Philadelphia Fringe Festival takes audiences to interesting spaces

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 Nick Stuccio is president and producing director of Fringe Arts. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Nick Stuccio is president and producing director of Fringe Arts. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia’s Fringe Festival begins today.

Browse through this year’s catalog and you’ll find 190-plus performances listed. There’s dance, theater, comedy, and music spread out over two and a half weeks, at venues in town and on the outskirts.

This summer, Morning Edition host Jennifer Lynn has been thinking about the hundreds of volunteer dancers who will perform a 30-minute routine in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in what’s called “Le Super Grand Continental.” It’s one of many examples of big events that take place in interesting spaces.

She recently asked FringeArts President and Producing Director Nick Stuccio to talk about some of them.


Nick, I’m looking at the cover of this year’s Fringe Festival guide, and what the heck am I looking at? This is a guy. He’s kind of crouched down. He has a fleecy feather boa, some sort of 70s gigolo chains around his neck. 

And what is he offering you? He’s offering you a cookie.

It looks like cake.

Well, it’s a kind of a cake. It’s a kind of big cookie cake. Let’s say. It is the show “Do You Want a Cookie.” And this is one of our big shows this year. This is the Bearded Ladies Cabaret. John Jarboe. It’s in a big old warehouse in the Spring Garden neighborhood. He’s been researching for three or four years now the origins of cabaret.  And you sort of wander around this warehouse, create your own show. Artists kind of select you to see them.

To be drawn into the cabaret?

You’re drawn into this big, sort of, giant installation in this multi-floor warehouse. And there’s some seriously good talent.

This year you take people to Love Park for some free events. What’s happening there? 

Yup, the new beautiful Love Park. They reached out to us to say, ‘We’d love to have some Fringe activity.’ We did a call for artists with them. There were about 50 submissions and we picked three shows. And the one show that we’re all looking forward to is this unofficial tour of Love Park which is completely made up with no actual facts in it.

How do you pick? You pick three out of 50. 

I was not part of that process, but I had great smart producers doing that with a lot of park folks and they just looked at works that used the space best.

And I like this one. I saw it in the catalog it’s called The Museum Workout. And some dancers are taking regular people through the museum, the Philadelphia Art Museum, and they’re actually doing movement exercise, among the art. And I’m afraid a Picasso is going to go flying off the wall.

It might. It might that might happen. There are only about 20 people and you buy a ticket. You’ll do a tour of about half a dozen works. You’ll learn about these works. But while you’re learning about them you are getting a real workout.

Let’s go down the road of the Navy Yard. What’s happening there? 

We’re bringing two works by this kind of famous guy named Heiner Goebbels, this German artist, that is really a revolutionary maker of performance. He’s a composer and a director. And we’re bringing his famous piece called, Stifters Dinge. And this piece is a play without actors, piano piece without pianists. And is this really cool piece. I saw this about 10 years ago — it’s taken a long time for us — we got a big Pew grant to bring it. And it’s the guts of five pianos — grand pianos — being played robotically. And while that’s happening the entire giant set is moving slowly at the audience. There’s wind. There’s rain. There’s ice. It’s this big environmental piece.

The other work by Heiner Goebbels is Songs of Wars I Have Seen.  

And that is a reference to the Gertrude Stein text.

The novelist Gertrude Stein.

Yes, Gertrude Stein wrote this detailed account of her observations of World War II sort of just the everyday mendacity of life during war. And that text is being spoken by female musicians both from Tempesta di Mare and the Philadelphia Orchestra are coming together to do this composition. So it’s a concert music concert while the female musicians deliver this beautiful Gertrude Stein text.

And is there something missing this year? Doesn’t local star Martha Graham Cracker usually kick off the fringe with a cabaret? Where is Martha? 

Martha, Dito Van Reigersberg, as you may or you not know, was the star of a big Vegas show.

Okay. 

So, yes, he won’t be at Fringe this year, but we’re doing a big annual holiday show with Martha that’s always something not to be missed.

So what kicks off the Fringe 

Le Super Grand Continental that will really kick off the fest. There are 170 independent shows. And we have a new app this year. Great app. You must download the app because you can see what’s hot. You can see what people are liking, what tickets they’re buying. I just polled my staff. Which shows are everybody interested in seeing? I can tell you Behold Her — which is a show about Jewish American feminine identity. That’s a show people are really interested in. And of course, “Close Your Legs, Honey.” It’s a musical and that is trending and that’s very hot.

Close Your Legs — the musical. Okay.

Close Your Legs Honey — the musical. And White Feminist is the other one that’s getting a lot of attention.

Okay. A few tips from you and your staff. 

They know what’s hot.

Thank you, Nick.

My pleasure.

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