The Philadelphia Fringe Festival has always been a different experience — it’s kind of the point. Sometimes you just have to be there to really get it. But there’s different, and then there’s 2020, when being there is ... complicated.
Beginning nearly six months into the pandemic that’s brought most live arts to a halt, this year’s Fringe will be like so much else this year, largely virtual.
What you should know:
The festival begins Thursday and runs through Oct. 4. A complete lineup of events and ticketing information can be found at fringearts.com.
There will be opportunities to leave home: Of the 118 shows scheduled from Sept. 10-Oct. 4, about 15 will be outdoors, playing to small, socially distanced audiences whose members will be required to mask up. There are also virtual experiences meant to be experienced in outdoor spaces.
There’s more than one Fringe. Free Fringe Philly started last year to offer a festival for artists to showcase their works without paying the registration fee the main festival required, and to be able to offer programming for free. (This year, FringeArts waived those fees for its artists, in recognition of the hardships caused by COVID-19, and many of its offerings also are free, though as with Free Fringe, donations may be requested.) There’s a little bit of overlap of artists between the two festivals, which run concurrently, for maximum confusion. Information about Free Fringe shows is at freefringephilly.com.
This is an opportunity to upgrade your virtual-meeting skills. Our work-and-learn-from-home culture may have made Zoom a household name, but not everyone knows Twitch or Discord, or is using Instagram Live. The FringeArts website includes instructions on how to use Zoom, YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook Live, Instagram Live, Twitch, and Discord to experience this year’s productions. Consider this an opportunity to test-drive platforms without your boss or teacher in the virtual room with you.
This is still very much choose-your-own adventure. With the exception of one that I mostly slept through (as intended —more on that below), the shows listed here haven’t been screened by The Inquirer. Look to them as examples of the breadth of this year’s offerings. A full list of 2020′s curated and independent shows is on the FringeArts website.
Dance at a distance
The Philadelphia Matter — 1972/2020 (Premieres 7 p.m. Thursday on Vimeo, then available Friday through Oct. 4). Choreographer David Gordon in conjunction with Christ Church Neighborhood House, premieres a new screen work, pieced together using more than 30 Philadelphia artists working remotely and recording. Co-presented by Christ Church Neighborhood House. Tickets: Pay what you wish, $5-$50 for live premiere, free online afterward.
Expansions Presents: Connecting the Distance (Sept. 10-Oct. 4). From Christina Castro-Tauser and Expansions Contemporary Dance Ensemble, this is an interactive dance video walking tour. Audience members will experience the performance by following a map to destinations in Mount Airy and North Philadelphia where QR codes have been placed to launch videos of dance performances. Tickets: $5.
Take a hike
TrailOff (Sept. 16-Oct. 4 and beyond, mobile app). Presented by Swim Pony, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Toasterlab, and Michael Kiley, this immersive, augmented reality audio performance uses an app called TrailOff to present original audio narratives that are tied to routes within the region’s extensive Circuit Trails. Featuring stories by afaq, ari, Jacob Camacho, Eppchez!, donia salem harhoor, Carmen Maria Machado, Erin T. McMillon, Li Sumpter, Denise Valentine, and Jacob Winterstein. Tickets: Free. Download the app at www.trailoff.com.
Performance, conversation, and healing
American Chameleon: The Living Installments (Through Sept. 30, Discord and YouTube). Nigerian American artist Jaamil Olawale Kosoko and collaborators will present a hybrid experience involving video performance, conversation, and meditation to explore “the ever-evolving ways in which digitality intersects with the fugitive realities and shapeshifting principles that Black queer people employ to survive and heal.” There will also be a film screening, discussion, and healing session. Some parts of American Chameleon will use Discord, an app used by gamers that lets members of the audience interact. Tickets: Free.
Being/With: Home (Sept. 10-Oct. 3, Zoom). Nichole Canuso Dance Company presents a guided experience that connects two audience members through Zoom in "an embodied exploration of separation, connection, and the power of listening.” Tickets: Pay what you wish, $5-$50.
#AllLivesDontMatter (Sept. 10-Oct. 4, multiple performances, Zoom). From the Kaleidoscope Cultural Arts Collective and written and directed by Kaleidoscope’s artistic director, Dr. Ardencie Hall-Karambe, this show is described as “a love offering to the Black community.” It uses poetry, song, narrative, and dance to explore politics, social justice, history, and the experience of being Black in America. Tickets: $5.
To sleep, perchance to dream
Vonzy Hall (11 p.m. Sept. 19 and Oct. 3, Twitch). I often read at bedtime, but it’s been a long time since someone else read me to sleep. I wasn’t awake for most of this eight-hour experience, which had a pre-festival performance last weekend, nor did I exactly dream about what was being read as I eventually drifted off. But it was peaceful.
Here’s how performance artist Evelyn Swift Shuker describes it: “This is a play that takes place in dreams. You put on your pajamas, you turn on the livestream (earbuds are recommended), and you fall asleep for the night. As you sleep, I read to you, guiding you on a journey through the city of Ravicka. Late in the night, everyone listening will collect at Vonzy Hall, the august recital hall in the center of the untranslatable city." Ravicka itself springs from the imagination of novelist Renee Gladman, whose books Event Factory, The Ravickians, and Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge, Shuker will be reading from. Tickets: Free, but donations welcomed.
For the four-legged (or finned)
Piano for Pets (throughout festival, online). Fill out a Google form about your pet and pianist Barbara Browne “will perform and record an informal mini-concert especially for your furbaby or fish, purr-fectly tailored to their musical purr-sonality,” then email a sound file of a 20- to 25-minute classical concert program. It’s not clear how she’ll decide whether your pet will most appreciate Bach or Beethoven, Chopin, or Schumann. Tickets: $12. Information: email@example.com.
The Bard remixed
154 Revisited (Online throughout festival, revolutionshakespeare.org). In this production by Revolution Shakespeare, artists adapt William Shakespeare’s sonnets — there were 154 — for modern ears in a variety of formats. Tickets: Free. Donations encouraged.
Class of One: A Comedy Show about Homeschooling (8 p.m. Sept. 16 and 26, Zoom). Homeschooling and remote schooling may not be the same, but plenty of parents whose kids are back to school at the kitchen table can probably use a laugh right now. Six performers with experience in the homeschooling trenches share their stories. Tickets: $5.
Circus Midway (11 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 4, Zoom). Classes and workshops in juggling, clowning, dance, acrobatics, and hula hoop from the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, with a live performance at 3 p.m. by members of the Youth & Teen Troupe and Circadium School of Contemporary Circus. Recommended for ages 3 and older. A list of suggested materials can be found on the FringeArts website. It incudes three “old socks, the wackier the better.” Tickets: Free with RSVP.