Notes on Words

for Writers, Readers, Logophiles and Logorrhetics

Nichole Canuso — April 27, 2014

Nichole Canuso

FringeArts presents world premiere of Nichole Canuso solo work “Midway Avenue,” May 2-4. Photo by Peggy Woolsey
FringeArts presents world premiere of Nichole Canuso solo work “Midway Avenue,” May 2-4. Photo by Peggy Woolsey

Over the last year, I’ve done quite a few interviews. Sometimes they’re exciting; sometimes they’re fearful; sometimes they’re just work, something I have to do to get the article published. It’s not that the people I’m interviewing aren’t interesting, it’s just that I don’t love interviewing itself. I’m uncomfortable, often intimidated, and generally out of my element.

But sometimes it’s an exciting prospect to sit next to X artist and ask them questions about their work—and just be in their presence. When I realized I was going to interview Nichole Canuso, the creator of Wandering Alice and The Garden, both of which were pretty aesthetically important to me, especially for the place and time that I saw them, I experienced a rare kind of enthusiasm for the interview itself. To me, she’s larger than life.

Well, it turned out that she’s on tour, and that I didn’t get to do the whole sit-down-in-her-presence and chat thing. But I did get an interview, and we had a pretty interesting conversation about her upcoming Midway Avenue via email. Find out what I asked, and what she had to say, here. Or just go ahead and buy tickets for the show (May 2-4) at; you’ll want to be there.

Opera, Kiddie Pool, natural disaster(s) — November 14, 2013

Opera, Kiddie Pool, natural disaster(s)

A snap of the This takes place close by set

New Theater Thursdays at Paperclips215 – here I’ll keep you posted on the coolest theater/music/dance stuff that I know about, with a focus on cheapcheapcheap shows.

There’s a discussion, too, about where “contemporary performance” and “experimental theater/music/dance” can or should go, which I welcome you to chime in on.

Also, at Phindie: a review of thingNY Is Back, the third night of <fidget>’s Fourth Annual Experimental Music Festival. The performers included locals Joo Won Park & Adam Vidiksis – both of whom you should check out. Their websites are fantastically constructed and feature lots of multimedia stuff, videos, music, fun. Don’t let the “experimental” in front of “music” scare you away.

Headliner was thingNY, an experimental music ensemble company who are creating an opera project in residency with New York’s Incubator Arts, from whom I’m always getting emails and whose work I’ve never seen. Their latest work, which they previewed here, is called This takes place close by, and is an “opera” about natural disasters. Really present stuff.

What does “opera” mean? After seeing this, and SVADBA-WEDDING a couple weeks ago, I’m sure I don’t know, but I’m also sure that everything should be opera, now. I curse the fact that I know nothing about music composition. What it seems to mean to me: the vocals are performed in a variety of ways (song, operatic song, deliberate speech, whisper, noise, words turned into noise), and by not simply choosing to talk them, the mode of delivery of each line becomes part of the message (read: the medium is the message).

Also, bought from thingNY a comic book/cd of a previous opera, ADDDDDDDDD. $15, and absolutely insane.

A new venue — October 31, 2013

A new venue

Gentle readers,

PaperClips215 is a new portal for info on Philly’s creative culture. It looks like for now I’m their main theater guy, and am going to be publishing there once/wk, directing people to the best local shows. This is important, because many of these amazing shows are under-financed, under-publicized, and under the radar.

I’m focusing on experimental and cheap. The gems you otherwise won’t hear about. The pay-what-you-can weird shit you’ll brag to your friends about and they’ll moan about how they would see more theater if they knew it could do THAT. Like a choose-your-own-adventure dance in the basement of a power plant in Old City. Or devised theater cabaret about genocide. Or a play about crystal meth play performed in someone’s living room.

For me, it’s nice to have Paperclips turn up around the same time that Art Attack vanished. That venue has closed down, unfortunately. But writing for Phindie and Paperclips is so much fun because they’re all such scrappy chaps. Even if they don’t pay me.

Check out my first post for info on what to do with your weekend.



