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By Nick Gilewicz, Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe

Fifteen years ago, Philly Fringe began as a cluster of innovative productions in Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood, predominantly highlighting Philadelphia’s emerging performance community. The organization and the community grew together, and today, as the curated Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and access-for-all Philly Fringe, the festivals attract artists from around the world and tens of thousands of attendees to venues across the city.

The Devil and Mister Punch, photo by Improbable

The theater centerpiece of the 2011 Live Arts Festival is the world premiere of The Devil and Mister Punch from London, England’s Improbable theater company, which brings together human and puppet actors in a show influenced by Punch-and-Judy shows and Dr. Faustus. Performed for the first time in the United States, Play is a place for experiments between two riveting performers with seemingly opposing styles: Antwerp-based Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, the sinuous western contemporary dancer whose movements ride a wave of chaos, and the Indian dancer Shantala Shivalingappa, whose exquisite control of movement comes from her mastery of the classical Indian form Kuchipudi. And Traces brings 7 Fingers–from the circus hotbed that is Montreal–to Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center for the Live Arts Festival’s biggest event ever.

Philly Fringe continues to attract record numbers of shows, with over 200 different performances scheduled for 2011. The breadth of the Fringe astonishes: offerings from debut performers to award-winning companies will interrogate the nature of 21st-century privacy, offer a traveling planetarium, and re-explore Greek tragedy.

And just completing its inaugural year, the LAB center for artistic research and development supports artists for nine-month paid residencies. Artists receive at least six weeks of studio time, and engage in a curriculum that includes critiques by visiting artists, peer meetings, and showings of work in progress. One LAB Fellow, Adrienne Mackey, developed her 2011 Live Arts show, Lady M, through this program.

As stories from the 2011 festivals emerge, we’ll keep the readers of KnightArts.org up to date. In the meantime, follow the festivals through our blog and go behind the scenes of Lady M, Mackey’s retelling of Macbeth in the video above.

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