I’m a Fringe Festival veteran, so take it from me: Not all of the 100-plus shows listed in the Fringe guide will be winners. Some will be amazing. A few will be snooze buttons. One or two could be straight-up terrifying. I once had to sit still in some Old City basement while a clown confessed his darkest secrets for 45 minutes.
And it was kind of awesome.
See, above all, the Fringe can get weird. Even if you’re a theater fan. Even if you’re a modern dance fan. But it’s especially weird if you’re not the sort of person who usually sees live arts performances. Which is why you should go for it. Fling off your swimmies and jump into the deep end.
The worst-case scenario is you lose 10 bucks and 45 minutes of your life.
Best case? You see a great show, experience something that’ll probably never happen again, and maybe become lifelong friends with an oversharing clown. I mean, that’s not what happened for me, but you never know.
To aid you in your journey of discovery, I’ve whipped up a short glossary of terms you’ll find along the way, be they in the Fringe guide, some article in The Inquirer, an artist’s website, a flier pinned to a coffee shop corkboard, scratched into a bathroom wall at La Peg, etc.
Ambulatory dance performance: You and the performers are on the move, maybe the whole time. It’s like a parade that doesn’t suck.
Cabaret: Old-school song-and-dance show in an informal setting, often hosted by someone who knows a lot of dirty jokes.
Chamber play: A short theatrical piece in a small space with minimal sets and costumes. Like when somebody tells a joke in an elevator.
Collective: A bunch of like-minded artists any one of whom could quit at any moment to go to grad school.
Digital artist: Somebody who owns a really good laptop.
DJ: Somebody who owns a regular laptop.
Explores: Usually means “contains.” As in “this show explores themes of feminism, sadism, and botulism in the American Midwest.” (See also: “Interrogates.”)
Interactive: Oh god, are they going to call me up on stage or something?
Movement: Dance, or something similar to dance.
Multidisciplinary: A Fringe combo platter. Will it be dance plus circus? Theater plus film? Mime plus human sacrifice?
Show contains nudity: Usually this means breasts and/or butt, but sometimes a penis pops up.
Steve Reich: Creator of music so minimal it might just be somebody vacuuming pennies in the next room.
Timely: Depressing. (Just kidding. I’m kidding about all of these. Mostly all.)
This two-scene Tennessee Williams chamber play about a New Orleans queen who pins her romantic hopes on the straight man she brought home has a strong reputation but is rarely staged — which puts it right in the wheelhouse of EgoPo. The Philly-based classic theater company makes its bones reviving old and unsung works in provocative ways.
Sept. 5 through 8, Asian Arts Initiative, Studio B, 1219 Vine St., $20
An obscure album of work songs and spirituals sung by black inmates on a prison farm in 1964 gets a second life as a live theatrical performance in 2019. Created by the New York-based Wooster Group, The B-Side sounds like your quintessential Fringe show: enlightening, entertaining, and deeply emotional.
Sept. 5 through 8, FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Blvd., $15-$39
Scenic designer Mimi Lien takes the reins in this new work by the always-daring Pig Iron Theatre, in which nine performers find themselves suddenly dwarfed by massive structures of unknown origin. Lien says she was inspired by her own emotional reactions to seeing large man-made things (somewhere between awe and megalophobia) like refineries and water tanks. Also: Check out “Section, Void,” Lien’s thematically linked art installation, on display at Cherry Street Pier throughout Fringe.
Sept. 5 through 15, 2300 Arena, 2300 S. Swanson St., $15-$45
Fringe favorite Nichole Canuso returns with a new production that explores themes of memory and grief through dance and visual art.
Sept. 6 through 10, Theatre Exile, 1340 S. 13th St., $15-$20
Philly-based theater group the Antidote takes copious cues from auteur/local hero David Lynch in creating a “live-action nightmare” which leads audiences around the performance space like Agent Cooper in search of pie. The more steeped you are in Twin Peaks lore, the more you’ll appreciate this spooky, winking satire.
Sept. 7 through 9, 11 through 13, and 15, Bok Building, Eighth and Mifflin Streets, $20
Led by chorographer Mariana Arteaga, a cast of your friends and neighbors will be dancing in the streets of South Philly to Missy Elliott, Janelle Monáe, the Clash, and more. The joyous “ambulatory dance performance” ends at Mifflin Square Park, where performers will party with the audience.
Sept. 7, 13, 14, begins on Fifth Street between Shunk Street and Oregon Avenue, free
Fringe teams up with the Women’s Film Festival to offer a 90-minute screening of short films by artists from here and around the world.
7 p.m., Sept. 11, Tokio Theater, 124 Lombard St., second floor, $10
In this world-premiere production, long-standing Wilma artistic director Blanka Zizka teams up with Italian visual artist Rosa Barba to create a play based on the poetry of Etel Adnan. The performance invades the seating area to tell an emotional story of self-discovery.
Sept. 11 through 22, Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad St., $15-$52
Inspired by real-world stories of migrating peoples around the world, this timely production by Kaneza Schaal and Christopher Myers employs a cast of actors from El Salvador, Syria, Lebanon, South Africa, and Rwanda.
Sept. 12 through 15, Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American St., $15-$35
Fringe veteran Tina Satter is back with this new show, based on the story of Reality Winner — yes, that’s her real name — the ex-NSA linguist who’s currently in prison for swiping classified material about Russian interference in U.S. elections and passing it on to a news agency. Is This A Room dramatizes Winner’s interrogation at the hands of the FBI, and leaves the audience pondering things like power and patriotism.
Sept. 13 through 15, Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 3680 Walnut St., $15-$35
In this wildly physical and mostly wordless production, two men square off in a gym locker room, but you’ll be hard-pressed to say whether theirs is a dance of competition or seduction or what. Un Poyo Rojo, the name of the show and the Argentine duo that performs it, employs martial arts, acrobatics, clowning, and other physical forms of expression in pursuit of thrills and laughs.
Sept. 19 through 21, Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American St., $15-$25