Nichole Canuso says that “dance is by nature a time-based art form,” so she found much to be inspired by while creating Return Return Departure, a new work of movement-based reflections of the exhibition Tempus Fugit: Time Flies at the American Philosophical Society. Canuso dug into the artifacts and art of the exhibit, based around how we try to measure, capture and find meaning in the passage of time, to create a series of duets that she’ll perform with John Luna. During each performance (portions happening in an outdoor garden), each dancer will also shoot POV video. “Each time we perform, we add the new video to the installation, and the video accumulates,” says Canuso, “so we can really see the dance change over time.” —Deni Kasrel
Wed., Sept. 5-Fri., Sept 21, $12, American Philosophical Society, 104 S. Fifth St.
Don’t take the title too literally — this original musical is directed by Dibble’s wife, Amy Dugas Brown. If you aren’t involved with the Philly theater scene, the titular targets are local stage dynamos who often play lead roles at the Walnut Street Theatre and the Arden — and they do not actually appear. Their presence is only in the minds of Mike (Michael Doherty) and Greg (Greg Nix), actors stymied by pathetic audition failure. In a fit of musical-theater logic, they decide the road to success begins with bumping off the two most popular actors in town with the help of Bechtel (Alex Bechtel), a “psychotic theater buff and freelance assassin.” Any resemblance of these fiendish characters to the show’s creators and performers (themselves Barrymore Award winners, in their new performance group Los Jarochos) is, of course, purely accidental. —Mark Cofta
Wed., Sept. 5-Mon., Sept. 10, $15, Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey St.
Theatre Exile’s 50-seat Studio X space in South Philly seems appropriately claustrophobic for Adam Rapp’s intense monologue The Edge of Our Bodies. Director Matt Pfeiffer entrusts the darkly poetic coming-of-age piece to Nicole Erb, who soared as another teenager struggling with first love in Lantern Theater’s Romeo and Juliet last season. Her 16-year-old Bernadette both yearns to be heard and aches to disappear. “I am living someone else’s life,” the prep school student confesses, “the life of some stupid, desperate girl in a raincoat who likes to tease and lie to strangers.” Pfeiffer starred in Exile’s hit production of Rapp’s Pulitzer finalist Red Light Winter in 2006, a similarly provocative, intimate and unforgettable drama. —Mark Cofta
Thu., Sept. 6-Sun., Sept. 23, $20, Studio X, 1340 S. 13th St.
A bed, a man, a woman — and a mouse mask? That’s how David Ireland’s comedy begins, as an awkward post-coital conversation between two lonely Belfasters leads to an incisive, explosive and hilarious exploration of unrealistic female body expectations, the masks we hide behind and the pitfalls of modern urban mating. A gem from Tiny Dynamite’s terrific A Play, A Pie, and A Pint series of dinnertime one-acts; no pizza at these shows, says Tiny Dynamite’s artistic director Emma Gibson, but plenty of beer to toast performances that were among last season’s underappreciated finest. —Mark Cofta
Fri., Sept. 7-Fri., Sept. 21, $15, Off-Broad Street Theater, 1636 Sansom St.
Edgar Allan Poe achieved his chills via minimalism: a sense of dread, an obsessive compulsion, the slow advance of a horrible fate. The writer’s mystery-shrouded final days are, then, a surprisingly well-suited topic for Thaddeus Phillips, though his theater pieces tend more toward droll physical comedy than existential terror. Phillips’ work with Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental is frequently a festival highlight — particularly known for inventive, effective use of minimal sets. Red-Eye retells Poe’s final days as an action opera, taking the ill-fated author on train rides, into bars and hospitals and even on a visit to the Philadelphia Waterworks. —Shaun Brady
Fri., Sept. 7-Sun., Sept. 16, $28-$35, Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad St.
Face it: You’re never going to look as good as you do right now. Heck, by the time you finish reading this, you’ll probably have sprouted your first gray hair, and your boobs will be that much closer to their goal of bitch-slapping your knees. Thankfully, local photog R.A. Friedman is offering locals a chance to immortalize their present forms in an innovative participatory photographic adventure. For the project, 10 to 15 volunteer models will strip down and pose in a pitch-black room as Friedman crawls around on the floor “painting” them with a 200-watt lightbulb and reflector that will be picked up by his “primitive,” tiny-lensed camera. The result will be a “ghostlike and dreamy” group shot of distorted naked folks that recalls those creepy superimposed spirit photos from the Victorian Age. —Josh Middleton
Mon., Sept. 17, $20, The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St. Email email@example.com to sign up.
