In its own way, the annual Fringe Arts festival this month is as ubiquitous as the forthcoming visit by the pope. As The Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns reports, a thousand plus events are spread over 17 days starting September 3rd in venues throughout the Philadelphia area.
Jarrod Markman: Theatrical in presentation, primal in execution, and psychedelic in nature, the resulting sound is comparable to that of a wooly mammoth...
David Patrick Stearns: Did you catch that? It's Fringe festival coordinator Jarrod Markman talking about a group called S.T.A.R.W.O.O.D., the abbreviation for Sociopathic Time Altering Robot Warrior Of Organic Design. Who actually knows what a wooly mammoth sounds like? Well, it's avant-garde bravado and to be expected at what is casually known as the Philly Fringe, a thousand events with more legs than a mutant centipede on the planet Pluto.
DPS: There is an overriding idea to the festival, and Fringe President Nick Stuccio puts it this way.
Nick Stuccio: Things that aren't handed to you so easily in any kind of work. Here's a group of words or here’s an action: it’s designed for you to be happy, it’s designed for you to be sad. It is handed to you moment to moment. The world of the contemporary performance work is more elusive. It's designed for you to bring your own interests, your own experience to completing it.
DPS: The festival has two tiers, local groups presenting their work in venues from the Northeast to South Philly, and then the curated portion culled from all over the world, with works by major European figures rarely seen in the culture capitals of America. A Norway-imported production of A Doll's House goes outside the house. Rock bands are populated by theatrical characters with fully worked out background stories. A Chopin concerto has a virtuosic monologue in place of a piano soloist.
The festival's big event is the least characteristic - an older piece from 1983 titled Available Light with choreography by Lucinda Childs, music by John Adams and decor by Frank Gehry. The Fringe doesn't usually dip so far into the past. But this is a warehouse-sized, one-of-a-kind piece whose revival required an international consortium of presenters, one that was led by Stuccio.
NS: Lucinda's work never had its day in the United States, and these works, I think, are absolutely exquisitely relevant. She's pretty much an American genius. We never saw it. It just missed us.
DPS: Is it possible that Stuccio's own biases - he's a retired dancer - are coming through?
NS: I lean toward theater that's physical, that's body based. I really appreciate a director who really is unafraid to really engage the body.
DPS: So he goes beyond bias. You might call it vision.