The 2019 Fringe Festival earlier this week. The celebration of innovative performance and visual and digital art spans three weeks and features more than 1,000 performances throughout Philadelphia.

How to choose which ones to see? Morning Edition host Jennifer Lynn caught up with President and Producing Director of FringeArts Nick Stuccio who shared his picks.

Q: Let’s begin at the beginning. Tell me about this year’s kick-off performance.

“B-Side” is the kickoff performance this year. This is a beautiful show (put on by) The Wooster Group, the infamous and famous Wooster Group actually started by Spalding Gray and Willem Dafoe. It’s an album of these spirituals and work songs and toasts recorded in a Texas state prison in 1965. It’s an album and it is brought to life by three actors. They sing the songs and read the liner notes, and you get to understand the circumstances of these inmates in this really difficult place in the ‘60s.

It’s a really moving work.

Q: I’m pretty confident you brought along some picks that you and your staff have come up with. So let’s get to them by way of a little radio game. I want to toss out some adjectives in hopes that you can fill in the blank with a recommendation. So what performances match up with these words that I’ve chosen. How about: Risky?

Hard to pick just one there because risk is infused with everything we do. I would say this year, “Superterranian.” This is the Pig Iron show. The work is driven by a set designer named Mimi Lien, and it is a kind of a sculpture and installation, visual art installation come to life, and it’s really cool. I saw the first 12 minutes the other night and it was pretty spectacular.

I would say “Un Pollo Rojo.” A show, two men from Argentina, incredible dancers, about male competitiveness. Very funny.

“Honey.” A show called, “Honey.” Two of my favorite dancers in this city are Wally Carbonell and Melissa Rector: Wally from Kun-Yang Lin, Melissa from Ronen Koresh, and they’re doing this work together. And it’s going to be really beautiful and they’re amazing dancers.

Q: I know you scour the world, literally trying to find pieces to bring, so: International.

Choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. She’s kind of the national treasure of Belgium, and this is her third time here to the Fringe Fest and she’s a brilliant one. This is her very first dance. She’s made 40 dances over 30 years. This is the very first dance she ever made called, “Fase.” Two incredible women at Fringe not to be missed.

Q: Family-friendly?

That’s easy: “Cartography.” Five young migrants tell their story about leaving very difficult situations in their homelands and coming to the West, and it’s a lovely story for families.

Q: 50+ residents dancing in the streets.

“Úumbal.”

That’s not one adjective!

This is a free event by a choreographer from Mexico named Mariana Ortega. She asked Philadelphians to donate dance steps, and from them, she made a choreography and it’s going to be performed by 60 citizens of our city — non-dancers, non-artists who’ve learned this dance and will perform it several times through the fest at Mifflin Square Park.

Q: Wow. I’m going to toss an extra one in: Confounding.

“Pursuit of Happiness.” I can’t even describe it, though, I think it’s my favorite show at this year’s festival … It’s actually a Slovenian dance company here. They dance and talk about this imaginary peacekeeping mission in Iraq for … the American troops and the Iraqi troops. Artists try to solve the world’s problems, and it goes very wrong and it’s wacky!

Q: OK, we’ll leave that at that. Well, in the FringeArts guide, you remind potential audience members it’s a festival that strives to be accessible. Some shows are represented through American Sign Language interpretation, audio descriptions, open captioning, some are wheelchair accessible, many are. And what is a “relaxed performance?”

That’s a performance where it’s OK for the audience members to get up and move around. The lights aren’t as bright. The sound isn’t as loud, and these kinds of things are increasingly important to us and to audiences. And there’s a long list of those that we’re doing this year. It’s in the guide, and it’s very important.

Q: So, if an environment could be overstimulating, the goal here is to bring it down a notch?

That’s right.

Q: So, there was a quote of yours published in the FringeArts Guide. Are you ready to hear what you said?

I am ready.

Q: “If you are curious, if you’re connected to this world and concerned about it, if you care, if you want to talk, and think, and understand, and take action, if you want to be entertained while you do all these things, the Fringe Festival is for you.” What’s the context for all that?

I think that summarizes how I think about these things. You can dive in and see a whole bunch of different shows that are really important to us talking about contemporary issues and culture all at the same time. It’s not fraught. It’s art. And it’s often fun. These are the kinds of ways we can address these issues that only art can do.

Q: And that quote was overheard at the grocery store. You were just talking to the checker on the way out. Just rolled off the tongue!

Exactly, it comes tumbling out of me all the time!

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