Time to put away the beach book and dive into the arts, which return this month from their summer somnolence.
While September has always been a busy month for the region's arts organizations, this is a special year, with no fewer than four major Philly arts festivals vying for the public's attention. Three are brand new.
Theater lovers swear by The Fringe Festival (Sept. 7-24), which offers a dizzying array of performances for every taste, from rabid fans of the avant-garde to families and theater newbies; the Mural Arts' inaugural Monument Lab (Sept. 16-Nov. 19) will celebrate public art and raise important questions about their role in our communities; another new program, Opera Philadelphia's O17 Festival (Sept. 14-25), offers 25 operatic performances over 12 days; and the Parkway Museums District will mark the 100th anniversary of the world-famous Benjamin Franklin Parkway with Parkway 100 (Sept. 8-Nov. 16, 2018), a 14-month celebration of culture with special events in and around the Parkway's museums and arts institutions.
There's never been a better fall for fans of theater, music, and dance – not to mention connoisseurs of the plastic arts and habitués of the city's museums.
The Fringe Festival Program Guide should come with a health warning: Peruse through it and you're likely to be hit by vertigo. The festival has grown mightily since its founding in 1997.
Skillfully telescoped into three weeks, FringeArts' annual event brings more than 100 theater companies, dance troupes, comics, and performance artists from the Philly region and around the world to display the best in theater with performances held in more than a dozen Philly neighborhoods.
Don't let the avant-garde tag fool you: The 158 curated and independent productions at Fringe will include plenty of classical works – albeit transformed by a modern sensibility — and several productions for theater newbies and for families.
Offerings this year include Pig Iron Theatre Company's remarkably ambitious and eagerly anticipated A Period of Animate Existence (Sept. 22-24), a multimedia epic about the environment conceived by composer/filmmaker Troy Herion, scenic designer Mimi Lien, and director Dan Rothenberg that mixes music, design, and theater, and features more than 80 performers, including several choirs and a chamber orchestra.
Classicists likely will be challenged by The Philadelphia Artists' Collective's site-specific presentation of Euripides' last extant play, Iphigenia At Aulis (Sept. 7-22), a seldom-performed work set during the Trojan War and performed at the decommissioned U.S. Navy cruiser the USS Olympia at the Delaware Waterfront.
Meanwhile, As the Matzo Ball Turns – The Musical (Sept. 7-10), an adaptation of Jozef Rothstein's memoir, tells the heartbreaking and humorous story of a small-town Pennsylvania lad who goes off to Hollywood in search of stardom.
Children will delight at the walkthrough multiroom installation Worktable (Sept. 15-18), a series of rooms where visitors can spend as much time as they want using tools and materials to make their own creations.
The Fringe Festival. Sept. 7 through 24 at various locations throughout Philly. Information: 215-413-1318, fringearts.com.
What's the image that immediately comes to mind when you think of the term "monument"?
Is it a massive bronze statue of a soldier on horseback, saber in hand? What about graffiti and murals: Do they count as monuments? How about an installation of lights that creates shadows on a building wall, or a message in chalk printed on the pavement that will wash away with the first rain?
More pressing, given recent controversies around the country, is the question: Who decides what people, places, and events are to be memorialized by monuments?
Surely, it's the men (and, more rarely, women) in power, said Jane Golden, head of Mural Arts Philadelphia, which has organized the city's first Monument Lab, a nine-week festival of public art that raises provocative questions about these very topics.
"People see monuments as being very fixed," Golden said in a recent interview. "They see it as representing power, as a statement of power."
But do monuments only represent power? Surely there's a great deal more to them?
Golden agrees that the question is nuanced.
Monument Lab seeks to remind us of the more fluid and ideal aspects of monuments with a series of works, installations, and events that deconstruct and challenge received notions of monuments, Golden said.
Twenty artists from the region and around the world experiment with the very notion of monuments by creating site-specific installations throughout the city.
You won't see too much bronze or marble here: Philly artist Alexander Rosenberg's "The Built/Unbuilt Square" invites people to look at Rittenhouse Square in a new way — through a pair of viewfinders. Another local artist, Kara Crombie, is responsible for "Sample Philly," a monument made of sound. She'll place a giant boom-box-shaped sound machine and invite the public to program their own sound of Philly.
Monument Lab. Sept. 16-Nov. 19 at various sites throughout the city. Information: monumentlab.muralarts.org.
Billed as an "unprecedented civic experiment," Opera Philadelphia's O17 Festival will feature seven operatic productions staged at six locations in Philly. The lineup is designed to draw in experienced opera lovers as well as folks curious for a taste of the art.
Offerings will include Komische Oper Berlin's production of Mozart's beloved comic classic, The Magic Flute (Sept. 15, 17, 20, 22 and 24) at the Academy of Music. Co-directors Suzanne Andrade and Barrie Kosky have designed a crowd-pleasing surreal production that evokes 1920s silent films; critics have praised the production for its family-friendly approach to Mozart.
More contemporary fare is offered by Elizabeth Cree (Sept. 14, 16, 19, 21 and 23) at the Perelman Theater, an adaptation of Peter Ackroyd's novel The Trial of Elizabeth Cree by composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell, who created the Pulitzer-winning 2012 work Silent Night.
The festival's most anticipated production is very much about Philly. We Shall Not Be Moved, by composer Daniel Bernard Roumain and librettist Marc Bamuthi Joseph, tells a fictional story transplanted on a piece of real city history. A group of five North Philly teens take refuge in a West Philly building with a tragic history — and occupied by ghosts. It sits on the same location of the house where members of MOVE had a stand-off with police in 1985.
Other productions include War Stories, a site-specific performance of two works about war at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; The Wake World a tribute to Albert C. Barnes' love of art by Opera Philadelphia composer-in-residence David Hertzberg at the Barnes Foundation and a recital by soprano Sondra Radvanovsky. The festival will wrap up with Opera on the Mall, a free outdoor screening of a 2016 production of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro at the Mall at Independence Hall.
O17 Festival. Sept. 14-25 at various locations. Information: 215-732-8400, operaphila.org.
The Benjamin Franklin Parkway has long been one of Philly's proudest symbols, a bold, innovative example of city planning enriched all the more by the collection of museums and cultural organizations that surround its length from City Hall to the Art Museum.
Designed by French landscape architect Jacques Gréber and built in 1917, it celebrates its centennial with a massive 14-month festival that will include parties, special exhibits, performances, and more than 100 events specifically designed for children and families.
The celebration kicks off Sept. 8 with the We are Connected Festival, featuring free or pay-what-you-wish admission to all participating Parkway organizations. The evening will feature outdoor entertainment, tango dancing lessons, and the unveiling of a new mural. It will all take place under the gaze of colorful, lighted hot-air balloons.
Museums will hold special exhibitions through the 14-month period about the history of the Parkway and of the city. There will be art and architecture tours, special evening events at the observatory, theatrical workshops and performances, storytelling, and plenty of scientific demos and workshops. Special installations along the Parkway will include Cai Guo-Qiang: Fireflies (opens Sept. 14), a display of 27 luminous kinetic sculptures in the form of pedicabs.