PS: Also, going along with the theme of new venues, a number of articles have popped up about the new FringeArts space – and more specifically, their $60 tickets. Most writers contribute to the moaning (which is valid enough) or remain neutral, but Amy Freeman has written a thought-provoking and fact-filled op-ed for the USA Herald. She even offers a solution, mad as that may sound.

PPS: Help me out. I want to represent the BEST and WEIRDEST of Philly’s underground experimental performance scene. If you hear about anything really awesome you think I might not catch wind of for any reason, let me know. I need to be in all the loops. There are so many loops in this city that just when you think you’re in the loop you find another smaller loop somewhere.

How to have a Weird Time in April — April 1, 2013

How to have a Weird Time in April

I kiss my knuckles at you
EgoPo’s Houdini. Don’t not see it – see it! Photo credit Ian Guzzone

April’s all about HAVING A WEIRD TIME as I reminded everybody a few weeks ago – kicked off as it is by the whole bunnies coming out of eggs thing—and this April, it shouldn’t be hard at all to do this.

To begin with, EgoPo’s Life (and Death) of Harry Houdini is an UNMISSABLE performance. Go see it. Really. Go see it. You don’t have much time – it runs until the 7th. You’ll hate yourself if you miss it. Go see it. I’ll have a more detailed review up on the BSR soon (hopefully).

The Bearded Ladies’ Civil War Cabaret, which I also mentioned in March’s calendar, will keep runnin til the 6th. I’m gonna try to make it, too.

Cleanse your palet TONIGHT with some hot and untempered work in progress at Scratch Night at the Painted Bride. What more do you need to hear than this caveat on the show’s page: “Good experimental art is risky and Scratch Night performances may contain adult themes or nudity.” The highlight for me will be Lee Ann Etzold obsessing over my favorite space marine in Sigourney Weaving. 

4/4-4/21: Plays and Players Theatre are putting up Suzan-Lori Parks’ The America Play & Other American Cousins. Parks, for those who don’t know her, is counted among New York’s celebrated language playwrights, and is known for playing with American slang and exploring issues of race and culture. In The American Play, a black Abe Lincoln look-alike offers to be shot to death by a John Wilkes Booth look-alike for a small fee.

One of the great voices of our theater – by which I mean, people vaguely our age still writing plays. Maybe she’s yesterday’s theater—she’s turning 50 next month—but this should be absolutely worth seeing either way.

4/9-4/13 You’ll only have a brief time to see Applied Mechanics’ Vainglorious at beautiful Christ Church Neighborhood House—but it’s time you’ll want to take full advantage of. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure style work, or as they put it, an “epic, 26-performer installation.” From what I hear, there’ll be the entire French Napoleonic army there, resplendent. Napoleon himself, and Marie Antoinette are supposed to pop in. They might even be crawling through the rafters. I will definitely be there.

4/11-20: The Trial of Murderous Mary. I don’t know much about this play, but I do know that Aaron Cromie (working with Gwen Rooker) is a bit of a theatrical genius with a delight for the odd and bloody. He was responsible for a puppet Titus Andronicus at the Shakespeare Theater last year, and this play, about murder, circus and a 5-ton elephant named Mary should prove an unmitigated weird time.

4/13: Check out Amanda Miller’s tumblr: see, this is exactly the kind of thing you wished there was more of but couldn’t find, right? Well, stop fretting, because at Detour on 2nd St this month you can catch her art—and on the 13th, show up for the reception, free booze and a low-priced art off the wall sale. I’ll see you there!

4/17-5/25: Arms and the Man – Quintessence Theatre. I talked about this last month, a bit, and I’ve been talking too much about George Bernard Shaw. I think he’s great; I think this play’s okay. It’s his lighter work, and if you’ve been enjoying my words about Back to Methuselah then you should love this.

4/18-4/21: Finally—and this should be attractive to a lot of you—freeze to death in a children’s story about the Shackleton Antarctica Expedition! Performers on stilts operate life-size marionette puppets—why? Get down off those stilts and act, it’d be easier! But theater isn’t always about doing the easy thing: puppetry, dance, film and photog will combine to create—I’m not actually sure what, but probably something cool: 69°S

In Live in Philly and I Like Theater – March — March 14, 2013

In Live in Philly and I Like Theater – March

Wide Awake: A Civil War Cabaret
Fake beards and corsets!

