A BSR Philly Fringe guide: Top of the list

A 'Life Lines' ensemble member from Tangle Movement Arts. (Photo by Mike Ermilio.)

I think a healthy dash of FOMO is integral to the Philly Fringe experience: What are your friends seeing? How many events can you reasonably stack in one day? How do you choose when so many productions overlap within a zany 18 days? Even with a killer spreadsheet, you’re going to miss something good.

This is my best shot.

‘Life Lines’

Tangle Movement Arts has been a Fringe destination since it launched in 2011, for good reason. As circus arts has exploded onto the mainstream performance and arts training scene over the last several years, Tangle’s mix of airborne physical theater and timely, emotionally challenging multimedia narratives (from an all-women ensemble focusing on queer and female experiences) has continued to distinguish the company.

Tangle’s seventh consecutive Fringe offering, Life Lines ($14 to $20), is coming to Christ Church Neighborhood House September 6 through 9. “In one heartbeat, everything around you can shift,” the company says of its newest show, which explores “the shock of unexpected change and loss — of love, safety, freedom, or physical ability.” There are probably plenty of us who can relate this year.  

The show is “a portrait of a community that is recovering from sudden losses,” says company founder Lauren Rile Smith in a recent FringeArts interview. The “intensely emotional” performance follows three women: one has lost a lover, one has lost her safety, and one has lost her connection with others.

Seafaring, ‘HOME’, and Martha

Also riding the circus-arts wave in its own must-see style is Almanac Dance Circus Theatre (co-founded by my friend and former colleague Nick Gillette). Its newest offering is a remount of its 2015 show, Leaps of Faith and Other Mistakes ($25), with the addition of brand-new live music from Mel Hsu. Words from playwright and Automatic Arts co-founder Josh McIlvain are combined with Almanac’s signature acrobatics for a vision of what people do when they’re lost at sea: a tale of “sublime human idiocy, isolationist seafarer cults, and the absurdity of believing too hard.” It’s running at the Painted Bride, September 6 through 23.

As for the Curated Fringe, I’m particularly excited for the world premiere of Geoff Sobelle’s HOME ($15 to $35), running September 13 through 16 at the Prince. Sobelle stars along with Lightning Rod Special luminary Jennifer Kidwell and others, with a set by Steven Dufala. The show promises a “large-scale performance” mixing “illusion, choreography, live music, construction, homespun engineering, and live documentary” to discover just what makes a house into a home — one with an eternal cast of residents who rent, loot, remodel, grow up in, die in, and haunt the place. It’s “a glorious meditation on the transitory nature of dwelling.”

And do I even need to say it? The Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret is coming to FringeArts on Tuesday, September 19, at 8pm ($15 to $30). Or maybe I do need to say it — I’ve always preferred to venture into the far reaches of the neighborhood Fringe for things I may regret later, and I’ve never seen Martha at FringeArts, opting instead for the cramped and magnetic cabaret at L’Etage (I still don’t understand how that many people find seats in the room with space for Martha to caress the guests). This year, I’m putting Martha on my Fringe calendar.

WTF Fringe

Finally, as is part of its charm, the fest always offers plenty of things with titles or descriptions that are so strange or lackadaisical you might just have to get a ticket. Titles on my WTF list this year include Don’t Be Cruel to Your Puppy…Lemme Give YOU a Twisted Tale, from Clayton Storyteller; Tilda Swinton Adopt Me Please, from The Greenfield Collective; and “The Soul Speaks”: An Improv Dance Performance, from Bizzarro Bill.

The latter is coming to Art Church of West Philadelphia for one night only on September 7 and is “an improv dance performance in its purest form.” No thoughts on choreography — or thoughts about the performance at all — will take place in advance. The music will be chosen 30 seconds before showtime. The 15-minute performance is free. 

Clayton Williamson

of Brunswick, GA on September 06, 2017

I'm honored that I made your WTF list, Alaina. Thanks for the plug... I think. I hope you'll come out and see the show. Though I used the strange title as a hook, I like to feel that I've got more than strangeness to recommend me.