A BSR Philly Fringe guide: Resistance in the theater

Cast members of this year's Shadow Company: a new generation of artists. (Photo courtesy of Yes! And... Collaborative Arts.)

We’ve been marching and rallying so much this year that maybe it’ll feel strange to get back into the season by sitting quietly at a bunch of Fringe Festival performances. But with shows tackling immigration, sexual orientation, gender identity, racial justice, police brutality, feminism, and reproductive rights, you’ll want to come inside for awhile.

The annual Fringe show from Shadow Company, a Germantown-based teenage theater troupe, makes a good start: The Other ($10) is devised and performed by this group under the Yes! And… Collaborative Arts umbrella. The show invents “a place where people have segregated themselves into us vs. them” (sound familiar?), investigates how contemporary culture has abetted these divisions, and asks “Who have you made the other?” It’s running in Center City at Arch Street United Methodist Church (host of August’s POWER #PhillyIsCharlottesville rally against white supremacy), September 8 and 9, and September 15 and 16 in the Northwest at the Germantown Mennonite Church.

Heels and pride

William Way LGBT Community Center will host two shows this year. In Art of the Heel ($20), opera singer/drag queen Cookie Diorio “uses her 6.5-inch platforms to promote social justice” with three cabarets, each featuring a new round of special guests and each for a different cause. On September 8, Beauty From Our Sorrows benefits Valley Youth House Pride Program, a shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth. On September 16, Telling HERstories benefits Women in Transition, a resource center for women fighting domestic violence and substance abuse. On September 23, Forces of Nature benefits PennFuture, a Pennsylvania environmental advocacy agency.

Also happening at William Way is ReNew Theatre Company’s Aunty Ben ($20), billed as a play for children ages eight and over and adults. It’s about nine-year-old Tracy, whose favorite uncle is a drag queen. It’s “a playful exploration of gender issues and acceptance, and a celebration of diversity, dignity, and marching to the beat of your own drum.” It’s coming up September 15 through 18.

Nearby is Wesley Flash’s PRIDE PARADE! ($20), an interactive walking tour of “historic hot spots” for “out and proud ancestors who marched before our time,” because “remembering is resistance!” It’s meeting September 8 at 4 pm and September 9, 10, 16, and 17 at 2 pm at the park at 18th and Chancellor Streets.

A love letter and immorality

Iron Age Theatre’s world-premiere To My Unborn Child: A Love Letter from Fred Hampton ($20), by Rich Bradford, revives “a critical voice for justice” who “preached a humane, compassionate revolution against racist brutality, child hunger, poverty, and capitalism.” Hampton, an Illinois native, studied law and was a prominent civil rights activist at a young age, becoming a leader in both the NAACP and the Chicago Black Panther Party before police killed him at age 21 in 1969. To My Unborn Child comes to the Philadelphia Ethical Society September 6 through 22.

Fringe 2017 is also bringing some Athol Fugard with Blue Mercury Theatre’s Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act ($15), about a love affair between a black man and a white woman in apartheid South Africa. It's “a cry for social change from a dangerous love that dares to defy all the rules.” It’s running at Old City’s Independence Library September 7 through 24.

Stories for women (and everyone)

At the Skinner Studio at Plays & Players, Prime Theatre Syndicate offers the professional premiere of Trigger Warning ($20), written by Iris Dauterman and directed by Sarah Scafidi. It’s “a modern take on an old-fashioned sewing circle,” when five women take up an unusual proposal to stop rape on their college campus and learn to support each other with honesty. It’s running September 9 through 16.

Airswimming ($20), from Half Key Theatre Company, directed by Elizabeth Stevens, is based on a true story of two women in 1920s Ireland who land in a mental hospital “for daring to challenge society’s definition of womanhood.” In Charlotte Jones’s script, they “redefine their world and resist confinement for over 50 years,” making the audience wonder how we express ourselves when our freedoms are gone, how connection with others helps, and “what does Doris Day have to do with any of this?” Half Key’s work focuses on “unheard voices” and forgotten stories, particularly women’s narratives. It’s running at the Walnut’s Studio 5, September 8 through 24.

‘Black Berry’ and a duet for the ages

In Terrell Green’s Black Berry ($10), teen lovers named Berryanne and Rouzbeh experience personal and national turmoil when a newly elected leader declares war on Iran and removes all Iranian immigrants. Each performance at South Philly’s Arts Sanctuary, running September 9 and 10, will conclude with a community-run conversation on immigration and the ownership of women’s bodies “under the 45th administration.”

Bridging more identities and genres than perhaps anyone is the dance piece Movemakers Philly Presents i.d. ($15). Vince Johnson, a hip-hop and martial-arts educator and former principal dancer at Rennie Harris Puremovement, teams with Cuban jazz musician Francois Zayas, a former member of the National Symphonic Orchestra of Cuba, for this “raw, up-close duet.” The show “celebrates the complexity of race, culture, and gender diversity” through sound and movement. It’s running September 15 through 23 at Movemakers Philly in Center City. 

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Want previews of our latest stories about arts and culture in Philadelphia? Sign up for our newsletter.