Not buying the binary

Eppchez!, who plays Max in Simpatico Theatre Company’s production of Taylor Mac’s Hir, is a nonbinary transgender Latinx performer who brings a wealth of talents to Philadelphia.

Eppchez! appears as Max in Simpatico Theatre Company’s production of Taylor Mac’s ‘Hir.’ (Photo by Daniel Kontz)

An Amherst, Massachusetts, native, Eppchez! (who uses the pronouns ey and eir) has worked with Pig Iron Theatre Company, the Mediums, and other groups with a focus on devising new work. Ey studied theater and writing at Wesleyan University. A playwright, choreographer, director, designer, puppeteer, songwriter, and vocalist, ey is also artistic director/conductor of Alma’s Engine, a process-focused creative ministry and self-producing platform for realizing eir work in music and theater. Among eir works is the album Self-Realized-Nation; A Song Cycle of the Occupation (2013), the original plays Junk Redemption (2012) and They Extract! (2014 and 2016), and a site-specific musical staged in Bartram’s Garden, Train-ing: A Duet (2017).

Take BSR’s arts funding panel on the go!

On May 15, 2017, Broad Street Review, in cooperation with the University of the Arts’ Corzo Center for the Creative Economy and with support from the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, hosted a panel discussion titled Arts Funding: Who Should Pay? Initially, the discussion was supposed to examine funding in light of impending cuts to the federal arts budget; surprisingly, those cuts didn’t happen. Even more surprising, our panelists mostly looked at the NEA as a nice bonus, but nothing to hang their shingles on.

In the United States, the arts and commerce exist side by side. (Photo by Paul Joseph via Creative Commons/Flickr.)

Different disciplines, similar issues

Listen in as moderator and Broad Street Review editor-in-chief Wendy Rosenfield, Art Sanctuary executive director Valerie Gay, PHIT Comedy founder Greg Maughan, Art-Reach executive director John Orr, Headlong Dance Theater co-founder and co-director Amy Smith, and WRTI host, composer, and frequent BSR contributor Kile Smith discuss the challenges and opportunities that come with running an arts-focused business and watching its bottom line.

If you enjoy what you hear and read here at BSR, why not help us meet our arts funding challenges and make a donation or become a Friends of BSR member? Donate here.

Meet James Ijames, U.S. theater’s next major voice

On this podcast, on a beautiful night in Old City, I caught up with playwright, director, teacher, and actor James Ijames, whose latest play, WHITE, is enjoying a critically acclaimed world-premiere production at Norristown’s Theatre Horizon. Meanwhile, this Barrymore and F. Otto Haas Emerging Artist Award winner’s The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington opened at the Ally Theatre in Washington, D.C., on April 30, 2017; another, Kill Move Paradise, opens at New York’s National Black Theatre on May 31, 2017. Ijames also recently won the $50,000 Whiting Award for “emerging writers who exhibit great promise.”

Playwright James Ijames is taking over 2017. (Photo by Beowulf Sheehan)

“A jazz guy”

Philadelphia audiences already know he’s delivered on that promise. Here we discuss the creative process and how Ijames’s work was enhanced after development at PlayPenn’s new-play conference. We also touch on provocation in art, a playwright’s responsibility to their audience, and the Whitney Biennial’s Emmett Till controversy. While WHITE traverses some rocky territory, it’s very funny. Ijames explains, “I’m a jazz guy, not a blues guy.” So what play does Ijames really adore? The answer may surprise you.

For Wendy Rosenfield’s review of WHITE, click here.

All alone in a crowded room

Scottish playwright Stef Smith isn’t yet 30, but her plays show a power beyond her years. Philadelphia’s Inis Nua Theatre Company, which focuses specifically on presenting contemporary work from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, is a perfect fit for her unique voice.

