It's funny that French-born, local performance artist, clown and occasional Pig Iron Theatre Company collaborator Emmanuelle Delpech is basing her newest work, "Spinning Immigrant," on her experience (and that of 16 other immigrants) of naturalizing to become an American citizen. "I have my passport, but I don't know if I feel like an American," says Delpech who emigrated from France to Philadelphia in 1998 and obtained citizenship in 2014. "I don't know all of America's parts. I do, however, feel Philadelphian, you know? I am Philadelphian."
Her FringeArts' show, "Spinning Immigrant," discusses the process of naturalization — the vows one takes in renouncing the commitments and values of the country you were born in – in order to fully become a U.S. citizen.
"For instance, I can't fight in the name of France," she says with a laugh. "It is about the spirit of America, the beauty of which is that anyone can become one just as I did." Delpech interviewed immigrants from Afghanistan, Italy, Africa, Albania, Vietnam, Ireland, Germany, Mexico and other countries — "people with perspectives different than mine" — to discuss the process of becoming. She taped responses about their journey, some from people whom "don't overthink the process of naturalization, despite struggle or loneliness" to come up with one great endpoint: that home is where the heart is. "We might not be completely whole here, but we're happy."
The voices of immigrants and the sounds of their native lands are wound throughout "Spinning Immigrant" courtesy of Delpech's newest skill – DJing. To learn this art, she went to Chestnut Street's Scratch Academy where she learned from Philly DJs Cosmo Baker and Rich Media how to rock rhythms and match vocal samples to beats.
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"It was really hard and I'm not very good, but I get the job done," she laughs. The fact that she can reinvent herself though, at age 43, as a DJ? That is a true metaphor for the American experience.
Delpech wanted to get away from characters with "Spinning Immigrant," despite her longtime association with being a clown for inventive pieces from her past, such as Red Noses. "I wanted to be more natural, intimate and less reliant on the physical. Plus, I really got into sound, music, voices." Delpech began to focus on her real life experience as an immigrant and that of other immigrants from diverse cultures who came to America, either by choice or by circumstance. "I have a connection with all immigrants."
The only character she does play however is American comic book hero, Wonder Woman. "Ah, she was always my ideal," says Delpech of wearing the gold lightening bracelets and the red-white-and-blue one piece. "I used to watch her when I was a kid. She was beautiful and strong and could save people. I think I use her as my clown persona, my shadow character, in 'Spinning Immigrant,' especially as I think she is funny. Wonder Woman was everything I wanted to be."
June 15 — June 18
8 p.m. / $15-$20
140 North Columbus Boulevard