Alyesha Wise in A DENZEL THEORY (Photo credit: SP Photography)

New Talent On Display at FringeArts JUMPSTART

by Walter Bender
Jenna Horton in MOUNTING, ETNA. (Photo credit: Jenna Horton)

Jenna Horton in MOUNTING, ETNA. (Photo credit: Jenna Horton)

For anyone who may have been concerned, the state of theatre in Philadelphia is in good hands…

FringeArts (the much less bulky name for what was once the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival & Philly Fringe) provided a bit of a sneak-preview of this year’s festival with the second annual JUMPSTART. Quoting the website of the Painted Bride Arts Center (the host for this event,) Jumpstart is “a series designed to identify new and emerging talent in the field of live performance.” A panel of judges selected 46 pieces to review from 106 submissions, and from that group 6 were chosen to show their work in the JUMPSTART Showcase, each a maximum of 15 minutes in length.

The 6 pieces we were shown varied in styles and disciplines. One thing they all had in common, however, was the quality of the work. The evening began even before the lights dimmed…on each seat there was a small piece of cake and a note with (READ ME FIRST.) on the envelope. Opening the envelope, there was a “personal” message from Etna (?) asking you to hold off on eating the cake. On the stage, awaiting Etna’s appearance was a table full of food. It was a hint of what was to come…

After the opening remarks, the show started. The first offering was MOUNTING, ETNA by Jenna Horton. Horton is Etna, our host for a most unusual gastronomic experience, which includes poetry, sexual double entendres, and even a bit of danger…and, most certainly, laughs. Horton’s ability to deadpan any line, whether it’s the absurdist poetry, instructions on how to “carve” a chicken, or to ask the audience to allow her to watch us eat her cake, was delightful.

Seth Lepore in HIGHER ART (Photo credit: Sharon Esdale)

Seth Lepore in HIGHER ART (Photo credit: Sharon Esdale)

Next was HIGHER ART by Seth Lepore. Lepore takes us on a voyage through the thought process of the artistic megalomaniac, who has invented the “ultimate” performance piece. As we watch his story, we are first somewhat able to relate to his frustrations…then as his rant increases in intensity, we see the absurdity of the situation and the skill with which Lepore takes us on this journey. Well done, sir.

Next up was THE LIVING HISTORY PROJECT by the Groundswell Players. Actors/collaborators Jenn Kidwell and Scott Sheppard take us back in time, first to the Civil War era, then to Sheppard’s youth in rural PA re-imagining a class learning session using the Civil War re-enactment to revitalize flagging student interest. Kidwell and Sheppard do a great job in both roles, as the slave and Underground Railroad “engineer”, and as the teachers using this unusual technique to generate enthusiasm. The audience was divided by Union and Confederate by a soldier (either green or grey) taped to the underside of our seats…clever and very funny.

After a brief intermission, we were treated to THE SUPERVISORS by Marina Libel. Libel and her cohort Sarah Gladwin Camp describe their job “supervising” human behavior from a helicopter, tweaking how we interact with a well-choreographed movement, poetry, and humor. The dialogue was almost a respite for these hard-working actors, as the movements they employed were very intricate, and perfectly mirrored.

The penultimate performance of the evening was A DENZEL THEORY by Ms. Wise. Alyesha Wise has written a beautiful “slam” poem about her brother Denzel and their growing up in Camden NJ. The intensity of her words and the beauty of the poetry made this one of my favorite performances of the evening.

Finally, we ended our journey with ROOSTER & SNOWBALL by Magda San Millan and Chelsea Murphy. Millan and Murphy also use intricate choreography and words to tell their story…but what is the story? Hilarity, to be sure, and done with increasing intensity and volume, as the women get angrier and more frustrated…and funny.

The FringeArts festival itself does not begin until September this year, but this preview of the artistic offerings of the Philadelphia community was terrific. Congratulations to all of the artists and to Painted Bride Arts Center for a terrific evening.

at Painted Bride Art Center
230 Vine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

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