FringeArts Blog

We don’t exist without you.

Posted May 25th, 2017


Mark McCloughan and Jaime Maseda, who together are No Face Performance Group, were kind enough to sit down for a chat with us to talk about their newest show THE TOP.  What is THE TOP?  The answer may be more complex than you realize.  But the one thing we’re sure of is that it doesn’t exist without you.

FringeArts: How did the title THE TOP come about? And what was the moment when you realized, we can make a show of this?

Jaime Maseda: “The Top” is the name of a song that plays a prominent role in the piece. We lovingly ripped it off. Hopefully nobody comes for us. All jokes aside, the song’s title has always felt like an apt title. Its simplicity both belies and points towards the grandeur of the song, which is both minimalist and bombastic in its own right. The performance itself has minimalist elements for sure, but we’ve made a point of maintaining a wry and critical engagement with minimalism, which can be a rather oppressive ideology. What began as an exploration self-aware minimalist choreography became a celebration of and engagement in radical intimacy and empathy — albeit through a stripped down, simple gesture.

Mark McCloughan: The song entered the process completely randomly- one day, when we were working in the studio with Magda and Chelsea, Jaime put it on and made a performance proposal about how to interact with the song. It was captivating, and we immediately honed in on it as something to delve into more deeply. We had a sense that there was a piece there, and began exploring how to expand it. We added stuff, we made it more complicated, but nothing seemed quite right. There was this growing sense that the first proposal was more complete than we realized. But to think about making a whole piece based on this very simple initial idea was scary. Would it be enough for a piece? Would it hold the audience’s attention? Eventually, this became a sort of dare, both for us and for the audience. The dare: make it enough.

Jaime Maseda: Speaking for myself, I’m not sure there was a moment of confirming “oh, this works.” Which is for sure terrifying, but also a good sign—a sign that a project is worth pursuing. With a lot—if not all—of the work we’ve made over the past few years, there’s been a definite sense of “We have no idea if this structure succeeds.” And actually, a challenge we often end up giving ourselves is to create pieces that explore totally different measures of success. I think THE TOP is no different!


FringeArts: How is music used in THE TOP

Mark McCloughan: The whole piece is inspired by music. The choreography takes cues from minimalist and pop music and uses these structural ideas to play with time and make the audience and performers aware of time’s passing, as well as its malleability.

Jaime Maseda: The way we incorporate music is pretty simple and becomes clear early on. One of its many functions is to narrow the performance and the audience’s focus down to a direct, unadorned engagement with us. That said, the song “The Top” is also really amazing and exciting and engaging and constantly revealing new layers of production and instrumentation. We can’t take credit for that (thanks, Francis), but hopefully our performance does the same.


FringeArts: What makes this work “once open, direct, intimate, and confrontational”—what are some of the methods you use on stage to achieve this?

Jaime Maseda: More than anything else, more than being a performance you come and watch, this piece is an invitation to engage in a specific interaction/relationship/experience with us as people and performers.

There’s no “audience participation” per se, but we are definitely trying to de-escalate the tension around performer/spectator interaction—trying to cultivate an awareness of the invisible, electric back-and-forth between people who watch each other. At its best, really leaning into this bizarre relationship yields the magical, radical empathy and intimacy I mentioned before.

Mark McCloughan: The piece is very transparent. Nothing is going on that you can’t see. Or maybe a better way to put it: What you see is all there is. Early on in the piece, we try to establish a connection with the audience, showing them that we can see them, that we are acknowledging that they are watching. We try to make eye contact, and if someone smiles, we smile back. By demonstrating that there’s no boundary between the performance area and the audience, we hope to invite the audience to experience the performance in a different way than they might a performance that uses the convention of a fourth wall.

Jaime Maseda: There aren’t really any hard-and-fast methods we can apply beyond staying tethered to the present moment, not anticipating or “performing” a given interaction. Neither shying away from an interaction, nor holding onto one for the sake of it. Or sitting with an interaction longer than feels comfortable. Or cutting one off before it feels it has run its course.



FringeArts: Where does the humor come from?

Mark McCloughan: The humor comes from playing with expectation. Going back to the inspiration of pop music: there are many different types of pleasure at play in a great pop song. There’s the pleasure of repetition, of familiarity. There’s the pleasure of symmetry, of having an expectation about what will happen next fulfilled. I think that in truly great pop songs there are also other pleasures: unexpected adornments, structural gestures that subvert the traditional pop structure but still work beautifully, little oddities that are somehow both right and not right for the song. When we listen to a pop song, we expect certain pleasurable things, and the way the song does or does not dole out those pleasures becomes its signature, its personality. In this piece, we deploy humor by being very intentional about how we do or do not give the audience what they might want or think they want.

Jaime Maseda: I think each audience member’s individual discovery or journey of understanding the mechanics of the piece is a major source of pleasure. The choreography, though extremely simple, makes a point of playing with people’s expectations of or desires for the piece’s trajectory — sometimes to frustrating, sometimes to comic effect. To me there’s a very exciting interplay between the possibility that anything might happen and the realization that everything is already happening. And the realization that “everything is already happening” can mean both “There’s so much going on even though there’s nothing going on!” and “There’s nothing going on and that’s just going to keep on happening!”


FringeArts: What have you worked on most in fine-tuning THE TOP?

Jaime Maseda: Again, there’s not a ton we can do to prepare or rehearse, since so much of the piece depends on the intangible relationship with the audience. We definitely drill the choreography a ton. We watch each other, point out each other’s tendencies when engaging with viewers, trying to cultivate a sort of blank slate of presence. This goes back to the “Does this work?” question—even after the performance, it’s hard to evaluate.

