Local queer talent stars in Pop Up Play

Anna Faye Lieberman drinks a beverage while sitting at a bar
Anna Faye Lieberman. (Photo: Kim Carson Photography)

Anna Faye Lieberman brings Irish fighter Mary McArdle to life in a solo show that will be performed in Fergie’s Pub through Sept. 17. 

A Pop Up Play in a Pub brings theater from across the pond to Philly with local queer talent at the helm of its production of “10 Dates with Mad Mary” by Yasmine Akram, an Irish-Pakistani playwright. The play follows Mary McArdle as she uses speed dating to find a date to her friend’s wedding after being released from prison.

Lieberman will portray the titular Mad Mary. 

Called to perform 

Lieberman grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs with a lifelong interest in theater and performance. 

“I was talking to my mom about this, relatively recently,” they told PGN. “I was like, ‘Can you pinpoint a time in which I decided that this is what I was gonna do?’ She was like, ‘No, it kind of was just always the thing. And I kind of just always knew that this is what you were gonna do.’”

They also recalled putting on performances in her house as a kid, as well as participating in school plays in middle and high school. 

“And it was just always the thing… I feel cheesy, but it’s what I feel like I’m called to do,” they added. 

Lieberman contemplated leaving the area for college, but eventually chose to stay. She received her BFA in Musical Theater from the University of the Arts in 2020. As with many 2020 graduates, the COVID-19 pandemic made Lieberman’s first foray into the workforce different from that of previous graduating classes. 

Since live theater was shut down, things went digital. One of the first things Lieberman did was participate in a program from the Arden Theater Company that was geared toward people who had just graduated or were about to. The program put on a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in May 2020, through Zoom. 

“We made props out of paper plates and the Arden sent us some props in the mail. And we just made a weird little campy, twee Shakespeare play off Zoom,” they explained with a laugh. 

Lieberman also performed a choose your own adventure audio play with the Strides Collective and several online readings with various companies. One such reading was done in December 2020 and later performed in person in the spring of 2022.

In the past year, they have done more work with Arden Theater, including playing several roles in “Into the Woods.”

Being queer in the theater world

Anna Faye Lieberman stands against a pink background.
Anna Faye Lieberman. (Photo: Sousa)

Their experience with the theater world has also been shaped by their identity as a queer person.

“Philly is a really great city, for queer actors and artists specifically, I think. I think there’s just so many of us, and we all have kind of found community with each other in the joys we get to share and also the struggles that we might face in the larger theater world and these larger theater institutions that might not yet be meeting us where we are,” Lieberman explained. 

In addition to being able to find a caring and supportive community with other queer Philadelphia artists, they have been able to participate in many queer-focused productions. 

“I think over the pandemic, I did a lot of thinking and searching about my identity and how I don’t need to change myself or mold myself, for the sake of being a palatable theater artist,” she stated. 

Lieberman noted that the wider theater industry doesn’t know what to do with artists that don’t neatly fit into boxes, as shown with the recent Tony Awards and trans nonbinary actor Justin David Sullivan. The actor declined consideration for a Tony due to the award’s gendered categories. 

Lieberman believes that both theaters and cisgender people in the industry need to educate themselves more so when they cast a nonbinary person into a show, they aren’t trying to fit them into a box. Instead, they should see what these performers can bring to the table and how that can expand the character/show. 

‘10 Dates with Mad Mary’

Since this is the second year that Lieberman is doing the Pop Up Play series, they are coming to it with more confidence. 

“When we did the show last year, that was my first time ever doing a solo show. And it scared the shit out of me,” they confessed, adding that the fear is making them even more excited to do it this year. 

What drew her to the series in the first place is a love of fringy theater, or as they describe it, “the, let’s go to someone’s basement or a warehouse and see a show and do a show there,” kind of theater. 

The intimacy of these types of venues as opposed to a commercial stage lends itself to one of Lieberman’s favorite parts of the show: audience interaction.

“[Mary] goes through a journey, honestly, like with the audience, and that is something I love: That intimacy, that vulnerability that it asks not only me, but the audience to share is really special,” they said.

The Pop Up Play in a Pub series is being put on by Inis Nua Theatre and Fergie’s Pub. Performances of “10 Dates with Mad Mary” are running through Sept. 17. The second play in the series, “Madame Ovary,” will run from Nov. 8-19. 

What the future holds 

After the series closes, Lieberman wants to continue doing new work in both Philadelphia and New York City. 

“I’d really love to get in on the ground floor of some new, queer, folksy work. I would also love to start writing more. Like, I’m doing this solo show now, that someone else wrote, but I would love to write my own solo show or cabaret. And continue to develop that,” she said.

Visit inisnuatheatre.org to purchase tickets.

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