The title of Young Jean Lee's latest show is, at first glance, not very significant. It is almost forgettable in its vagueness, almost shy in its seemingly undone state. And yet, more than the rave reviews it collected when it debuted in New York in January, the non-title of "Untitled Feminist Show" will likely determine whether you even consider buying tickets to it.
"The cast and I just felt that we wanted to put the word 'feminist' in the title," says Lee, who is bringing the show to Philly as part of the Live Arts Festival. "We noticed that we were all kind of shocked that a lot of women don't want to be thought of as feminists -- they have some stereotyped image of what that is. To me, anything that is feminist is attempting to fight against the idea that someone born in a female body is not the equal of someone born in a male body."
"Untitled Feminist Show" mixes dance, theater and cabaret -- in the nude -- as it toys with whatever ideas about feminism you bring into the theater. And it is, perhaps surprisingly, a through-and-through comedy.
If you're struggling to connect how naked feminists can be funny, you're not alone. When creating her own Live Arts show, "Bang," Philly theater artist Charlotte Ford asked herself a question that had been nagging her for a while: Can women be both sexy and funny? "As an actor and creator in theater, there was a real switch in myself when I was playing a pretty character to being funny," says Ford. "In the past, when I was doing comedy, I would make these really grotesque characters. Somewhere, I learned that when being funny, you have to be ugly in some way -- and I was really interested in that."
Like "Untitled Feminist Show," "Bang" requires its cast to strip down while earning laughs. And while a naked woman isn't usually commanding an audience's attention because she's funny, Ford and fellow performers Lee Etzold and Sarah Sanford found that there is, indeed, a way to be both.
"We tried to create women who desired, not just were desired. And that seemed to me to be the key to the comedy," says Ford. "Being the person who was desiring automatically took you out of the role of being passive. That leads to you being a person -- and people are funny. Things aren't so much funny."
The 2012 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe kicks off Friday and runs through Sept. 22.
As the name suggests, there are two very distinct but very related parts to the annual festival (we like to think of it like cookie dough ice cream). The Live Arts portion is a curated selection of the best of what the international performing arts world has to offer. The tickets are a little more expensive, the audiences sit a little more still and it's likely the venue will be air conditioned, or at least have real chairs -- if you're into that sort of thing.
The Fringe (see page 17) is an open call of sorts that packs around 140 programs by Philly-based artists, from established, acclaimed local companies to your neighbor who decided to create an "installation" on his porch -- if you're into that sort of thing.
You should sample some of both, and you should check back with Metro throughout for our picks. For tickets, visit www.livearts-fringe.org.
Live Arts must-sees
1. 'Food Court'
Australia's Back to Back Theatre creates productions with artists who have, or are perceived to have, a range of disabilities. And so their latest show, "Food Court," becomes about much more than a near-death experience at a suburban mall. What's funny, what's exploitative, who's vulnerable, who's OK to look at naked: You'll have to do more thinking than you usually do at the food court -- or even in a theater, for that matter.
2. 'Sequence 8'
We thought Montreal-based circus troupe 7 Fingers pulled out all of their high-flying, gasp-inducing, oh-no-she-didn't tricks last year, but they're back for more. Their latest production, "Sequence 8," interprets Carl Jung through a mix of acrobatics and theater -- which we suppose is as good a method as any.
3. 'The Gates Reopened"
Philly choreographer Brian Sanders is a Live Arts darling for good reason: In a festival that can, on occasion, take itself pretty seriously, he never forgets to have fun -- and he isn't afraid to add a little fire. His latest, "The Gates Reopened," takes place in a warehouse on the Delaware River, the perfect place to house his jungle gym of a set.
4. 'Le Grand Continental'
Saturday and Sunday
The premise of choreographer Sylvain Emard's piece is simple: Dance flash mobs are fun to watch, even in the most jaded of cities (here's winking at you, Philly). This 30-minute performance by 200 local dancers takes over the Art Museum steps this Saturday (4 and 8 p.m.) and Sunday (4 p.m.).