Playwright Stef Smith. (Photo via StefSmith.co.uk)

Here, we speak with Smith and director Claire Moyer about Inis Nua’s production of Swallow. Smith’s tale about a trio of lonely adults all in the midst of life-changing events finds a kind of universality in alienation from the modern world. Smith has received an Olivier Award for her play RoadKill and is an associate artist at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, Scotland. This is the third play Moyer has directed for Inis Nua. Together they discuss the play’s symbolism, getting into the heads of these characters, and the reactions from audiences around the world.

To read Mark Cofta’s review of Swallow, click here.

Girl on fire

On this podcast, award-winning Philadelphia-based playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger talks about her newest production, The Arsonists. This “play with music” marks the third and final installment of her Southern Gothic trilogy, after The Terrible Girls and Skin and Bone. A National New Play Network (NNPN) rolling world premiere, it will open first under the aegis of Azuka Theatre Company and then head to theaters around the country.

Goldfinger is not afraid of the dark. (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Goldfinger)

Swamp things

Goldfinger grew up in rural Florida and, captivated by the region’s literature and music, decided the Southern Gothic form was worefully underutilized onstage. The Arsonists, inspired by Sophocles’s tragedy Elektra, follows a father-daughter arson team who reside deep in Florida’s swamplands. A live band will play during the show and, on certain nights, give concerts afterward. Here, Goldfinger discusses how the play and its predecessors came to be, NNPN’s rolling premiere process, and much more.

Get a clue

This week, we grabbed our magnifying glasses and followed the clues to New Paradise Laboratories’ site-specific mystery Gumshoe, which takes place deep in the bowels and throughout the corridors of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Afterward, we went even further and tracked down the company’s innovative founder and artistic director, Whit MacLaughlin.

Whit MacLaughlin. (Photo by Jorge Cousineau)

On the case

MacLaughlin, who arrived in Philadelphia after more than 20 years with the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, brought New Paradise Laboratories’ (NPL) founding ensemble here in 1996. Some of the company’s members have gone on to become this city’s most recognizable onstage faces (Lee Ann Etzold, Jeb Kreager, Matt Saunders, Mary McCool), and the company and its members have also seen much success in New York (NPL won an Obie Award for 2000’s The Fab 4 Reach the Pearly Gates) and elsewhere. NPL has created roughly one original work per year since its founding, and this year, they’ve paired with the Free Library and Rosenbach Museum to present Gumshoe. Listen in to learn the difference between fact, fiction, and falsehood, and — perhaps most importantly — how to escape a maze.

Interact takes The Drake

On this podcast, we catch up with InterAct Theatre Company artistic director Seth Rozin to talk about his first year at the Drake. While his company has only been performing there for the past a year, the conversations about moving there began in 2013. On the edge of completing a $2.97 million campaign, InterAct aims to create an inclusive space where all are welcome, including resident partners PlayPenn, Simpatico Theatre Project, Azuka Theatre, and Inis Nua Theatre.

Seth Rozin and the Drake, a perfect pairing. (Photo courtesy of InterAct Theatre Company)

Expanding vision

Rozin founded InterAct in 1988, and this year marks his 27th season at its helm. The company, always committed to exploring social, political and cultural issues as well as championing new work, left its Adrienne Theater residency last year to build on its vision in a new setting. Rozin hopes the Drake will become a social and artistic hub for the region’s burgeoning “new play” community. The space includes a 120-seat proscenium theatre, a 75-seat black box, and two lobbies. Here, he discusses the reasons behind his company’s move, his plans for the future, and much more.

PlayPenn gets to play on Broadway

On this podcast, PlayPenn artistic director Paul Meshejian discusses the PlayPenn Annual Conference. I spoke with Meshejian in 2013 about the conference; since then, many plays that have been workshopped there have helped shaped the national conversation around contemporary theater. These new plays transfer from the conference to regional stages, and J.T. Rogers’s drama Oslo, about the negotiations surrounding the Oslo Accords, opens on Broadway April 13, 2017, featuring New Paradise Laboratories founding member and longtime Philly actor Jeb Kreager.

