If you’re reading this now, congratulations.
You made it past Labor Day: past the lamest-ever tiny fireworks pops throughout every Philly neighborhood, past the ridiculous virtual bar-b-q-s and cocktail jamborees (I beg you, no more Zoom Happy Hours), past the tepid protests, past the annoyingly cloying pop-ups of every stripe, and way past the Philadelphia Flyers’ having any chance at a Stanley Cup what with their most recent spate of blunders.
Leaping over Labor Day means that we’re heading into my favorite time of year: the four-week long period that is the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, this time running Sept. 10–Oct. 4. You don’t need me to tell you Nick Stuccio’s FringeArts-curated live jawn usually fills “every nook and cranny” of the city with 1,000-plus experimental performances; that this year, the FringeFest is mostly virtual due to this stupid pandemic, and-or outdoors, live and socially/safely distanced – “120 works across genres and platforms; that PFF2020 was made whole by smart artists and curators on a axis, and in reaction to the dangers of C-19.
“Most of the shows for 2020 were already selected… artists bravely made a hard pivot in order to produce them,” said Stuccio. “We worked with artists to reimagine their work for the digital platform. Though we did find artists like Adrienne Mackey, who created a show like ‘Trail Off’ as a digital/physical hybrid, we tried to hold on to as much in-real-life work as possible. In the end, it’s safety first.”
Other PW writers will take to the PFF2020 fully and succinctly. Bravo. Brava. I just want to drop the dime on the usual suspects of the Fringe that I know, love and trust to make mirthful, magically avant-garde performance-video-sonic-movement art – work that is often without category or simple definition.
All dates, times, prices: fringearts.com/2020-fringe-festival/
If there are two names to trust in oblong immersive Philadelphia theater, it’s the co-founders of Die-Cast, Brenna Geffers and Thom Weaver. This year, with “Temporary Occupancy,” they hold the keys to a digital work (10 short pieces involving different scenarios and characters spending a night) that opens the privacy and the past of a single hotel room for the public to see. My guess is that such a hotel room holds ghostly memories, good and bad, and that Geffers, Weaver and Co. play each vividly-rendered present to the hilt.
‘Walk Around Philadelphia’
Only Philadelphia artist, activist-organizer, experience-crafter and house concert holder JJ Tiziou could make a stroll around the edges of town into a Fringe piece. “Walk Around Philadelphia” is, like an Australian walkabout, a lengthy on-foot pilgrimage: 100 miles and nearly six days with its audience reporting back to Tiziou at journey’s end. “It can also be completed in shorter segments, and you don’t have to do it all this year,” writes Tiziou of a ticket-priced event with custom maps and a perimeter-walking kit with perimeter-passports, printed maps, reflective safety belts and more. Am I buying a ticket to walk? Damn right. I love this.
A bunch of local artists (Swim Pony, Toasterlab, Michael Kiley) and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, also promise a walkabout with “TrailOff.” But, knowing Swim Pony’s storytellers, Toasterlab’s artful app design and Kiley’s sonic tonics (or tonic sonics), my guess is that “TrailOff” could get immersive and spooky FAST.
‘Piano for Pets’
Philadelphia classical pianist Barbara Browne usually performs with her rescue pups Bernie and Maxine singing along at home, so why not make a Fringe-thing of it with “Piano for Pets,” a “customized selection of piano classics performed just for your pet.” Browne touts a program of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart and Schumann. My pharaoh hound, Tia, is more of a jazz dog – Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans. Tia and I will talk, and see.
South Philly’s Nichole Canuso, artistic director of the Nichole Canuso Dance Company, is the doyenne of Fringe movement arts, and her “Being/With: Home” event promises something-of-a “poetic encounter with a stranger, accompanied by a tender and mysterious audio guide… connecting two solo audience members via Zoom.” Also spooky.
‘The Philadelphia Matter’
Choreographer-director-writer David Gordon might not be from Philly, but for his first new screen work in 20 years, he pushed 30-plus local movement artists working remotely (with video artist Jorge Cousineau) to craft “The Philadelphia Matter – 1972/2020,” so that he could edit-remix-and-shuffle their work into his own funky collage. Gordon is an old head/avatar of performance art, so expect this to be dazzling.
‘Dust from the Stars’
“Elephant Room: Dust from the Stars” is a sequel to Philly performance art giants Trey Lyford, Geoff Sobelle and Steve Cuiffo’s 2011 Elephant Room and promises interactive sci-fi dramedy. For some reason, I recall the first “Elephant” was a cross between a three-man Cirque du Soleil-meets-David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart” so don’t go into this dark night, lightly.
‘Into the Absurd’
“Into the Absurd: A Virtually Existential Dinner Conversation” from Philly’s The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium features its Producing Artistic Director Tina Brock doing a 5pm un-Happy Hour with artists and creators around the country. I know I said above no more Happy Hours. This one though – do. It’s going to be dicey and you should get like absinthe-drunk for it.
Masked Philly: Nick Stuccio
In Icepack’s continuing saga of asking mask-donning local celebrities what they’ve been up to beyond the pale during C-19, I reached out to the Capo dei capi of all things forever FringeArts and Fringe Fest, Nick Stuccio.
Along with doing as he mentioned above – spend a year curating a full month-long festival for autumn 2020, only to then bug all of its analog artists to rethink their long-in-the-works plans and aesthetics so to remake-remodel them all into something digital and virtual – Stuccio was at home like the rest of us, doing home things. Yes, he had to postpone, switch, cancel or make digital March-through-August events at his FringeArts, all from his house.
“I also had some fierce backyard badminton battles with my 17-year-old son, most of which I lost,” said Stuccio. “There was also lots of cooking and baking, especially fresh pizza in my awesome wood-fired pizza oven. There was also one big family project that we tackled: screening in, then painting, our front porch.”
As far as having to wear a mask, Stuccio finds no problem. “It’s a means to an end. I wear basic black.”
When it comes to what the first thing he’ll do when the masks can come down, he’s all business. And art. And the business of art.
“I am just really looking forward to being a presenter again in real space. I miss the energy of being jammed together with lots of people in our restaurant (FringeArt’s La Peg which Stuccio shares with chef Peter Woolsey) and theater. With no masks!”
Until then, the next thing occupying Stuccio is making September’s virtual FringeFest as live-and-vibing as any in-person event he could stage. “It’s a really big digital platform that Is getting lots of attention, so there are lots of opportunities to experience many new artists and their work. It is not limited to certain times and specific places, so, there is potential for many new audiences from far and wide to see the work. That’s exciting.”