Eric Berryman of the Wooster Group performs in The B-Side: “Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons” - A Record Album Interpretation, September 5–8, 2019.

On the Fringe

2019’s Philadelphia Fringe Festival features one existential dilemma after the next.

When this year’s iteration of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival opens and runs through September 22, there will not be a single theme or thread running through it. There never is, in a pre-ordained sense. That’s never been Artistic Producing Director, Curator and Founder Nick Stuccio’s style.

What the grand scheme is, that the Fringe Fest finds apparent – in dance, performance art, avant-garde music, experimental devised theater, comedy and circus arts – at a time where division is around us and unknowing-ness is the only certainty, even within the arts, is that of the same existential dilemma that made Camus, Foucault and Bowles question, question, question.

In some cases that ‘questioning’ involves the truths of our government, as is found in “Is This A Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription” from Tina Satter + Half Straddle. Here, a brilliant linguistics expert who worked for the State Department as a translator with a high-security clearance finds one document that she felt was a must to be released to the press: a document involving Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections. “It was an act of treason sending that document to the press, and this play is a transcript of that encounter – being trapped and questioned about that document – with a cat and mouse theme that is so gripping, as it is real,” notes Stuccio.

Tina Satter + Half Straddle’s “Is This A Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription”

Questions of reform can be found in The B-Side: “Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons” from New York City’s famed the Wooster Group. Here, an African American artist finds a vinyl record from the early 1970s produced by an ethnomusicologist who recorded inmates in a Texas state prison singing spirituals. As the show goes on, their songs grow more pained, unsettling, and compelling. And it is clear that these prisoners were enslaved – the very thing that drives the currency of the prison reforms movement.

Pig Iron Theatre’s Superteraranean looks at the awesome superstructures of everyday living as conceived by director/Pig Iron co-founder Dan Rothenberg and set designer Mimi Lien below the surface. The mystery of abandoned train tracks, old sewage pipes, and other water delivery systems is a metaphor for examining lives and existence itself. 

Pig Iron Theatre’s Superteraranean

Even a showcase such as The Nature Theater of Oklahoma – a humorous, longtime group of uniformed performance artists who have been to Philly’s Fringe several times – and its new The Pursuit of Happiness, examines the U.S. Constitution, word by word, and wonders aloud “Is this all still real, this dream? “Is that still relevant? Is that still meaningful?” 

Find your own existential dilemmas at https://fringearts.com/programs/fringe-festival/

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