I’m always surprised at Philly’s arbitrary scope on “classics.” Shakespeare’s got a strong hold here, even just with the Philly Shakes (who does three per year) and the Lantern’s one. (I frankly don’t need to see more than four Shakespeare plays per year). Somehow Gogol’s made a comeback (which I love), and Gombrowicz pops up from time to time (which is a treat).

I’m reminded, though, of the huge gaps in our repertory when one is, briefly, filled. Next month George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man is playing at Quintessence Theatre. Despite the fact that Shaw has written about 60 plays, had a particular propensity for both witty and insightful dialogue, and a body of work which ranges from the hugely popular Pygmalion (famously adapted into the musical My Fair Lady) to the dense, verbose, difficult to grasp, 260 page-long (over 400 pgs with the prefaces) Back to Methuselah (my favorite), I’ve absolutely never seen a Shaw playing in Philly before now.

Down and dirty contemporary theater gets a satisfying breadth of expression, and a lot of new shows are created right here. There are a number theater groups staging readings of new plays, or creating their own shows from scratch. There is an exclusivity developing here, including world-renowned institutions like Pig Iron and FringeArts, which make me happy to be located here rather than anywhere else.

Philly’s homegrown shows often feature an intriguing combination of arts, hitting on painting, sculpture, improv, puppetry, and music on their way to theater. Some, like the Plato’s Porno Cave programming at Little Berlin, promise to incorporate performance or film into a multidisciplinary event with its focus on visual arts or even philosophical titillations.

Here’s a brief calendar of shows/events to see between now and April 1st.

Now-3/28: A Play, a Pie and a Pint – Tiny Dynamite. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays this month (check site for specific dates and performances) Tiny Dynamite is continuing their A Play, a Pie and a Pint series. This concept combines your love for pizza and beer with your loves for low-key theater and cheap nights out.

I have a beard, a drink, and a ride
Me drinking a cocktail with the Lord of Motion at Plato’s Porno Cave reception party last week.

Now-3/29: Plato’s Porno Cave – Little Berlin. This month-long project is curated by Philadelphia artists/performers/writers Gus Depenbrock and Marshall James Kavanaugh. The programming, which ranges from musical folklore to shamans to movie nights to acrobatics, freakshows and knife-throwing, ushers in a New World of expression, being, and alternative finances. Really, though – Depenbrock, Kavanaugh and their collaborators have invented a space and a reality in Kensington which defy your normal expectations of a night out, and will disorient, charm, entertain and maybe unsettle you.

Now-4/14: Henry V – Lantern. This is on here mainly because Henry V is definitely Shakespeare’s best history, though I will say that the Lantern does a good job with their Shakey.

3/18: Bad Monster – Theatre Exile. Staged reading, part of a new play development series.

3/20 – 4/7: The Life (and Death) of Harry Houdini – EgoPo. EgoPo has put on some of the best productions I have seen in Philadelphia: Woyzeck, Marat/Sade, Endgame. Unfortunately, none of these landmarks productions have been recent. However, that doesn’t mean that Houdini won’t be fantastic – after all, it’s directed by Brenna Geffers, who doesn’t shy away from the grim and violent.

This is what the New World of American theater looks like
The Disease Lord serves drinks at Plato’s Porno Cave

3/27-4/6: Wide Awake: a Civil War Cabaret – Bearded Ladies Cabaret. Cross-dressing and bawdiness ensured. The last show I saw by the BLC was their homage to German expressionism and Marlene Dietrich featuring re-workings of songs by Paul McCartney, Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple and Mr. Rogers. Absolutely over the top, bizarre, charming and unpredictable. Expect more of the same.

4/1: Scratch Night – Painted Bride. Gritty, personal, and interactive. One of the most exciting developments in Philadelphia theater, the The Live Arts Festival – now called FringeArts – gives two or three artists, on the first Monday of every month, the space to show a working chunk of whatever it is they’re developing. Followed by a question-answer session.



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Notes on Words

for Writers, Readers, Logophiles and Logorrhetics