Philadelphia assumed its role as host to a parade of resident and visiting artists wishing to enrich and entertain diverse audiences as The Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe began Sept. 2. Now in its ninth year, the festival continues to attract performers with material that is fresh, edgy, and often irreverent, as well as the audiences who indulge them.
Held in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1947, the Fringe began in an attempt to revitalize and liven European culture after World War II. According to their Web post, Philadelphia organizers hope to continue in the spirit of the original as they produce the festival here each fall. Local theater professional Doug Layne said the Fringe is “an accessible avenue to get your creative work out to the public.” The artists performing here incorporate any and all forms of performance, reinventing old ones while nurturing new ones.
Electra, adapted by local bartender come theater enthusiast Stan Heleva, and Osiris, featuring Temple students Koya Frye and Talena Bennett, offer contemporary adaptations of these dramatic classics.
The William Way Community Center will present The Teachings of Chairman Rick, a musical filibuster using the music of Tom Weinberg to expound on the finer words of Senator Rick Santorum. Conversely, The Mentalist, which promotes itself as “a strange post punk circus,” promises dancing and acrobatics combined with video paintings and graffiti writing to create an interactive experience.
The Mentalist, to be held in a church, illustrates that no building is impervious to the Live Arts and Fringe groups. The innovative choice of where these spectacles are housed complements the ingenuity of the festival itself. While scheduling logistics, funding, and practicalities may have dictated some of the show’s locations; others seem inextricably linked to the show itself.
Ray Hill: The Prison Years, is an autobiographical one-man show performed after dusk from Cell Block Seven at the Eastern State Penitentiary. With architecture as an enhancing element to the artistry the festival’s productions inherently offer, organizers hope to attract spectators in numbers that surpass the reported 49,000 attendees of last year’s Fringe.
In order to facilitate the ambitions of its artists while satisfying the appetite of the audiences, organizers elected to divide the festival into two independent segments. The Live Arts Festival features productions selected through a screening process while the Philly Fringe allows artists the opportunity to produce their works without the interruption of a selection process. Both will operate under the auspices of the same organization that has produced the festival since 1997. Layne, a veteran of five Fringe shows, admits that an advantage to independent producers participating is that “for a relatively small fee you receive very valuable advertising and administrative support for your show,” (from the festival’s office).
Layne contends that Philadelphia is ideally suited for the Live Arts-Fringe Festival because it “is a unique place, like a playground for artists,” he said. “Many people practice their art here, but usually move on to somewhere else if they want to pursue it as a profession. But Philadelphia and its festival are experimental and playful; which I think are important parts of the creative process, as well as a theater artist’s artistic development.”
Its debut year, the festival earned Philadelphia City Paper’s Reader’s Choice Award for “Best Reason Not to Move.” It seems that with the burgeoning bohemian culture in areas like Northern Liberties, city-wide development and various artistic initiatives, this may prove true. One thing is certain; the Fringe is here to stay, until Sept. 17 at least.
For a complete list of shows, times and ticket information go to www.livearts-fringe.org.
Brooke Honeyford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.