Notes on Words

for Writers, Readers, Logophiles and Logorrhetics

Festivals — May 3, 2014


Chelsea Murphy and Magda San Milan in WE TOUCHED IT at the Remix Festival. Photo by Kathryn Raines, Plate 3 Photography.
Chelsea Murphy and Magda San Milan in WE TOUCHED IT at the Remix Festival. Photo by Kathryn Raines, Plate 3 Photography.

So if you’re in Philly and hungering, just hungering for something to do this weekend – and the concept of the million and one street fairs that happen to be going on doesn’t appeal to you – check out Remix Festival. It’s a pretty amazing format for dance presentation that’s going on at <fidget> in Kensington this weekend.

Based on Susan Rethorst’s concept of “wrecking,” three artists each present a short, 5-15 minute dance piece. Then, after a brief break, three other artists, who’ve had just two days to prepare, present a “wrecked” or “remixed” piece. To learn more about it, go to see it, honestly. It’s just fifteen dollars for six dances and a completely unique experience. Or read my review at Phindie here. The real pleasure is seeing the hand of the composer at work – the same as listening to a really well-done remix of a song that you love, which re-focuses and brings out what was great about that song all along.

But the thing that I hate about street festivals is just how damn many people show up. I don’t go outside to be crushed between people. I go outside to move from point a to point b, or, when the weather’s really nice, to find a relatively clear space of a park or beach to lounge. I don’t like being surrounded by strangers, especially when they’re all spilling their drinks on one-another. I mean, who does?

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.

The Head and the Hand —

The Head and the Hand

Philly is home to Quirk Publications, who put out the widely read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, as well as something about sea monsters and Jane Austen. They also did the Worst Case Scenario series.

Quirk is a good name for them and their work; The Head and the Hand, another Philly-area publisher, goes for personality instead of quirk. Inspired by founder Nic Esposito’s background in farming, this idiosyncratic publishing company has soul.

Check out my article about their chapbook vending machine—and various other arms and initiatives—for ArtAttackPhilly here.

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.

This weekend in Philly — October 10, 2013

This weekend in Philly

Deeply suspicious
In the dark?

I’ll be in Atlanta this weekend, but if you’re in Illy you should have plenty to do.

FIRST OF ALL, for the sophisticated reader, there is Regency & Revelry, the Lantern Theater Company’s Jane Austen festival, a celebration of the author, her world, and Pride and Prejudice‘s bicentennial. Attractions include tea and dance lessons, book clubs, panels by local experts (who knew there were so many?), and a charming, infinitely watchable, three-hour-long adaptation of Emma. If I were in town, I’d be dragging my girlfriend to the tea thing. Check out my preview on Phindie:

SECONDLY, if you haven’t seen Do Not Push, you should consider it. It’s a constantly-engaging clown/slapstick show, Vladimir and Estragon without like all the sad and stuff. Consistently inventive and surprising for the 50 minutes it runs at Plays and Players upstairs theater. My full review:

THIRDLY, if you don’t like any of that, I can’t help you. Go out for brunch. I’ll be in Atlanta enjoy the last of the 75-degree weather. Have fun in the rain.

Expansion — September 25, 2013



Fringe draws to an end, and so does my coverage.

My previous article about Victor Fiorillo’s review of A Doll’s House – and the larger responsibilities of reviewers – was reposted on Phindie. Fiorillo responded – succinctly – and I have since submitted a response. Hopefully this will be a discussion rather than a duel, cuz he’s cleverer than I am.

I can’t even keep track of what I’ve posted here and what I haven’t. I love and hate Fringe right now. I’m excited to go back to something like normal time, if that ever every happens.

I’ve got an article on The Society, way behind the times you know, at Art Attack. And I spent Saturday “Fringe hopping” – four shows, four reviews at Phindie. Bastard Piece (which I loved), Emancipation Sweet (which kinda bored me), One Year (which rocked me) and Beyond the Light (which I was like eh).

I’m exhausted.

Here’s a picture of Lancelot killing a dragon:

Killin it dead!
A metaphor for your day, if you like
As Fringe mounts, what’s Pig Iron up to? — September 19, 2013

As Fringe mounts, what’s Pig Iron up to?

Well maybe I’m a bit behind the times.

I’m probably the last person to talk about Pay Up but here is my discussion: read it read it read it okay?

Thing is, I have to admit, walking out of Pay Up both my girlfriend and I were disappointed. I’m not gonna explain the show here, because so many people have, but there is a lot going on, and as an audience member, you often find yourself latching on to one element of a show to find meaning. And the one that both of us grabbed was the little shows – the eight beautifully performed little dramas, only six of which you get to see.

Where is the exchange of money for valuables more clear than when you're working customer service?
Well that sounds fair

Well, in the end, these are a bit sparse, even – it places – a bit predictable.

