ONE OF THE most exciting aspects of the Fringe Festival - the unjuried, anything-goes companion to the Live Arts Festival - is when it draws audiences to places they've never been before and might never have a chance to go again, whether it's a room in an unknown mansion or in the depths of a possibly haunted grotto.
The Blue Grotto
After the demise of a close relative who drank himself to death, Jeffrey Stanley became obsessed with communicating with the dead through Ouija boards.
"Beautiful Zion: A Book of the Dead" is a "real dark comedy" about the years he spent trying to talk to the other side. But how could all that eeriness (and humor) be conveyed in a traditional theater space? So the New York expat looked for a stage appropriate for the macabre elements of his decidedly funny show. He found the Blue Grotto in West Philly's Community Education Center. It's decked out in thousands of blue lights on light fixtures by artist Randy Dalton. Stanley equates it to a mad scientist's laboratory. "It's visually stunning, it's creepy as hell, it's in the cellar of an old building and it might be haunted," Stanley said, ticking off the reasons that the Blue Grotto is perfect for his piece.
The Blue Grotto at the Community Education Center, 3500 Lancaster Ave., 8 p.m. Sept. 7-17, $20, brain-on-fire.com/beautifulzion.
The Loading Dock
The Bright Light Theatre Co. needed to bring Morocco to Philadelphia. Its show, "All Places From Here," is a multimedia performance based on Mohsin Mohi-Uh-Din's film, music and dance workshops with street children for the Lollipops Crown Music and Arts Initiative in Tangier. "We're blending their stories with what people are going through in Philadelphia," said director Samantha Tower. "We're trying to bridge the gap between the Arab world and the Western world through creativity and artistic expression."
To stage this collision of cultures, Bright Light found a Fishtown lot framed by walls. One wall is covered in graffiti; another reminded of Tower of Moroccan architecture, creating the perfect blend.
The performance will be outside, but the audience will be covered. "Hurricane, earthquake, we're doing a show outside," Tower said, laughing. "But that's Fringe, right?"
The Loading Dock, 1236 Frankford Ave., 8 p.m., through Sept. 18, $17, brightlighttheatre.org.
When Rabbi Rayzel Raphael needed a venue for "Kabbalah the Musical," her first foray into the Fringe, she chose this century-old mansion built for businessman William L. Elkins and designed by renowned architect Horace Trumbauer. Raphael's show, an interactive musical experience, focuses on the Kabbalah, the study of Jewish mysticism. Despite the subject matter, Raphael said this is a "no Hebrew necessary" performance and that all denominations are welcome. "It's worth the trip just to see the room."
Elkins Estate, 1750 Ashbourne Road, Elkins Park, 7:30 p.m., through Sept. 17, $18.
The Machine Shop:
For "Overseers," a show about power and faith in an imagined city of the near future, Applied Mechanics needed a space that could serve as "a world you entered and not one you watch," according to mechanician Rebecca Wright. "One of the things that draws my interest is the democracy of viewership. I like giving the audience the agency for each member to watch what most interests them." They lucked out by finding Robert Pendino of the Pendino Interiors, who rented out the second floor of his South Philly warehouse to Applied Mechanics, and another troupe, the Songlines. "If everyone who owned property in Philly was like this, we could have theater in a lot more interesting spaces," Wright said.
Songlines' "Longing with Language: A Performance Smorgasbord," which member Miriam White calls more of an event than a show, began as a way to showcase playwright Lauren Feldman's short play "Longing." To flesh out the evening, the Songlines booked other acts to create work on the same thematic lines of Feldman's play, including poetry readings, music and a "longing booth" where audience members could confess what they most long for. "It was really important for us to have a space that had environmental excitement attached to it," Miriam said.
The Machine Shop, 2037 Washington Ave., through Sept. 13, $15, appliedmechanics.blogspot.com. "Longing with Language: A Performance Smorgasbord," The Machine Shop, 2037 Washington Ave., Sept. 13-Sept. 17, $10.
PhilaMOCA: The HomeSkooled Gallery needed a gallery space for its "Art Anti-Gallery" that was willing to throw out any notions of high art grandeur. "Our impetus was to think of all these behaviors you have when you view art and turn them on their head," said Ellen Owens, of HomeSkooled, a nomadic gallery that has called everything from people's homes to a storefront on South Street home. HomeSkooled settled on PhilaMOCA, a space that in previous eras served as a coffin shop before it became Gavin Hecker's informal performance venue Diplo's Mad Decent Mausoleum. The relatively new art space is off the Old City beaten path in location and style. HomeSkooled's show encourages the audience to touch the art on the walls, break it apart and reimagine it. There will be DIY art projects, performers acting as a docent and a skeazy art salesman, and a chance to pose in the style of classical Greek art. "PhilaMOCA satisfied this idea of looking a bit like a [traditional gallery]," Owens said, "but was a place where we could break a lot of rules."
PhilaMOCA, 531 N. 12th St., 6:30 p.m., Wednesday-Thursday,
Sept. 15-16, $5, homeskooledgallery.com.
- Molly Eichel