South Philly siblings establish theater troupe at local bar

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In their sixth show, “Raw Street Productions” presents “The Eighth Fish of Christmas” at Connie’s Ric Rac.

South Philly siblings Freddie Lozzi and Gianna Lozzi Wolf recently founded Raw Street Productions, a theater troupe based at Connie’s Ric Rac, featuring local thespians and original works. Next week, the company will present, Lozzi Wolf’s “The Eighth Fish of Christmas.” (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

From musicians to magicians, a medley of unfiltered talent seizes the sequestered stage of Connie’s Ric Rac each week.

Lately, though, the string of twinkling lights fringing the makeshift performance space is illuminating another form of flourishing artistry, as Raw Street Productions, a South Philly-based theater company, has fittingly made the venue its own, extracting theatrics from traditional places and plopping them amid bar stools.

Tapping into the kind of creativity embedded in its very title, Raw Street Productions, the brainchild of South Philly siblings Gianna Lozzi Wolf and Freddie Lozzi, is presenting its sixth production, and second original work at Connie’s Ric Rac, a “no-nonsense resource for live music, comedy and other entertainment” nestled in the heart of the Italian Market.

Written by Girard Academic Music Program and Arcadia University graduate Lozzi Wolf, “The Eighth Fish of Christmas,” opening Friday, Dec. 7, embodies the vision of the troupe, presenting locally-inspired stories surrounding flesh-and-blood type characters, as opposed to more glitzy spectacles the 29-year-old grew accustomed to throughout her life.

“From a writer’s standpoint, I feel like the characters that I write are very human … I really like to display human qualities about my characters in whatever I’m writing, which you don’t often get to see in a musical,” she said. “There are no characters in any of my shows who’s just so great and gets everything right all the time. You see everybody fall on their face a little bit in the stuff that I write.”

Inspired by her own South Philly Italian Christmas Eves, “The Eighth Fish of Christmas,” which follows a divorced Roman Catholic woman bringing home her new Jewish beau during late-1980s Brooklyn, is Lozzi Wolf’s second original play, as her first, 2016’s “Right Behind,” served as the catalyst for Raw Street Productions.

“Right Behind,” based loosely off her experience in the Philadelphia food industry, initially sparked as Lozzi Wolf’s senior thesis while studying theater at Arcadia. With collaboration from her younger brother, eventually the story evolved from a homework assignment to an installment in the 2016 FringeArts Festival, selling out nearly every evening during its autumn run at Connie’s Ric Rac. The Fringe shows were followed with an encore round at the bar a few months later and was later picked up by a Norristown theater the following spring.

Exhilarated by the audience’s reception, the siblings were galvanized, leading to the emergence of Raw Street Productions.

“Obviously, we had a really good time doing it,” said 24-year-old Lozzi, who studied film at Temple University. “And it’s hard not to be proud of yourself when you actually have people show up to a show, buy tickets, sit in the seats, cry, laugh at the jokes that you put in and see your hard work pay off. So, we didn’t want to not get that feeling again.”

Since the series of “Right Behind” runs, Raw Street Productions, which is comprised of a handful of regional thespians, many of whom are the duo’s close friends, produced two non-original productions over the past year during its official first season, including “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” and “title of show” at the South Philly bar.

Staged in the relaxed Connie’s Ric Rac, “The Eighth Fish of Christmas,” which features a cast of nine, including Lozzi and Lozzi Wolf, especially aligns with the company’s objective of fostering a sense of rapport that may not be as effective if presented in a conventional playhouse.

“I think a huge theme in Italian families anyway is intimacy,” Lozzi Wolf said.
“Our first original thought was, ‘OK, this is the table for the kitchen. We have to fit nine people around it. How’s that going to look on a stage?’ And then we were like, ‘Oh, that’s exactly what it feels like in a South Philly kitchen.”

Ticket sales for this play in particular are especially crucial to the team, as this is the first time the company is presenting a sponsorship package.

By 2019, Raw Street Productions hopes to establish itself as a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, enabling the troupe to not only receive tax write-offs, but also make it eligible for awards such as the Barrymores and artistic grants from the city, state and other foundations.

For any theater establishment, only a small portion of earnings stem from ticket sales, as the majority of the siblings’ undertaking was built from the ground up with their own hands using their own pockets. They say, no matter the situation, they pay their cast and crew, noting that the last show’s profit almost always pays for the following.

Nevertheless, the siblings’ exertions epitomize the company’s essence.

“The shortest version of our mission statement is — why not us? We’ve always said that,” Lozzi said. “It’s because, why wait for somebody to give you a stage when you can take it? … We had the opportunity. We all knew what we were capable of, so let’s just do it, and if we do it well, people inevitably will show up and clap. And that’s what we got.”

“I think what sets us apart from the rest of the Philadelphia theater community is that we just put ourselves here,” Lozzi-Wolf added. “Everybody has a dream, but the people that we bring on here were tenacious about our dreams. We’re going to make them come true no matter what we have to. We’re going to make a way, and we do.”

Follow Grace on Twitter at @GraceMaiorano

For information about RAW Street Productions or to purchase tickets to “The Eighth Fish of Christmas,” visit https://rawstreetproductions.com/.