In a weird way, I think that this show is about disappointment, and anger, and irritation and impatience, and other negative emotions. Since life is a constant disappointment and irritation, we can hardly say it’s unfair. Art often attempts to create negative emotions – but the problem is that the initiated theater-lovers smile wryly, nodding to show that they get it, but only aesthetically – like a cheesy horror movie, we know what’s going on.  And the non-initiated don’t come back, or just say vaguely that they didn’t like it, but they aren’t sure why.

Give into the negative emotions, treat every moment of Pay Up as part of the drama, and you get a whole different story.

Fringe piles up, but like, in a good way; also, the role of the reviewer — September 17, 2013

Fringe piles up, but like, in a good way; also, the role of the reviewer

Today, on the first wintry-feeling day of Philly’s advancing autumn, I’ll post a picture of some hot coffee.

Well, does it make you feel warmer anyway?
“[. . .] a solfatarra of deeply felt verbal solfeggio.”
Oops, that’s not what that is. Well, do you feel warmer anyway?

More articles coming up, marking my adventures through Fringe-land.

Must-see: Ant Hampton and Tim Etchell’s The Quiet Volume. I would say that this is a must-see show.

Worth seeing: EgoPo’s A Doll’s House, directed by Brenna Geffers and performed by 14-year-old Maula Mackenzie.

I didn’t quite like This Is Not a Theater, at historic Plays and Players; though the art was nice.

Also worth commenting on is this review of A Doll’s House by Victor Fiorillo.

From my experience so far, Fiorillo is not anti-small theater nor is he the kind of reviewer who patently enjoys destroying companies and shows, so it is a bit puzzling to me how he could write some of the stuff in here. Lines like “[the audience’s] lukewarm (that’s generous) response at the end of the performance” seem to be completely fabricated; the audience around me seemed to enjoy the show even more than I did.

But “this show is not fit for public consumption”; I wonder if a reviewer should ever pen this. Does anyone reading this paragraph think that it’s an okay thing to say? Particularly for a show that has a lot of value in it. I wouldn’t say that this is the best show in the festival, nor near EgoPo’s or Brenna Geffers’ potential. However, it’s still great in a lot of ways and I think that any general audience (not one with Fiorillo’s or my high expectations) will enjoy the shit out of it.

“. . . not fit for public consumption.”

Not to be snitty, but maybe “consumption” is too much on Fiorillo’s mind. His article starts with two paragraphs of lamenting an empty belly and the anxiety of getting to his next show on time. That can make me like a show less than I should. I’d rather not chalk it up to lack of professionalism. But I wonder if anyone reading this can tell me: is it the reviewer’s role to say that a show is absolute shit?

Particularly when it’s actually pretty good?

It exists in the between-area; it’s not fully realized dramatic orgasm, like Ajax: the Madness; but it is surely not worth the panning Fiorillo gave it. Yet that review, which is the first that comes up on Google when you search for EgoPo and A Doll’s House, is surely going to cut down on audiences until the end of the run. Cheers to those audience members who, in the comments below, give their own opinion. Notice that no one in the comments agrees with Fiorillo’s opinion.

This is part of a larger discussion on the role of the reviewer, which I am slowly learning about. Here are two much more well-thought-out discussions about it.

The Fringe Going at Top Speed — September 13, 2013

The Fringe Going at Top Speed

You can't go here yet, because it's not open until October.
The blurred people illustrate the pace at which FringeArts is moving.

So it’s been a while, but FringeArts is going on at a frantic, impossible pace, and I will have reviews going up. My general article on the Fringe and how it works was posted at Art Attack last week: I’m very happy to say that no Philly.commers have commented on it yet – everyone is keeping their bigoted mouths shut. That, or no one is reading it – but I welcome your informed opinions and feedback!

The red ones are dead, the black ones are still alive but sleeping.
Motion and stillness in Ajax, The Madness

If there had been nothing of worth this year besides Attis Theater’s Ajax: The Madness, then I would have called the festival a success. Nearly every year there is one Presented show which changes the way I look at theater and the world around me, and this is the one. Unfortunately, it was also my first show, and though I will try not to let its excellence color the way I see every other show in the fest, it may somehow alter my perspective until next year’s Fringe. My brief review at Phindie is here.

The suitcases contain many characters, and so does Mary!
Mary and the suitcases

And of course the incomparable Aaron Cromie and Mary Tuomanen have created their Saint Joan: Betrayed. My preview piece is a bit out of date now (and, I later learned, a little bit untrue). This will be one of the front-runners in the Neighborhood Fringe. Cromie said in our interview that Tuomanen is “a chameleon” and that “people will really dig that she can become so many things.” This is absolutely true. It is a constantly pleasant experience, and there are some shocks and laughs that come out of Cromie’s toy theaters, as well.

What should you see that’s still going on? Well, definitely check out On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God at the Suzanne Roberts Theater. That’s just this weekend. It isn’t pleasant, but it is insanely powerful. It’s one of those plays that will actually change you. Pig Iron’s Pay Up is really interesting, and The Quiet Volume is a must-see. I have reviews of all of them coming . . . eventually . . . at Art Attack’s whim, really.



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