Worshipping at the Altar

A scene from “Bang by Charlotte Ford” at this year’s Live Arts Festival in Philadelphia.

Even though going back to school is a distant memory, I still feel sad about the end of summer. No more long days, dog days, fireflies, swimming into infinity; no more corn, tomatoes and watermelon; no more sweat dripping down my brow as I swat at mosquitoes and weed around the kale skeletons the groundhog left behind. The body stiffens with the approach of long dark days and winter coats.

One remedy for dealing with summer’s end is the Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe, Sept. 1-23. Art is my religion, and attending these performances is how I genuflect.

Originally founded as the Philly Fringe in 1997, LAFPF has evolved to include international and local artists and has thoroughly re-energized the city. The award-winning, critically acclaimed festival is an generator of new work, often breaking ground in performing arts. This year promises more than 650 events from 140 artists in 16 days. There’s dance, music, visual art, film, happenings (including a Kabbalah salon and a graveyard cabaret), comedy, even deadly serious stuff. It’s cross-disciplinary, provocative,  contemporary, bursting with wild creativity – and fun!

I have attended performances on an abandoned pier, inside a shipping container, and at the bottom of an old swimming pool – yes, there was water.

As much as I look forward to attending anywhere from eight to 12 live performances in three weekends, planning can be stressful. Some time in mid summer the Bible arrives – a 122-page guide, in 8 point type, to the programs. The festival organizers offer everything you need to know, but TMI. Between deadlines, I’d never get around to planning in time to get tickets.

I have been blessed in matrimony. The spouse actually enjoys poring over the catalog and planning what we’ll see. He relishes the control – when else do I sit back and allow him to make all decisions?

I acknowledge and give thanks for his mastery of this skill. And others do too – no less than an artist, a former museum director, and a tour leader with Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corp. contact us to get the spouse’s recommendations.

If you’re a serious festival attendee, hitting three shows on a given day, it can be a challenge getting from one part of the city to another. The spouse figures it out so we concentrate on different neighborhoods – Old City, Northern Liberties, Rittenhouse Square, Avenue of the Arts – in a single day. He even plans breaks around our favorite Philadelphia eateries.

So, dear reader, now that I have secured all my tickets, I share with you the best of the best of this year’s Fringe Festival.

Bang by Charlotte Ford: A comedic-clown-theateranswer to the question, “What happens if you get what you want?”

Charlotte Ford, Lee Etzold and Sarah Sanford (of Pig Iron Theatre Company) take the stage for a no-holds barred, sexually explicit exploration of nudity, desire, gender roles  and sexual arousal.

Zero Cost House by Pig Iron Theatre Company and Toshiki Okada: A dream of radical change, thinks Toshiki Okada, reading “Walden” from his home in Tokyo. A beautiful book, but only a dream. Then 3/11 happens – those numbers will, for a generation of Japanese people, stand for the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear disaster at Fukushima.

Ghost Sonata by Homunculus Inc.: A vampiric cook, a mummy in a closet, the ghost of a wet-nurse, an elderly enigma set on revenge and a messianic student who stumbles into the collapsing web of cruelty, greed and lies unite these characters.

Red-Eye to Havre de Grace by Thaddeus Phillips: Innovative stage director Thaddeus Phillips teams up with the musical duo Wilhelm Bros. & Co. to produce an action-opera that follows the odd details surrounding Edgar Allan Poe’s last days, when he set out on a lecture tour from Virginia to New York and, days later, a train conductor saw him in Havre de Grace, Md., wearing a stranger’s clothing.

Arguendo by Elevator Repair Service: Used by lawyers and judges in courtrooms, arguendo is a Latin word meaning for the sake of argument. Elevator Repair Service, heralded during several Princeton performances, turns its unique theatrical perspective on Barnes v. Glen Theatre, a 1991 First Amendment case brought by a group of naked go-go dancers. The justices debate whether erotic dancing is protected speech under the U.S. Constitution.

27 by New Paradise Laboratories: Welcome to the after life, where the laws of the universe are ignored, life is brilliant, victory means self-destruction in the most pleasurable way possible, and defeat means fading from view. New Paradise Laboratories returns to its roots in this live performance accompanied by original music by Alec MacLaughlin.

Tomorrow I will Start a New Life: In this minimalist mono-drama inspired by Ivan Goncharov’s novel Oblomov, the beautiful Aleksandra is daydreaming about changing her life. Through a landscape of remembrances of a happy childhood she has to find the answer to the existential question: to act or not to act; to stay or move on.

Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner and the Farewell Speech: From acclaimed Japanese playwright-director Roshiki Okada comes a triptych of interconnected stories that capture the malaise of young low-level office workers who debate what restaurant to order food from for their laid-off co-worker’s final day.

The Gate Reopened by JUNK: One of the most popular Live Arts Festival shows of all time returns, newly imagined.

The Gate Reopened takes over Pier 9, a municipal warehouse on the Delaware River where international steamers once docked. With theater-in-the-round seating, audiences encircle eight dancers in what has become a futuristic, post-industrial, post-apocalyptic coliseum.

Information about performance times, ticket prices and venues can be found at http://www.livearts-fringe.org

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