Mark McCloughan: THE TOP doesn’t really exist without the audience. There’s set choreography, but in a way, that choreography is unimportant. We realized as we were setting the piece that there are an infinite number of ways we could have made the choreography to achieve the same effect. For me, the heart of the piece is in the exchange between us and those watching. The choreography is a tool that supports the engagement between audience and performer. It fills the space and is precise, but also something that is able to recede into the background so that this connection, this exchange can take place.

Thanks Mark and Jaime!

THE TOP runs at FringeArts May 31-June 3.  For tickets/more information, visit our show page.

Yesterday was a disaster

Posted May 1st, 2017

Republished with kind permission from the Almanac Fronteras blog.  For more blog posts, click here. 

… right from the start. I walked in (late) to our dangerously short rehearsal preceding the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts staff show, and felt like something was off. Swiftly we worked and reworked the excerpt we’d decided to share, swapping Robin in for LJ’s part, which Robin calmly took on — quickly learning and practicing tricks she’d never done before…. surfing Ben up to two high on her back, catching Emmanuel and Cole as they fall backward into the group’s arms from up high…..   It was clear to all of us we were working on borrowed time and yet we stubbornly pushed on. This is something we do well:: We challenge ourselves and we challenge each other.  Usually asking more than what feels safe or possible. Often inside pressure cookers of limited time.  And often we find, surprisingly, that we are actually capable.  With wide eyes and pumping blood we find our bodies doing things together we’ve never done before.

So in some ways this flash rehearsal felt familiar.  Except, as audience members arrived, it became increasingly clear Joe was too sick to perform. His body, hit by a gastro-intestinal infection, was literally shutting down before my eyes.  He needed to lay down, see a doctor, drink water — anything but perform an acrobatic dance.  So there we were, again reworking the piece, only now in darkness backstage with the rest of the show’s performers, with few minutes to spare.

I’ll add here that catching a flying body is much harder with three people than with four, as one can imagine.  And, trying to do two peoples’ jobs can get you punched in the face by a foot… which is exactly what happened to me.  So there I am, top of show, crouched in the darkness weeping silently.  My nose felt like it was broken and gushing blood (it wasn’t… it is actually just bruised thankfully) as I ran through the newest changes in my head over and over.

Then, we were in it.  We were dancing, tumbling, lifting, falling gracefully.

Until I felt Cole behind me actually fall off Emma’s shoulders.

Until I saw her stand and test bearing weight on her right foot.

Until she whispered to me “I think I broke my foot” as she limped towards Ben to help Robin and I catch Emma.

Until the extra weight of Emma’s torso on Cole was too much and he tipped towards the ground and rolled down instead of landing suspended in a basket of arms.

We got off stage and catapulted into action.  Emma carried Cole to the car and all five of us went straight to the emergency room — simultaneously laughing at this mess of a day while also praying nothing was broken and recounting all the ways we could have been better to each other.

I’m SO happy to share that Cole’s foot is NOT broken, just badly sprained.

Nevertheless, we were all viscerally reminded of our limits. We wondered, could this have been prevented? We could have communicated better about scheduling more rehearsal; we could have called it all off when Joe stepped out; we could have been more centered or let some elements of the piece go. But so much of what happened felt like a freak accident. Cole got hurt doing a trick with Emma that they hadn’t just learned or taken someone’s spot doing. It just happened.

Last week, it just happened that Joe’s mother’s heart stopped. And the doctors and nurses really couldn’t tell us why. Immense precaution and care have marked the last five months for Maggie and Joe, since he gave her one of his kidneys.  While she was sustained unconsciously by machines all week,  I found the diligent records she’d made of everything she had done and eaten and felt in her body since the successful transplant. Everything had been done to make her healthy. She had fought so hard and held on so tight to life. And still, somehow, now she is gone.

I am consumed by reflecting on what we can control and what we can’t… what to hold onto with stubbornness and perserverance, and what’s worth letting go for something bigger. My love and respect for my Almanac family entangles me in desire to both push boldly and take immense care. The boundaries of care and push can sometimes be blurry, and we’re all still learning.



“Pretty brain melty”

Posted May 1st, 2017

This Mexican Week, FringeArts presents two one-night-only shows by Almanac Dance Circus Theatre, An Homage to Whatshername and A Door in the Desert.  These shows, made in collaboration with Mexican choreographer and performer Emmanuel Becerra, have been nurtured over the last six months with intensive, long rehearsals, deep conversations about the things that divide us, and Almanac’s signature compassion.  Artistic Director Ben Grinberg, Emmanuel Becerra, and company members Evelyn Langley and Joseph Ahmed were kind enough to sit down with us to talk through their process, and how Fronteras (the umbrella title for both works) came to be.


FringeArts: How did the title FRONTERAS come about? And then how did the two titles—A Door in the Desert and An Homage to Whatshername?

Ben Grinberg: Fronteras is the Spanish word for “borders.” My collaborative relationship with Emmanuel Becerra has always been about sharing our different cultures, and, in a way, asking questions about why cultural perceptions and stereotypes exhibit themselves in the ways that they do. When we started talking about the project we would work on together, it was at the height of the presidential election season, and of course—and unfortunately—our writing grants to bring a Mexican artist to the United States to collaborate began to feel like a political statement. Emmanuel took this idea and started to get very interested in the idea of boundaries and borders, both politically as it pertained to his experience of working in the United States, and in investigating the borders and boundaries that exist between and within people. When we traveled to Mexico City this summer, Emmanuel shared this research with us in the form of a series of collaborative workshops, which culminated in a site-specific performance in a four story building. When the audience arrived, we asked them to write a border that they struggle with internally on a piece of paper. We took all of these pieces of paper and put them in a bag, and as the bag got passed between performers in various parts of the house, the papers took on a votive significance. The audiences followed the bag all the way up to the top floor of the building—we would have used the roof had we gotten permission—and then watched from above as it was passed back down the building, the papers were taken out and lit on fire with the scent of cinnamon. Although this performance was advertised as something called #IAMMADEOFSTARS, in retrospect we called that project FRONTERAS. We were excited by the power of our collaboration and by continuing to investigate those themes, so we took the name as a platform guiding our work and research during Emmanuel’s residency here in Philadelphia.

