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GLBTQ Diversity at FringeArts Fest

by Lewis Whittington
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Sep 6, 2013

In its 17th year, the Philadelphia Live-Arts/Philly Fringe Festival enters a new era with a permanent home theater on the Delaware Waterfront and a new name: the 2013 edition is simply called FringeArts.

With 1,500 local, national and international artists participating, this year's festival offers a wide spectrum of non-mainstream theater, music, dance, visual and circus arts; not to mention those that fall into more than one category.

Performances continue to spread out to many neighborhoods in unconventional spaces and venues, as well as in the established theaters in Center City.

One thing that hasn't changed is producing director Nick Stuccio's commitment to present shows that represent diversity in arts and culture. Here is a partial list of GLBTQ artists and themes.

Visual artist Mick Queer has turned artifacts from his relationships into "The Pink Museum," a performance installation of portraits of his boyfriends and remembrances of gay things past that create a visual diary of Queer’s private life.

Ripped from the pages (literally) of the tabloid Weekly, World News is the story of "Bat Boy: The Musical." In this off-Broadway and regional theater hit, the bat-boy in question is bi-species who was found in a cave. Once brought out into the world, he is forced to live his life as a normal boy when all he wants to do is hang back in his cave, drink animal blood and sing another batty show tune. Who can’t relate?

"Break/Drift/Resist" is the new "circus-theater" production of the inventive nine member female Tangle Movement Arts acrobatic trapeze troupe. Unexpected visual elements and fearless personal narrative fuel the troupe’s aerial choreography.

Back on the ground, actor Doug Greene plays 60s gay rebel Brit playwright Joe Orton in "Traveling Light," a play about Orton’s confrontation with Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein. Greene physically resembles the baby-faced Orton, but it is with his silky sharp voice that he actually channels the playwright’s merciless wit.

Choreographer Brian Sanders has had a string of festival hits with his company JUNK. Last year’s revival of "Gate" at Pier 9, with its water thunder dome arena, provided incredible aerial and acrobatic choreography. This year he delves into the implications of nursery rhymes in "Hush Now Sweet High Heels and Oak," a journey from bedroom to sea in the cavernous 23th St. Armory. Expect (amongst other visual wonders) to see men dancing in 18-inch steel high heels.

Meanwhile, another danse macabre provocateur is Gunnar Montana. His poster for "Basement" looks like he’s marketing a gay porn chainsaw massacre piece; but everybody in Philly knows that Gunnar is the lovable summer cover boy for G Philly. Meanwhile, "Basement" deals with the exaggerated reality of anger and pain after breaking up with someone.

Those missing the HBO prison drama "OZ," can go behind bars at the desiccated Eastern State Penitentiary for "The Ballad of Joe Hill." This physical theater site-specific piece tells the tale of folk hero union organizer and songwriter Joe Hill, who was the defendant in a sensationalistic murder trial that ended with his execution. Out Philly actor Justin Jain is among the stellar cast playing the legendary heroes and scoundrels.

Earlier this year, Mary Tuomanen portrayed Cinderella as a fine young radical at the Arden Theatre, now the actress fights tooth and nail as that ultimate spiritual woman warrior in "St. Joan, Betrayed." In the play Tuomanen gets support from a cast comprised of puppets, courtesy of the magical talent of director Aaron Cromie.

Also there’s a rarity from the prolific Tennessee Williams: "And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens," staged by John-Thomas Appling and Chris McCollum - a team that moved to Philly last year with their company Blue Suede Production. It took Williams a dozen years to finish "Queens," which concerns a transvestite character Candy Delaney living the dive diva life in 1950s New Orleans who shamelessly flings herself at the swarthy Karl.

Culturally-defined gender roles are explored in "Gender Reel," a film and performance open public forum for enhancing visibility of gender non-conformity and transgender individuals from around the country.

Comic Shannon Agnew throws down the glitter gauntlet in "If I Were A Drag Queen, I Would Be Famous." In doing so impersonates a heavyweight gallery of the usual divas - Judy, Ethel, Patti, Julie and Liza.

Why wait for drawn out TV dance competitions when "Ballroom Dancing Ain’t for Lovers" plays out at the Society Hill Dance Academy? This ’in your face’ dance drama features performers that not only have all the moves, but know how to dress for strictly ballroom.

Speaking of dance, there are two soloists with no apparent gay connection except that you gotta love a dancing man. "LEO" comes to Philly from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where it was an award winning hit two years ago. With choreography by Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola and danced with suave fearlessness by William Bonnet, "LEO" mixes animation and stylized show dance and defying gravity. Maybe we’ll find out how he manages to keep that hat on.

Also pushing traditions in new directions Irish dancer Colin Dunne performs his dance memoir "Out of Time." Dunne was a child dance prodigy in "Riverdance," but has since put his experience with that cultural phenomena behind him.

2013 FringeArts Festival runs through September 22, 2013. For a complete listing of all festival performances and events go to visit the event’s website.

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.


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