Like so many arts organizations, the Philadelphia Fringe Festival pivoted to an all-digital lineup last year. The strategy proved successful, with dozens of curated and independently produced offerings allowing a momentary theatrical reprieve from the Covid-19 pandemic. This year’s fest, running Sept. 9 through Oct. 3, will still have some virtual productions, but a return to in-person presentations around the city is anticipated. In light of the delta variant currently driving a surge in Covid-19 cases, all curated events require proof of vaccination, and masks must be worn at all indoor venues.
The Fringe has long been a hub of queer artistry, and this year is no different. Here is a small sample of the LGBTQ-focused entertainment on display throughout the festival.
“Alcina REVAMPED” (Alter Ego Chamber Opera, Sept. 24-Oct. 4, The Adrienne Theatre Mainstage): Founded in 2019, Alter Ego Chamber Opera aims to reimagine the classical music canon with an emphasis on queer and contemporary glosses on timeless works. This adaptation of Handel’s Baroque masterwork marries traditional ornamentation with an ‘80s electronica aesthetic, and in keeping with the travesti (and glam rock) tradition, you can expect some gender bending. In addition to in-person performances on Sept. 24 and 26, a livestream version will be available for those preferring to watch remotely.
“Alice” (EgoPo Classic Theater, Sept. 29-30, Glen Foerd): Local queer artists Dane Eissler and Jenna Kuerzi offer a decidedly adult trip down the rabbit hole in this over-the-top adaptation of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” Against the backdrop of the legendary Glen Foerd estate, which overlooks the Delaware River, the duo will explore the trippy subtext of Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s tale. Bring an appetite for adventure (and champagne!) and wear comfortable shoes.
“Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge” (Elevator Repair Service, Sept. 9-11, FringeArts): The innovative, acclaimed Elevator Repair Service specializes in detailed, revealing adaptations of classic works. They first made a splash at Fringe with “Gatz,” an eight-hour adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” that later toured the world. They return with a new play that fuses documentary theater and artistic imagination, dramatizing a historical debate between Black queer author James Baldwin and the notoriously homophobic conservative pundit William F. Buckley Jr. The iconic lesbian playwright Lorraine Hansberry is also a character.
“Beardmobile Fall Love Tour” (The Bearded Ladies Cabaret, Sept. 17-Oct. 17, various locations): At this point, it’s hardly a Fringe Festival without an entry from The Bearded Ladies Cabaret, the genre-pushing drag and performance art collective led by veteran Philly performer John Jarboe. This year, they’re getting their act together and taking it on the road. Well, around the city, that is. An extension of their popular Late Night Snacks series, this touring spectacle will travel to various neighborhoods throughout the city, highlighting artists of all stripes. Wherever you happen to catch them, and whoever happens to be performing, you are surely in for a treat.
“The Birth of Jawn: Exploring Philly With a King” (Jawn Wooders, Sept. 6-Oct. 4, streaming): Philadelphia drag king Jawn Wooders may have the market cornered on best moniker. If you haven’t heard of him, maybe that’s because he started his career on the precipice of the pandemic. This digital work takes place as he processes that first experience and takes viewers on a queer tour through the streets of Philly, while considering the strengths and limits of creativity in difficult times.
“Cannonball” (Almanac Dance Circus Theatre, Sept. 9-Oct. 2, MAAS Building): Call it a festival within a festival. This year, the queer-led Almanac Dance Circus Theatre will present more than 100 events spanning multiple disciplines and offering something for everyone. Main stage presentations include “Inversions,” a intersectional examination of pole dancing, and “$7 Girl,” a look at the social issues surrounding sex work from a queer, trans perspective. Workshops and master classes in a variety of disciplines will also be offered. See as much as you can.
“Motel Montana” (Gunnar Montana, Sept. 9-Oct. 3, The Latvian Society): Gunnar Montana’s work defies easy classification, fusing movement, installation, theater, music and performance art. His latest work examines expressions of the public and private self, with a focus on “the flamboyant, lavish fabulousness that only comes out when no one is looking.” My advice? Check your expectations at the door and have fun.
“Speakeasy Go-go” (Thomas Choinacky, Sept. 10-25, Queen Memorial Building): After the isolation of the pandemic, we all need to dance out some of our fears and frustrations, and maybe indulge in a walk on the wild side. That’s what Thomas Choinacky seems to have in mind with this curated discotheque, which will feature an on-site DJ and a dance floor just waiting to be occupied.
“The Wasp’s Nest” (Paper Doll Ensemble, Sept. 9-Oct. 2, streaming): The feminist collective Paper Doll Ensemble has presented innovative and memorable work, both in-person and online. This Fringe, they take advantage of the streaming platform with a devised work that marries activism, sustainable agriculture and the Devil herself. Sounds like a wild ride, right?
For a full list of this year’s productions, visit fringearts.com/2021-fringe-festival/.