Tinder-inspired twists to Les Mis, ballads sung in the nude and conga drum solos resounded throughout a former East Passyunk garage last Tuesday evening.
The peculiar lineup was one of several idiosyncratic concoctions comprising “Late Night Snacks,” a series of cabaret acts produced by The Bearded Ladies featuring more than 70 local performing artists through Sept. 29 with FringeArts.
Shifting away from in-house productions, the queer experimental cabaret company has recently developed a new focus to elevate the exposure of solo artists spanning from drag queens to opera vocalists who are unaffiliated with the troupe.
Sequestered on the 1300 block of Percy Street, the recently established “pop-up” cabaret space – nestled several feet away from Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks – enriches this newly developed mission, as the sizable space, featuring a multifaceted stage, invites a range of performances and audiences.
“We’ve transitioned from being a troupe of artists making work for ourselves to being a troupe of artists really invested in a kind of work, which is cabaret work and adjacent forms that are often quite political that are talking directly to an audience,” said John Jarboe, creative director of “Late Night Snacks” and artistic director and founder of Bearded Ladies Cabaret. “We are not Netflix. We are not a cell phone. We are sitting on your lap. If you speak, you will be held accountable. And that feels very important to us…And that’s what cabaret work does so well. And that’s not just about the work we do. That’s the work of a whole community of artists – an often overlooked community of artists.”
Serving as the first production of a three-year project, “Late Night Snacks” works to foster a certain style of accessibility that lies in its very title.
Preparing a smorgasbord of craft, the series of 30 events, which features different performances every show, is intended to be consumed leisurely – much like a late-night snack.
Audiences are welcome to pay what they wish and pop in and out of the show as their schedules – or interest – allows.
“We’re making it accessible, because it’s easy to come in and pay $5 and get a drink and see what’s going on. And, if you don’t like it, you can leave. It’s not a huge commitment,” said Dan O’Neil, artistic producer of The Bearded Ladies and producer of the show. “It’s not a whole meal that you’re committing to.”
This more relaxed approach to cabaret couples with the company’s desire to provide a platform for both well-known and seldom-seen artists.
“Late Night Snacks” derives from the company’s 2018 performance of “Do You Want A Cookie?” which transformed an old factory in North Philly into an immersive experience exploring the history of cabaret as individual artists presented their own acts.
“We discovered that there was something about that more casual, temporary thing that was really exciting,” said Sally Ollove, associate artistic director of the company. “So, we wanted to give more time and attention to that.”
Ollove is one of several curators who scouted artists to comprise the production. Some entertainers are residents of the immediate Passyunk Square neighborhood while others are in town from foreign countries as they’re here visiting for the FringeArts Festival.
Several performers surfaced through the show’s collaboration with various community-driven partners, including Opera Philadelphia, Vox Populi, Hidden City Philadelphia, Passyunk Avenue Revitalization Corporation and the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs.
Led by a rotating circle of hosts over the course of the run, a few contrasting acts are featured each evening in front of audiences that are potentially just as diverse.
“The idea is you come to the show and you see someone that you know and you see someone that you don’t know,” Jarboe said. “So, that experiment, in terms of mixing artists and having a really rich diverse profile of artists on the stage, is also about mixing audiences…It really makes for a very rich community in this space, which also has a precedent in cabaret history and what cabaret does is mix different groups of people and put them in conversation with each other whether they like it or not.”
The creative team says “Late Night Snacks” will “pop-up” in other places around South Philadelphia during the next two annual FringeArts festivals.
Looking ahead, The Bearded Ladies company intends to expand its breadth of performers, continuing to seek creative minds hailing from a range of ages, genders, races and, of course, theatrical disciplines.
“This space is very much about creating a space where we can bring people from out of town, where we can lift up the people who are here in Philadelphia already and use our spotlight to showcase other people,” O’Neil said. “…To me, (Late Night Snacks) feels like the clearest articulation of that – giving a spotlight to other people This feels like the project that has put the most resources toward showcasing other cabaret artists’ work.”
To learn more about the show, visit: fringearts.com/event/late-night-snacks-2019/.