The four-week-long 2022 Philadelphia Fringe Festival begins Thursday.
This year’s catalog describes 200-plus performances as “daring, defiant, delightful, and downright innovative artistry you could hope for.”
FringeArts President and Producing Director Nick Stuccio says that description captures the zeitgeist of what lies ahead for audiences citywide.
“Every year, the artists surprise me even more. There’s lots left to innovate,” Stuccio remarked during an interview with WHYY from second floor brasserie seating of la peg at the FringeArts Building in the Old City neighborhood of Philadelphia.
The Fringe lineup includes eight special curated productions: “Spokaoke,” “An Untitled Love,” “Late Night Snacks,” “Black Lodge,” “Jerome Bel,” “Speech,” “Food,” and “The Path of Pins or the Path of Needles.”
The very clever “Spokaoke,” created by writer/director and 2019 MacArthur Fellow Annie Dorsen invites audience members to recite speeches as they would sing karaoke songs.
“It could be anything,” said Stuccio, “from the 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. ‘I Have a Dream’ speech to Socrates to modern speeches. You stand up and the words are there on a screen, and you deliver the speech.”
Taken a step further, The Lightning Rod Special Production of “Speech” is a satire of the free speech debate designed to drive home the point that what we say matters.
“It’s a bunch of really interesting theatrical vignettes. It’s about the pageantry of ‘virtue signaling’ like I’m going to behave the best in the room right now,” Stuccio described.
His favorite character in the show is the director of a college theatre group who has to explain on opening night that the cast quit because someone offended somebody. “We’re all going through this,” said Stuccio. “And it’s evolving every day.”
Also among the curated performances, “Late Night Snacks” is pure cabaret, and then some, presented by The Bearded Ladies Cabaret. It offers different performers every night with some legends of Philadelphia’s cabaret scene hosting nightly.
“There are musical acts, comics, circus artists, and everything in between. And it’s happening as a late night experience, as a great part of the Fringe Festival,” Stuccio said.
The Fringe Festival features 186 independently produced shows, many of which sport intriguing titles.
“Yes, We’re Ready, We’ll Split an Order of Fries for the Table – Does That Work for You? -Sure, One Check is Fine” by Mike Durkin and Nick Schwasman takes place at the Broad Street Diner and Melrose Diners in South Philly.
“To me, this is the quintessential Fringe,” Stuccio exalted. “Mike Durkin is one of the creators who’s a veteran Fringe artist. You’ll sit with him at a diner and have a Fringe show.”
There’s also the cleverly named “Me and Jesus and Prince and Captain Jean-Luc Picard in a One Bedroom apartment in the Bronx,” a solo performance from choreographer Shavon Norris – an exploration of the sounds, words, people, places, and objects at the heart of life experience. It’s part of the Cannonball Festival, one of three Fringe hubs (the other hubs are Circus Campus Presents and Crossroads Comedy Festival) running concurrently with the Philadelphia Fringe Festival.
This year also marks the return of Audience Choice. Patrons submit a 1-5 star score with feedback about the performance after attending each independent show. Frontrunners are announced weekly on social media, and each leader takes home the Philly Fringie award.
“It’s an audience choice award, kind of thing,” Stuccio remarked. “We want to find a way to engage audiences and get them interested and seeing a lot of things. And it’s a way for other audiences to know what shows are popping out there. There’s so many shows.”
There certainly are.