As we emerge from our sweatpants-wearing existence of the past 15 months and look out into the city’s performance landscape, Chris Davis has a suggestion for us all—take a vacation from the mainstream. Davis is the main organizer of SoLow Fest, a celebration of experimental theater now in its 12th year.
SoLowFest offers both in-person and virtual programming over the course of 11 days in and around Philadelphia. Performances are pay-what-you-wish.
Outside the mainstream
“SoLow is unlike anything else you'll see,” said Davis.”Sometimes it's great, sometimes you'll see something absolutely crazy.” Davis ought to know—he’s been involved in SoLow Fest for the past ten years and launched a successful European tour from his nontraditional solo show back in 2013. This is his first year running it, and for him, the festival is intentionally outside the mainstream.
“Traditional theater has excluded lots of people throughout its history,” he explained. “Festivals like SoLow exist to respond to that lack of inclusion.”
One show destined to be talked about for years to come is BLACKBESTFRIEND by Philly-area playwright and director Alexandra Espinoza. BLACKBESTFRIEND is extraordinary not only for its premise to reclaim and liberate the trope of the “Black best friend” from white imagination but also for its execution. The cast is entirely Black, and the in-person audience for its Juneteenth performance will be Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. The wider world will experience the performance as a recording between June 20th and 26th at 6:19pm.
Why a livestream for the rest of us? On its Eventbrite registration page, the intent is made very clear for white folks: “This work was not made for you, but we enthusiastically invite you to witness it, open yourself to it, learn from it.”
Another performance that will be in-person and virtual is One-Man Apocalypse Now starring Steven A. Wright. Directed by festival organizer Chris Davis, One-Man Apocalypse Now is a 60-minute rendition of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam epic where Wright recreates its most iconic moments through dance, humor, and the soundtrack of the film itself. The performance livestream is free, and audiences of up to 10 attendees can watch Wright live at Plays and Players Theatre on Delancey Street for $25.
If a train ride at the end of the world (virtual presentation Kara Sevda) or a livestream of Philly’s favorite hairiest drag queen (Martha Graham Cracker 100% Live) doesn’t strike your fancy, check out the aptly-titled Friend, No One's Funding This at Upper Dublin Friends Meeting House in Ambler. Drawing from Quaker values and the experience of Quaker worship (where participants stand and speak out of worshipful silence when they are so moved), the event invites its audience/fellow performers to reflect on creativity, artistic burnout, and how to make meaningful work while taking care of ourselves. After the past 15 months, it’s a conversation we all ought to have.
What, When, Where, and Accessibility
SoLow Fest runs June 17-27, 2021 with virtual and in-person events. All tickets are pay-what-you-wish unless otherwise indicated. View the full festival line-up online.
Image Description: Steven A. Wright, a Black person, stands looking past the camera, the background dark, illuminated by small theater lights.