treatise. “I’m not a philosopher, but I enjoy the stuff and enjoy thinking about all this crazy wonderfully cosmic stuff,” MacLaughlin tells me. “That’s why we make this, to blow our own minds.”


NPL’s Whit MacLaughlin

O Monsters First Draft invites audiences to imagine the world separate from our human understanding of it—and proposes how humans might exist in such a world. The Kissimmee family at the center of the show may seem recognizable, but they are fundamentally—perhaps biologically—different from us.

In searching for this idea of non-human perspectives, NPL drew inspiration from speculative fiction and the contemporary philosophical movement speculative realism, which in turn led them to explore examples of contingency and the unprecedented. They welcomed elements of chance to intrude into their creative processes, and the humanly indefinable result is a fitting show for the experimental theater company’s twentieth year of existence.

Below are some introductions to the concepts we discussed. Let these metaphysical musings set your creative gears turning.

Speculative Realism

“The universe in speculative realism is not a box of laws according to which everything behaved in lockstep. It’s a thing that makes itself up as it goes along, and though the laws of the universe seem stable to us now we have to admit that they probably evolve,” MacLaughlin explains. Speculative realism seeks to overturn previously held philosophical notions that favor human perspective. It posits that we as humans cannot logically deduce with one hundred percent certainty that something is going to happen simply based on our sense of precedent. Our sense of probability inevitably falls short of possibility.


Photo by Plate3


A term from philosopher Quentin Meillassoux, ancestrality describes everything that occurred before the emergence of the human species. What MacLaughlin finds interesting about this concept comes from thinking about and anticipating mutation: “If you had been standing around watching human beings develop back in the day—hominids moving towards Cro-Magnon—you probably wouldn’t have been able to predict the advent of consciousness,” he asserts, paraphrasing Meillasoux. “It was happening, but it appeared as an unprecedented thing and something deep in the problem of consciousness makes it impossible to predict the unprecedented.”

An Indifferent/Benevolent Universe

“I have trouble wrapping my own head around this especially as it has something to do with living, but I think what is safe to say, and what I find really interesting, is that it recharacterizes everything in the world,” MacLaughlin offered, perhaps sensing my tentative grasp on the subjects at hand. “By that I mean the fact that we’re here doesn’t need a benevolent force making that possible. It’s not like somebody has veered asteroids away from hitting the earth, but after billions of years the earth is still here, so an indifferent universe in some ways becomes a benevolent one simply by virtue of the fact that you’re here.”

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Live and in Technicolor

Posted April 14th, 2016

As a kid there was something truly sublime about a black light. With just the flick of a switch an entire space and everything it contained could be altered. Mundane dressings disappeared in the absence of visible light as new, previously imperceptible shapes and patterns emerged. What was in reality just a dingy warehouse could be transformed into a fantastical landscape full of colors that brimmed with vivacity, setting the imagination ablaze. It inspired the kind of wonder you look back on with envy as an adult. Yet such wistful recollections lead me to wonder, why can’t that same sense of awe still be tapped? My threshold for awe might (might) be a bit higher than it was when I was ten, but surely some spectacle of ultra-violet artistry is still capable of surpassing it.

archedream in technicolorThis weekend we will all have a chance to marvel at such a work of black light performance art, as ArcheDream for Humankind brings their latest show, ArcheDream in Technicolor, to the Shiloh Baptist Church April 15-17. An exploration of the color wheel under the glow of ultra-violet light, the performance strives to expose inner and outer landscapes and archetypal emotions one color at a time.

Since 2000, ArcheDream—a Philadelphia based non-profit performance troupe—has been combining elements of theater, dance, puppetry, and visual art to create remarkable shows for all ages. Born from the vision of South African artist Alan Bell, the company was founded out of his desire to unify divided audiences in an ecstasy of wonder. Inspired by traditions of mask theater and the form’s ability to convey stories and unifying truths in fantastical ways, ArcheDream mixes dazzling art direction, whimsical choreography, and archetypal tales inspired by universal thoughts, ideas, and emotions to reach audiences the world over.

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Effort Creates Fiction: Exploring the works of Luis Garay

Posted April 13th, 2016

This weekend Colombian born, Argentina based choreographer and director Luis Garay brings Maneries to FringeArts, April 14–16 (tickets/info). A solo created in collaboration with and performed by dancer Florencia Vecino, the dance sees the body as a cipher of linguistic material. Drawing on a catalogue of “gestures, pictures, poses, and sculptures,” Maneries explores the notion of universality and specificity existing in tandem. Vecino strives to represent all bodies through the employment of archetypal and recognizable images, and yet is still bound to her own body—its strengths, its limitations.

Though Garay’s renown is just beginning to reach beyond South America, he has been active as a director and choreographer for many years now. Below are a few examples of some of his notable shows and collaborations.

