Every year since my children were old enough to attend the Philly Fringe (but still too young to drag to every naked performance artist exploring the intersection between capitalism and Manichaeism) I’ve compiled a list of family-friendly Fringe options for the Philadelphia Inquirer. This year, I’ve brought that list to Broad Street Review, and I hope it helps guide you and/or someone small you love through the labyrinth of curated and uncurated festival options.
Gala. All ages. My Facebook feed is often filled with photos of friends’ kids all dolled up at tightly choreographed dance competitions. Consider this entry by French choreographer Jerome Bel the opposite of that. The show has already made its way around much of the world, and his dancers include amateurs, professionals, children, adults, elderly, and differently-abled, all in wildly clashing clothes, having a great time. This is Bel’s fourth time performing in the curated Philly Fringe, and his show is appropriate for all audiences, but particularly for those who may have forgotten how to move just for the sheer joy of it.
Habitus. All ages. Ann Hamilton’s work for this year’s Fringe comes in three parts: A Tumblr, an exhibition at the Fabric Workshop and Museum, and a large-scale installation. All three elements examine “the fabric of human experience,” or, to put it plainly, the world of cloth. While older kids might be interested in the ways in which all three exhibitions enhance each other, Hamilton’s enormous sculptures encourage visitors to manipulate them by way of a pulley system, envelop themselves in its billowing fabric, or throw themselves on the floor and gawk at their enormity.
Spherus. All ages. Greg Kennedy is an international juggling champion and former engineer, and every year I take my kids to go see him mostly because I want to go see him again. This is an updated version of a show he’s performed at the Fringe, and it will feature video projections and acrobats. It will also be astounding, guaranteed.
Omeletto: Like Hamlet, Only Scrambled. All ages. Another regular Fringe producer, Ombelico Mask Ensemble is dedicated to site-specific theater in the commedia dell’arte style. Sure, you wouldn’t subject the littles to Hamlet, but this version should be suitably cracked.
Ultraviolette. All ages. Budding ballet buffs will adore watching the Rock School’s young students perform both classical and contemporary dance. Bonus: when everyone’s all grown up and watching these grads on major stages, they can say they saw them way back when.
En Mer avec Louise Bourgeois: A Thundering Notion. Sept. 17-18, 2016 at 124-126 Elfreths Alley, Philadelphia. All ages. Fidgety arts patrons might enjoy this short, site-specific performance by sisters Michelle Beshaw and Deborah Beshaw-Farrell that incorporates puppets and toys. Not to worry, no terrifying spider-mothers or flayed penises here, just a dreamy look at lost and found objects while walking through the alley and into its historic Museum House.
Exile 2588. Ages 10 and up. The Pig Iron school grads of Almanac Dance Circus Theatre will set this futuristic, acrobatic “space epic” about Io, Jupiter’s closest moon, to live Americana folk music by Philadelphia duo Chickabiddy. The show does deal with issues of mortality, so sensitive kids might not be ready for this one, but also, there’s breakdancing and trapeze, so I don’t know, you decide.
Silken Veils. Ages 11 and up. Devotees of Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel and film Persepolis (I count myself among them) will appreciate Leila Ghaznavi and Pantea Productions’s piece, about immigration and life during the Iranian Revolution and Iran/Iraq War. With original music, marionettes, animation and poetry, it promises to be a thought-provoking show.
Paper Trail. Ages 13 and up. This is the seventh year Yes, and…Collaborative Arts, a high school theater program, brings a show to the Fringe. Students lead every aspect of the production, and this time, they produced six one-acts about contemporary news stories relevant to teens.
Keep in mind that the Fringegoing child you know might be more ready for some efforts listed and less ready for others. Ultimately it’s your call, though — trust me on this — any Fringe show longer than 90 minutes had better be pretty darn special, or else you run the risk of turning them off to live performance for a very long time.
If you’d like to recommend any other shows, please add them in the comments.