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Philly2Philly Picks: Top Five Free Philly Fringe


The Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe can be more than a little intimidating. With more than 200 shows, there’s bound to be something for almost anyone. Do you prefer dance, theatre, music, visual art, performance art, or interdisciplinary arts? Do you want to laugh, cry, think, or all of the above? Want something for the kiddos or the grown ups? Interested in high-tech productions, or unique spaces, or participating in the action? The options are dizzying.

Even with affordable ticket prices (ranging from $5-$30, depending on the show), there are few of us who will get to see everything we want. But you may be able to get the most bang for your Festival buck by checking out the free events. This year, there are 14 of them—some that seem stellar and some, well, not so much. These events run the full gamut of Festival possibilities without the full price (although a few do request donations). Here are the five that intrigued us most. Check ‘em out. See what you think. What do you have to lose? Not your money.


It's Not Me It's YouIt’s Not Me It’s You, presented by Mayumi Ishino

Friday – Sunday, September 4 – 6, Saturday, September 19, 5 p.m.

Corner of North 3rd & Church Streets (Old City)

This is quintessential Fringe.

In It’s Not Me It’s You, two performers, Japanese artist Mayumi Ishino dressed in white and an invisible stagehand cloaked in black Ninja-like clothing, will stand on a busy street corner. Ms. Ishino will quickly draw a realistic self-portrait of herself on the surface of the mirror while looking into it. Then she’ll break the mirror with a hammer. The action is repeated several times. As the mirror breaks (but doesn’t shatter), the self-portraits change and the artist challenges the subconscious desire for permanence and the fears of change and loss.

“The action itself is simple, but the observers can experience various perspectives if they get involved and move around the performers,” Ms. Ishino says. “I want the audience to feel free to come nearby, observe the action, and witness the reflections on the mirrors up close.”

By performing on the street, Ms. Ishino is excited about the possibility of bringing people out of their everyday routines and expectations. Though she may seem indifferent to her audience throughout the performance, It’s Not Me It’s You is not about her personal, intimate experience with the mirror; it is about everyone, each person’s journey. That journey could be different for each individual. Some folks might choose to watch for a few minutes and move along; some might choose watch, move along, and return to watch some more; and some might be mesmerized by the process and stay the whole time.

“The interesting thing about performing on the street is often how the reaction of spectators evolves from bewilderment or surprise to this kind of engagement that sometimes appears almost involuntary,” Ms. Ishino says.

 It’s Not Me It’s You marks Ms. Ishino’s debut at the Philly Fringe Festival.


Muralmorphosis presented by the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program in collaboration with Sean Stoops

Ongoing Friday September 4 – Saturday September 19, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Closing Party Saturday September 19, 9 p.m.

Empty lot at 219 Race Street (Old City)

In a city with about 2,800 murals, a mural project might not seem all that “fringy.” But give a handful of artists a couple of weeks to play on a wall with little more than the theme “metamorphosis” to guide them, and now you’re talking about a project that expands the meaning of community art and pushes the boundaries of how art is made. You’re talking about a project that doesn’t just liven a brick façade, but breathes, pulsates, and mutates like a leaving thing itself. You’re talking about Muralmorphosis.

Beginning this Friday, six artists (four from Philly, two from NYC) will draw and paint a continuous series of imagery on the wall at 219 Race Street, following the theme of evolution or metamorphosis. They will work individually and collaboratively to create an extremely organic mural, each playing off what another has created, says Brian Campbell, Exhibitions and Reception Manager for the Mural Arts Program. Audiences are invited to witness the progression of the wall as an ever-changing spectacle throughout the Fringe.

Unlike most of MAP’s projects, Muralmorphosis is only a temporary mural—a means to an end. In this case, the final “product” will be a 2-3 minute stop-motion animation film, documenting the creation of the mural. At the conclusion of the project, photographs collected by a team of Drexel University students over the course of the Festival will be edited by Sean Stoops, curator of Muralmorphosis, and Josh Frankel, a video animation artist. Though the film will not be completed until after the Philly Fringe, audiences can preview some of the photographers’ digital images and check out the wall in its final form at the closing party on September 19th.

“What will be on the wall on the final day of the project may be very different from what was on the wall a week before,” says Mr. Campbell. “Ultimately, we hope the audience will find the imagery fresh and vibrant, and we hope that the video has tremendous universal appeal and that it is shared with others around the world.”


OMBELICOThe Power Of Magic: An International Commedia for Everyone, presented by OMBELICO Mask Ensemble

Thursday, Saturday & Sunday, September 10, 12, 13 and Thursday – Saturday, September 17–19, 6 p.m.

Betsy Ross House Courtyard, 239 Arch Street (Old City)

Back before fringe had a festival, there was Commedia dell’Arte. Now that the Fringe Festival is upon us, we have OMBELICO Mask Ensemble.

Founded in 2007, OME is a Philly-based acting troupe dedicated to Commedia, a colorful, energetic, improvisational form of theatre, developed in Italy almost 500 years ago.