Ouroboro (2010)

Ouroboro is an always changing system. A mechanism of directions, levels and proximities. Ouroboro explores new syntaxes of new gestures.”

Similar to Maneries, Ouroboro  employs the body as a tool for language, representing various hieroglyphs. According to Garay, the work is rooted in the notion that empty space contains all possibilities.

Under de Sí (2013)

“Installation theatre work in which the audience enters this ambiguous universe of performative tasks. Spins around the idea of self-image building and the theatricality of genetics. [What does] hyper reality looks [sic] like if today were a museum to be seen from years ahead?”

A collaboration with visual artist Diego Bianchi, this work presents a hyperbolic reimagining of our image obsessed society—in terms of self-image as well as society’s obsession with image collection and presentation via smartphones.

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Back to School with the Fringe Festival

Posted April 11th, 2016

Kimberly Dickstein is a high school English teacher at Haddonfield Memorial High School in Haddonfield, New Jersey. In her seven years of teaching English language and literature, she has developed a rigorous and engaging Shakespeare program of study. This year, she blew her Shakespeare class wide open thanks to one crazy show she saw at the Fringe Festival.


John Bellomo and Brendon Gawel from the Ombelico Mask Ensemble

Kimberly, also a member FringeAxis (aka The Young Friends of FringeArts), is dedicated to seeing as many shows as she can each Fringe Festival. She spends every weekend in September at the Festival and averages five to seven shows each year—an impressive feat for a teacher at the beginning of the school year. “When I get the Fringe program, I do my best to see any Shakespeare or classics that might inform my teaching,” she says. With this goal in mind, she came upon Like a Bat Out of Hades by the Ombelico Mask Ensemble. This 2015 Fringe Festival performance fused the improvisatory style of commedia dell’arte with traditional Italian puppetry to create a comic interpretation of the Greek tragedy Alcestis by Euripides. After seeing  “ridiculous reimagining” of a tragic story of love and sacrifice, Kimberly worked with Brendon Gawel, one of Ombelico’s artistic directors, to bring the show to her school last October as part of her Greek Drama curriculum. For many of her students, this was their first experience seeing a professional production of any kind, let alone a Fringe performance. With Ombelico’s love for reinterpreting classic works in commedia dell’arte, she saw potential to continue this collaboration as she transitioned into her Shakespeare class in the spring semester.

Kimmie D

Kimberly Dickstein directs her students on Commedia Day

While many high school English classes study Shakespeare by simply reading Romeo and Juliet and deciphering its lofty language, Kimberly designs her curriculum around which Shakespeare plays are being performed in the greater Philadelphia area, making the course truly “page-to-stage.” In a stroke of serendipity, she had arranged the course so that her students would begin the semester studying Hamlet—the exact play that the Ombelico Mask Ensemble was in the midst of adapting for the 2016 Fringe Festival. Together, they decided to host a program on February 25th, recognized internationally as Commedia dell’Arte Day, in which the Shakespeare students would pitch their comic adaptation of Hamlet to Ombelico.

Kimberly’s students went far beyond the normal expectations of reading and analyzing Hamlet in preparation for this presentation. From learning improv basics to mastering sales pitches, they worked tirelessly to recreate Hamlet as commedia dell’arte, an effort that culminated in reinterpreting the final act in which everyone dies. The solution? All the dead characters would rise as ghosts and air their grievances to form the most awkward, disastrous family reunion ever.

IMG_1591“What happens in my classroom unfolds much like a drama; we have our players, our exits and entrances,” Kimberly says. “I want my students to be lifelong learners—curious movers and shakers. They will be the ones on the stage or in the seats; they will sustain and promote the arts for years to come.” By giving her students experiences that are authentic, collaborative, enduring, and above all, fun, she creates an environment in which future generations are not only excited about the arts, but are inspired to become artists themselves. As she tells us, “If it weren’t for FringeArts, an enthusiastic Shakespeare teacher, and two commedia aficionados, this collaboration would never have happened.”

—Constance Kaita

Photos by Craig Melendes Photography

Good Maneries: interview with choreographer Luis Garay

Posted April 8th, 2016

Maneries is also about imagination, and the bodily production of imagination, so the commitment of the performer must be very high.”


Colombian choreographer and director Luis Garay brings Maneries, performed by (and created for) the fiercely captivating dancer Florencia Vecino, to FringeArts April 14-16 (tickets/info). Garay (who is now based in Argentina) will also be leading a workshop for area dancers on April 13 (info/register). Maneries “explores a catalogue of gestures, pictures, poses, sculptures” and is a highly original evening of movement showing the incredible diversity of the human body. We caught up with Luis last fall to ask him about the dance.

How did you come up with the title Maneries?

