Nourishing art

A gastronomic guide to the 2022 Philadelphia Fringe Festival

4 minute read
Sobelle holds a wineglass, toasting. Spaghetti glops on his head, his mouth full of greens. Fruits arranged in the foreground

As usual, plenty of themes are afoot in the Fringe Festival lineup: comedy and politics, reinvented classics (always like you’ve never seen before), and circus arts (so much circus). Many shows were either developed in quarantine, or reflect pandemic life, and as we come together to enjoy the cultural experiences we missed, it’s clear that many artists are hungry to explore another vital human gathering point: food.

Want to explore the Philly Fringe and the Free Fringe through different dinner tables? Here’s a gustatory guide to our top picks.

Very different dinner parties

Geoff Sobelle is back in the curated Fringe with a follow-up to 2017’s HOME. His latest, FOOD, running September 8-18 at FringeArts, promises “an intimate dinner party of smell, taste, and touch” for “a meditation on the ways and whys of eating.” An intimate audience will sit around a linen-clad dining table, and while the plates are empty, the performance will incorporate sounds, scents, and touch for an interactive reflection on memory, consumption, and the history of food production.

For something a little more down-to-earth, Mike Durkin and Nick Schwasman invite you to a table at Broad Street Diner or Melrose Diner for Yes, We’re Ready, We’ll Split an Order of Fries for the Table—Does That Work for You?—Sure, One Check Is Fine (September 9-17). It’s “a table-top show about diners and the people inhabiting those spaces.” The audience is capped at three people, and each performance takes place over a shared order of fries.

Food in the community

This isn’t Durkin’s only Fringe outing. He’s also teaming up with Mural Arts and Kensington neighbors for an interdisciplinary project, and you will know it’s done when the oil stops bubbling, kicking off at Kensington Corridor Trust Community Garden September 23-October 3. Because “food is community, food is power, food is legacy, food is memory, food is love, food is home, food is life,” the artist plans to develop a recipe book based on story-sharing circles, with the goal of a participatory community meal as well as other art-based responses to the gathered recipes.

Melcher stands w/ arms folded next to a metal cooktop wearing a shirt that says Joe’s, a white apron & backwards baseball hat
Sterling Melcher loves cooking and art. Can he combine the two with ‘I Have To Pay My Rent’? (Photo courtesy of Tree.Lock//Productions.)

For more community meals, check out Devyn Mañibo and Jac I. Pryor’s good luck, happening at Bartram’s Garden September 22-24. It’s an “immersive performance and act of radical hospitality” in the form of a shared farm-to-table meal, because “regathering is a response to the hunger to re/build worlds in this time of social, economic, racial, health, and ecological crises.” The artists hope to highlight “the ways we’ve centered distance and safety while also imagining futures of intimacy and survival.” With the cost of a seat on an accessible sliding scale from $0-$50, this sounds like just the ticket for the pandemic era.

Cheesesteaks, Johnny Depp, and a comedy fundraiser

The Free Fringe, a grassroots artist-led festival running alongside the Philly Fringe, also brings plenty to the table.

Tree.Lock//Productions mounts its second show with I Have to Pay My Rent running at Joe’s Steak + Soda Shop in Fishtown on September 12, 19, 26, and October 3. This “theatrical installation” will find creator Sterling Melcher’s audience seating themselves in the restaurant alongside other patrons during the last hour of business. They can order a cheesesteak as well as some art: snippets of Melcher and his collaborators’ unfinished stuff, like poems, songs, novels, plays, and other concepts. The performance asks why these works were never finished, and how and whether the artists should resume them: it’s “a reflection in action on what it is like to be stuck between making money and making art.”

Kuerzi, in red bandanna, black eyeliner & puffy white shirt, pretends to be Depp, lying on a poster of Depp in pirate costume
Jenna Kuerzi channels Captain Jack Sparrow in her Free Fringe show, ‘Johnny Depp: A Retrospective on Late Stage Capitalism.’ (Photo by Val Dunn.)

Two more Free Fringe picks are happening at two of our favorite Philly restaurants, where audiences can enjoy a drink or dinner during the show. Jenna Kuerzi’s Johnny Depp: A Retrospective on Late-Stage Capitalism comes to Fergie’s Pub on September 18 and 19. This interactive, improvisational show casts Kuerzi in a look back at every film, TV, and video-game appearance in Depp’s career (even the ones we didn’t watch) to wonder “why we all care so much about a person we only know through interviews and movies we like, and also how we, as a society, enable celebrities we love to love and love to hate.”

And fans of comedy and basic bodily freedom can head to Tattooed Mom for Abortions For All: A Planned Comedy Show on September 15 (doors open at 7:30, show starts at 8; arrive early to snag limited seating). The show will feature burlesque, musical comedy, sketch, stand-up, and games with performers like Alejandro Morales, Betty J Smithsonian, Kat Mosely, and more, alongside a fundraiser for the Abortion Liberation Fund of PA.

If you haven’t already, check out the Philly Fringe and Free Fringe lineups for yourself—there are plenty more performances that celebrate sharing a snack, or the cultural importance of food.

As always, we encourage our readers to stay aware of the pandemic and protect themselves and the community. Folks at high risk can find performances that require masks and/or proof of Covid-19 vaccination, and the Fringe Festival also has plenty of streaming options.

Sign up for our newsletter

All of the week's new articles, all in one place. Sign up for the free weekly BSR newsletters, and don't miss a conversation.

Join the Conversation