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Today through Sept. 14, Philadelphia will experience one of the most unusual theatrical events seen anywhere in the country.

The Philadelphia Fringe Festival is a cornucopia of quality, risk-taking and experimental art in various settings that invites and encourages interaction between artist and audience. There are 178 groups offering a total of 646 performances.

The performing-arts festival attracts thousands of visitors to non-traditional venues throughout Old City and South Philadelphia neighborhoods.

The Fringe Festival features some of the most sought-after and talked-about performing-arts events in the Philadelphia area. Productions range a full spectrum of colorful work that falls within, between and sometimes beyond the standard categories of theater, dance, performance art, music, poetry and puppetry.

National and international performers come to the festival to present new visions and thought-provoking work that expands the boundaries and directions of their art form.

The Fringe Festival produces and presents work in five categories: Spotlighted shows are the premier, high-profile productions commissioned or chosen by festival staff. The show artists are offered a fee plus travel and housing accommodations to come to the event.

The Adjudicated Fringe includes performing artists selected by review panels in the categories of dance, interdisciplinary, music, spoken word and theater. Peer review panels look for quality with innovation in form or content, and often choose works that push the boundaries of each selected genre.

A Fresh Fringe presents an ideal festival experience: Several performers grouped by genre try out their newest ideas in an interactive forum. Programs include Fresh Ears (music), Fresh Moves (dance) and Fresh Views (theater), and the possibilities are unlimited.

Also, artists from around the country participate in what is called Unfiltered Fringe. Open to all, the shows are not pre-screened by the Fringe Festival staff. Unfiltered Fringe productions are encouraged by marketing and box-office support.

You might want to indulge in the nightly Fringe cabarets. Beginning at 10 p.m. in various locations, it’s a late-night social spot for artists and audiences where Fringe performers mix on stage to perform impromptu pieces as the audience and other artists watch, drink, relax and have fun.

Here are a few groups who live and work in South Philadelphia and deserve your attention:

* Antique Mecanique — machines, machines and more machines! Geoff Sobelle and Quinn Bauriedel of Pig Iron explore the comic realm of garage tinkerers and backyard engineers, where the world’s most complicated machines perform the simplest tasks. Eccentric characters reach the heights of mechanical ingenuity to reveal the depths of human absurdity. Performed at 212 Race St., First Floor Theatre.

* Headlong Dance Theater Company takes Britney (yes, Spears) down the back street to hell in a top-20 countdown of pop-culture sin. In this world premiere commissioned by the festival, Headlong launches a dangerous assault on the popular dances in music videos. Combining MTV culture with Dante’s Inferno (I love it!), the show focuses on the role of pop culture in today’s society and what fame and identity mean to us. Performed at the Arden Theatre Company, 40 N. Second St.

* Mezzo-soprano Martha McDonald presents Girls on the Rocks, a new multimedia spectacle exploring the sexually charged myths of mermaids, sirens and harpies. Together with dancers from The Bald Mermaids — three male singers, orchestra and video, McDonald plumbs the depths of these half-women/half-beasts who terrify and titillate us.

* HomoFaux Pas is a rock ‘n’ roll extravaganza featuring South Philly resident Jimi Mooney. It is billed as a journey through the wasteland of our modern world, as filtered through Helen Back’s tortured psyche and record collection. It is comical, visually stunning and oozing with "dangerous glamour and theatricality." Performed at the Hub, Second and Race streets.

* Don’t miss the MOXIE dance collective (Lea Yeager, Christy Lee, Peter D’Orsaneo, Heather Murphy and Nichole Canuso) as they mix it up with Mas MOXIE! Clever, strange, humorous and dynamic, you will find MOXIE a sexy, fresh work that is as much fun for the eyes as it is for the brain. Performed at the Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine St.

If all this is too much, you can call 215-413-1318 or easily sort it out by visiting the festival Web site at www.pafringe.org. The site offers neatly organized click-and-drop menus by date, group or category. It is just what the doctor ordered, so by all means, indulge!

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