Here’s your chance to catch two fierce actresses in a Brat Productions doubleheader of totally rockin’ shows. Start with Popsicle’s Departure, 1989, a sharp — albeit twisted — love letter to the late-’80s punk-rock scene that’s searing, irreverent and poetic. Winner of numerous awards, it’s a one-woman show written by and starring the fabulous Madi Distefano, who goes all-out inhabiting her characters while dropping whip-smart lines. Pause for intermission — a perfect time to hit the Festival Bar (conveniently located on-site) — then groove to Eternal Glamnation, a glam-rock cabaret theater extravaganza, conceived by and featuring Jess Conda. The musical mash-up has a loose narrative concerning a nuclear family that kinda blows up, after which, as Distefano tells it, “The glam angel comes down from on high, in his Bowie-esque alien kind of way, and helps everyone … find their inner awesomeness.” Are two Brat shows in one night too much? Heck no, assures Distefano. “It’s no longer than a regular night at the theater, with a nice, leisurely intermission.” Meanwhile, don’t wait to hear the inevitable buzz before buying tickets; odds are good RockPile will be among the early Fringe sellouts.—Deni Kasrel
Fri., Sept. 7-Wed., Sept. 26, $19-$35, Underground Arts, 1200 Callowhill St.
After a yearlong reign as Pro-Mania champion, it’s time for young Philly comedian Joey Dougherty to get back in the ring and put the title on the line. With classic Pro-Mania wrestlers returning — like local indie stars Tim Donst and Bryce Remsburg (of Chikara micro-fame) — plus a flood of new blood, it’s anybody’s guess who will rise to the challenge and take Joey down. Can we expect more people being thrown through tables? Will there be boobs again? Will it be funny? Find out at this year’s very BYOB, audience-participation-charged four-night frenzy (every Friday in Fringe plus the final Saturday). It’s an ongoing storyline, so every night is a new hot mess. —Ryan Carey
Fri., Sept. 7-Sat., Sept. 22, $12, Adrienne Theater, 2030 Sansom St.
The Philadelphia Opera Collective’s mission to shatter the form’s undeserved reputation for stodgy staginess continues with their third production of an American opera in English. POC, committed to visceral, story-based opera for young, diverse audiences, joins forces with one of Philadelphia’s most innovative young theater directors, Brenna Geffers, who staged EgoPo’s edgy 2010 Fringe hit, Marat/Sade. The Consul — Gian Carlo Menotti’s 1950 Pulitzer Prize-winner, which premiered in Philadelphia, is an eerily modern tale of political refugees suffering under a bureaucratic government. “It has some of the most beautiful, gritty, working-class characters I have ever had the pleasure of creating a world for,” says Geffers of her first opera production. “It’s a nightmare portrait of our country as it continues to turn human beings into numbers, and lives into case studies. During a festival that asks artists to go beyond their normal routine, I couldn’t think of anything more ‘fringey’ and experimental for myself than to delve into opera.” —Mark Cofta
Fri.-Sat., Sept. 7-8 and Fri., Sept. 14, $20. Jolie Laide Gallery, 224 N. Juniper St.
The Divine Hand Ensemble advertises that their upcoming concert marks “the first time in 250 years that funerary music will be performed publicly and the first ever in America.” If that claim, dubious on several levels, smacks a bit of carny braggadocio, it surely jibes well with a Gothic-leaning classical ensemble fronted by a theremin player who goes by the name of Mano Divina. Along with an eight-piece string ensemble featuring harp, guitar, glockenspiel and voices, Divina will perform music purportedly composed for the dearly departed in the 16th century on an instrument concocted in the 20th. The musical oddity quickly became the eccentricity of choice for horror and sci-fi film composers, which the ensemble embraces with in-costume performances of material like Elmer Bernstein’s theme from Ghostbusters. The Fringe audience will be mostly appropriate, however, as the dead will far outnumber the living at Laurel Hill Cemetery. —Shaun Brady
Sat., Sept. 8, $25, Laurel Hill Cemetery, 3822 Ridge Ave.
These difficult-to-categorize improvisers create “spontaneous theater,” cutting-edge shows that feel more like plays than traditional joke- and game-structured improvisation. This year, the six-year-old troupe premiere a new original format — its sixth! — called WHO. The audience shares, anonymously on note cards, one-sentence responses to the question, “Who are you?” Artistic director Bobbi Block’s tight ensemble (Fred Andersen, Beth Dougherty, Jennifer MacMillan, Ed Miller, Fred Siegel and Carrie Spaulding) instantly creates scenes, monologues, online conversations and dating situations inspired by the uncensored, randomly chosen answers. “In addition to creating authentic characters, we also want to explore disguising who we are,” Block explains, “so we’ve designed the show to include online chatting and speed dating, situations in which we manipulate who we are based on what we feel the other person wants to hear.” An April preview of WHO showed me that the new approach inspires soul-baring revelations, brought to life with Tongue & Groove’s characteristic emotional honesty, empathy and humor. —Mark Cofta
Sun., Sept. 9-Wed., Sept. 19, $15, The Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St.