“Part Shakespeare, part Cirque du Soleil, part I Love Lucy. Commedia is life taken to an absurd extreme,” explains Brendon Gawel, founder and co-artistic director of OME.

In the 16th century, professional actors, perhaps dismayed by theatre of the time, donned masks and costumes and took to the streets where anyone could watch. Today it’s not much different. Over the next few weeks, OME will find a home in the courtyard of the Betsy Ross House, where their performances will be totally accessible and free for all. (They will pass a hat, but that practice dates back to the origins of Commedia too!)

“Typical theatre tickets are cost-prohibitive to many,” Mr. Gawel says. “Instead of trying to bring people to the theatre, we prefer to bring theatre to the people.”

In its third year at the Fringe, OME is presenting The Power of Magic: An International Commedia for Everyone. The family-friendly show will feature all the classic elements of Commedia (masks, improv, acrobatics), with a twist: each of the three actors will speak in their (different) mother tongues throughout the performance.

“There is something beautiful and amazing when an audience can understand perfectly everything that happens on stage, without knowing the language,” says Mr. Gawel. “It is inspiring and comforting to know that the absurdities of life—the ridiculous extremes we go to in search of love or money or power or just sleep—are universal.”

Although the style of Commedia and the outdoor venue allow folks to enter the action throughout, this is not one of those Fringe things that you’re meant to only see five minutes of. OME encourages audiences to arrive at 6 p.m. to enjoy the entire show.


The Breakup Booth presented by The Missoula Oblongata

Fridays & Saturdays, September 11 & 12, 18 & 19, 9 – 10 p.m.

The Latvian Society, 531 N. 7th Street (Northern Liberties)

Saturday, September 12, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Clark Park, 43rd Street & Baltimore Avenue (West Philly)

Forget everything you’ve been told and everything you’ve seen in movies. Forget your own heart-wrenching life experiences. Here’s the truth: People love being broken up with.

At least that’s been the experience of The Missoula Oblongata, an experimental theatre company making its Philly Fringe debut with The Breakup Booth. It’s just what it sounds like: A member of the public (you?) enters an installation, which appears to be a romantic restaurant with a table set for two. Your date (a member of Missoula) sits down and unceremoniously dumps you. Heartbreak ensues.

“When we first started this project, we thought people might just be freaked out and not know how to respond,” explains Missoula’s Donna Sellinger. “Or we thought they would just sit there and take it and eventually leave.”

Not so. Ms. Sellinger says people argue, cry, fight, and beg. They accuse the actors of infidelity and throw water in their faces. Sometimes, they even create whole storylines for the imaginary relationships that are ending. “We’ve had people go on and on about what a great time they had with us over Christmas at their parents’ house, or about how now we’ll never take that vacation to Mexico together,” Ms. Sellinger explains. “It’s shocking. People are very strange.”

If you’ve experienced your share of heartache and just want to watch, the booth is open on one side. Onlookers are welcome to cheer and egg people on.

The booth will be open for breakups for one hour on Friday and Saturday evenings outside the Latvian Society in Northern Liberties. And since these things don’t just happen at night, the booth will be over in Clark Park on Saturday September 12 for four hours worth of heartache. The booth is absolutely free, but there will be a tip jar for those who particularly enjoy their breakup.


Bike Part Art Show, presented by Neighborhood Bike Works

Exhibition Friday August 28 – Friday September 18

Closing Reception & Auction, Friday, September 18, 7 p.m.

4522 Baltimore Avenue (West Philly)

At Neighborhood Bike Works’ 7th annual Bike Part Art Show you’ll find truly unique arts and crafts, handmade using – you guessed it – bike parts. An amazing exhibit that challenges the idea of “trash,” the Bike Part Art Show includes intriguing pieces, like a bird nest made with rim tape and spokes or a trophy antelope whose face is a bike seat. If you like your form to have a little function, there are one-of-a-kind housewares, like chandeliers made from bike wheels or a set of bookends made from chainrings. And for those who prefer to wear their art, there is jaw-dropping jewelry, including a beautiful and sophisticated necklace made from a piece of seat tube, crocheted sterling wire, and a brake cable.

In all, there are about 60 innovative pieces from more than 50 local artists, all of which will be up for auction at the September 18th reception. The show also features photographs taken by kids in Neighborhood Bike Works’ summer camp. New to the show this year is the Bike Motif Craft Boutique, to which about 40 crafters from around the country have donated their bicycle-emblazoned clothing, housewares, jewelry, etc., to be sold at the Show for set prices.

“It’s astonishing what artists can do with a bike part,” says Kate Duncan organizer of this year’s show. “There is a huge amount of community support in Philly for art, recycling, and bicycling, and I hope people who come to the show are carried away by all that momentum.”

The Bike Part Art Show exhibition runs now through September 18. The closing reception and auction will be held September 18, 7–10 p.m. The show is free, though a $5 donation is suggested. All proceeds will benefit Neighborhood Bike Work’s youth programs.