Opening Tonight: The 2010 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe

Philadelphia’s arts community is a welcoming one—and that extends to its annual Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe, which opens for its 14th round tonight and will run through September 18th.

While its inspiration, the Edinburgh Fringe, was born of contention—eight uninvited artists crashed the inaugural, state-funded Edinburgh International Festival in 1947—Producing Director Nick Stuccio founded both components of Philly’s Festival in 1997, along with producer Eric Schoefer, “to create a much-needed venue for experimental artists of all kinds in Philadelphia,” according to the Festival’s website.

In that community spirit, this year’s Philly Fringe includes over a hundred productions taking place all over the city—to participate, one needed only submit an “Artist Participation Form” and a fee by this past April, plus a blurb for the Festival Guide. Though the Fringe may be impossible to characterize in and of itself, “it’s what characterizes the Festival,” Stuccio points out. “It’s an antidote to people like me. It’s anti-curatorial. That’s what’s great about it—it’s an adventure.”

The Live Arts, by contrast, is a smaller adventure, though it is no less ambitious in scope. This year’s lineup includes 15 performances by Philadelphia-based, national, and international artists, all of which were selected by Stuccio, several of which are premieres (in recent years, the Live Arts has placed special emphasis its role as a developer of new work, which has culminated in the new Live Arts Brewery program). When asked what distinguishes the 2010 Live Arts,  “it’s the work,” Stuccio says. “What we are is a sort of platform that brings audiences together with artists, and every year, to me, it’s wildly different, because the work is completely different.”

Given that, this year’s Festival does feature what Stuccio calls “a bigger commitment” to music in particular: Among the scheduled musical events are the 12-hour Bang on a Can Marathon, in Philadelphia for the first time; a one-night performance by singer/songwriter/performance artist Stew and his band The Negro Problem with Heidi Rodewald; and a concert by jazz pianist/composer Vijay Iyer in an art installation by filmmaker Bill Morrison at Eastern State Penitentiary. “We’ve never embraced music on this scale before,” Stuccio says.

There’s also Dance by New York-based choreographer Lucinda Childs, a centerpiece of this year’s Festival. The “incredible” 1979 work, as Stuccio describes it, “which never really got seen in the United States,” will be performed by an all-new cast in tandem with Sol LeWitt’s black-and-white film of the original production and a musical score by Philip Glass.

Stuccio is also excited about Philly-based Pig Iron Theatre Company’s latest, which the company itself describes as “a dark fairy tale for kids aged 9 to 90”: Cankerblossom, created with West Philly-based puppeteer Beth Nixon. Of the show’s description, Stuccio says: “If your kids, like my kids, like absurdist experimental dance-clown theater, your kids will love it.”

Stuccio is also “curious” to see how Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s hit Romeo and Juliet, a retelling based on recollections of the original gathered from phone conversations, will go over with Philly audiences. Advance sales for the show have been strong. He’s also excited about experimental French choreographer Jérôme Bel’s Cédrix Andrieux, in which Andrieux performs his life story as a dancer—Stuccio calls it “a great glimpse into a great artist’s life”—as well as Nichole Canuso’s Takes, an exploration of movement and video projections incorporating a large, movie-screen-wrapped cube, which Stuccio links to Childs’ Dance.

Finally, Stuccio is excited about the Festival Bar, located at the former Club Egypt nightclub this year. Here, artists and audiences are free to mingle amid art installations, film screenings, and dance parties all Festival long.

A full schedule of performances in the Live Arts and Philly Fringe can be found here. Also check out the Festival Blog for up-to-date announcements and insights around the Festival and its artists.

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