A guide to Fringe Fest in Northwest Philly [Part 1 of 2]

 A scene from

A scene from "Cultivate" (Courtesy of Erica Saben)

With a stronger focus on what it’s calling the “Neighborhood Fringe,” the 17th annual Philadelphia Fringe Festival is looking to take the action beyond Center City. There are four Fringe shows opening in the Northwest over the next week, and one venerable nonprofit is taking a plunge into the festival. 

Look for Part 2 of our Northwest guide next week. 

Dead men do tell tales

The Manayunk Roxborough Art Center is presenting its first-ever Fringe show. A collaboration with the famous Laurel Hill Cemetery will let “Spoon River Anthology,” Edgar Lee Masters’ haunting, poetic collection of small-town epitaphs (first published in 1915) echo among the graves.

Humanities director at the Center, Peter Krok, the show’s producer, said this kind of partnership is another first in the organization’s 50-year history. Besides the allure of staging Masters’ classic beyond-the-grave vignettes in an actual cemetery, Krok said the location is a natural fit for arts events.

“The cemetery has got such beautiful sculpture…it’s unlike any cemetery that I heard of, because it’s like a living, dynamic place,” full of painters, photographers, performances, screenings, and strolling visitors, Krok said. 

In a performance directed by local theater veteran Patti Allis Mengers and featuring all local performers, many of them Art Center members, Krok invites Fringe audiences to become “a guest of the voices of the night,” with a series of vignettes “rising out of the darkness.” They’re “cutting, somber, endearing and unforgettable.”

“When you leave there, you’re going to be leaving a place that you’ll never forget,” he added. Ticket-buyers should bring blankets or folding chairs along with beverages or a picnic.

“Spoon River Anthology at Laurel Hill Cemetery,” presented by the Manayunk Roxborough Art Center, is running on Sept. 7 at 6 p.m. and Sept. 8 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15-$20.

Circus arts in Germantown

Those looking for performance at a different speed can catch “Cultivate,” from another first-time Fringe producer. The Baltimore-based Charm City Movement Arts (CCMA) circus school and company is bringing its original show to Germantown, at the Funicular Railway Station on West Coulter Street, the new rehearsal home of Philadelphia’s Give and Take Jugglers.

CCMA founder Erica Saben, a Buffalo native, first came to Philadelphia with plans to attend Temple University’s postgraduate dance program. Her plans went happily awry when she auditioned for the Give and Take Jugglers. After building her career onstage with the Jugglers, she decided to found a circus school in Baltimore, where none existed at the time.

She touted an exciting performance laced with high-flying circus arts, puppetry, comedy and time-travel.The show is directed by Cirque Du Soleil alumna Elena Day, and at the last minute, an unexpected hole in the cast led to a call in the Philadelphia area. “

Philadelphia has this amazing community of circus performers who are incredibly talented,” Saben said of hiring three locals for the show. Ticket-buyers can expect “amazing skills and good comedy at a very high level,” she added.

“Cultivate,” presented by Baltimore’s Charm City Movement Arts, is running on Sept. 8 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Funicular Railway Station, 416 West Coulter Street. Tickets are $15.

For grown-ups only

For audiences who want more circus-style action, David Darwin’s adults-only one-man show, “Circus Legacy,” is also coming to the Funicular Railway Station, to run throughout the Festival. With warnings of partial nudity, sword swallowing, fire-eating and “hedonistic” monologues, Darwin notes kids under 16 should stay home.

“Circus Legacy,” presented by David Darwin, is running on Sept. 6, 7, 13, 14, 20 and 21 at 8 p.m., also at the Funicular Railway Station. Tickets are $18.

Cinderella with a twist

Rounding out the Festival’s first-week openings is something more family-friendly. “Cinderella: A Fairy Tale Opera” is coming to the Cunningham Piano Company in Germantown courtesy of Children’s Opera Box, in collaboration with Tabor Youth Development Center.

It’s a new, 65-minute version of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, translated to an all-ages English script. In the Opera Box telling of Cinderella, a book telling the fairy tell we know falls into “a mysterious big box,” and the singing characters that come out tell a version of the story that nobody’s ever heard before. The show will feature six opera singers, live piano music and a young choir from the Tabor Youth Development Center.“Cinderella: A Fairy Tale Opera,” presented by Children’s Opera Box, is running on Sept. 7 at 6:30 p.m. and Sept. 8 at 3 p.m. at the Cunningham Piano Company, 5427 Germantown Avenue. Tickets are $15.

The 2013 Fringe Festival runs throughout the city from Sept. 5-22. To order tickets to any of the shows, visit the Festival’s ticketing website or call the FringeArts box office at (215)413-1318.

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