The Philadelphia Artists Collective focuses on classics, so their productions typically require large casts and big spaces. That’s the ambitious streak that led the company’s founding quartet of theater artists to choose August Strindberg’s groundbreaking 1889 psychological drama as this year’s Fringe project. Creditors features soon-to-be-wed real-life couple Krista Apple and Dan Hodge trapped in a teetering marriage. “We’re planning a wedding by day,” Apple notes, “and destroying one onstage every night.” They’re drawn into a deadly love triangle by a mysterious stranger played by Damon Bonetti, whose real-life wife Charlotte Northeast directs. This vicious game of betrayal proposes that lust, psychology and emotional debt are stronger than the traditional ties of class, money and society — a shock for Strindberg’s time, and still provocative today. The action occurs in the site-specific library of the Franklin Inn Club, with the audience unnervingly close. —Mark Cofta
Wed., Sept. 12 - Sun., Sept. 23, $20, Franklin Inn Club, 205 S. Camac St.
Something about Winnipeg seems to drive its artists to exult in the archaic. Where Guy Maddin’s films are otherworldly silent-cinema fever dreams, Daniel Barrow’s projection performances recall a more recent, less fanciful past. His Winnipeg Babysitter collection unearths eccentric treasures from memories of public-access TV. His more performative pieces — like the two he’ll bring to Fringe — rescue the overhead projector from the doldrums of classroom demonstration and transform the clunky device into a tool for “manual animation” — comic-book narratives brought to multimedia life. Looking for Love in the Hall of Mirrors follows a foppish farm boy as he moves to the big (-ish) city, while The Thief of Mirrors combines live and recorded sound with video and projections for a distinctive, strangely live/still portrait. The piece takes a skewed look at wealth and privilege through a lens that at times resembles lush paintings come to dreamlike life. —Shaun Brady
Fri., Sept. 14, $10, International House, 3701 Chestnut St.
Private Places is intentionally tongue-in-cheek. This is a public performance, after all, and you may wind up getting up close and personal with the dancers: At certain times audience members are situated smack in the middle of the stage. Choreographer Jumatatu Poe is up to some conceptual tricks in this experimental work that digs into how our public and private lives are becoming increasingly conflated. He plays around with stylized movements, such as mechanistic gestures of the service industry, and J-sette, a drill-team-inspired gay black club dance style. There are leaders, loners and followers, and you may even be instructed to move, as the cast attempts to rearrange the space to create some level of order. Which is a tall order, when performers start getting naked and/or stuffed into suitcases. —Deni Kasrel
Sat., Sept. 15-Thu., Sept. 20, $28-$35, Live Arts Studio, 919 N. Fifth St.
That the guidebook shrugs and calls this a “happening” is a big clue: Even by Fringe standards, this one is sublimely strange. Hosted by the Penn Museum, Monsters starts with a 2:30 p.m. workshop, with artist/Columbia U. Computer Music dude Douglas Repetto teaching you how to construct an army of little, clumsy walking-table creatures. “It’s not often you have the chance to build a herd of mechanical foals while surrounded by ancient artifacts,” he says, correctly. Then at 4 p.m. it’s time to set the little guys loose (on each other?) in the China Rotunda/Thunderdome. “It’s not really something we can rehearse, so even I don’t know quite what will happen,” says Repetto. “But in my mind, it’s sad and weird and lovely.” —Patrick Rapa
Sun., Sept. 16, $12, Penn Museum, 3260 South St.
Since 1991, John Collins’ experimental, Brooklyn-based Elevator Repair Service group has made a goal of tearing apart and reconfiguring the mythology of the Marx Brothers, Ernest Hemingway, Andy Kaufmann and the Beats. For its latest work-in-progress — Arguendo, being tested out in an afternoon show — they tuck into the legality and morality of Barnes v. Glen Theatre, the 1991 Supreme Court decision ruling against two clubs that challenged a law requiring exotic dancers to wear pasties and G-strings, arguing that nudity was a protected element of free speech covered by the First Amendment. “I’m a big follower of the Supreme Court, and for years I’ve downloaded and listened to recordings of oral arguments,” says ERS founder-director Collins, who was particularly moved by this case’s oddly philosophical arguments about high art versus low art. The show also has an inherent comic “touch of absurdity,” says Collins, “since these judges are some of the last people you’d expect to hear discussing that kind of performance — it’s full of great one-liners.” —A.D. Amorosi
Sun., Sept. 16, $18, Arden Theatre, 40 N. Second St. For more on Arguendo, read Emily Guendelsberger's feature, here.