Luis Garay: I don’t remember where I was or the exact moment. But I know we didn’t have many options for the title. It was pretty much the first and only option. Maneries is a concept from Giorgio Agamben’s book The Coming Community. He teaches us that maneries is not the plural of manare (ways of), on the contrary. Maneries is one place, like a fountain, from where all possible forms emanate. Maneries embraces both the universal and particular at the same time, like an example. In each example the “universal” is contained. So Maneries is collections of examples.

Maneries 3How do you create a solo work on another’s body?

Luis Garay: We developed a special relationship with Florencia [Vecino]. We created rules, collections of gestures, pictures, poses, sculptures—and she mixes them up, live, like a deejay. The structure of the piece is very rigid, but at the same time it allows [the performance] to be changed every time. Maneries is also about imagination, and the bodily production of imagination, so the commitment of the performer must be very high; Florencia commits 100% to what she does and that is why the piece is still alive.

What kind of conversations took place between the two of you?

Luis Garay: We talked about the state in which she needs to be, to start and to build the piece. We talked about it a lot, because this “state” is very complex, it requires that she is very attentive, at the same time inside the piece and observing herself from the outside—all the time, so it is very paranoiac. She has many rules to administrate at the same time. Many archives to execute. We talk about warriors all the time and what that could mean: she is a warrior of language. The piece is about what she does as much as it is about what she doesn’t do and we imagined out of her.

luis garay

Choreographer Luis Garay.

What did you work on most when fine-tuning Maneries?

Luis Garay: The energy. Because it is very fragile. We know the energy and the place the piece needs to grow. It is very thin. So we train that as much as possible. I know the ambient and the atmosphere in which I want the audience to be. It is very broad and at the same time very specific.

What experience do you get out of watching the performance now?

Luis Garay: I like watching it because I surrender to the performance every time. When the piece produces the kind of energy we want to create in the room, I am the first one to enjoy it and live it and experience it.

Thank you, looking forward to the show.

Luis Garay

April 14–16 TICKETS & INFO

140 North Columbus Boulevard (at Race)
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Maneries photos  by Dudu Quintanilha.

FringeArts Flash Debates

Posted April 5th, 2016

This Saturday, April 9, Team Sunshine Performance Corp and Jacob Winterstein are convening The Society of Civil Discourse at FringeArts. All are welcome to join the Society and get in on the fun of hating on, loving, philosophizing about, and debating things that don’t matter. This night is about bullshitting your way to the top. In order to warm up our argumentative sides we decided to have a brief series of lightning debates with members of our staff on a handful of highly contested trivialities: baby carrots, winking, and hoverboards. Below, you’ll find their cases for or against their topic. Though these may not be their true opinions on these hot button issues, it’s clear they’ll be ready to square off against anyone looking to argue come Saturday night. Will you be ready?


Debate #1:


Pro: Dan, Marketing Director

Winking is a primary form of human communication and we should no sooner oppose it than other more questionable forms, like G-chatting with the coworker beside you or YouTube comments. As humans we are from time to time reminded of the acute inadequacy of words to express true meaning. Under emotion’s influence—love, disgust, surprise, fear—our faces say more and say it better than whatever clumsy collection of syllables we could possibly muster. In addition, the adaptation of the wink into popular emoticons and emojis is evidence that, as technology replaces human interaction with a digital screen, the wink is needed now more than ever.

Against: Meg, Venue and Patron Services Director

Winking: Secretive, inconclusive, cheeky. What does a wink even mean? Are you flirting? Are you suggesting an inside joke? Are you inferring that there is an unspoken agreement between us? Maybe you’re just somebody that winks a lot and there is no actual message. Either way, winking is a vague and inconsistent form of nonverbal communication. 99.9% of winking results in unclear messaging. Furthermore, it cannot ever be universally embraced, as a wide and diverse segment of the human population (up to 12%!) does not have the facial muscular capabilities to wink. It’s blinking or nothing—no one eye isolation. For that reason, winking is an exclusive nonverbal communicator, and imperfect. If a wink requires a returned wink in order to complete the exchange, there is a nearly 1 in 10 possibility that the recipient of the initial wink simply cannot return said wink. For this reason, I strongly argue against winking.


Debate #2:

Baby Carrots

Pro: Constance, Marketing Intern

Here’s the problem. When you want a snack, you want to be healthy, but there’s always things like chips and cookies that get in the way. That’s why there’s baby carrots. They’re nature’s chips. You get that same satisfying crunch but without the trouble of washing all that cheese dust off your fingers. They’re simple, they’re cheap, and they’re easy to carry around, unlike their full-sized carrot parents with that annoying tuft of inedible greenery on top. And, if people see you choosing that healthy snack option, it’s so much easier to trick people into thinking you have your shit together. When everything else in your life looks like it’s falling apart, at least you’ll have a win if you choose baby carrots.

