“The festival is not produced in any way,” says Amanda Grove, cofounder of the upcoming SoLow Festival — the name refers both to the solo nature of the works performed and the price of attending or participating. “There is no money for marketing or promotion. Our website is free. All communication is achieved with no monetary exchange,” thanks to Facebook, email and “good old chatting with each other.”
The brainchild of Grove and fellow Philly performance artist Thomas Choinacky (away on an artist residency in Estonia this month), SoLow began in 2010 with five people presenting solo work in their own apartments and the Wolf Building. The next year, nine performers shared one-person shows in apartments, basements, fire escapes, bathrooms, coffee shops, galleries and churches — “anything cheap or free,” Grove explains. Last year, SoLow grew to 15 shows. This year, there are more than 40 participants.
“The goal is accessibility, not exclusivity,” for both audiences and artists, says Grove. The ethos of the festival is low stress and low maintenance, because “We all have the resources to create just by being alive and willing to take a risk,” Grove says.
SoLow’s principles are a DIY manifesto reminiscent of the original Philly Fringe, the ticket prices of which go up every year: Every performance is pay-what-you-can, with no one turned away for lack of funds; all donations go directly to the performer. There’s no submission fee for consideration for the festival, because there’s no screening process other than the requirement that performances be 51 percent solo. Aside from that, anything goes: music, dance, installations, performance art, invisible theater, street theater, webcasts, podcasts, personal narratives, storytelling, and film. “You just have to commit to doing your performance at least one time during the SoLow Festival dates,” says Grove.
A few shows this year will be in theater spaces, but most are still at nontraditional venues: bars like the Trestle Inn, public spaces like 30th Street Station, corners, parks or walking from one location to another. Many play in homes (requiring an RSVP). Arjuna Ojos’ Phone a Friend/Enemy/Stranger takes place “anywhere via telephone.” Part of the Toy Theater Tour (above) is in a suitcase. There’s even a first satellite performance, at a Cincinnati high school.
Why all the strange venues? “We wanted to take the pressure of financial risk and investment out of the equation to foster experimentation, creative risk and risk for the audience,” Grove explains. Renting a performance space can be expensive, and “once money enters the equation, unnecessary complications arise.”
Solo work is special because it makes performers so vulnerable, Grove says. “You’re sharing a piece of yourself. You are alone up there. I suspect that our surge in participants this year is from artists who were audience members last year, and were motivated to get up and try it themselves.”
Grove says some prominent professional actors confided to her “how terrified they were to write something of their own and present it publicly.” Some even signed up the second and third years, but later backed out. “This year, they are back and doing it. They’ve signed up.”
Many performers with mainstream theater pedigrees are participating: Among them, Barrymore-winner Amanda Schoonover premieres her ode to Clara Bow, It Girl Silenced, and director-actor Seth Reichgott introduces his alter ego Slim Bob Slim in Stand Back, I’m Gonna Uke. “It’s a chance for me to try out something new and step out of my comfort zone a bit,” he says. “And, really, how bad can a short concert of ’80s tunes played on the ukulele be?”
June 20-30, pay what you can, solowfestival.blogspot.com, RSVP to moc.liamg@lavitsefwolos.
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