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Live Arts salon helps artists make new work

THE NAME "Scratch Night," a monthly salon from the good folks who bring you the Live Arts Festival, is supposed to connote performing art at its beginning stages.

THE NAME "Scratch Night," a monthly salon from the good folks who bring you the Live Arts Festival, is supposed to connote performing art at its beginning stages.

But playwright and performer Jeffrey Stanley thinks of the evening in decidedly nonartistic terms. "It's like playing a scratch game in bowling," Stanley said. "It's a game that doesn't really count. There's a safety net and it's a little off the record."

Scratch Night is an evolution of Live Arts' 2nd Thursdays, a similarly minded evening of workshopping the arts during which performers shared selections of in-progress pieces. Scratch Nights will also take place on the second Thursday of the month through May, but the new iteration is meant to engage the audience on a deeper level. "A lot of people have trouble understanding and digesting experimental work. Getting people to talk can be a challenge," said Craig Peterson, director of the Live Arts Brewery (LAB) and Philly Fringe. "People don't want to sound stupid, but we want to engage them in ways that are less threatening and more fun."

Peterson said it's important for the audience to get a glimpse into the creative process. "These things don't just come fully formed in [the festival]," he said.

At Thursday's inaugural Scratch Night, Stanley and playwright/actor Justin Jain will perform their separate works, both of which are at different stages of development, and take notes from the audience.

Stanley performed his play "Beautiful Zion: A Book of the Dead" at last year's Philly Fringe festival. The show is about Stanley's tumultuous family history and attempts to communicate with the dead, infused with a great deal of humor. But at the Fringe, Stanley purposefully chose an intimate space - the Blue Grotto in the CEC Cellar. Now he wants to try out the show in a bigger space, and he'll use Scratch Night to test the waters in the bigger Live Arts Studio. "Some of the props in the smaller show were things like letters, photos and certificates that I could use as evidence," Stanley said, "but you can't hand something out to 100 people. Does that mean I need to go high-tech now by using multimedia?"

These are questions Stanley hopes to answer through Scratch Night.

Jain, an LAB fellow who will be working with Live Arts all year to complete his work, has never performed his show, a loose meditation on what it means to be gay called "Bedtime Stories for Special Boys," in public. Jain said that the piece isn't always linear - much of it takes an experimental tone, including audience participation. "I have no idea how that flies until I present [the stories] in front of an audience," Jain said.

Although Scratch Night benefits both the audience and artists, it is also meant to expand Live Arts from a fall festival to a year-round experience. The organization has even bought a building at the foot of the Race Street Pier.

"Scratch Night is to train our audience that we're here and we're doing it [year-round]," Peterson said. "We're a force to be reckoned with."