A BSR Philly Fringe guide: Looking for people of color in the Festival

AMH Productions presents Cotton&Gold at Circle of Hope on South Broad, September 14 to 16. (Photo by Rovell Seth Vialva.)

The “What Are You Looking For” function on the Philadelphia Fringe Festival website lets you search for performances that involve, among other features, puppets or a “unique” venue. One attribute you can't search for: shows by, or featuring, artists of color. This omission is somewhat surprising, given the larger national conversations about race, and even more surprising in light of local efforts like the Ghostlight Project and a forum on “Orientalism.” Showcasing perspectives from nonwhite creators, producers, and performers is paramount to Philadelphia's progress as an artistic community and destination.

The new generation

Some Fringe pieces boldly state their contemporary context. Terrell Green created Black Berry, a piece with a multiracial set of characters. Green, a Philadelphia native, serves as vice-chair of the Mayor’s Millennial Advisory Committee. The play's plot follows two teen lovers from different worlds who face political and personal challenges, as a president works to eliminate Iranians from the lovers’ country and starts a war. 

At 19, Dante Green is one of this year’s youngest Fringe show creators, and he’s presenting two shows. An Incomplete List of All the Things I’m Going to Miss When the World Is No Longer, with a cast composed entirely of his fellow University of the Arts students, will run in rep with Lyell Hintz’s Simone R.P.T. 8. Green seems to have a simultaneously bleak and celebratory view of where civilization lies at the moment: it's not clear if he fears climate change or nuclear war. Either way, he's partying with dear friends and a few drugs.

‘Cotton&Gold’ and ‘KITH’

For an alternative to our all-too-real history, take a trip with Alyse Hogan's AMH Productions to an Afrofuturistic Tulsa, where a Black Wall Street still thrives in Cotton&Gold. AMH champions its encouragement of entrepreneurship as it connects and promotes young artists of color. Lela Aisha Jones’s “multi-platform initiative” Flyground, melding art and activism, focuses its work on blackness and its preservation. The festival includes two pieces from its Plight Release and the Diasporic Body series.

3 PONY SHOW/Keila Cordova Dances has a five-night run of KITH. This dance piece explores connections in our lives, how they change, and how they map onto our physical bodies. I'm curious about whether this will follow a particular relationship between a set of friends or survey the evolution of social bonds more generally.

Visits, space-making, and personal travels

MUJERES is not one piece but rather a pairing of two thematically related shows, Evalina Carbonell's MILK and Annielille Gavino's HERStory. HERStory consists of poetry, music, dance, and film as methods of visiting the matrilineal society of the precolonial Philippines, where Gavino's family originated. MILK's title is literal: Carbonell displays, through dance, how mothers sustain infants.

Alexis J. Walker’s 3 Women also addresses how women create spaces for others. This show includes three plays presented together. Walker received a Small But Mighty Award in 2016 to learn about producing her own shows.

For another performance about navigating spaces new and old, Carl(os) Roa, José Avilés, and Elyas Harris present Andean Mountains (Montañas Andinas), “a digital journey through the mountains.” It’s a piece about “personal geography” that harnesses Google Street View for a tour of culture loss to explore how we relate to our places of origin versus where we land.

Art with a mission

Some artists take on particular hot topics. Drag queen Cookie Diorio continues in a long tradition of drag performers examining social justice, with three Art of the Heel shows at the William Way LGBT Community Center. Each show raises money for a different mission-driven organization: Valley Youth House Pride Program, Women In Transition, and PennFuture. Each night also features a set of guest artists singing and playing piano accompaniment. Fresh from IndyFringe in Indianapolis, standup comedian Krish Mohan brings his Approaching Happiness to Art Church of West Philadelphia. His focus is on mental health, with the script touching on guns, racism, and immigration all in the service of finding bliss.  

Above: Evalina Carbonell and Annielille Gavino scale new heights together in MUJERES. (Photo by Edgar Anido.)