Every September, the Philadelphia International Fringe Festival brings widespread attention to the local arts scene. This year will be no different, even as the ongoing closures brought on by the coronavirus pandemic force the festival to adapt to new ways of producing its content. Running from Sept. 10 through Oct. 4, this year’s Fringe is going digital, but it will still offer more than 100 works that push the boundaries of theater, music, dance, performance art and storytelling.
Many of this year’s offerings are LGBTQ-focused or were created by queer artists. Here’s a round-up of some of the most exciting queer-centered shows from the 2020 Fringe Festival lineup. For a complete listing of all festival events, visit fringearts.com/.
“American Chameleon: The Living Installments” (Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, Sept. 9-30, Various Locations): Nigerian-American queer performance artist Jaamil Olawale Kosoko blends audio and visual components to “explore the ever-evolving ways in which digitality intersects with the fugitive realities and shapeshifting principles that Black queer people employ to survive and heal.” Reading groups, film screenings and healing sessions will take place to create a space that centers Black voices.
“The Celebrity Guide to Mental Health and Wellness” (The Antidote, Sept. 10-Oct. 4, Vimeo): Queer-led performance collective The Antidote spoofs the self-help seminar, probing how the language of mental health can be co-opted for dubious purposes. A portion of all ticket sales will be donated to The Okra Project’s Nina Pop and Tony McDade Mental Health Recovery Fund, which provides Black trans individuals free one-time therapy sessions with licensed Black therapists.
“fun with dick and jane: working title” (Rhonda Moore and Ben Grinberg, Sept. 17-Oct. 4, Vimeo): Physical artists Ben Grinberg (co-founder of Almanac Dance Circus Theatre) and Rhonda Moore (founding member of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company) collaborate and consider the dynamics of power, communication and connection in the context of COVID-19. The pair recorded their interactions from germination and rehearsal throughout the creation process, and the final result will be streamed during the Fringe.
“How to Shave in Six Easy Steps” (Collin Spangler, Sept. 10-Oct. 4, Vimeo): Nonbinary performance artist Collin Spangler refracts their journey of self-discovery through the prism of a solo show they’ve wanted to create for years: an exploration of what it means to shave. Spangler considers how the art, and act, of shaving intersects with issues of gender and sexual identity, the emotional state and growing up.
“Late Night Snacks” (The Bearded Ladies Cabaret, Sept. 10-Oct. 4, Location TBA): The acclaimed Philadelphia drag and performance art troupe The Bearded Ladies has presented Late Night Snacks, a unique cabaret series, for the past several years. This year, they will trade their usual found venues for computer screens, but they hope to maintain the carefully curated yet freewheeling vibe they’ve nurtured in the past. A full line-up of performers will be finalized in the coming weeks.
“The Orlando Project” (Penn Theatre Ensemble, Sept. 6-Oct. 4, YouTube): Necessity is the mother of invention. When the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted plans to stage a production of Sarah Ruhl’s “Orlando,” a free adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s legendary gender-bending novel, five students from the University of Pennsylvania soldiered on, continuing their work from the various locales where they’re sheltering in place. The result will stream on YouTube during the festival.
“SEX TAPE” (Gabrielle Revlock, Sept. 10-Oct. 4, Vimeo): Gabrielle Revlock’s latest performance piece considers the fine line between friendship and erotic attraction, as well as the weight of isolation. Although the events that inspired Revlock occurred with a former male partner, she decided to reconceptualize the setting as an interaction between two female friends, to better explore the intricacies of same-sex companionship.
“States of Desire: Tom of Finland in the Queer Imagination” (Casa de Duende, Sept. 6-Oct. 4, Vimeo): Touko Valio Laaksonen, better known under the sobriquet Tom of Finland, revolutionized the field of queer aesthetics with unabashedly salacious erotica. To commemorate his centennial, a cadre of international artists created a video retrospective testifying to his last impact.
“Temporary Occupancy” (Die-Cast, Sept. 10-Oct. 4, die-castphilly.org): The exciting and often queer-focused Philly theater collective Die-Cast originally aimed to create a live performance experience that told multiple stories occurring in a single hotel room. When that couldn’t happen, they pivoted to digital storytelling, but they will surely keep up a weird and wonderful vibe. The large cast includes several Philadelphia-based queer artists.
“Wicked Gay Ways” (Wicked Gay Ways, Sept. 10-Oct. 4, Vimeo): This ongoing event highlights work published in Wicked Gay Ways, a digital journals of the arts that centers emerging and established voices in the queer community, and investigates how queer desire is expressed through art.