Emmanuel Becerra: Although the idea of this collaboration had been discussed since 2014, the title Fronteras was born last August after Almanac’s tour to Mexico City. At that time I was living in the city, and motivated by the visit of the company, I decided to make a performance experiment between the company and a group of artists whom I worked with in Mexico, Karen Martinez (Mexico) and Fausto Jijón (Ecuador). What I was most interested in exploring were the cultural differences and the fact that not everyone spoke the same language. Between English, Español, Spanglish, and an alternate and unidentified language, we explored the idea of boundaries and the questioning that there is something beyond any border, beyond our physical traits, sex, religion, nationality, education, and interests that allows us to connect as humans?

Thinking about the titles A Door in the Desert and An Homage to Whatshername, Honestly I do not know how they were decided. I remember that between late night talks and jokes both pieces had different titles, and one day, as if by instant generation, the titles sprang into existence as agreed upon and collectively accepted titles.

Robin Stamey: As with most things Almanac, the titles of the individual pieces came about from many conversations, brainstorms, and getting in the room with each other. There was one night, within the first week that Emmanuel was here, that we were up too late, had eaten delicious food at what we call “family dinner” and had perhaps a few glasses of mezcal, that we were brainstorming titles. For some time after that, we thought A Door in the Desert would be called Fronteras: Back Terrace—say it out loud for full effect—maybe more than once—and that An Homage to Whatshername would be called Said & Meant or That’s What She Said… and Meant. Then we had a very productive company meeting—which to be honest, is not always the case—and we finally settled on the current titles.


FringeArts: Can you briefly describe the basic premise for both pieces?

Ben Grinberg: So given these themes of “breaking down barriers,” these pieces were originally conceived as bringing that intention to gender in the case of An Homage to Whatshername and culture in the case of A Door in the Desert. Whatshername is really an experiment in process—although Almanac’s processes are generally pretty egalitarian, the piece’s power structures and rules of creation are specifically designed to counteract both the power structures that exist in society that subjugate women and the ingrained biases that lead us to those power structures. So the men are present, but we’re limiting the amount that we’re talking, and we’re not making many decisions.

Emmanuel Becerra: For me both pieces have as a premise the need to explore boundaries that define and differentiate us and rethink what are the ideas that invite us to recognize ourselves and identify with other bodies. A Door in the Desert is a piece that talks about the world we have been building. Day by day we still building our identities, layer upon layer we piled ideas and belief to create, strengthen, and sometimes tear down our own walls


FringeArts: What are some of the “source” concerns of the pieces?

Joseph Ahmed: These two pieces feel more overtly political than much of Almanac’s work up to this point.  A Door in the Desert stems from the cultural interchange between Ben and Emmanuel over the course of several years, but the stakes have gotten much higher over the course of the recent election. As we sit in rehearsal we are aware that this sort of exchange, and even Emmanuel’s presence here, is something that feels precarious.  The work springs out of this feeling—wondering about where the borders between us came from and what we do about them. In many ways An Homage to Whatshername has also picked up new meaning recently, in the intensely gendered nature of the election. It also connects deeply to the role of women within both circus and the arts as a whole, and within our own company.  Though Almanac has a record of working to present stories with well-crafted female perspectives (Exile 2588) many members of the company have been craving work more expressly driven by the female members of the company. Like the issues of A Door in the Desert, this feels more relevant to us than ever.

Artistically, we are also inspired by the challenge of creating with the largest group of ensemble members we have had, in processes much less expressly driven by narrative. Whereas our two most recent large works, Leaps of Faith and Exile 2588, were largely narrative driven, that has not been a focus of our work thus far on Fronteras. We are much more curious about elements of process and exploration of themes than we are narrative. We have also never created two full-length pieces side by side before.

Ben Grinberg: We always create work that starts from us and our own experiences and the real tensions that exists within Almanac, so it’s unavoidable that both of these pieces are being pretty heavily influences by the political moment. We look at the work we do as inherently political, especially in terms of mission and process, but here we are letting politics inform the content as well. I’ll say that “THE WALL” is obviously the largest metaphor and image that is a direct connection between our work and political discourse. To literally build a physical wall between us and our southern neighbors is so abhorrent to me, not only because of the way that it literally divides us, but because of how totally ineffectual it is—it is in some ways a synecdoche for the whole administration for the way that it completely ignores reality and any reasoned future-oriented outlook in order to try to divide people. So the wall, or nearby it, is where we set A Door in the Desert. The desert is also an image that has a very different significance to Mexican people than it does to Americans, and that difference in perspective is ripe for us.

