I’m so glad I’ve had a chance to blog about the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts
. At the start, it was a list of names and events in the town I was born in, and visited too infrequently in recent years.
By the end of the festival, it’s become a garden of revived memories, as well as some new names and faces I’ll be following (and going to see in the future), as well as a chance to talk and write about some of the things I like best: playwrights, composers, gay artists, theater companies, new work, and of course, the Phillies.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned and loved AND notes on shows that will continue their runs past the end of the Festival.
- I already knew about InterAct Theatre, and loved learning about their latest production, “A Passing Wind” a chamber musical by Artistic Director Seth Rozin. Because, really, you can’t write enough about a man who made his living by farting. The multi-tasking folk at InterAct are in production with ANOTHER show through May 8, with Rozin’s “Two Jews Walk Into a Bar” at their home theater, The Adrienne on Sansom St. in Center City. The show’s running through May 8. InterAct will conclude its season with the world premiere of “In a Daughter’s Eyes” by A. Zell Williams from May 27-June 17. InterAct is also continuing to make a major contribution to American playwrights with its 20-year (!) program, begun in 2007 that offers development awards and commissions for new plays each year.
- I also found out about the wandering thespians of EgoPo, who did return to the land of their founder’s birth, whose world premiere production of “Hell,” adapted from the novel by Henri Barbusse, opened at PIFA, and continues through May 15 at the German Society of Pennsylvania. “Hell” will become part of the company’s repertory as it continues its season of works by and inspired by Antonin Artaud.
- I got a chance to interview playwright Rogelio Martinez, whose take on a Philadelphia tale resulted in “Wanamaker’s Pursuit,” a play about a young heir to a famous department store who goes to Paris to see the art, and mixes and mingles with the likes of Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and Paul Poiret. You can still see the show, it’s running at the Arden through May 22.
- I also found a new company to watch closer to home (well, in Brooklyn) in Grounded Aerial, whose artistic director Karen Fuhrman, filled me in on the amazing dance theater company that flies through the air with the greatest of ease (and expertise), which opened the festival with a performance on the outside wall of the Kimmel, 9 stories up, and opened their new show, “InsectInside” at the Brooklyn Lyceum this week (and for the record, seems to have outlasted that OTHER show featuring a spider…)
- Joe Hallman shared his experiences as artist in residence at the Rosenbach Museum & Library, and how his research, ideas, collaborator and talent came together to create the song cycle “Raving Beauty” inspired by the life and loves of Mercedes de Acosta. The song cycle is just beginning…I can’t wait to see what comes next. I’ve already suggested some future venues to him…so I can go see it myself on the subway! In the mean time, I’ve been scrolling through his playlist/channel on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/user/JoeHallman?blend=22&ob=5
- And, I finally discovered (it’s been around for a century!) the wonderful theater Plays & Players, which sponsored the PIFA New Plays Festival, and also does wonderful work year round supporting emerging playwrights and presenting new work and revivals for adults and children in its gorgeous (and I mean fantastic) historic space on Delancey Place in Center City. Two of the company’s playwrights-in-residence were given a chance to create and present new work using the “bake-off” method.
- It’s good to hear that there’s a strong spoken word scene in Philly, in the form of First Person Arts, who both develop and support Philadelphia artists, and provide a venue for touring storytellers and poets, hosting a Story Slam with nationwide talent at PIFA.
- I also had a chance to meet/agree with playwright Jules Tasca that producing your own work is hard...and fun! His "Art Lover" was one of THREE plays that mentioned/focused on/used as a plot point the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911, which I now know a lot about. From three different POVs (and Wikipedia's).
- And I know there’s a roadtrip or three or five in my future because I must see for myself the neo-vaudeville and burlesque presented by Peek-A-Boo Revue. After all, it’s not every day you get to see folks named Lulu Lollipop and Buzz Speakeasy, much less without their clothes and doing banana dances. They’re committed artists, reviving and reinventing a classic form of American theater with a 21st century slant. And a good old fashioned bump-and-grind.
Ed note: Kathleen Warnock received financial compensation for this post from PIFA (Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts).
