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What spawned as an MFA thesis became one of the most anticipated Fringe shows in the independent offerings. “Dumpster Dance for Garbage People” featured some of Philadelphia’s most notable drag and queer performers on back-to-back nights. | Image courtesy: Prudence Anne Amsden

Depression. Anxiety. John Waters. Being an overall “piece of garbage.”

This is what Philly-based artist Prudence Anne Amsden described as her inspiration for the highly anticipated Fringe Festival production of “Dumpster Dance for Garbage People.”

Amsden, who lives in Society Hill in “a tiny apartment with my partner and a cat,” turns 29 this week and will be celebrating by putting together her first Fringe show.

“I have been performing since I was little and started producing/organizing shows in college at Mills in Oakland, California,” said Amsden, who moved to Philly in 2016 to complete a Masters degree in choreography at Temple. While there, she co-produced a dance concert with Merian Soto for World Water Day, aimed at raising awareness for critical local and international water issues. She then turned inward for inspiration.

For her MFA thesis, she embarked on a project that would eventually become “Dumpster Dance for Garbage People,” using a form of dance known as structured improvisation. 

“The main point of thesis and this piece is we are all garbage, and if we could be honest about our garbage from the get-go, maybe then we can build a world of better understanding and accepting of each other,” she said. “It’s a series of movement and sound scores created to tell a satirical narrative of my dance nightmares. During grad school, as I was coming into my own as a creature and finding my creative process, ‘Dumpster Dance for Garbage People’ became the product of that journey.” 

While Amsden is the choreographer, artistic director, producer, videographer and performer for this production, she is joined by a cast of dancers and drag artists from the Philly queer performance scene. 

“Since moving to Philly, I have totally fallen in love with drag scene and in love with the range of performers it consists of,” she said. “Mainly, I chose the cast I did because they said yes, but more importantly, my cast are all powerhouse performers with very distinctive voices.”

The cast features gayborhood alt-faves Khaki Capri, Maria TopCatt, Mercury, Moon Baby, Pretty Girl, Pritika Agarwal, Ron Binary, Sa’Mantha SayTen and Zsa Zsa St. James.

The fact that her cast is largely queer is “important and perfect,” she noted.

“Who better to make a show that tries to subvert and transgress any tradition than a misfit group of super queer weirdos?” she posited, adding,  “I am drawn to anyone that fits outside of a normal mold because I have never fit inside a normal mold myself.”

Setting the mood for the structured improvisation, the production features a combination of original and found footage edited by Amsden. Local artist Olan Reeves designed and built the set pieces and props, while costumes were designed in collaboration with the cast, with extra help from Reeves and Mercury. The show features original scores composed by Mary Koszycki in addition to “some recognizable jams.”

Having been a part of the dance world for so long, Amsden is familiar with the narrow and unforgiving expectations placed on dancers’ bodies. She hopes that the production will chip away at these unreasonable standards, for everyone.

“I hope whoever watches it sees themselves in their imperfections but instead of being ashamed of them can find joy and catharsis with us while we perform,” she said. “I want the audience to laugh and feel free to feel the fantasy of their own inner garbage person. I hope the audience experiences that joy along with the debauchery.

“Through our aggressive camp dance, we hope to transport the audience to a universe where they can find humor in the daunting experience of human existence,” she added, “It’s sixty minutes of over-the-top dance, drag and everything in between.”

While this is her first foray into Fringe, she’s optimistic about the outcome and aspires to take this project even further.

“It’s my dream to turn ‘Dumpster Dance for Garbage People’ into a performance collective and continue creating wonderfully weird and wild shows, maybe ‘Dumpster Dance for Garbage People: The Musical’ or maybe even a movie,” she said. “As long as I get to collaborate with these awesome, amazing people, I’ll keep coming up with new projects to pursue.”



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