It can be a daunting task deciding what to see from among the nearly 200 productions at this year’s Live Arts Festival & Philly Fringe. To help you out, we’re offering our recommendations for shows that you should put at the top of your must-see list.
There are many reasons why Live Arts & Fringe has developed into the behemoth success it is today. One of those reasons is Thaddeus Phillips, performer/director/designer/playwright. This year, Phillips’ company Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental is presenting the world premiere of Whale Optics , an epic work that connects such seemingly disparate topics as whale songs, Carl Sagan, telecommunications systems and Applebee’s. The story follows two characters who never meet; a New Jersey resident who works with optics and a composer who Phillips says “may or may not be an epic adventurer.” If you are a fan of Phillips, Whale promises to be one of his most unique and intellectually invigorating works. (J. Cooper Robb)
Sept. 1-10. $20-$30. Prince Music Theatre, 1412 Chestnut St.
Though it may be difficult, imagine for a moment a circus without the elaborate costumes, bizarre characters and special effects. Could watching real people mastering very unreal physical fetes be even more enthralling? With Traces, the Montreal-based circus company, 7 Fingers (Les 7 Doigts de la Main) removes all the unnecessary extravagance you’d expect from Cirque du Soleil or Ringling Brothers, offering a high-energy, yet equally thoughtful and humorous show. The story begins with a catastrophe and continues through what they believe are their last moments on earth. As their stunts become more daring, the seemingly inhuman element of it all grows more intensely personal. (Nicole Finkbiner)
Sept. 15-18. Various times. $15-$55. Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad St.
This year, the enterprising company Swim Pony presents Lady M, which director Adrienne Mackey (who along with actor Catharine Slusar conceived the project) describes as a reaction to Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth. Mackey (who confides that she usually finds Shakespeare’s plays “boring to watch”) says she was attracted to the idea of seeing the plot of Macbeth from Lady Macbeth’s perspective. In Swim Pony’s play, Lady M is the one who summons the witches to in Mackey’s words “help her become more than she is.” Featuring an all-star, all-female Philly cast, Mackey says the work is like “watching an athlete on the verge of collapse—visceral, dirty, and so intense you almost feel yourself standing up to scream back at what’s happening.” Theatergoers with acute anxiety disorder may be excused from attending. (J.C.R.)
Sept. 1-9, 7pm. $20-$25. Arts Bank, 601 S. Broad St.
Heavy Metal Dance Fag
Philly Fringe favorites Tribe of Fools returns with a satire exploring identity, sexuality and gender roles. Fag is the story of South Philly dock worker and dance fiend Timmy Bagley (played by Fools’ artistic director Terry Brennan, who also directs) whose love of dancing causes some consternation among his macho buddies. Brennan says the show was inspired by a moment when he let loose with a “Michael Jackson style spin and kick” while lifting weights at a South Philly Gym. The move drew hostile stares from his fellow gym rats. The incident led to the creation of Fag , which uses dance and the hair-metal music of the 1980s to explore the impact people’s perceptions about us have on our own sense of self. (J.C.R.)
Sept. 1-11. $20. St. Stephen’s Theater, 923 Ludlow St.
RISK! True Tales Boldly Told
Creator and host Kevin Allison began his comedy career on the MTV sketch series The State . It was while he was doing a solo show in 2009 that fellow cast mate Michael Ian Black recommended he start telling his own stories on stage. Quickly discovering how cathartic this was, he decided to invite other people on stage to share their own true stories—stories that they normally wouldn’t dare tell in public. Today, RISK! is a live show held monthly in both Hollywood and the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in N.Y.C. as well as a popular weekly podcast. Past guests have included Nick Swardson, Sarah Silverman, Adam McKay, Lisa Lampanelli and Michael Showalter. Their award-winning, one-night only show and live taping here in Philly will feature several brave local storytellers and even few surprise guests from the Big Apple. Some of the stories may be hilarious, others horrific. Yet, nothing is off limits. (N.F.)
Sat., Sept. 10, 7 and 9pm. $20. The Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St.
Voice of This Generation: Love Lost
While shows like American Idol claim to be discovering the greatest unknown voices of this generation and Kanye West actually claims to be said voice, there’s two Penn grad students who beg to differ. Composition doctoral students Tony Solitro and Scott Ordway have put together a free concert featuring seven up-and-coming local composers under the age of 35. In hopes of redefining contemporary vocal music—or at least how it’s perceived by younger audiences—they’re inviting people to come dressed as casually as they please, booze of choice in tow. Following the theme “Love Lost,” the concert’s eclectic mix of music includes Solitro’s award-winning piece War Wedding, which portrays a sensuous wedding night during a savage war, and Telsa’s Pigeon, fellow Penn doctoral student Melissa Dunphy’s song cycle about a girl’s bizarre relationship with a pigeon. (N.F.)
Sept. 17-18. Various times. Free. First Unitarian Church, 2125 Chestnut St.
The idea was preposterous for any number of reasons: I’d barely ever written any music, let alone a musical. But Philly’s isn’t just any fringe fest. As long as you find yourself a venue and pay the very nominal entry fees, you can put on a show in the festival. Got a hankering to do a dramatic reading of the 1929 Philadelphia White Pages while dressed up like Angela Lansbury? Perfect. Feel a need to strip naked and pantomime the collected congressional testimonies of Bob Brady? Great—shows with nudity tend to do especially well in the festival.
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Calendar: April 2-9