Rivers mix anguish into their waters. What do those words mean to you? A drowning? A separation – perhaps the Rio Grande? In pain unbearable, did someone jump?

The words come from There, in the Light and the Darkness of the Self and of the Other, a book-long poem and meditation on identity and conflict by Lebanese-American poet and artist Etel Adnan, 94.

It’s also a work, by the same name, that’s closer to a dream than a play, presented by Wilma’s HotHouse company as its offering for the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. The festival, with its 179 shows at 102 venues starts Thursday; the Wilma work runs Sept. 11 through Sept. 22 at the Wilma Theater.

The cast, crew, visual arts specialist Rosa Barba, and Wilma’s artistic director Blanka Zizka created from the poem, without a script. They experimented with everything, including how to work on the stage, which resembles a toned-down skate-boarding ramp.

“We’re not characters,” said actor Matteo Scammell, one of eight in a cast accompanied by four singers. “We represent the channels of the brain that fire off ideas and thoughts, but then it can switch. The theatrical space becomes an analogy for thinking.” Poetry isn’t linear, necessarily, and neither is There, but that’s the point.

A choreographer is teaching cast members how to spare their bodies, since, with the ramp, they are rarely standing on a flat surface – hard on the back and knees, Scammell said. “The ramp is very physically exhausting.”

Overwhelmed by the Fringe? Here are some picks

With 1,274 performances in less than three weeks, this year’s Fringe Festival, like every year’s, overwhelms in sheer magnitude. How to choose? Here are some picks from this week’s theater pro.

Jacqueline Goldfinger, a Philadelphia-based playwright and curator of the national new play resource, Page by Page. Her new play, Babel, will world premiere at Theatre Exile in January.

At the Fringe: I've produced Fringe shows in the past, but this year I am taking a break to enjoy all the amazing art-making in our city. I'm planning on seeing at least 20 shows.

What’s on my calendar:

  • The Sea Voyage (Sept. 4-Sept. 20 at the Independence Seaport Museum, Philadelphia Artists Collective): PAC shows are perfect for lovers of the classics as well as those who want to see the well-worn texts given a new life with wit, humor, and smartly staged in a unique location.
  • Billy the Badly Behaving Bully Goat (Sept. 7-Sept. 22 at The Nest, Play Nice Productions): A musical adaptation of the popular children’s book series by Staci Schwartz. My kids and I cannot wait to see Billy on-stage and cheer along with all the lessons he learns about bullying, friendship, and cooperation.
  • our ouija board… (Sept. 13-Sept. 22 at the Asian Arts Initiative, On the Rocks Productions): our ouija board (with a longer X-rated title) looks like the absolute epitome of Why We Fringe: transgressive, inclusive, queer, and inappropriately funny. It’s a show that colors outside the lines, then tries to erase the lines and stomps on the eraser. For fans of late-night Fringe and shows like Rocky Horror Picture Show, this one is for you.

Courting the audience

Want to see the inside of the exclusive members-only century-old Racquet Club of Philadelphia? There’s a way, through Missing Bolts Productions’ rail, a Fringe Arts Festival offering staged on the Racquet Club’s courts. Sarah, a therapist and former championship squash player, must figure out how to break the cycle of rotating men in her life, all played by the same actor. Shows Sept. 20 through Sept. 27.