Door is also specifically drawing on a couple of events that have happened in my relationship with Emmanuel, and our friendship is source material for the piece. So here’s a long-ish short history of that friendship! We met at a dance camp in the woods of Maine—where we also met Almanac company member Evelyn Langley—in the summer of 2014. We were roommates, we were responsible for cooking dinner for 20 to 30 people together each night, and Emmanuel spoke about as much English as I spoke Spanish. The second night we were there, Emmanuel and I both ate a mushroom that we were promised was completely edible and delicious, and spent the night in and out of the bathroom vomiting and explosively shitting: we bonded quickly. Many late night chats lead us to contemplating the nature of authority and the problems with American culture. Fast forward a couple of months and we overhear the 95-year-old matriarch of the camp, a camp founded on the principle of equality and acceptance of all people, say something completely and overtly racist about Emmanuel when she thought he was out of earshot. It was a sad and sobering moment for him, and for me I was mostly indignant and outraged. Will that be me in fifty years? Reverting to some kind of backward attitude I’ve never had time to question? Or sinking back into the ease of judging others according to their categories? Or is that me now in some way? Labels have purposes, and cultural identities are to be celebrated. Yet now and frequently they do all of this harm and damage. Later in Montreal, on the last day that we were training in a space, someone accuses Emmanuel specifically of stealing a wallet out of a jacket. There were several people around the space but the accusation was leveled at the Mexican man. All of these experiences are moments that I think will find their way into the piece. In working on Door we are trying to bring ourselves into a “non-social space”—a space where we are unable to edit or filter our communications, thoughts, and actions. The idea is that by forcing ourselves to enter this space, we are all shedding some layers of our identity that are learned. Maybe from that place, we can really connect.

Evelyn Langley: Robin has been saying lately that the making of Whatshername is “intentionally dismantling how Almanac works best.” I like that phrase because I feel like it says a lot about the impetus for this piece.  As makers and collaborators, we strive to create in a way that upholds everyone’s voices and impulses on equal footing. We reject hierarchy of one person’s ideas being elevated over all others. In a rehearsal room, this can be extremely messy and even humorously chaotic—we joke that no one ever knows what’s going on. But it works! We play, we bicker, we negotiate, we propose something new, we launch into five things at once, we land and we wander again closer and farther away from elusive consensus. I say elusive because though we strive for this egalitarianism in our creative processes as well as administrative work . . . our REALITY also includes the fact that some voices are quite a bit louder than others. I should say those voices come from male-bodied humans, who have been nurtured socially to speak LOUD and speak OFTEN. I love the men in the company intensely. I love the women in this company. And out of this love I find it absolutely necessary that together we glare critically at this unequal power arrangement, that we pull it from something silently problematic into actions around change. So, An Homage to Whatshername is an effort to make an Almanac piece led/guided/propelled entirely by the women in the company. To amplify our particular voices, our ideas, our bodies, our skills and our life experiences. To push ourselves to be bold and unapologetic. Meanwhile, the guys are practicing stepping aside—making space for us and awaiting instruction.

Emmanuel Becerra: Cultural exchange. From my perspective, relating with “other” identities creates a possibility of leaving, physically and mentally, from the quotidian to observe from a distance the patterns that form my cultural identity. It is a space of juxtaposed ideas that favor dialogue and reflection. The presence of you before me is the presence of a body that recognizes another me, beyond expression and reason. I think that in contemporary society, where the distances of time and space are so relative and the connectivity between different parts of the world is as simple as opening an app on your cellphone, it is necessary to create communities that allow us to confront and understand our own identities beyond understanding what is yours and what is not.


FringeArts: Can you talk a bit about the movement? And what are the other elements you are playing with?

Robin Stamey: As primarily a designer, performing in something is a new challenge for me. It’s difficult to divest myself from my designer brain so I’m always thinking about how the lights might look for a specific moment, or what props we might use, or what we could be wearing to help us tell our stories. An element that is sticking out for possible inclusion in Whatshername are wigs. For so many women, a relationship to one’s hair is something that is struggled with throughout one’s life. What does it mean to have hair that isn’t yours? What if your relationship to your hair was unexpected or changed midway through your life? How do you think about, talk about, and alter—or not—your body hair? For Desert, I want us to look at what exactly the door in the desert is. Is it wide open? Can you see through the other side? Do you have to unlock it before going through? Is it even important to go through, or is one side of the door fine for now? Do we need a door onstage to share these experiences?

Emmanuel Becerra: Talking about movement there is not much to say, Almanac is a company who play with circus, theater, and dance skills. Right now we have been working and exploring our physical skills to create a sensitive, fun, and intelligent piece. I can say that I am deeply interested in have some kind of space intervention that allows the audience active participation in the piece. The relationship with the audience is important to me, I want them to experience the piece from the moment they come into the building.

Ben Grinberg: For the first time, we have all ten Almanac company members plus Emmanuel working on these projects. So the possibilities of what we are able to do choreographically and circus-wise are greatly expanded from our previous major projects, which have had four or five bodies on stage at once. In working on Homage, we are using circus sequences to expose the natural differences between feminine and masculine energies—maybe they are universal, maybe they are particular to the groups of specific individuals. For example, when Cole, Robin, and Lauren pass Evelyn between them in a ball, there is a beautiful sense of tenderness, care, and connection; but when Joe and Emmanuel and I take turns jumping up and flipping downwards off each other, there is a sharpness about what we do, and a quality like we are all waiting our “turn” to get to be the one in the air. For Door, we are creating abstract shapes that have symbolic significance—a human wall, a human door—but we are also exploring some movement scores that are pretty brain-melty: simple rules like “you can only speak when you move, you can only move when you speak” that contain paradoxes and force you to censor your inner self way less and to perceive the world in an altered way. For both pieces we are playing a lot with clothes, wigs, and other markers of identity, and circus mats because they are big walls that you can safely crush people with.


FringeArts: What do you anticipate you will be working on most in fine-tuning the two works?

Robin Stamey: Personally, I’ll be working on fine-tuning the acrobatics. I’m not the traditional body type that one may think of when they think of a circus performer, but the challenge of precisely nailing a virtuosic acrobatic move is completely foreign to my body. Until now.

