It’s that time of the year again. High concepts, naked bodies, and abandoned buildings all come in slightly off focus in early September for the 2011 Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe. I admit I still get giddy when I see a glossy Festival Guide. In college, I’d pour over the pages and underline shows with a pen, ranking the ones I wanted to see in order. I’d create a spreadsheet with performance dates, times, and locations. I’d leave an extra column for Side Comments such as “Fish and Fowl looks fantastic” “Fatebook is the show of my generation” or simply, “I love Dito!”
I remember first falling in love with the Fringe Festival working as an intern for Pig Iron Theatre Company in 2006. The company’s avant-garde and mime dance stylings made me want to run away to Paris and study at L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq. The New York Times declared Pig Iron to be “one of the few groups successfully taking theater in new directions,” and I was a disciple. There was a fleeting moment after college when I thought, “I’ll go to Paris! I’ll dance Tectonique and create a dance mime theater troupe of my own. I’ll mix New Wave films with American realism and add a dash of Charlie Chaplin.” How lofty!
I never moved to Paris, but I did take the spirit of Pig Iron and the Philly Fringe to heart. I wrote and directed two plays for the festival: Media Addicts and We Don’t Need No Education. I found an abandoned milk factory in Fishtown that was renovating into condos and convinced them to let me and a bunch of recent college grads perform a show inside the courtyard. They said yes and let us use the space and rehearsals free of charge. The show got amazing press, I had an offer to have the play remounted again, and I got my script copyrighted with the Library of Congress. I learned how to put a show together with people who were interested in experimenting and create art that takes risks.
The Philly Fringe is a large part of the reason I stayed in Philadelphia after college – to continue exploring as a theater artist. This summer I’ve been busy working on different projects but I will be performing with my improv group, Mayor Karen, this Fringe. A friend of mine once described the Live Arts and Philly Fringe Festival as a “family reunion, except you look forward to seeing everyone each year.” I feel the same way. I never became the Parisian avant-garde artist that I thought I’d be after college, but I still carry the esprit de fringe with me every year, and I can’t wait to see the family.