What makes an entry in the Philly Fringe Festival fringe-y? The annual festival of cutting-edge and often unusual work opens around the city Thursday night and runs for 18 days, and every year, the question recurs. If I posed it to five random festival-goers, I might get five different answers. But one thing would be in common: All of them would indicate that the material isn’t something they’d have expected.
A fringe-y show also might be presented outside a theater or any traditional site, and hard to pin down. Is it theater? Sort of. Dance? Well, there’s movement. Music? Perhaps some of that. Whatever the content, we all want something inventive and surprising — memorable for being different and good, or even different and awful.
And so I offer some Out There options for this year’s Philly Fringe Festival — what you might call my picks of the Fringiest. I have no way of knowing whether I’m right, only a sense refined by almost two decades of Philly Fringing, and the self-assurance that I can usually spot Fringe behavior a mile away from a performance space, especially if it’s not in a theater.
One suggestion: In addition to this list, many entries on the list of Fringe shows I want to see (and am seeing) qualify as outré or more than a little weird. Click here for that list.
I’ve stayed away from one-nighters or shows that have been presented before in Philadelphia.
WORKTABLE hasn’t opened, but it will be smashing, literally. In Kate McIntosh’s installation, you sign up for a specific time slot, put on a pair of safety goggles, pick an object from the displays and smash it up. In another room, you put it back together any way you like. In yet another room, it goes on display for all to see. McIntosh, an artist who lives in Brussels, told FringeArts producers of her show that she was always interested in looking inside things and “undoing the work that put them together.” As an added attraction, there’s a rooftop beer garden at the venue for the show, the old Bok vocational school at 9th Street near Mifflin Street in South Philadelphia.
EUGENE IONESCO’S THE BALD SOPRANO. Long before there was a Fringe Festival anywhere, Ionesco — the master absurdist — was writing plays that would fit right in. And it’s no surprise that Center City’s Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium would again open its season in the Philly Fringe. Spend a logic-defying evening with a British couple named the Smiths, their maid, the Martins and a fire chief.
KINK HAÜS comes from Gunnar Montana, the choreographer/dancer/director who has become a solid fixture in the extremes of the Philly Fringe landscape. This time we’re with him inside a nightclub with the Fringiest trimmings: “fantasy, fetish and carnal desire,” says the promotional material for the show.
STRANGE TENANTS. It’s a “dance theater psycho thriller,” according to info from a Philly-based group called Sam Tower + Ensemble, a deviser of original works of theater and dance. Four estranged friends try to patch things up at a reunion and, oh, the betrayals and secrets that overtake them. The show’s description promises “hypnotizing movement and a blistering soundscape,” a high Fringe quotient if I ever detected one.
PSYCHOTIC BROADWAY, from pajama-clad performer Midge Mattel, tells you what’s on her mind, show tunes included. So is dinner from Agno Grill in Center City, the performance venue. It’s also BYO, and maybe the more Y B, the better the evening.
THE CURRENCY OF BELIEF: TRAPEZE AND SPIRITUAL COMEDY from Noa Schnitzer promises a solo performance reflecting on her upbringing as an Orthodox Jew. She’s an aerialist and circus artist, so that’s part of the show for certain, plus shadow puppetry, “goofy poetry” and more, as described in the Fringe guide. Not your regular night out at Cirque.
LIFE LINES. Nine female circus artists present an aerial dance and “circus drama,” as they call it, about three women who rebuild their lives after sudden changes. The show’s from Tangle Movement Arts, an all-female troupe whose work emphasizes female and gay experiences. The Philly-based acoustic trio Guide Birds provides the show’s music.
FUNERAL FOR EXPECTATIONS. Julia Brandenberger’s Fringe-guide description of her show lays it out: “It is with deep sympathy that I inform you of the passing of Expectations, who measured success. Your presence is requested at the funeral. A procession will lead you into a dark room, through landscapes fun and goofy, dark and deep. You will be invited to share of your own experiences with Expectations at the service. “
THE HAND JOB posits that the greatest conspiracy theory of all times — and don’t we live in an age full of them? – is the White Hand in the Window. For more than that, you have to check out the show from the Manayunk Theatre Company.
THE FREN BANKLIN EXPERIENCE. For this 25-minute show, if you live in Philadelphia proper you needn’t step out of your front door. Just invite Fren Banklin, “the notoriously unreliable cousin of Ben Franklin” to visit you and he’ll tell you all about the revolutionary history of the very place where you live. And remember, early to bed and early to rise is a penny earned.
GORGEOUSITY — THE ARMY OF LOVE AND ART looks to be an unorthodox evening, led by locally-based stage artists Karen Getz and Dawn Falato. From its description in the Fringe guide, the show is a “play-romp for grownups,” a musical “in which you are already perfectly cast.” I hope it’s by Sondheim, at least.
A LIST OF COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS. It’s apparently supposed to look like an after-school special, but it’s a weird school. SEXx Interactive and Polyglamorous Productions examines, at a Passyunk café, common misconceptions with burlesque, drag, theater “and more,” the producers promise.
_The Philly Fringe Festival runs from Sept. 7 through Sept. 24. For more information: fringearts.com.