Against: Anna, Marketing Coordinator

A startling fact: There’s no such thing as a baby carrot. Baby carrots are created by the plastic surgery of ADULT carrots that were JUST FINE. Baby Carrots are the status quo and the fetishization of youth vegetableified. Baby carrots represent everything wrong with society. Instead of dipping normal, healthy, curvy carrots that are beautiful just the way they are we strip them down and cut them shorter so they all look the same. Not everything is easy to hold, chew, or fit in a snack sized Ziplock bag and that’s OK. We should be empowering our carrots and ourselves to be diverse not homogenous and slimy.

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Announcing the 2016 Fringe Festival!

Posted April 1st, 2016

We are shockingly ahead of schedule here at FringeArts, and are ready to announce a few of our 2016 Festival Shows!  Here’s a sneak peek for you, our stalwart audience.


Stunning solo performer Radon Mackelroy reads all 171,476 words in just under 6 hours.  “A triumph of audience endurance!” —The New York Times




Background for festival scooterDOG
No script.  Just a dog, a stage, and you.  “There has never been a cuter performance.” —Washington Post




The three souls that comprise FringeArts’ marketing department publicly live-stream their image via webcam as they market the 2016 Fringe Festival.  Will they survive?




Seven dancers are suspended over the Delaware River from the Benjamin Franklin bridge, without safety harnesses (because risk). The dance-theater work that follows tests the boundaries of decency and safety.




Gotchya!  Only one of the above shows will be included in the real 2016 Fringe Festival.  Which one?  You’ll have to keep an eye out for the Festival Guide to find out!

World premieres and world-class music: Spring at FringeArts Pt.2

Posted March 31st, 2016

Last week we previewed some of the exciting things that are happening here at FringeArts in the next two months—the first half of our spring season—but believe it or not there’s more to look forward to. Believe it!


Rhys Chatham (Photo by Paula Court)

Late May sees two separate performances from near-mythical figures of modern music, both presented in partnership with Philadelphia’s Ars Nova Workshop. First up is the Rhys Chatham-Tim Dahl-Kevin Shea Trio. Chatham is a composer and performer from New York City who cut his teeth in the music world as a piano tuner for minimalist icon La Monte Young before performing in various groups. His work has always been indebted to his avant-garde forebears, but he was also heavily influenced by the emerging punk rock scene in the late ’70s. He in turn influenced musicians whose work would soon be pegged as No Wave through seminal works like Guitar Trio and his time as the first music director of the legendary lower Manhattan art space The Kitchen. Since the early 2000s he’s settled in Paris and has been composing works for three to 400 guitars, as well as a host of other instruments.

Tim Dahl is an accomplished electric and double bass player, vocalist, keyboardist, and composer best known as the bass player and co-composer of the noise-rock band Child Abuse and Lydia Lunch’s Retrovirus. He’s performed with a legion of legendary of musicians, including Yusef Lateef, Archie Shepp, Eugene Chadbourne, Tatsuya Yoshida, John Zorn, and Marc Ribot. Kevin Shea, who has been dubbed “the best drummer in New York” by The Village Voice, is a member of the acclaimed avant-garde jazz quartet Mostly Other People Do the Killing. He’s been in numerous other groups and collaborates frequently, compiling a resume that, much like Dahl, reads as a who’s who of forward-thinking music greats. Catch these three powerhouse musicians on May 24 as they delve into and distort the post-punk instrumental. (info/tickets)


Brötzmann and Leigh

You would be wise to return the following night for a performance from two musicians with a masterful talent for improvisation, taking the stage with their seldom-paired instruments of choice. Peter Brötzmann and Heather Leigh are bringing their tenor saxophone and pedal steel guitar, respectively, May 25. The two have been touring together  to much acclaim, with one reviewer for London Jazz News commenting, “Their 90 minute set at Café Oto was remarkable for the flux of the structures that defined the emerging musical forms and for the intuitive daring with which both musicians imprinted their presence on the dialogue.”

Brötzmann, a painter by trade, is a giant of European free jazz, and avant-garde jazz and free improvisation in general. His legendary second album, Machine Gun, remains a ferocious and imposing work and stands as a document of the formation of the European free improvisation scene. He’s led numerous influential recordings and served as a member of such blistering groups as Last Exit and Die Like a Dog. Leigh is a Houston-bred coal miner’s daughter based in Glasgow who wields the pedal steel guitar like no one else. With echoes of American folk traditions, avant-garde jazz, and the furthest extremes of noise experimentation present, she renders her instrument’s voice into expressive wails and lilts that belie its oft-typecast laid back country image. Her latest album, 2015’s I Abused Animal, received universal acclaim and landed on many critics’ and artists’ year-end best lists. This rare live collaboration is not to be missed by any adventurous music listener. (info/tickets)

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