Teasing out the meaning

In reflecting on what has transpired in 2016, Meghann Williams could think of only one person in her circle who has had an incredibly rewarding year. Though she cannot guarantee that matters will morph into pleasant experiences as we prepare to purchase new calendars, the 36-year-old can promise two hours of unadulterated joy Saturday when she helps Tribe of Fools to present its Seventh Annual Holiday Burlesque as Nasty Frosty, the evening’s lively and lovely host.

“It’s easily the most fun thing I do all year,” Williams said from her East Passyunk Crossing residence. “It’s controlled chaos in a way that’s really exhilarating.”

She and her peers with the 13-year-old physical theatre company, most with South Philly ties, including artistic director Terry Brennan, will offer the “combination of songs, dance, comedy, and, of course, a little bit of skin” at the JUNK Performance Space within the Shiloh Baptist Church. With this year having been a grueling occasion for many due to global, national, and personal events, the performers eagerly anticipate kissing it farewell, with Williams quipping that they will “use tongue” to do the deed.

“The acts are so varied, and the spirit of it all is designed to create a form of escape,” the perky participant, whose colleagues for the 8 p.m. gathering will include Gigi Naglak, with whom she furthers the focus on flesh through Chlamydia dell’Arte: A Sex-Ed Burlesque, said. “I absolutely love that it’s the embodiment of the ‘Let’s put on a show’ mentality, too.”

Williams revels in serving as the master of ceremonies for the sensual celebration that Brennan created because “the majority of the holiday season is so geared toward kids that sometimes adults feel overwhelmed and left out.” Having portrayed Nasty Frosty each time she has assisted the revered entity’s brainchild, she especially regards connecting with an audience as a thrill, a stance that dates back to childhood when she yearned for opportunities to make people laugh.

“She’s very, very friendly and definitely keen on keeping everyone alert,” Williams said of her character, whose fellow merrymakers include Dirty Santa and Sexual Anxiety Rudolph. “Being an emcee is a tad different than strictly being an on-stage presence, but the mindset is the same because the goal is to engage folks. Because that’s always been one of my missions, I love that I can keep coming back to help Tribe of Fools to spread cheer. I think that after the crappy year that many of us have had, the timing is absolutely perfect.”

The South Jersey native has sought to encourage levity since her girlhood days of directing stuffed animals. She fondly recalled writing plays as a fourth-grader and calling upon her father to document her ideas since they came at such a rapid pace.

“The creative life has always been worth pursuing to me,” Williams said, noting that her endeavors, while certainly feeling like work, have resembled an occupation “in the most pleasurable way.” “It’s something that I could never envision turning my back on or depriving of my curiosity.”

That immense dedication kept her in the Garden State as a Drew University registrant and helped her to breed devotion to directing, too. Blessed with an evergreen allegiance to exploring what scripts could compel creators and observers to do, she landed a company manager job through the Prince Music Theater and began to ponder how Philadelphia could inspire her desire.

“Friends and I were talking about starting our own thing,” Williams said of discussions that yielded Flashpoint Theatre Co. in 2003. “There was great buzz in the community surrounding the idea of making your own opportunities, and I consider myself a completer, so I had to pursue this plan with gusto.”

Looking to make “super provocative” works based on an affinity for “youthful but edgy” and emotionally resonant scripts, she enjoyed a nine-year tenure as Flashpoint’s associate artistic director, a stint that put her in contact with many local artists, including the Tribe of Fools brain-trust. Since its Germantown formation in ’03, with a move to South Philly the next year, Tribe of Fools has become a darling for critics and theatergoers, who have equally lauded its signature physical stylization in presenting works such as “Dracula” and “Two Street,” which this publication touted as part of its ’10 and ’14 FringeArts coverage, and “Shut Your Wormhole,” which Williams directed.

“There’s just so much polish to everything they touch,” she said of the innovators, whose output also includes nine cabarets and burlesque offerings with names such as “The Rise of Nasty Frosty” and “Santa and Frosty Break Up.” “So when this time of year rolls around, no matter what, I’m truly excited to tackle the work and join them in giving people a seasonal lift.”

Williams loves lavishing levity with attention no matter the zip code in which she finds herself, noting that she and Naglak will head to Bryn Mawr next month to perform in “Wintry Mix,” but she will enjoy heading not exceptionally far from her home Saturday to make “seven” a lucky number for the burlesque presenters. Having lived in South Philly for 13 years, she praised its amazingly welcoming atmosphere and influx of creative contemporaries as proof that she made the right decision to craft a life here.

“I like loyalty,” she said, with her 12-year employment with the American College of Physicians as additionally solid evidence. “When you find the right people, as I’ve done through my job and through my second career, you’re on a very good path. I’m loving this journey.” SPR

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com.

Tribe of Fools Holiday


8–10 p.m. Dec. 17

Shiloh Baptist Church, 2040 Christian St.

Tickets: $15-$50


Photo by Maria Young