Once again, Philadelphia’s popular and super fabulous FringeArts festival is in full swing! This 18-day festival explores along, experiments with, and challenges many of theater’s traditional boundaries. As in other years, FringeArts continues to deliver compelling and interesting works to Philadelphia audiences.
FEASTIVAL in full swing
This year, my FringeArts experience began by attending the festival’s opening party, FEASTIVAL, as it has been dubbed. Held in one of the old pier warehouses along the Delaware River, this party brought 75 local chefs together with over 600 patrons! It was an evening of delicious food, drink, and friendship. This year it also included dance performances. This party was really “happening,” which is a feeling that has come to saturate the entire festival, making this festival an integral part of the cultural life of Philadelphia.
Nature Theater of Oklahoma – LIFE AND TIMES Episode 1. Photo © Reinhard Werner-Burgtheater Wien
Next up, I attended LIFE AND TIMES by New York-based Nature Theater of Oklahoma. This is a work that is divided into 5 episodes (or what we in opera might refer to as “acts”). Each episode makes use of a different theater genre (musical, dance, theatre, film, and book reading) to tell the life story of one particular individual. Each episode covers a specific period of that individual’s life, beginning with her birth and ending in her late teens. There are plans to create even more episodes based upon her later experiences - up to about her mid-thirties. The extraordinary thing about this play is the fact that this woman’s life is really not that extraordinary. It’s a pretty normal life with only a few peculiarities here and there, no more peculiar than any other regular person’s life.
Here is the kicker - the content for the dialogue in the script (what the actors actually say) is taken directly from recorded phone calls. The actors, in retelling the individual’s life story, not only repeat her words verbatim, but also all of her “ums” and other pauses! This somehow makes the story being presented more real, believable, and interesting.
By now you might be thinking, “This sounds like a very long work,” and you’re right, it is. I’d describe the work as epic! In total, the length of all five episodes combined is 12 hours! The five episodes are divided into four chunks, with one chunk normally performed over a series of evenings. However, last Saturday FringeArts offered audiences the opportunity to see the entire work, all 5 episodes, in one night - kinda like how the cable channels offer marathons where you can watch an entire season of favorite program in one stretch! This seemed like a challenge (which always intrigues me) and I somehow knew that I just had to experience this.
I showed up at the theater space just before 1:30 on Saturday afternoon. I left just before 2 a.m. on Sunday morning! This was my first 12-hour theater experience and it is one that I will never forget. By presenting the micro-level details of this woman’s life, the work was strangely hypnotic and captivating. It was a great example of how insight can be gained by slowing down the pace of something and observing it over an extended period of time. In this particular case, the real words and almost real-life pacing provided me with the opportunity and space to reflect upon my own upbringing and early love experiences. Through that reflection I was able to obtain more understanding and insight into my own personal experiences by listening to the experiences of another. The work had the feel of being in the genre of outsider art, that is, art produced by self-taught artists who are not part of the artistic establishment.
In curating as many new works as we at Opera Philadelphia do, it is extremely helpful to experience works like this. They open us up to different ways of telling stories and remind us not to dismiss what we perceive as ordinary since the ordinary often has the potential to birth something profound.
Finally - stay tuned to an IMPORTANT voting poll over the next couple of days on this blog!