When Leah Stein Dance Company says “site-specific,” they are not fooling around. Hoist can exist only in the Maas Building, a “former trolley repair shop” in Northern Liberties that still revels in its brick-and-steel glory days. “The dancers will hang from beams and swing from ropes,” says managing director Jane Stojak. “No part of the building is spared if the dancers can reach it and feel it.” —Patrick Rapa
Wed., Sept. 19-Sun., Sept. 23, $20, Maas Building, 1325 Randolph St.
Cornet player and electronic musician Rob Mazurek’s various projects are defined by their settings. The skronky free jazz of his hometown is at the root of his Chicago Underground Duo with drummer Chad Taylor, while his Exploding Star Orchestra crafts sounds that are cosmic and nebulous as befits their astrophysical tag. The name of his São Paulo Underground is apt in a literal sense, as his three bandmates — percussionist Mauricio Takara, keyboardist Guilherme Granado and drummer Richard Ribeiro — all hail from that Brazilian city. But it also fits in a more descriptive sense, capturing the mixture of sunny tropicalia and gritty experimentalism. Most members supplement their instruments with electronics, which explodes their avant-jazz exotica with glitch disruptions, swallows it in clouds of hazy distortion or abstracts it into off-kilter echo chambers. —Shaun Brady
Wed., Sept. 19, $16, Crossroads Music at the Calvary Center, 801 S. 48th St.
In the spring of 2010, radical Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic was honored at MoMA with a retrospective of 40 years of her groundbreaking works. During the run, the 63-year-old Abramovic performed a new piece, The Artist Is Present, in which for three months — six days a week, seven hours a day — she sat, rarely moving and never speaking, at a table in the exhibition space. Visitors were invited to sit in the single chair across from her as she silently stared a hole through their pitiful souls. The experience shook many to the core, provoking emotional outbursts that ran the gamut from ugly-cry to freaky, maniacal laughter — and, lucky for us, director Matthew Akers was there to catch it all on celluloid. His documentary follows Abramovic from the planning stages to the final moments of her performance (which clocked in at a personal-record-breaking 700-plus hours), offering a behind-the-scenes peek at the process of the art-world icon. —Josh Middleton
Wed., Sept. 19, $9, International House, 3701 Chestnut St., internationalhouse.org.
“When starting a play, I ask myself, ‘What’s the last show in the world I would ever want to make?’” says Young Jean Lee, a darling of the avant-garde and one of American Theatre magazine’s 25 artists destined to shape theater in the next 25 years. “Then I force myself to make it.” Given that, it’s not too surprising that Lee’s ensemble takes on utopia. Untitled Feminist Show has the feel of a stage-fright nightmare: six completely nude performers go through a choreographed series of rituals and dances in a sort-of-cosmic variety show. “Our goal is to find ways to get past our audiences’ defenses against uncomfortable subjects and open people up to confronting difficult questions by keeping them disoriented and laughing,” says Lee. —A.D. Amorosi
Wed., Sept. 19-Fri., Sept. 21, $28-$35, Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad St. For more on Arguendo, read Emily Guendelsberger's feature, here.
An improv comedy troupe leaves the stage. Thunderous applause fills the room. Performers bow. The audience laughs. A riotous performance ensues. This is Backstory, an improvised show that unfolds in reverse, as performed by Hot Dish, a group out of Philly Improv Theater. Think of it like the movie Memento — only instead of short-term memory loss and the angst-filled hunt for a killer, expect a series of hilarious, telescoping flashbacks to play out against a soundtrack of live music, performed on guitar or ukulele and selected by the audience. A version of the full-length improvised play ran for two months at Improv Boston; here, it’s shown as a doubleheader with a 20-minute set from the Philly Improv Theater House Team. —Samantha Melamed
Wed., Sept. 19-Sat., Sept. 22, $12, The Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St.
Australia’s Back to Back Theatre is beyond the pale. Not just because the 25-year-old company poses uneasy questions about gridlocked democracy and paints radically comical portraits of the Third Reich, among other raging topics. Mainly, it’s because BtB makes daring works with actors and authors facing all manner of supposed intellectual disabilities. And those theatrical efforts look and sound like no other. Take Food Court. Here, one woman’s battle with body image and brutality is staged as a slow-moving improvisational dance. At first, its exercise-gear-clad artists course through a misty haze of literal smoke and mirrors until they hit a black forest of bad decisions and moral dilemmas. Doubly thrilling is that the performance is accompanied by a live ensemble, The Necks, who play a deliciously differently scored soundtrack each night, giving each show its own weird sonic sway. —A.D. Amorosi
Thu., Sept. 20-Sat., Sept. 22, $30, Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St.
- Naked on stage in front of hundreds of people — but it's no nightmare.
- Large-scale and high-visibility art makes a spectacle of itself.
- Four regular families become performers, telling their own stories in their own homes.
- Cooking up a dignified but futile era of left-right relations.
- Three artists explore wildly divergent scenes of losing one’s home.