Philadelphia's famous burlesque house, the Trocadero.
Ah, Paris…home of the Moulin Rouge, the Folies Bergere, the Crazy Horse Saloon, where Josephine Baker shook her bananas, and where artists and poets chased the green fairy in the Belle Epoque and beyond…providing much art and merriment in a time that inspired this year’s Philadelphia International Arts Festival
Ah, Philadelphia, home of the world-famous Trocadero, a Victorian-era theater, once a vaudeville and burlesque house, where the likes of Gypsy Rose Lee and Tempest Storm strutted their stuff, now a performing arts center. Sister cities, indeed!
Fortunately for Philadelphia and PIFA, there’s a classic vaudevillian, neo-burlesque show in town that was just the troupe to produce an “inspired by” show as the latest gig in its 13-year run.
The Peek-A-Boo Revue
is a much-loved member of the city’s performing arts scene (and have sometimes performed at the restored Troc), which has been doing its thing for 13 years. They were invited by their home stage, World Café Live
to create a show for PIFA, and will present two shows at the World Café at 8 and 11pm this Saturday, April 30. The shows
, as you might expect, are not for children (you must be 18+ for the 8pm show, and 21+ for the 11pm show).
“It’s a good match for us,” said Lulu Lollipop, the company’s director, who has run Peek-A-Boo for the last eight years (it was founded by Molly Corsen and Five Spot owner Philip Cohen). “I’m glad Laura at World Café Live invited us to participate.”
Peek-A-Boo has collected a dedicated fanbase, and the faithful will see the kind of show they’ve grown to love, including some sketches and bits directly inspired by Paris in the early part of the 20th century.
“When we produce a new show, we take it to a bunch of other venues,” Lulu explained. “We’ll be in Philly every 2 to 3 months, and that same show travels.” So as they created the PIFA show, Peek-A-Boo was building a show that can tour, and also fits in with their vaudeville/burlesque theme (or “mission” if you’re a non-profit, and they’re workin’ on the 503c3).
Veterans and newbies can expect to see “a very bawdy show,” Lulu said. “Jokes that are very tongue in cheek; we threw in a classic French can-can and elements from shows like the Folies Bergere.”
One of the company members, Miss Sophie, has created a performance that’s an ode to Josephine Baker.
“As she started moving through her performance style, we were like ‘wow: you have this movement quality of Josephine Baker.’ So she’s doing some pieces that are Baker-inspired. One is called ‘Drums a Gogo.’”
Here’s a clip of Miss Sophie performing “Drums a Gogo.” (NSFW!)
Peek-A-Boo’s musical director, Buzz Mouthpiece, wrote a song for the show, specifically for the Paris-inspired theme: Je ne Sais Quoi. As Lulu says: “Basically it’s sort of about falling in love in Paris.”
“It’s the big opener,” she said. “With all the girls in it, and they’re all falling in love with the French gigolo who’s singing this song.”
Peek-A-Boo is a both a large and dedicated venture: the company develops its shows, then tours with them around Philadelphia, upstate Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey and splits the box office with the company.
“Our whole cast is 22 people; it’s a lot of mouths to feed,” said Lulu. In addition to the opening number, she described a running sketch with two regular Peek-A-Boo characters, Chrissy Model (played by Christa D'Agger) and her stepsister TT Model (played by Peek-A-Boo’s resident songbird Tracey Todd Superstar), “foul-mouthed old fly girls, and they’re always interrupting the show somehow. Chrissy and TT are going to Paris, so we see them leaving, some of their experiences in Paris. Then they come back at the end, and show you pictures from their trip, like the Eiffel tower and doing dirty things with baguettes.”
This edition will also include a fan dance (not exactly in the style of Sally Rand) and all the traditional components of burlesque: A brass section, and of course, some bump & grind. (If you’ve gotta bump it…The 20-some acts perform to both live and recorded music, and have even taken their show on TV, in a (slightly) more covered up version, appearing on “America’s Got Talent.”
Tessie Tura would be proud.Ed note: Kathleen Warnock received financial compensation for this post from PIFA (Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts).