Meet the Artist: Hillary Rea
 
 Hillary Rea photographed by Joanna Nowak

Hillary Rea photographed by Joanna Nowak

Our series dedicated to meeting the artists and collaborators of Mother/Daughter, continues with EBP founder Lauren Leonard (LL) interviewing audio-documentarian and storyteller, Hillary Rea who is collaborating with EBP on the February production of the show.

Hillary Rea is the founder of Tell Me A Story, a company that supports you and your stories through artistic guidance and educational support. She is an award-winning storyteller (NYC Moth StorySLAM winner, Upright Citizen’s Brigade’s Animated Stories, the Story Collider), the host of Tell Me A Story’s long-running live show, and an audio documentarian with a podcast.

LL: Where did your storytelling journey begin?

HR: It has been a long and winding road, but I would say it fully began in 2010 when I brought all of the change from my piggy bank and cashed it in at the TD Bank penny-saver and used that money to go to a live story slam show at L’Etage. It was raining and on the way there I was splashed by a SEPTA bus. I showed up soaked, put my name into the bag to tell a story, and was picked first.  I had prepared a story on the theme (it was “Emergency”) but I had no idea what types of stories people told at these shows or how anyone told them. I was also just getting over severe stage fright, so the fact that I had to go first was not helping. But I got through it! The story slam was scored by audience judges and one of them told me he gave me a lower score because I said “and so” too much. The judges aren’t supposed to give you a verbal critique of your performance, just a number, however, his critique did help me to use less filler words in my storytelling.

LL: You started off as a stand up comedian. In terms of structure, how do telling jokes and stories differ?

HR: I think this can be different for everyone. There are a lot of comedians who tell funny stories and pepper laughs all the way through a beginning, middle, end structure. I like to find the truth in comedy vs. planning and working out a perfect joke to insert into a story. I like to find the funny moment in real life situations, and go from there.

LL: We share the belief that everyone has a story to tell and that every story has the power to effect change and move people. How does your company, Tell Me A Story, promote this idea?

HR: Yes, I am so thrilled that our company’s missions are aligned in this way. One of our mottos at Tell Me A Story is to be a “megaphone for your voice, your words, your story.” We’re not going to tell you exactly what story to tell or exactly how to tell it. Instead, we guide people through the experience of finding their story and the words to make it come to life so that they may be heard and invite other people to listen. We do this by working with people one-on-one in public speaking and with our storytelling workshops. It’s really all about listening to each other and opening up space to share experiences.

LL: In addition to the business side of things, you host the bi-monthly Tell Me A Story live show at Shot Tower Coffee. How do you select your themes and storytellers?

HR: The live show is how Tell Me A Story (the business) came to be. I can’t really remember my initial process for coming up with themes, but now I sit down at the end of the year and brainstorm theme ideas for the following year. It’s lot of free association and finding words that have many interpretations. As for the storytellers, it’s a combination of people who have told stories at our shows in the past, people who submit story ideas through our website, and former audience members who get inspired to tell a story of their own. I do try to go a full calendar year without repeating a storyteller, so that we can be as inclusive as possible.

LL: For the past two years you've shifted your creative focus to audio storytelling and recently launched your podcast, Rashomon, which asks people to tell the every side of the same story. What is the “Rashomon Effect” and why does it make for compelling storytelling?

HR: The Rashomon Effect came out of the 1950 Akira Kurosawa film Rashomon and its innovative storytelling style. Simply put, the Rashomon Effect is the idea that every person can experience the same event in different ways and have different memories, emotions, and perspectives of what really happened. The term used in psychology (and many other ologies) and demonstrated well in The Cohen Family episode of the podcast. The Cohen’s are a married couple, both psychotherapists, who use this idea in their clinical practice.

LL: Speaking of compelling storytelling, we are collaborating (with photographer Joanna Nowak) this fall/winter to revisit and rework Mother/Daughter as an interdisciplinary event. Where are you in your creative process?

HR:  I am about to audio record a performance of Mother/Daughter this weekend during its Fringe Festival run. I’m excited not only to document the show, but to experience it as an audience member! From there I’m planning to meet with mothers and daughters that have already participated in (or expressed interest in) this project and find the stories that will be shared as part of a mini-season of Rashomon in early 2019.

LL: What about the collaboration appeals to you?

HR: I like that this collaboration is interdisciplinary and tells stories in many forms. In a way the theater production, the photographs, and the audio are all Rashomon Effects of the same experience. Or is that a stretch? I don’t think it is!

LL: It’s not a stretch, at all! I might even borrow it going forward! Speaking of experiences (the critic mentioned earlier would likely take issue with my use of “speaking of…”), what are you most looking forward to or ready to rave about at this year’s Fringe Festival?

HR: I just returned from the first performance of An Unofficial, Unauthorized Tour of LOVE Park by two of my favorite people, Rose Luardo and Kate Banford. It’s free and takes place in (you guessed it) LOVE Park. It’s hilarious!

LL: What’s up next for you?

HR: A lot! Tell Me A Story has a show on September 19th at Shot Tower Coffee. I’m teaching a half day professional development workshop on Origin Stories, and starting Season 2 of Rashomon. Looking forward to all of it and to working with you and Joanna!

Mother/Daughter Sept 15 8pm & Sept 16, 2pm, Philly PACK (233 Federal)

Tell Me A Story

Rashomon Podcast

 
Meet the Artist: Shahana Jan
 
 Shahana Jan  Photo by Humayun M.

Shahana Jan

Photo by Humayun M.

Our series dedicated to meeting the artists and collaborators of Mother/Daughter, continues with EBP founder Lauren Leonard (LL) interviewing actor, director, and writer Shahana Jan.

Shahana is an actor and director from Islamabad, Pakistan. Jan studied film and TV production in Cape Town, South Africa, and later trained in acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in New York City. Her work has taken her to Turkey, Serbia, Italy, South Africa, Thailand, and Kazakhstan. Her most recent directorial work was the music video for Walk The Moon’s We Are the Kids. She was seen on stage for the Philadelphia Young Playwright’s Mouthful Monologue Festival 2018 and will be seen on TV in an exclusive PBS series this Fall.

LL: What brought you to Philadelphia?

SJ: I got married! Plain and simple. My husband, Gibran, is from here. Thankfully, this was a welcome move. Philly is great. I’ve come to really like it.

LL: This is our second show together, what keeps you coming back for more?

SJ: What’s not to love about EBP? For me, I think it’s this wonderful space that EBP provides: the space to be open, non-judgmental, accepting, and collaborative. It really is a place to give voice to honest vignettes of the human condition. Particularly in the shows I’ve done with EBP, I’ve felt a certain fellowship, a bond with this strong, empathetic female narrative. And that’s just a really nice place to be creatively and more importantly to connect with others on a human level.

LL: In Mother/Daughter you’re performing a piece that you wrote about your mother’s immigration story. What inspired you to share such a deeply personal story?

SJ: Moving here, I’ve had to undergo a life transformation, as all immigrants do. I realized that while I was going through the struggles of finding a new life, so was my mother, but on an altogether different level. Uprooting your entire life to begin again somewhere new is hard for most people, but we don't hear enough about older immigrants. We talk about younger immigrant stories because we love to hear how they made it in the new world through years of hard work, etc. The American Dream, yes? But what about those who’ve already lived a full life; lived their so-called glory years? How does the American Dream apply to them? I witnessed this first-hand with my mother.  The piece is a bittersweet revelation.

LL: Woman. Pakistani. Immigrant. How do these labels inform your work?

SJ: When I moved to America from Pakistan movements like #MeToo and Time's Up were just surfacing. Having arrived in a country that boasted a lot of freedoms I didn't have growing up in Pakistan, I was already in the process of discovering what it meant to be a woman. The timing of my arrival was rather serendipitous. I often say I feel like I’ve woken up from the matrix: I'm questioning and reevaluating the way I look at and respond to things trying to determine if they're conditioned by a patriarchal society or my own personal beliefs. I guess that ties into how I feel about being a Pakistani, too. 

I love Pakistan. It's home. And there’s so much that I value about it culturally.  I want to hold onto that. I think for me, it's a matter of finding the right balance. 

As for being an immigrant, that’s a whole other thing. The fact that I’m labeled by a color in America is still something I'm getting used to.   

And then there’s the constant fear of being boxed in by all the above labels. For me, in terms of my work, it's most important to shed a light on my heritage and identity as a Pakistani but to also show that identities evolve and grow and that that’s okay. As a woman, I want my work to now explore things I wasn’t able to previously. It's the right time to be a woman of color in America.

LL: What role do you think art and artists play in times of social and political unrest?

SJ: From what I’ve known, Art has always been a response to the world it was born in. It's a reflection of the current state, a snapshot of the world as it was, and a beautiful time capsule to look back on. Artists have the ability to enlighten, to connect people during social or political unrest. It’s one of the best way to tap into the hearts and minds of humanity to actually effect change. I think Art and Artists play a vital role in documenting and preserving the human story and legacy.

LL: Would you rather be in front of the camera/onstage or behind it (writing, directing, shooting)?

SJ: Always in front of the camera/onstage! I love the direct connection an actor has with an audience; living out the lives and telling the stories. It's exhilarating! It makes me feel alive in the moment. Having said that, there is a Storyteller in me and I enjoy the process of making things happen,  so I will most definitely be writing and directing my whole life.

LL: What are you most looking forward to at this year’s Fringe Festival?  

SJ: Honestly, our show! I haven’t been able to run through the Festival program yet but I’m going to get on that soon!

LL: Where can audiences see you after Fringe? What’s next for you?

SJ: Hopefully on a TV Screen this Fall! I’ll be on an exclusive PBS series. Stay tuned!

LL: I want to thank you and your mother for sharing your stories. I am so looking forward to meeting her.

SJ: Thank you for being the wonderful Lauren Leonard.

Mother/Daughter Sept 15 8pm & Sept 16, 2pm, Philly PACK (233 Federal)

 
Meet the Artist: Jeanine Follette
 
 Jeanine Follette   

Jeanine Follette   

Our series dedicated to meeting the artists and collaborators of Mother/Daughter, continues with EBP founder Lauren Leonard (LL) interviewing actor Jeanine Follette.

Jeanine is a native of Rochester, New York who studied voice and music at Monroe Community College and Musical Theatre Performance at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City. Follette has headlined as a Featured Singer on Holland America and Royal Caribbean cruise ships; toured the Northeast and Canada with Cirque Dreams: Holidaze; and understudied for The Walnut Street Theatre's production of Saturday Night Fever.

LL: What brought you to Philadelphia?

JF: I moved from New York City with my then husband because he booked an Equity show here. We decided to stay once we realized it’s cheaper to live and we could still build a decent resume.

LL: What’s your theatrical background?

JF: I fell in love with theatre at 8 years old and have been involved ever since. I worked on school productions and in local theatre before moving to New York City when I turned 21. Once there, I enrolled in The American Musical and Dramatic Academy, majoring in Musical Theatre. I was lucky enough to book right out of school and have toured the country and seas performing on cruise ships.

LL: I confess to Googling you (I Google all my collaborators. Is that creepy?) so I know you can sing and dance. What’s your favorite number to perform?

JF: Oh jeez, seriously?! That is too funny! My first love was singing. I used to want to be a singer on the radio, like legit! My favorite number to perform is hard to choose! I’d say when I was in a wedding band, I loved singing “Redneck Woman” and “Lady Marmalade” on the ships.

LL: What’s it like to work on a cruise ship?

JF: I was in an ensemble that was worth over $10,000 and I got to rock this kind of “sass” that I’d never embodied before in my life! It was so much fun! It’s an experience I am grateful for and always recommend to anyone learning how to hone their craft. I learned SO much about performing while on the ships, but there’s a give and take. Eventually, you miss your friends and family and being a part of normal day-to-day life on land. It’s difficult spending every holiday away from home and in constant motion. That being said, I look back on that time fondly; I don’t regret it one bit.

LL: At your audition you said you’re cast most often as the Tough Girl and that you’d like to play someone more vulnerable. Without giving too much away, would you say you’re getting that opportunity with Mother/Daughter?

JF: Absolutely! I’m good at glitzing it up, acting strong and confident with some heels on, and belting out a song, but I haven't had the opportunity yet to really work in those quiet, private moments. With Mother/Daughter, I’m outside of my comfort zone but trying to graciously accept those uncomfortable feelings and recognize that this woman has something to say that isn’t easy for her. I’m doing my best to honor that.

LL: What drew you to Mother/Daughter?

JF: Here’s the thing, when I found out what Fringe was back in 2016, I was determined to be cast in it! It’s something that has always been on my radar.  When I saw auditions for this year's shows, I jumped at the chance to be seen. Yours was the second Fringe audition I had and—my friends will confirm this—I was in such a great mood after your audition. Everything about the audition process for this show was warm, and inviting, and it left me feeling like even if I didn’t book it, I had a great time being myself in the room with you. Now that we’re here, I am so very grateful to be a part of an original piece that’s meaningful and present a subject worthy of discussion. I think show has the capacity to touch those who have a loving, strained, lost, or even spiritual relationship with their mothers.

LL: What do you hope to gain from the Fringe experience?

JF: More experience working on a living, breathing piece. It’s rare as an actor that you get the chance to collaborate on a script with the writer. This process has taught me to go with the flow and not be so hard on myself; to stop trying to get every word right and be less rigid in my approach. One day, it might all be re-written, you know?

LL: Where can audiences see you after Fringe? What’s next for you?

JF: I’m focusing on finding more auditions and creating opportunities to be seen. Nothing is booked now, but we actors know that can change at the drop of a hat! I hope to work with Earlie Bird again and play in the Philly PACK garage. For now, though, I’m grateful to be here and able to perform.

Mother/Daughter Sept 15 8pm & Sept 16, 2pm, Philly PACK (233 Federal)
 
Meet the Artist: Angel Hogan
 
 Angel Hogan 

Angel Hogan 

Our series dedicated to meeting the artists and collaborators of Mother/Daughter, continues with EBP founder Lauren Leonard (LL) interviewing poet and author Angel Hogan (AH).

Angel has performed as part of the Black Women’s Arts Festival, Literary Death Match, Moonstone Presents, First Person Arts, Painted Bride Quarterly and the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Angel worked with ArtWell, was a Contributing Editor to Philadelphia Stories, and a review panelist for the Philadelphia Cultural Fund. As a teaching artist, Angel is most interested in initiatives that use storytelling as a vehicle for tolerance, peace, and community building.

LL: For purposes of this interview, I’d like to focus on your work as a poet. When did you start writing?

AH: I’ve been writing since I was quite young…maybe 5 or 6 years old? I loved to read and writing was an escape for me. I found books amazing and words like magic.

LL: Do you write in a specific style?

AH: I don’t. I was an English major in school, and learned many of the popular forms and styles, but there is no one style that is “me.” I like experimenting and the unexpected.

LL: Thematically, are there topics you tend to write about or shy away from?

AH: Ahhh. That is a great question. Much of my early writing found me grappling with a somewhat unusual childhood, as part of a multiracial family living on a farm in rural PA. Many of our neighbors and schoolmates were intolerant; it was tough and sometimes downright violent. It was also bizarre and beautiful. For a long time, I found myself circling back to race, identity. Family. I still write about these things but think more about all of us as a human “family” and what it means to look life in the face. Grief, love, longing, grace.

LL: How are writing and performing related for you? How is the practice of each different?

AH: I am fairly green as a performer and find that I love it. Writing can be a pretty solitary, even lonely act. Performance creates a connection - with other artists as well as the audience. I also think that performing demands a vulnerability that has allowed me to consider taking more chances as a writer. It’s all one big Trust Fall. It reminds us, over and over, that we are alive and grabbing the moment.

LL: For the uninitiated, what’s the poetry scene like here in Philly?

AH: There is a rich poetry scene here in Philly. We are all very lucky. Nearly any night of the week you can find an open mic, a featured event, spoken word, experimental readings.

LL: You wrote an original piece for Mother/Daughter? How is it written and what inspired it?

AH:  I am adopted. Put simply, my piece, Two Mothers is about my birth Mom and my Mom. It is kind of a dreamy landscape, connecting with my birth Mom before I was born, and having to let her go. Part two is connecting anew with the Mom who adopted me, and gave me my name, raised me. She is an amazing woman, who sailed her boat to Florida in her 50’s… which meant a parting for us. The poem is about beginnings, beginnings, beginnings, tide circling to sea and shore again. It is about impossible decisions and tiny magics. And of course, love.

LL: This is not your first Fringe Festival. As an artist working in Philly, what does Fringe mean to you?  

AH: Fringe is an excellent opportunity to get out there and be a part of performance that is off the tired path…whether you are the one on stage or the one viewing.   

LL: What are you most looking forward to at this year’s festival?

AH: I am so excited to be working with the dynamic Mother/Daughter cast, as well with EBP. I flipped through the Fringe Festival magazine and circled about two-dozen other shows I’d like to see. If only there was time!  I am looking forward to soaking it all in.

LL: Related to your piece and mothers and daughters, what’s the next step for you?

AH: I am working on a short documentary that chronicles the experience of taking a genetic test. As an adopted person with little knowledge of my background, this is exciting and scary. These tests have the potential to unlock exhilarating, illuminating doors for folks like me with little or no understanding of our genetic background. The knowledge may also be unsettling: what if you find you are not who you thought you were? What exactly is identity? Who gets to decide?

I have never worked with film before, so it is all new territory. As an artist, one of the things I find most powerful about sharing our experiences, though sometimes difficult, is how they often serve as a way to build community and greater understanding. I believe this particular brand of empathy is especially urgent now, during a time when so many are divided afresh by current politics and horrors.     

Mother/Daughter Sept 15 8pm & Sept 16, 2pm, Philly PACK (233 Federal)
To see more of Angel's work, visit  www.angelhogan.com
 
Meet the Artist: Cambria Klein
 
 Cambria Klein

Cambria Klein

Our series dedicated to meeting the artists and collaborators of Mother/Daughter, continues with EBP founder Lauren Leonard (LL) interviewing actor Cambria Klein (CK).

Cambria is a sophomore at Haddon Heights High School and has been performing regionally since the age of 8. She has performed at Walnut Street Theatre (High Society, A Christmas Story, Elf the Musical), and in two new musicals at Delaware Theatre Company. She is grateful to EBP for the opportunity to be part of Mother/Daughter and the Fringe Festival!

LL: At 15, you are one of the youngest in our cast. How and when were you introduced to theatre?

CK: I was 8 years old when I was introduced to theater, and I started by taking classes and workshops in the Philadelphia area. From there, I performed in my first show ever, Elf the musical, at the Walnut Street Theatre.

LL: It’s the start of a new school year. What subject or class are you most excited to take?

CK: I’m most excited about taking Honors English 2 because English has always been my strongest subject. I’m also very excited about taking a class I’ve never taken before called "Theater Arts," which is a class where students can strengthen their acting skills.

LL: I danced throughout my school years and while it was something I loved, it was sometimes hard to balance my school work and functions with my dance classes. Is this something you’ve experienced?

CK: Yes, of course! I always try to keep up with dance classes and workshops as much as I can, without letting it take over my school priorities.

LL: So far, what’s your favorite role and why?

CK: My favorite role would have to be Opal in the musical Because of Winn Dixie because of the deep emotions I had to bring to the character and the amazing time I had in training with a stage dog. It was a life-changing experience for me and it even inspired my family and I to adopt our first dog which we named Dixie!

LL: Was the dog your most interesting cast-mate?

CK: For sure! No other cast-mate will ever be as cuddly and cute!

LL: What about Mother/Daughter appealed to you?

CK: I thought that being in a Fringe Festival performance would be amazing, but the fact that it dealt with mother and daughter relationships intrigued me because I thought it would be relatable and meaningful.

LL: Your character in Mother/Daughter is a teenager learning in a way how to better communicate with her parents. Do identify with this character?

CK: I do, very much. It made me laugh how similar I am to my character and just made me love the monologue even more! So much of it is true, and I have to be honest, I’ll definitely use some of my character’s advice next time I ask my mom for something!

LL: What’s next for you after Fringe? Any upcoming shows?

CK: After Fringe, I will start my sophomore year of high school, and I will be looking forward to my spring school show. As of right now, I don’t have any upcoming shows, but I am always on the lookout!

Mother/Daughter Sept 15 8pm & Sept 16, 2pm, Philly PACK (233 Federal)
 
 
 
Meet the Artist: Maria Wolf
 
 Maria Wolf 

Maria Wolf 

Our series dedicated to meeting the artists and collaborators of Mother/Daughter, continues with EBP founder Lauren Leonard (LL) interviewing actor Maria Wolf (MW).

The stage is Maria Wolf's first love. Most recently, she had a leading role in a new play, titled An Incident at Peniel, which had a short run in New York City. Favorite roles include Madame Irma (The Balcony), Lotte Schoen (Lettuce & Lovage).,  and Vita (Vita & Virginia). Maria has had leading roles in TV crime episodics Grave Secrets, Evil Lives Here and Deadliest Decade airing on Investigation Discovery.

LL: When did you decide to become an actor? What was the path that led you there?

MW: I became an actress later in life... although I’m still just 29! On the heels of a failed adoption and years of infertility treatments, I knew I needed do something with my life. So I tried community theater and realized that I liked it enough to want to study and learn. I started out at the Wilma’s acting school and began to understudy at all the major theaters in Philly to get my Equity card. I felt proud to have earned points (you can get it either by earning points or landing an Equity contract) to get my card. Due to the lack of opportunity here, I started commuting to New York. I’ve studied at perhaps a half dozen studios and theaters in Manhattan. It took me about a year to build the confidence to start auditioning, but I did and started to get cast in shows, workshops, readings, TV and short films.

LL: Choose your favorite and explain why you chose it: film, TV, theatre.

MW: There’s nothing like theater; all your senses are ignited at once. You’re thinking, you’re speaking, you’re listening, you’re moving, you’re feeling... And it all happens simultaneously. There are no retakes. It’s terrifying and thrilling, challenging and joyful, all at once.

LL: Is there are particular role or type that you’d most like to play?

MW: I typically get cast in roles of strong women who have a point of view about themselves and the world in which they live. I like playing those women, especially the ones who have a hidden heartache that keeps peeking through.

LL: What’s been your most challenging role? What made it so?

MW: I’d say Madame Irma in The Balcony by Jean Genet. It was my first big role in New York, and I was living away from home. I felt lonely, tired, and I was without friends. But I pushed through and it taught me that New York isn’t so scary after all.

LL: When faced with rejection, how do you recover and convince yourself to continue the pursuit?

MW: Ah, rejection! I always assume I’ll be rejected, but I’m always convinced I have a chance. Hope springs eternal. It has to. Otherwise, we’d give up pretty quickly. As actors, we can only control what we do in the audition room. I can give the best audition and still not get the role. That’s tough to take, but I have to give it my all, then leave it and walk away. If it comes back to me, I know it was meant for me. If it doesn’t, I move on. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary to maintain emotional health.

LL: Your resume is extensive; a lot of the work you do is based in New York. Why New York over Philly?

MW: New York is where the opportunities are for me.  After years of working there, I have a wonderful community of artists. Creativity is everywhere - from actors and directors to filmmakers and playwrights - and we all share the same passion.

LL: I understand this is your third Fringe Festival, what drew you to Mother/Daughter?

MW:  I always wanted to be a mother, but that wasn’t in the cards. I am though, daughter to a wonderful mother, so the show's main theme appealed to me.  Coincidentally, I had come across an intriguing monologue about a woman searching for her mother, so the Mother/Daughter audition gave me an opportunity to learn something new, which I can now add to my repertoire.

LL: What other shows/Fringe experiences are you looking forward to having?

MW: I am looking forward to being one of the actors featured in the preview show on August 27 at the Fringe venue. 

Mother/Daughter Sept 15 8pm & Sept 16, 2pm, Philly PACK (233 Federal)
 
 
 
Meet the Artist: Jacqueline Libby
 
 Photo by John C. Hawthorne, Courtesy of UArts/Pig Iron

Photo by John C. Hawthorne, Courtesy of UArts/Pig Iron

Our series dedicated to meeting the artists and collaborators of Mother/Daughter, continues with EBP founder Lauren Leonard (LL) interviewing theatre artist Jacqueline Libby (JL).

Jacqueline is a theatre artist, creator, actor, collaborator, and mover who enjoys exploring the extremes on stage: stillness vs. movement; emotional vs. detached; silly vs. serious. An Upstate New Yorker now based in Philadelphia, Jacqueline is currently completing a Master of Fine Arts in Devised Performance at the University of the Arts through the Pig Iron Theatre Company.

LL: What brought you to Philadelphia?

JL: I grew up in Upstate New York, surrounded by music and the arts. Music runs in my family. My grandmother was a pianist, my mother a cellist. Growing up in that world, surrounded by creativity, it only made sense that I developed a passion for theatre that couldn’t be dissuaded. I lived in Buffalo during my undergrad, and it wasn’t until my senior year there where I realized that I wasn’t done with formal training and wanted to expand my horizons. Philadelphia has an amazing arts community, from their iconic DIY music scene, to their huge support for new and exciting works of theatre...it made sense to come here.

LL: You’re pursuing an MFA in Devised Performance through the University of the Arts and Pig Iron Theatre Company. For the uninitiated, tell us about Pig Iron and the concept of “devised performance.”

JL: The Pig Iron Theatre Company is a Philadelphia-based company who specializes in creating ensemble-devised works that defies traditional theatre designations. Devised performance is a way of creating theatre through collaboration. The script is written by the ensemble as the play is being created, usually through improvisatory work.  Instead of the traditional structure, with a designated playwright, director, and actors all doing their own separate jobs, the ensemble takes on all the roles. It is one of my favorite ways to work because, if you can get people with varying aesthetics to agree on something, well, that's when you know the thing is hot; that there's something something special about it.  I would not be able to come up with those ideas just by myself; it takes an ensemble. Pig Iron uses this collaborative effort to develop their own productions, usually with a guest collaborator. They also opened a school (recently collaborating with UArts) to train the next generation of theatre artists in this method.

LL: What was it about this particular MFA program that felt like the best fit for you?

JL: The summer going into my senior year of undergrad I trained with Make Trouble in Suzuki, Viewpoints, and ensemble creation and fell in love with that style of work.I was invited to addition with Pig Iron in Philly and knew immediately that this was where I was going to end up. Pig Iron’s program is incredibly unique; one of the only like it in the country that grants an MFA. I wanted a graduate program that would fill in gaps in my training with Pig Iron, I'm studying things I never knew existed! In my first year I trained in extensively in neutral mask, character masks, and creating imaginary spaces without sets. In the second year we'll dive further into commedia, cabaret, and grotesque. The curriculum is rigorous, expansive, and intense! It has challenged and dared me to leap into the unknown. 

LL: Is this your first time performing as part of the Fringe Festival? 

JL: This is my first time performing as part of Fringe! I am very excited for this opportunity.

LL: What drew you to Mother/Daughter?

JL: As a theatre artist I love telling stories. Everyone has a unique and complicated one about their relationship with their parents, especially their mothers. That relationship is ever-changing. I loved the concept of exploring a sampling of these relationships and sharing them with an audience. I think we're going to make them laugh, cry, and nod their heads in understanding.

LL: What aspect of your character to you most identify with?

JL: She’s dramatic. She likes to joke around but also can be a bit reflective, which I identify with. I'm always looking at my past and trying to learn from it. I am also rather dramatic!

LL: At our first rehearsal, you mentioned a love for your mom. Care to shout her out?

JL: Of course! My mother is an extremely talented musician and a great mother! She has given me my work ethic, my drive, my humor, my musicality, and is always supporting me no matter how far I move from home. Love to her always.

LL: Is there a show you’re most looking forward to seeing at this year’s Festival?

JL: It’s so hard to choose! Probably The Accountant by Trey Lyford, or Fly Eagles Fly by Tribe of Fools.

LL: Where can audiences see you after Fringe? What’s next for you?

JL:  I am honored to be part of Yael Bartana's Bury Our Weapons, Not Our Bodies with the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It involves a procession throughout Philly, a burial of weapons, and eulogies about war, peace, and democracy. Also, my cohort has our first (free) showing of the year at the Pig Iron Theatre School, October 31st & November 1st, so you can all see what this devised performance thing is all about!
 

Mother/Daughter Sept 15 8pm & Sept 16, 2pm, Philly PACK (233 Federal)
 
 
 
Meet the Artist: Joanna Nowak
 
 Joanna Nowak photographed by Kevin Condon

Joanna Nowak photographed by Kevin Condon

Our series dedicated to meeting the artists and collaborators of Mother/Daughter, continues with EBP founder Lauren Leonard (LL) interviewing photographer Joanna Nowak (JN).

Trained in Fibers at Savannah College of Art and Design, Joanna specializes in portraiture, health & wellness, and editorial photography. She designed the graphics and promotional images for Mother/Daughter and is collaborating with EBP to develop the show this fall and winter.

LL: What brought you to Philadelphia?

JN: I grew up in Pennsylvania, not far from Philadelphia, in a quaint little sh*thole called Reading. We used to come to Philly to get in trouble but then I found a summer program at UArts for high school students and ended up living here for a couple months while learning graphic design and animation.  It was my first time living and learning among artists and like-minded people. I fell in love with Philly's music stores, art supply shops, and the strange mix of architecture. To me, it was a cosmopolitan city but it still had a gritty underbelly, so it wasn’t a total departure from Reading. I spent the next few years training in Savannah and working in New York, but that love of Philly brought me back to what is now home. 

LL: You do several things well - fine art, photography, graphic design, website design/management- but for purposes of this interview, I’m going to call you a photographer. How did you come to this profession?

JN: Well, goodness, thank you. I’ve been aesthetically-driven for most of my life- arranging things in a visually appealing way is what design (and sometimes art) is about, and there’s something so therapeutic about that. Photography is just an extension of this creative arm - composition and light allow for this. Also, being a painter has taught me so much about photography. I’ve heard photography called “painting with light” and that always tickles me.

LL: The freelance hustle is something you and most artists can identify with. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from being your own promoter/laborer/accountant/everything?

JN: That you can never stop learning and growing. Things evolve and change so quickly because of technology and there's so much to learn from it. Things like learning how to do your taxes with the help of the Quickbooks Self-Employed app (not a plug) or using search engine optimization to drive traffic to my websites. I've also learned the importance of asking for help from people who know what they are doing. I’ve had friends help me with just about everything business-related while I was (and still am) learning. Also, the internet!

LL: As a medium, why do you think photography is so compelling?

JN: It dances on the line of truth. It asks the viewer the question, “Is this real?” before anything else.

LL: In what ways has photography changed now that technology allows everyone to freely and easily capture, share, consume, and comment on images?

JN: Well, everyone is a photographer now, and in many ways that devalues what I do. However, you are no longer in competition with anyone but yourself. The photography world is too over-saturated for it to be any other way.

LL: What makes for a “good” photograph?

JN: It tells a story or evokes a feeling. With digital media being the main way we view and consume photography, it’s easy to make “nothing." It's the story and feeling that draws me to photojournalism.

LL: Do you have a favorite subject to photograph?

JN: Women, particularly in movement.

LL: We’ve collaborated previously, but with Mother/Daughter, we’re taking it to a whole new level. Explain the collaboration around this show, this topic, and where you see it going.

JN: The photography I’m most drawn to is work that pushes our understanding of the subject. For me, the conversation around mother/daughter relationships became one of identity and how we define ourselves through our mothers and through our children and what happens when those dynamics shift. I am looking to work with adopted and trans individuals to explore less traditional relationships between mothers and daughters. I'm also interested in exploring how loss through death and estrangement shifts dynamics. 

LL: What intrigues you about the topic of mothers and daughters?

JN: There is an undeniable connection between the two. I am lucky enough to have a very healthy relationship with my mother (I could tell stories about how almost otherworldly our connection is; it borders on ESP, I swear!) Also, the more I photograph and work with women, the more I realize how similar we are. And how our culture of gender inequality has pushed us into isolation and competition. Women are incredible as individuals but such a force when together.

LL: Do you set creative goals or intentions for your projects? If so, is there one you’ve set for Mother/Daughter?

JN: Something I’ve learned recently is that I’m very easily disenchanted when I set concrete intentions for personal work. So this time the goal is to create and to flow. Ideas are about as unpredictable as Philadelphia summers, so I’m letting this one shift, grow, and move in whatever direction it chooses.

LL: When it becomes all about the work, how do you recharge and reconnect with your creative spirit?

JN: I need a change of scenery regularly. And this doesn’t mean walking to the museum or going to a gallery, but changing my environment entirely. Thankfully, Philly's location and access to transit make it easy to GTFO.

LL: Other than Mother/Daughter, what are you most excited to see at this year's Fringe Festival?

JN: I'm still learning how to take in all the Fringe offers, but this year I'm focusing on seeing more dance. 

LL: What’s next up for Joanna Nowak Photography?

JN: Oh stop it! We have to finish this project first! But, there are some movement projects coming up. Working with dancers is a dream of mine and Philly is full of talent.

Mother/Daughter Sept 15 8pm & Sept 16, 2pm, Philly PACK (233 Federal)
Joanna Nowak Photography
 
 
Lauren LeonardComment
Meet the Artist: Jessica Noel
 
 Jessica Noel in Napoli, Italy

Jessica Noel in Napoli, Italy

In the first of our series dedicated to meeting the artists and collaborators of Mother/Daughter, EBP founder Lauren Leonard (LL) interviews dancer and educator Jessica Noel (JN). 

A dancer by training, Jess Noel is the founder of Philly PACK,  an artistic home for dance and theatre-loving children and adults, in South Philadelphia. In addition to performing in this year's Fringe Festival as part of Mother/Daughter, Jess is mounting Paprika Plains, a Joni Mitchell-inspired collaboration with her sister, artist Natalie Fletcher. 

LL: What brought you to Philadelphia?

JN: My husband's job took us from Texas to Philadelphia ten years ago. We arrived in July just in time for Fringe auditions. I was cast in an Ibsen-inspired dance-theatre project called Master Builder directed by Nako Adodoadji. Thus began my love affair with Philly Fringe Festival.

LL: What is Philly PACK and how did it come to be?

JN: Philly PACK is an artistic company that primarily focuses on theatre and dance education for young people. We also partner with other companies to produce theatre, dance, and art projects in the PACK garage theatre.

PACK originally started as a way for me to dip back into art-making after having a baby. I started teaching theatre and dance at sixteen - it’s a huge part of my life.

LL: Arts education, how important is it?

JN: Arts education is as important as math, science and reading. We don't value it enough as a society. What good is a student who excels at math or science but can't communicate or express themselves in healthy ways? Also, children who participate in art-making are more confident and happier as adults. Don't we want to be a happy, confident society? Seems like a no-brainer to me…

LL: How do we make it accessible and sustain it?

JN: We have to fund it in our public schools! All public schools should have a fully-funded theatre program, studio art program, creative writing program, and music program. We're not there yet, but in the meantime, we can continue to  build bridges and supplement the system through our established arts organizations, nonprofits, and teaching artists. I’m thinking of groups like Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership (PAEP) who help partner teaching artists with schools. I worked for PAEP when I first moved to Philly and I loved being a part of their incredible team.

LL: Everyone who comes into the PACK garage is awed by the space. How did you make it yours?

JN: I live near the garage, and had my eye on it for about 5 years. There was never any commercial activity; just unused space and untapped potential.  My Fabric Row lease was expiring and I had a choice:  continue to rent a smaller storefront for classes and a theatre for performances, or create my own venue.  Choosing the latter, I marched over to the garage owner's place, shook his hand, told him I wanted to rent his garage.  He said, "Sure. Let's go look at it."

I'll never forget that first visit:  there were about 20 cars and a boat parked inside!  And these exposed piers and beams that made my heart skip a beat! I knew immediately that it was to be PACK's new home. The lease negotiation took about three months, but in the end it was worth the wait.

We wanted to maintain the garage’s integrity - the industrial look I was so taken with - so we left the brick walls and ceiling exposed and power-washed and painted. We swapped the steel roll-top garage doors for rolling doors with windows. These give the space a warm, sun-kissed feel and let in natural light which is very important to me and is essential to art education because children need sunlight. The windows also allow for passersby to peak in and see what we’re creating.

We hung our stage lights and some globe fixtures and added some twinkling lights for ambiance. Finally, and this is my favorite part, we displayed Philadelphia-based female artists' work in the space. Aubrie Costello, Elizabeth Bergeland, Jessica Stanhagan, Georgena Senior, Andrea Mecchi and Kat Caro live with us every day!

LL: How many Fringe Festivals have you participated in?

JN: This year is my 5th!

LL: Fringe provides you an opportunity to choreograph for and dance with adults. What has that experience meant to you? How has it informed your art? Has it influenced you as a teacher?

JN: Fringe allows me to tap into darker places in my art-making. There are all kinds of emotions and concepts that come with maturity, and I get to go deeper with my Fringe work than I do with my teaching. Fringe allows me a clarity and perspective to face the rest of the teaching season with. It's like I purge all my darkness in September, and for the rest of the year I'm able to tell pleasant stories with happy endings!

Performing reminds me of what it is to be in front of an audience which allows me to empathize with my students. I understand the thrill and the passion, and I know what it means to give all of yourself for the sake of the show. And my students know that I get it. I'm not just their teacher, I'm one of them.

LL: You encouraged me to do a Fringe show. What is it about Fringe that makes it a must-participate for Philadelphia artists?

JN: Philadelphia's Fringe festival is so unique! Other cities have their own Fringe, but nothing compares to Philly's energy. You can really feel the love this city has for its artists. The work that comes out of Philly is different than New York or Boston or DC; ours has a certain grit to it. It's earthy, raw, and funky. Philly art is for the people, by the people. It's about people. I feel really lucky to be a Philadelphian this time of year.

LL: Mother/Daughter marks our third creative endeavor. I think it's fair to say our approach to the work is different and yet it comes together in a very natural way. What does "collaboration" mean to you? (Also, how am I doing? Kidding. Sort of.)

JN: I love working with you! I admire your direction, but also how you allow artists the freedom to make their own choices. Trusting your fellow artists to do good work because you believe in them is collaboration! When I enter into an artistic collaboration, I make sure to give everyone enough room to breathe and create; you can't create if someone is standing on top of you. I like to step back and trust it will come together in the end. MAGIC!

LL: What drew you to Mother/Daughter?

JN: The concept drew me in from the beginning. I'm really close with my mother. She was there for me during all of life’s big moments. She was there throughout my pregnancy and cooked meals and laundered diapers for a couple weeks after the birth of my son while I healed and figured out how to nurse. We don't have a perfect relationship, sometimes we fight like wild beasts, but my mom is my best friend.

I'm also a mother. I know how hard it is to parent, and think I can bring some depth to my role in Mother/Daughter. I was in Rome when I got the script and I fell hard! Your writing is really natural, soft and easy to listen to, but also pretty gut-wrenching. It had me ugly crying on the rooftop of my apartment! I was reading Maya Angelou's Heart of a Woman (also about mothering) at the time, and I realized that when someone loves to write, you can hear it in each sentence. Nothing feels forced.

LL: That’s an incredibly flattering and undeserved comparison, but thank you. Let’s go back to collaboration, your Fringe show, Paprika Plains is a co-creation by you and your sister, Natalie Fletcher. Tell me about Natalie and what it's been like working together.

JN: Natalie lives in Oregon where she is a painter. She works with her hands. She has the most beautiful hands! They're my grandfather's hands. He was also a painter. She has an innate sense for color and form, and she can build or create anything. She is perpetually covered in paint! She's the most genuine, people-loving, salt-of-the-earth woman I've ever known. I love her so much and I'm very proud of the person she's become.

We've worked together for the past 8 years. She flies to Philly a couple times a year to design for PACK productions, and I've modeled for her body-painting commercial gigs several times. We try to see each other and work together as often as possible.

Paprika Plains is the project we've wanted to do for a while to marry our artistic disciplines in a performance piece. I was reading a Joni Mitchell biography this year, and I came across her album Don Juan's Reckless Daughter from 1977. The Paprika Plains track is completely mesmerizing! I sent the song to Natalie, and she agreed the timing was right for the project, and the song provided the inspiration.

The challenge with Paprika Plains is that we're video collaborating, which is a first for both of us. I'm filming my rehearsals, and she's watching the video and sending notes back. It's been pretty difficult, but both of us thrive under pressure, so this is good.

LL: Where does "sister" end and "collaborator" begin?

JN: Sister ends when there's work to do. That's how we've always worked. We laugh and joke around, but when the clock is ticking and we're up against a deadline, we know how to buckle down.

LL: Give me a teaser for Paprika Plains. What should the audience expect?

JN: The audience should expect Joni Mitchell tunes, body-painting, and dancing. I’ve been asked several times, and no, there won't be nudity... I’m excited to share that we’ve added two other artists: singer/songwriter Heather Shayne Blakeslee of SweetBriar Rose and Lily Blaine-Sussman who is an actor-dancer I’ve taught for years.

LL: What are you most excited to see at this year's Fringe Festival?

JN: I'm looking forward to It's Happening At Home directed by Molly Gifford. I'm not sure what else I'll be able to see because I'm in two shows!

LL: What's next for you and PACK?

JN: This year PACK is partnering with Nebinger Elementary School to launch a brand new curriculum taught in the school by PACK teaching artists called “Mindful Movement.” The goals of Mindful Movement are 1.) emphasizing artistic self-expression through dance and movement fundamentals 2.) instilling confidence to use movement as a healthy communication tool. I'm currently in the process of writing the curriculum alongside Nebinger principal Natalie Catin-St. Louis, and I'm loving every second of it!

PACK is toying with the idea of launching a  high-school troupe that produces edgy dance-theatre adaptations of Orwell, Plath, Haley and the like.  I’ll also continue to make art in the garage with people I care about, who are doing thought-provoking, important work.

As for me personally, I'm in the early stages of a collaboration with my husband on a piece about Galileo and his daughter. We were in Florence at the Galileo museum when we got this idea, and we're pretty curious to see where it will take us. 

Artistically, personally, I'm so happy to be right where I am at this point in my life. I want to enjoy every day.

Mother/Daughter Sept 15 8pm & Sept 16, 2pm, Philly PACK (233 Federal)
Paprika Plains Sept 21 & 22, 8pm, Philly PACK (233 Federal)
To learn more about Philly PACK, visit their website.
 
Complete the Dream Team
 

By Unique Saunders, MENTOR Independence Region

Every child on this earth is born on purpose and with purpose. Sometimes the murkiness of life’s obstacles can leave them questioning their value and doubting their greatness. And other times, they don’t quite know who they are and how much power is within them because it hasn’t been brought to the surface just yet.

For young people on their journey, no matter how far along they are, having a solid support system can be what propels them into their reason for being. The guidance of loving, caring adults is critical as they grow and develop. And not just one adult. Youth need a team of special people in their lives to walk alongside them, encouraging them and modeling healthy behaviors.

Mentors offer so much. The simple act of listening to a young person gives them a sense of power! In a world where so many of our children are silenced and unseen, being heard can be transformational. Mentors have the honor of hearing the dreams of their mentee and helping them achieve their goals. 

A mentor isn’t a superhero and doesn’t need to be perfect with all of the right answers, but just being available as a trusted friend has tremendous impact. There are thousands of children right here in our own neighborhoods who could use one more adult to encourage them along their journey. You could be the missing link to complete the dream team in a young person’s life.

There are many mentoring programs in search of positive role models. Contact your local Big Brothers Big Sisters or check out the Mentoring Connector, for other programs that suit your interests and availability.

 
Lauren LeonardComment