It can be daunting to pick a few shows to attend out of the hundreds of offerings at the Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe (which starts Friday and runs through Sept. 18); here's a little inside info on what you really don't want to miss. (Double-check the dates—the festival schedule was still a bit in flux when this issue went to press.)
1. These are fearful times, and creator/performer Charlotte Ford’s “expressionistic clown play” Chicken (Sept. 3-6), is a new work at the Live Arts Festival that examines chronic fear. The show is set in a claustrophobic nuclear submarine occupied by three people (an Elvis fanatic, a timid cross-dresser and a “she-beast” with an unflattering crew-cut) who can’t stand each other. Instead of focusing on their dangerous classified mission, the three are only concerned with destroying each other in a brutal game of chicken.
2. Mary Carpenter (known for her work in popular improv troupe Comedy Sportz) presents a humorous look at mourning in her solo comedy The New & Improved Stages of Grief (Sept. 7-11). Offering practical applications of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief, the multimedia production has advice on everything from how to edit a eulogy to preparing tuna casserole for the bereaved. Rest assured that Carpenter created the show partly to work through her own grief; the production doesn’t trivialize loss, but puts truth to the axiom that laughter is the best medicine.
3. The words “flash mob” have a negative association in Philly lately, but arts-education company Yes! And … wants to return the flash-mob concept to its nonviolent, performance-art roots. Flash! (Sept. 4-18), was created in collaboration with Shadow Company (their high school program), and employs spoken word, dance and music to counter the notion that our city’s young people are juvenile delinquents bent on vandalism, violence and destruction. The company’s website will post the show’s locations and dance moves attendees can practice beforehand.
4. 11th Hour Theatre Company founder Steve Pacek and choreographer Jenn Rose (responsible for the dazzling moves in 11th Hour’s Little Shop of Horrors) team with their composer roommate Daniel Kazemi to present Untitled Project 213 (Sept. 3-5). Untitled doesn’t rely on words (of which there are very few), instead using movement, images, poetry, sound, music, clowning and silence to tell the story of a sad clown searching for a glimmer of hope in a bleak world.
5. One of the festival’s most reliably fascinating troupes, Nichole Canuso Dance Company, returns to Live Arts with new work Takes (Sept. 3-18). Conceived by Canuso and intrepid multimedia artist Lars Jan (responsible for the stunning Autopilot at the 2006 Fringe), Takes puts performers inside a cube, their movements projected onto the semi-translucent screens that surround them. An exploration of how the past informs the present, Takes “offers the audience multiple ways of seeing the same moment,” Canuso explains.
6. Nationally acclaimed performance Elevator Repair Service (creators of the 2007 Live Arts hit Gatz, a full-text rendering of The Great Gatsby) once again brings literature to life in their staging of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (Sept. 15-18). Director John Collins says the production seeks to strike the proper balance between the tale’s light and often humorous dialogue and the “troubled inner voice” of the story’s war-weary narrator.
7. When Josh McIlvain isn’t editing the official Live Arts Festival/Philly Fringe guide (a Herculean task), he’s a frequently produced playwright; and 15 of his funniest short plays (each runs between one and 10 minutes) are rounded up in Boat Hole (Sept. 15-18). The briefly met characters involve a pair of ordinary guys who see a career opportunity in terrorism and orcas who bicker over performing tricks for tourists.
8. The quirky off-Broadway hit Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead (Sept. 3-5) makes a Fringe appearance in a production from Second Sight Theatre Company. An “unauthorized parody” of Charles Schultz’s Peanuts by Bert V. Royal, the dark-but-touching comic-strip comedy follows a struggling Charlie Brown and the gang after the death of everybody’s favorite beagle.
9. Caryl Churchill’s Drunk Enough to Say I Love You? (Sept. 3-9) makes its Philly debut with Butros and Bels Theatrical Emporium’s Fringe production. The relationship of dysfunctional gay couple Sam and Guy is a political metaphor; Churchill says Sam represents a country (clearly the U.S.) and previous productions have interpreted the play as an assault on American foreign policy. Here, director Ben Smallen takes a different approach, reflecting on American ideals and the citizens who choose to embrace or question them.
10. Headlong Dance Theater takes to the silver screen in No One Else Could Love You More (Sept. 13), a new film being screened at the Live Arts Festival. Directed by Byron Karabatsos, the documentary follows the making of Headlong’s 2009 work more , completed in the midst of a severe budget crisis. A chronicle of personal and professional challenges, the film should provide a unique, intimate look at Philly’s preeminent multidisciplinary company.
For showtimes, ticket prices and venue locations, call 215.413.1318 or visit livearts-fringe.org.
Calendar: March 25-April 1
PW's 2015 Philly Spring Guide