The sky truly is the limit when the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts brings a broad range of international arts and artists to venues throughout the city April 7-May 1.
The first-ever festival features more than three weeks of events highlighting and showcasing visual arts, literature, fashion, architecture, music, cinema and performances, all centered around the theme of Paris circa 1910-20.
In keeping with the theme, Philadelphia School of Circus Arts is scheduled to perform “The Green Fairy Cabaret.” The original show echoes the style of the permanent circuses of the era, which kept artists such as Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger and Guillaume Apollinaire entertained and inspired into the wee hours with jugglers, clowns and acrobats.
Robin Marcotte, the show’s director and managing director for Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, said the Kimmel Center approached PSCA about putting a performance together but had only a theme in mind.
“They just wanted a cabaret of sorts,” Marcotte said. “We thought about what we could do it about, related to the timeframe and the period and what was popular then. I was looking into that time period and absinthe was just such a huge source of people to find inspiration. That led us down the road to ‘The Green Fairy.’”
Marcotte is certainly no stranger to directing, as he has been involved as a performer and director for the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus since 2002, as well as co-founded Hotel Obligado Physical Theatre. But with the size and scale of “The Green Fairy,” which features aerial fabric, trapeze and acrobatic performers, there are new challenges for him.
“It’s a different type of challenging,” Marcotte said, comparing this production to those he’s done in the past. “Here, there’s a lot of trained professionals and there’s a higher expectation for knowledge of the material inside this realm.”
Paris in the early 1900s was a hotbed of creativity, spawning many artistic and cultural movements — plenty to explore when the school was researching the era.
“It was a time of innovation and inspiration,” he said. “It was the birth of symbolism. At the time, there was a disregard of the literal. We were inspired by the artistic passions of the bohemian lifestyles of all the artists in that time period. Have you seen ‘Moulin Rouge’? It’s very much that flavor of things: the absinthe, the poets, the visual artists, burlesque, the cabaret scene, all of that. We had to dig really deep into it to have a good foundation of knowledge before we pushed forward. So it was really about finding new ways to do things. That’s what I wanted to do with this cabaret: find a new way to show a cabaret. It’s not going to be traditional. It’s going to be a much more cohesive piece, where the emcee is integrated into the show and is more of a storyteller than an introducer. So that’s how we’re putting an innovative switch on how we would typically do a cabaret.”
One switch that surely isn’t typical of cabaret performance is the choice of venue for “The Green Fairy” — the Kimmel Center’s rooftop Hamilton Garden.
“They haven’t had too many performances up there but it’s definitely going to be a challenge, especially for the lighting designer because there are no walls,” Marcotte said. “And there’s no roof. There’s not really a place to capture and control light. But we’re excited about the intimate nature of it. There’s definitely a level of danger there, which is why we’re using professionals.”
Marcotte added there is one particular element from that era they are sure to have on hand.
“We’re going to have an absinthe bar up there and everything,” he said. “It should be great. Of course, they won’t have it for the 12 p.m. family-friendly show.”
Don’t be too envious of the performers flying around in the air. Regular Joes and Janes will have the opportunity to get their wings as well at PIFA.
Philadelphia School of Circus Arts and Fly School Circus Arts are teaming up to present “Fly City,” an outdoor flying-trapeze lesson where children and adults can get their Peter Pan on high above Broad Street under the watchful eye of trained instructors.
Kory Michael Aversa, public-relations manager for FSCA, said the lessons are well-supervised and safe.
“Fly School Circus Arts is bringing their rig from Bucks County and setting it up in the University of the Arts parking lot,” Aversa said. “The platform is 25 feet up in the air, just like you would see at the circus or Cirque du Soleil. If you were a student, you’d be walking up a ladder to a platform and the teacher would be teaching you from the platform. There will be a net underneath and you’ll be harnessed.”
(Personally, we’d probably be more comfortable at the absinthe bar. All of us except for our intrepid publisher, Mark Segal, who somehow got talked into taking a lesson — provided he won’t have to wear a leotard.)
“A lot of people say it sounds scary,” Aversa said. “The first thing they teach you is how to fall, because if you keep doing these lessons and you don’t know how to fall safely ... We don’t want that to happen. We also want you to enjoy the experience. Once you know how to fall correctly, you realize it’s not that bad. You just get up and try again.”
Um, yeah. Another absinthe with a beer back, please.
But in all fairness, the trapeze event does sound exciting and Fly School Circus Arts is expecting the trapeze rig to see a lot of amateur action during the course of the festival.
“We think it’ll be one of the highlights of the festival,” Aversa said. “Flying trapeze is already unique, but where else can you go and do flying trapeze in Center City with the Avenue of the Arts and City Hall at your feet?”
Philadelphia School of Circus Arts presents “The Green Fairy Cabaret,” 10 p.m. April 14-17 and noon April 16-17.
Philadelphia School of Circus Arts and Fly School Circus Arts host “Fly City,” 9 and 11:30 a.m., 4:30 and 7 p.m. April 7-May 1 in the University of the Arts lot, 313 S. Broad St. The cost is $55 for a two-hour lesson for participants ages 6 and up.
Reservations and tickets are available by calling 215-546-7432 or by visiting www.pifa.org.