In advance of Fringe Festival, ‘WetLand’ promises immersive art experience


It’s almost time for the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, and the “menu” includes active participation, intimate monologues, boisterous dances and intriguingly strange performances.

Featuring 130 shows in all, the Fringe offerings will take place at its new headquarters and in neighborhood venues all over the city.

In advance of the official Fringe opening in September, one ambitious installation is taking shape now on the Delaware waterfront.


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For a festival that’s just around the corner, there’s a lot of construction going on, and all for good reasons. The new home base for the Fringe Festival, in a restored pumphouse where Race Street meets Delaware Avenue, is adding a spacious bistro and restaurant for year-round operation.

Another construction project on the river centers on an unusual performance in the monthlong citywide event.

“WetLand” is an installation on a large boat that’s meant to look like a partially submerged row house.

In a way it’s disturbing, said artist Mary Mattingly.

“To see this partially submerged land surrounded by wetland and the wetland is, maybe, the protection from flooding from something like Hurricane Sandy,” she said. “And, in a way, it’s positive because we are able to interact with this space and realize its importance.”

She’s made the bargelike platform into a living space that she and another artist share. It will have a rainwater purification system, solar power, a vegetable garden, a beehive and a chicken coop — all to better explore the possibilities of self-sufficiency.

There will also be space for a 20-member audience who will watch, talk, listen to music and explore a concept important to Mattingly.

“The large global supply chains can be hindrances,” she said. “As much as we depend on them right now, can we also depend on each other in that same way?”

When the Fringe Festival decided to end its nomadic life and opened a permanent theater with an enormous flexible stage and 230 seats, the fear was that it would lose some of its “fringiness,” so to speak.

Not so, said Nick Stuccio, the festival’s president and producing director. The quality, scope and edginess of the work are what really matter, he said.

“It’s truly about artistic expression, and freedom and about loading up this building with energy and vitality. So what we looked for in all the performances is exuberance,” Stuccio said. “And that’s what it is about, it’s about discovery and new ideas. “

The Fringe Festival starts in earnest Sept. 5 and continues through Sept. 21. Already under construction outside the Seaport Museum, “WetLand” will open Aug. 15.

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