Ben Grinberg How many bread crumbs to leave. Especially in works that have political content in them, it’s important not to be too didactic. At that same time, both of these works are abstract, and we don’t want to baffle.

Evalyn Langley: I think it will be, what’s is the difference between the two pieces? Because even though they both have already specific themes and we know the conceptual difference, they still have been part of the same general idea and have more or less the same company members.

Thanks Almanac!  For more information/to get tickets, visit


Destruction, Renewal, and Creation: A Conversation with Tania Isaac

Posted April 24th, 2017

Once called a “one-woman powerhouse of dance fusion”, Tania Isaac is bringing her fresh solo movement drama crazy beautiful to Fringe for the first time. We were lucky enough to sit down with her and have a quick conversation about her work and her process.

FringeArts: What made you think up the title crazy beautiful? Do you remember where you were?

Tania Isaac: I don’t remember where I was, but I had noticed one of those emoticon charts where you move the magnetic frame to the mood you’re in. I was trying to imagine creating a grid of moods using objects, then began to wonder why we spent so much time trying to be in the “right” mood all the time. I’m always plunging down a rabbit hole of questions about why everything exists as it does. I call it my eternal toddler. I started to be more curious about how anger and frustration and confusion and sadness became things we avoided and tried to fix rather than experience fully. Some time later I was in my kitchen watching my four-year-old old have a compete meltdown and was so envious for a moment that she got to feel all fully into it with every fiber of her being—and remembered that she laughed the same way.  Everything she was feeling she was fully experiencing viscerally. So while I’m not advocating adult tantrums, I wondered what happened to all of that sensation and power as we got older. And if it didn’t go away, what did we do with it when we learned to behave? Who decided what was appropriate and when and how it was best to express it? THEN I started thinking about volcanoes—which I’ve loved since I was twelve—and the pressure and nature of eruptions. I started to imagine all of these natural cycles of pressure and release that have created incredible phenomenon and the fact that natural forces woke in cycles of destruction, renewal and creation. Balance—of a kind? Could we do it? So I started to imagine what it might be like.


FringeArts: Can you describe the open notebook process you’re created?

Tania Isaac: The open notebook has been my way of sharing the questions I try to answer (that eternal toddler). The questions are usually about how we choose to respond to something within our society. I am curious about how others see the world and wanted to create a space we could step into that would allow us to be immersed in what we were thinking about and reading and how that might become translated into movement, action, imagination, and performance. I tried to create a space that could explain to my family what I did, how I did it, and why I insisted it was important. And it was about the space for exchange, expression, and conversation. I wanted to give the people interested in my work or simply curious and questioning about the world, a chance to play with this platform. I wanted an immersive world where ideas could float in space and on a paper and be available to everyone—where we could respond and could be archived. So the notebook is a room divided and created by hanging paper walls, with notes and ideas collected in rooms. It shows videos and photos and asks questions and invites you to write and record and respond. It’s a small maze and a place to indulge and sink into your thoughts.


FringeArts: How has crazy beautiful evolved from within this process, and how do you use the idea of a room/installation?

Tania Isaac: crazy beautiful began as a question. In each notebook, I collected responses to the ideas of what emotions we show and when and how and where. I’ve collected images and gestures that have been turned into movement. I’ve added rooms and objects that have helped to create the environment for the story. I’ve recorded voices of multiple people reading the texts. The installation tries to toy with the idea of expanding one particulate moment in time and showing it from multiple perspectives and emotional states.


FringeArts: For movement, you mention a mix from dancehall reggae to austere gesture. What has brought about this mix of movements?

Tania Isaac: I am from the Caribbean. From St. Lucia. I grew up with folk dance and soca and reggae as well as modern dance. In high school socializing was all about dance parties. Two per weekend if I could convince my parents. As I began studying dance more formally in college, I loved the idea of post-modern dance as giving you permission to use everything within your experience and at your disposal in order to feed your idea—that’s how I define it anyway. I kept trying to find things that drove my curiosity about my body, about the way it could and did move and I could weave my rhythmic dancehall soca self with my love of deconstruction and visual composition. So I give myself permission to use everything. I don’t eliminate by genre. I go with idea, intention, sensation and action.


FringeArts: How do you play with text?

Tania Isaac: I write for everything I do. I write poems and prose. For this piece, as I dove into the idea of how we handle each other’s emotional states, I was drawn to classic allegorical heroic figures. I’m curious about our love for the struggling hero that is not usually matched by our capacity for empathy when that struggle is present in our lives and right next to us. I am taking the text from Jonathan Livingston Seagull, The little Prince, The Old Man and the Sea and weaving it in with my own writing. The goal is to tell a story that is as fractured as how I imagine the experience of dislocation and isolation would translate. The text comes in and out of the piece. It is backdrop, narration, set, and music.

Come see crazy beautiful April 27th-29th!

Everyday but Amplified: an interview with Faye Driscoll

Posted April 12th, 2017

Called by one journalist “the most promising performing artist of her generation”, and “one of the most original talents on contemporary dance scene” by another, Faye Driscoll has struck a nerve.  But where does she source her deeply original work?  The New York-based choreographer was kind enough to sit down with us to chat about her newest piece, making its FringeArts debut on Friday, April 14, Thank You For Coming: Play.


FringeArts: What is the idea behind the series Thank You For Coming?

Faye Driscoll: Thank You for Coming is the umbrella title for three distinct works. Each work manifests as radically different from the others, but they are all connected by the same question: How is making and experiencing live performance already a collective and political act? How can I make this politic more felt?

For me as a title Thank You For Coming presupposes that one is in fact there. It’s both a reminder and a gratitude in advance for this presence. The title first came to me while sitting in a taqueria in San Francisco.