PlayPenn artistic director Paul Meshejian. (Photo via PlayPenn.org)

The highlight reel

PlayPenn describes itself as “an artist-driven organization dedicated to improving the way in which new plays are developed. Employing an ever-evolving process, PlayPenn creates a relaxed tension within which playwrights can engage in risk-taking, boundary-pushing work free from the pressures of commercial consideration.”

Some of the conference’s esteemed graduates and awards include:

  • MacArthur Fellowship: Samuel D. Hunter (PlayPenn 2010)
  • Whiting Award: James Ijames (PlayPenn 2013, 2015)
  • Guggenheim Fellowship: Gabriel Jason Dean (PlayPenn 2013), Jordan Harrison (PlayPenn 2005), J.T. Rogers (PlayPenn 2005, 2009, 2015)
  • Lilly Award for Playwriting: Lucy Thurber (PlayPenn 2005)
  • Pew Fellowship: James Ijames (PlayPenn 2013, 2015)
  • Sky Cooper Prize for American Playwriting: Samuel D. Hunter (PlayPenn 2010), Martin Zimmerman (PlayPenn 2012)
  • American Theatre Critics Association’s Osborn Award: Jonathan James Norton (PlayPenn 2012)
  • Susan Smith Blackburn Prize: Sheila Callaghan (PlayPenn 2005)
  • Terrence McNally New Play Award: James Ijames (White, 2015)
  • Barrymore Award for Best New Play: R. Eric Thomas (Time Is on Our Side, PlayPenn 2015), Michael Hollinger (Ghost-Writer, PlayPenn 2009), Jacqueline Goldfinger (Slip/Shot, PlayPenn 2011)
  • Top 10 Plays, New York Times: J.T. Rogers (Oslo, PlayPenn 2015; Blood and Gifts, PlayPenn 2009)
  • Top 10 Plays, Time Magazine: J.T. Rogers (The Overwhelming, PlayPenn 2005)

No business like show business

On this podcast, we meet Mindy Dougherty, co-founder with Dan Dunn of Midtown Village’s musical-theater training program Music Theatre Philly. Both Dougherty and Dunn have Broadway bona fides, and they have worked on some of the region’s best-known stages. The company offers a unique blend of classes for both children and adults with “quadruple threat” aspirations: acting, voice, (several types of) dance, and music (guitar and piano).

A couple of young Music Theatre Philly students get into character. (Photo courtesy of Music Theatre Philly)

Mind the gap

About 20 years ago, Dougherty noticed a gap between what she learned in Philadelphia’s performance-training programs and the skills she saw in students coming out of a comprehensive independent program in Pittsburgh. She worked and attended graduate school in New York, but when she returned home to Philadlephia, she realized nobody in this city had stepped in during the intervening years to fill that gap. That’s where Music Theatre Philly comes in, and Dougherty hopes it will help create this city’s next generation of great stage talent.

Architecture is everywhere

On today’s podcast, we interview Thomas Choinacky to talk about his new work, A User’s Manual. Choinacky is the founder, producer, and co-curator of SoLow Fest, an 11-day festival of solo experimental performance in Philadelphia. He is also a company member of Applied Mechanics, a devised, collaborative theater ensemble. At the time of the interview, Choinacky was on location at Washington College in Maryland with Applied Mechanics for a residency of their FringeArts production, FEED.

Thomas Choinacky spaces out. (Photo by Jen Cleary)

Step into my parlor

A User’s Manual is a solo performance designed to respond to the body’s constant manipulation by the architecture that surrounds us. Drawing attention to structures, sounds, textures, and history, each site-specific performance catalogues the memory of its place. In Choinacky’s own words, he attempts to make “visible how humans are constantly affected by the surroundings we pass through and by the architecture we build.”  This interview goes deep into Choinacky’s philosophy of creating a performance and considers the spaces we occupy.