“It’s a hurdle to become a nonprofit, but once you do, it makes everything so much more accessible for you,” said Gianna Lozzi Wolf as she sat at a makeshift wooden dinner table serving as a prop onstage at Connie’s Ric Rac in the Italian Market. “It makes the dream so much more attainable.”
Lozzi Wolf is co-founder and artistic director of Raw Street Productions, a South Philly-based theater company whose actors have been rehearsing two days a week at Connie’s for its upcoming run of The Eighth Fish of Christmas, set to debut on Dec. 12.
As the empty venue’s blinding stage lights beam past her and her brother, Freddie Lozzi – the company’s other co-founder who’s also seated at the table – Lozzi Wolf continued.
“We chose to go the nonprofit route because we are passionate about making a difference and that seemed the best route to go for us,” she said.
Contrary to what you might believe, ticket sales make up only 35 percent – at most – of the cost to produce one of Raw Street’s plays. Many theater companies, including Raw Street, actually rely on federal arts funding to make ends meet. But in order to get that cash, the company has to achieve nonprofit 501(c)3 status. Last year, when SPR spoke to Lozzi Wolf and her brother, that hadn’t happened. But since then, that box has been checked. As a result, the Raw Street siblings now have the cash on hand to start making some of the differences they were hoping to make. No longer scrounging for money, they can afford to pay their actors closer to what they deserve and have opportunities to give “relaxed performances” to those in need.
“Relaxed performances are performances designed to meet the needs of a special-needs audience,” Lozzi Wolf explained to SPR. “There’s no modifications, but there’s accommodations.”
Among the nine-show run of The Eighth Fish of Christmas from Dec. 12 to 21, there will be a relaxed performance matinee, starting at 11 a.m. on Monday, Dec 16. The performance will be specifically geared toward people with cerebral palsy and people who are on the autism spectrum. The accommodations for the performance, which are being done with help from Art-Reach – an organization that seeks to make art accessible to more people, specifically those with disabilities – will include things like dimmed lighting and less shrewd screaming scenes to cater to people on the spectrum who might be triggered by certain sensory experiences.
“We want to create an environment where people don’t have to worry about anything,” said Lozzi, the brother. “If you’ve got to get up in the middle of it, by all means get up and go.”
Lozzi Wolf said the performance will allow things that wouldn’t be appropriate in a typical theater setting.
“Sometimes the way somebody on the spectrum needs to process something is to pace back and forth,” she explained. “If they want to pace back and forth, they can pace back and forth. There will be somebody standing here to make sure they don’t walk onstage and other than that, the guests will be fine with that.”
The Eighth Fish, Lozzi Wolf explained, is a play set in the ‘80s about Anita, a woman in a large Italian family who comes back from Europe with her new Jewish beau. Lozzi Wolf wrote the play herself.
“Her family has no idea about the guy and she’s a little nervous that he’s Jewish because her family is so Italian,” said Lozzi Wolf, “but you end up finding out that it’s a little more taboo than it is today to intertwine cultures like that.”
But Lozzi Wolf added that the play focuses more on the similarities of the cultures than anything else. She said there’s some scenes that deal with some “heavy stuff” like misogyny and homosexuality, “but for the most part it’s a feel-good comedy that’s good for the holidays.” For more information about Raw Street’s upcoming performance of The Eighth Fish of Christmas, visit rawstreetproductions.com. General admission tickets start at $20.