FringeArts: And what made Play the right choice for the second installment?

Faye Driscoll: The ideas driving Play were present when I began Attendance—the first of the series—but I put many of them aside as Attendance took shape. Each work is a like a branch of a big weird tree: the branches look really different at the ends, but have similar roots. So when I began Play all of the concepts around storytelling, language, voice/body collisions, and ruptures were all there, ready to be grabbed and sunk into.  Each distinct work in the series is simultaneously its own thing and a longer conversation among the works. Because of how I am developing the series, several formal explorations that don’t make it into one work will sprout out in the next. Part 3 will likely have many of the ideas that didn’t make it into Part 2.


FringeArts: How did you work with your performers to develop material and movement for Play?

Faye Driscoll: Here’s a few methods we engaged in: voice to body practice, “exquisite corpse” practice, ventriloquism, spontaneous storytelling, engaging in self-analysis of their own bodies in conversation, and observing how each body moves in dialogue . . .

The movement, text, and songs were generated through multiple methods demanding rigorous commitment to improvisation, questioning, personal storytelling from the performers. We studied exactly how we move when we are speaking, re-creating a dialogue word for word—with all of the exact exhales and physical rhythms—and then layering an entirely different conversation but keeping the movements of the mouth and body as if you were having the first conversation. This is nearly impossible.  Also part of the making process was derived from the “exquisite corpse” game from the surrealist tradition: we broke up parts of the body and scrabbled them back together into a pastiche of distorted forms that cohere and contrast into new shapes. Legs, arms, torsos, faces move against each other like an askew flip-book in moments arriving in a whole person, or in something altogether othered. Then we would speak from these bodies.

By using these vocabularies that are familiar, yet “made strange” I aim to make work that audience members and performers can recognize themselves in, but with a level of force that is beyond the realm of everyday existence, or is everyday but amplified. I strive to distil all the poignant, weird, vicious, and human moments that make up a life in order to create work that rattles and resonates.


FringeArts: How does human communication—or lack thereof—get explored in this work?

Faye Driscoll: Play explores the labor, failures and constant shape-shifting happening in communication. To communicate anything a collision of multiple parts of us come together—gesture, facial expression, voice, language, sounds, rhythms. It’s always an act of translation.  What I am interested is all that effort and all that incoherence we engage in, in the hopes that something will add up and we will finally mean exactly what we say.

I wanted to make something where you see all the discrete parts of this process, and perhaps also take pleasure and feel the hope that meaning might be made, but that is also always dipping into the empty spaces of the unknown and inchoate.


FringeArts: What have you worked on most in fine-tuning Play?

Faye Driscoll: So many aspects of this show have needed constant fine-tuning. One example is the tone of the section, which is a kind of wild psychodrama; or the detail of another section which is a study of how body and language are running on distinct tracks. . . . But the hardest thing for me has been the ending. I have two different endings for the show, and after presenting them before an audience I feel like they both work in very different ways. I have never had this experience before!


Thanks Faye!


Thank You For Coming: Play runs at FringeArts April 14th and 15th.  Click here for tickets/more info.

FringeArts Flash Debates Part 3

Posted April 4th, 2017

We’re back with our final installment of Flash Debates, in honor of The Society of Civil Discourse coming up on April 8th. This round, David and Sophia will be arguing the age-old Chipotle conundrum: burrito vs. burrito bowl

Burrito vs. Burrito Bowl

Burrito: David, Communications Intern

This isn’t even a question. How could anyone deny the importance and the deliciousness of the burrito? It’s a tiny gluten pillow filled with all of the warm (and probably unhealthy) goodies you could ask for.

You also don’t even need a fork; the tortilla is a perfect mode of transport for all of the delicious goodness inside. AND it keeps the contents at a nice temperature and melts the cheese some. Who doesn’t love melted cheese?

Look, I get it. You can make the argument that the burrito bowl is more food. But what is more objectively filling? A classic, no frills burrito.

Burrito BowlSophia, Development Coordinator

Here’s the thing about a burrito vs. burrito bowl at Chipotle. Any burrito bowl can be made into a burrito by getting a (FREE) tortilla on the side. You may ask, why not just have the experts construct the burrito for you? I’ll tell you why. Plain and simple: you get more food in the burrito bowl. Not only that but with a burrito bowl you can mix all the ingredients together before making your burrito so that there is equal distribution in every bite. There is nothing worse then taking a big bite of nothing but tortilla and sour cream in a burrito (I guess there are worse things than that, BUT STILL). A burrito is meant to be a tasty marriage of ingredients that co-mingle as one. A burrito bowl has versatility in ways that a burrito could never. Want to put a tortilla at the bottom of the bowl and have them fill in ingredients on top? Easy. Want to tear pieces of your tortilla and use them to scoop up the filling like chips? Done. When it comes down to it, you get more bank for your buck with the burrito bowl, and at the end of the day all we’re trying to do is take advantage and expose the weaknesses of capitalism, right?

Come see more debates like this at the Society of Civil Discourse on April 8th!

FringeArts Flash Debates Part 2

Posted April 3rd, 2017

We’re back with another round of Flash Debates, in honor of The Society of Civil Discourse coming up on April 8th. This round, Alexa and Jaclyn will be arguing Golden Retrievers vs. Corgis.

Golden Retrievers vs. Corgis

Golden Retrievers: Alexa, Marketing Intern

Have you ever met a golden retriever that you didn’t love? If your answer is yes, I don’t believe you.

Golden retrievers were put on this earth to make the world a better place. They are the dog of all dogs: energetic, playful, loving, smart, reliable, FREAKING ADORABLE. For such a cute breed, golden retrievers are very anti-bougie. They have this rustic vibe to them that makes them all the more lovable.
OH can we also talk about golden retriever PUPPIES?!? I truly believe all puppies are cute but golden retriever pups are like next level precious. I have cried in the presence of a golden retriever puppy more times than I am proud of.
I get it, corgis are super trendy right now. They have funny butts and people love looking at butts. Corgis may have big butts but golden retrievers have big hearts and at the end of the day which is more important?

CorgisJaclyn, Development Intern

Who doesn’t want a stumpy little loaf walking around their home? Corgis can fetch things just as well as golden retrievers and they can sit in your lap without crushing you. Those fluffy rumps of their’s really make people happy. They’re great for dressing up as well and just about any breed you mix them with creates an the cutest combination you have ever seen! Corgis are superior to all other breeds. Period.

Come see more debates like this at the Society of Civil Discourse on April 8th!

FringeArts Flash Debates Part 1

Posted March 31st, 2017

On April 8th, Team Sunshine Performance Corp and The Philly Pigeon/Jacob Winterstein are returning to Fringe with the Society of Civil Discourse, a night of heated discussion and raucous debate about topics that don’t matter. In honor of this, we poached member of our staff for their hot takes on various hot-button issues. Our first debate topic is the highly contentious toaster oven vs. microwave.

Toaster Oven vs. Microwave

Microwave: Jason, Institutional Giving Coordinator

The microwave oven will be remembered as one of the great, period-defining inventions of its time, like the cell phone or the internet. It cooks food quickly, safely, and without fire, and it does it by bombarding it with (harmless) radiation. It vibrates your food until the friction of its own particles causes its temperature to rise; how COOL IS THAT? Are you going to cok the best meal of your life in a microwave oven? No. But it lets you relive those meals by giving your leftovers a second chance at deliciousness! Mom’s famous mac and cheese might have been made in late August, but pop that bad boy in the microwave and you might as well be back in her kitchen, basking in the cheesy warmth. Popcorn, hot chocolate, mug cakes, a host of quick, cheap, and scrumptious treats are in your grasp in mere minutes and with no more effort than plopping it on the tray and pushing a few buttons. Plus, you ever try to defrost a chicken in a toaster oven? *Disclaimer: you shouldn’t do this, it will create a dangerous, disgusting, inedible mess*In short, the microwave is a shining example of humanity’s ability to overcome the limitations of nature, and a testament to our inexorable advancement of reason for the sake of the greater good.

Toaster Oven: Hallie, Communications Director

So let’s talk about cancer.  It’s everywhere.  It’s in our cell phones, in our cigarettes, in our deodorant.  So why, dear ones, WHY would you add it to your perfectly good food?  Why choose convenience over your personal health?  It’s exactly that ugly impulse that sends you to fast food restaurants, makes you skip the gym, and forces you to choose to watch 27 Dresses for the fifteenth time instead of watching that documentary about mass incarceration that you know you need to see.

Toaster ovens don’t cause cancer.  They also don’t sap bread of its moisture, making it hard as a brick and impossible to eat.  Toaster ovens allow food to maintain its dignity, to be served as it was intended to be served.  They don’t change the chemical makeup of the meal.  Ask any chef in the city if they would rather have food rewarmed in a microwave or a toaster oven, and I’m willing to bet my life savings (coming in at roughly $400) that they would take their leftovers from a toaster oven every time.  EVERY.  TIME.

As we continue to question long-held cultural practices, like racism and going to movie theaters, let us also turn a critical gaze to the microwave.  The microwave was invented to provide relief to housewives in a deeply patriarchal society.  As we fight for gender equity, for equal partnership in the household, let us retire gadgets that harken back to a more sexist time.  Together, hand in hand, let us put the pizza in the toaster oven, and as it heats, let us not rest.  No.  We will fight every second of that 8 1/2 minutes, for a society in which microwaves become irrelevant.
Come see more debates like this at the Society of Civil Discourse on April 8th!

Justin Jain is here to school you.

Posted March 7th, 2017


Way back in November, Berserker Residents co-founder Justin Jain (who can also be seen on just about any stage in Philadelphia) took the time to answer a few questions about their upcoming work at FringeArts It’s So Learning.  Needless to say, we got schooled.


FringeArts: What was the moment that you realized, we can make this into a show? How did that come about?

Justin Jain: This show was a bit of a departure for us in terms of the content-container conversation. All of our past shows began with a spark of an idea for content: “Let’s make a show about a Giant Squid!” or “What if the show itself was a post-show talkback?!” This one, however, was approached form-first. Back in 2014, we began daydreaming about performing a script written entirely by school children. That was kind of our entry point into this whole adventure. But the deeper we chased that rabbit – the more we realized other groups and organizations were already doing this (most of the time, better than we could) – groups like Philly Young Playwrights and The Mantua Project. So that led us to a left turn of instead of writing with kids, how about writing about kids – about childhood, about school. We started to bounce around ideas of other elements we’d like to bring to the table – the current state of American education, breaking theatrical form and conventions, playing with Bouffon. These all started to seep into the mix.

Coming fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, our artistic sensibilities were changing. We saw so many comedy pieces that were daring their audiences to participate in ways that we tend to shy away from as American Theatre makers. So that was in the mix too—how far will an audience go in playing with us? How can the dare be a part of the narrative?


FringeArts: Can you describe the stage/setting, and what it has allowed you do play with creatively? What makes the classroom, for you personally, so ripe for comedic and creative potential? And how do you use the audience?

Justin Jain: The piece takes place in a laboratory called The SimEdu Center, and is loosely inspired by some of our team’s experience as standardized patients for different medical schools. As an SP, you become a fake patient for med students to practice different cases. We daydreamed about how this idea could be twisted for the classroom—is there a way to build a simulation machine to train students for maneuvering the labyrinth of the American k-12 school system?

Because we thrust our audience into this simulator, we want them to feel as off-balance as possible. The playing space and audience space are one in the same. When the audience first enters, there’s no chairs but merely a grid of scattered numbers on the floor. As audience members come in, they are greeted by SimEdu Center technicians (the cast), who then give each member a series of coupons that will be used in the show. I’ll keep the rest as a mystery, but suffice it to say, starting with this level of audience engagement sets the tone for what is to come.

The audience capacity for this show caps at 55 – this is to create the intimacy of the classroom experience. And so we can control the more improvisational aspects that bubble out of the show. Every individual audience member is asked to engage in different ways. We’ve had audiences of over 60 and when that happens, they can sometimes turn on us and take control of the narrative. With a smaller audience, we have the ability to crowd control a bit more and tailor the show to really feel like each person can see and is seen.

As a teacher myself, I’ve worked with high school students since 2003. I’ve taught in programs that have brought me into every kind of school you can imagine in the Philadelphia region. The teachers, the students, the administration—no matter where I go—have some degree of anxiety coursing through their hallways. And every student, teacher, parent, administrator, or principal all seem to pass the buck with who’s dropping the ball. In the end, it seems to always boil down to the decisions made by an elite and mysterious few—some say it’s the school district, others cite the SRC, while others point to the government.

Regardless, this kind of bureaucracy paired with the struggle of “keeping up” in the classroom is absolutely comedic (albeit sad). We want to ping both the absurdity of the system as well as interrogate the audience’s own memories of being students in that education machine. When you open up that can of worms, the material to pull from and play with is boundless.


FringeArts: Can you describe a few of the characters, and how you went about creating them?

Justin Jain: Each performer / creator plays two roles: Their primary role is that of a technician in The SimEdu Center. These technicians are the keepers of the simulations and always have an eye on the audience’s experience and a connection to a larger ominous entity transmitting notes and adjustments throughout the event. On top of this, the technicians role-play with the audience as fictional teachers.

My technician’s avatar is a teacher named Mr. Ricks. He’s sorta your stock hip young teacher. I have a long pony tail wig and rolled-up sleeves. He’s your English/Lit teacher that would take everyone out to the tree to read poems. He’s the kind of teacher some of your classmates have a crush on and his confidence permeates both in his teaching style and his hallway banter. He’s loosely based off my own high school English-Lit teacher, Mr. B (yeah, he was one of those)—everyone had a crush on him and he would teach through a smirk while sitting on the edge of his desk.

We chose these characters to balance one another in different ways—we wanted to represent different ages and teaching styles, as well as different teacher personality-types. Of course, you can only do so much with 5 performers, but hopefully each one of us trigger a different memory for the audience.

It’s important for us to capture the trajectory of moving from Kindergarten through 12th grade in just 75 minutes. So we tried to choose teacher stock characters that can also matriculate through that narrative arc.


FringeArts: What did you (or anticipate) concentrating on when fine-tuning the show? Also, how do you see the FA production expanding from the Fringe Fest one?

Justin Jain: We are coming to FringeArts fresh off of a run at ASU Gammage, who is partnering us with many education-based groups in their Phoenix, AZ community. There is going to be an intensive research and development workshop period with teachers, education students, and administrators.

Our first production relied heavily on the K-12 student experience and background to that was the feeling of a larger system at play. I think we’re entering our re-writes with an eye on how to punch that up, while holding on to the play and fun of our initial run.


Thanks Justin!

It’s So Learning runs at FringeArts March 10-18.  Click here for tickets/to learn more.

It’s So Learning is BERSERK!

Posted March 6th, 2017

Bradley Wrenn, co-founder of The Berserker Residents, was kind enough to sit down with the FringeArts team and talk about how they’re revamping It’s So Learning to reflect our new, terrifying political climate.  The theater-maker, clown, and deep thinker gave us a lot to chew on!  Read on, and join us at the end of the week for the newest iteration of It’s So Learning!


FringeArts: What was the moment that you realized, we can make this into a show?

Bradley Wrenn: The original impulse came from working with children as writers. We were delighted by their complete lack of regard for narrative rules and structures. But after a fair amount of exploration we found it to be a bit of a one trick pony and struggled to find a way in which it could be sustained over a full-length production. But we continued to follow the thread and found ourselves making material about school. About the emotions conjured at school. The anxiety, dread, joy and terror.

It’s So Learning is a show about the audience’s journey. A wild ride that dredges up all those strange icky feelings that institutionalized education has wrought.


FringeArts: Can you describe the stage/setting, and what it has allowed you do play with creatively?

Bradley Wrenn: It’s So Learning is 55 child sized classroom chairs surrounded by 4 black boards. It allows for a frenetic theatrical experience. The audience is made to twist and turn to keep up. Action happens constantly around them at all corners of the performance space.

The audience is the main character in the piece. When making the piece we were always tracking their emotional journey. The performance is an entire emotional educational journey packed into 70 min.


FringeArts: Can you describe a few of the characters, and how you went about creating them?

Bradley Wrenn: We aren’t really characters. We are more facilitators. Technicians who sometimes plays teachers and sometimes play salesmen. We call the performance space the Sim Edu Center and we (the performers) serve its whim. We do our best to keep up and try to keep the Sim Edu Center happy but we fail and fall behind and we are punished.

Thanks Brad!

It’s So Learning runs at FringeArts March 10-18.  Learn more/get tickets by clicking here.