This Info Will Fucking Dare You: Mary McCool, Brad Wrenn, and Lee Minora bouffon it up at Plays & Players this Fringe

If you dig imaginative and funny collaborative solo shows, Plays & Players theater is the place to go this Fringe Festival. September 9-17, Fringe favorites the Berserker Residents (The Talkback, It’s So Learning) present a double bill of Lee Minora’s Cheeks with company founder Bradley K. Wrenn’s Cockatrice under the combined moniker I FUCKING DARE YOU. Then Mary McCool picks up in the space with her own bouffon-inspired solo show, THIS INFO WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE. Phindie talks to Mary, Lee, and Brad about their joint endeavors. [Skinner Studio at Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Place, 3rd Floor] September 9-17, 2016; fringearts.com/i-fucking-dare-you (I Fucking Dare You); September 18-23, 2016; fringearts.com/info-will-change-life (THIS INFO WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE).

Mary McCool

Mary McCool

Phindie: So, let’s go one by one. Mary, what was the inspiration behind THIS INFO WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE

Mary McCool: This has been a pet project of mine for a while, sort of an Audrey II kind of pet… it’s a big weird monster, scary but funny, destructive, endearing… The piece is inspired by my love of comedy and extreme character, and a desire to combine something like stand up with theatrical practice from my work on Toshiki Okada’s plays with the Play Co. in NYC (Enjoy) and here with Pig Iron (Zero Cost House)–theatrical techniques of direct address, a zero-4th wall aesthetic that’s all about communicating image in this very immediate, direct relationship with the audience. I have a deep desire to make work that doesn’t necessarily look like theater, but is deeply theatrical, transformative, mischievous. It’s inspired by artists like Sasha Baron Cohen, Laurie Anderson, and locally Chris Davis, Sam Henderson, and heck yes, the Berserker Residents.

Phindie: Yes, speaking of the Berkerker Residents: Brad, what was the inspiration behind Cockatrice?

Bradley K. Wrenn: Its very much three fold for me. First was some of the amazing solo work/clown work I saw in Edinburgh two years ago. People like Trygve Wakenshaw and Dr. Brown (Phil Burger) their shows gave the impression of being completely off the cuff, soaring to absurd heights and entirely free from the burdens of everyday life. It was like nothing I had ever seen in Philadelphia or the United States.

Then came studying Bouffon with Sarah Sanford (of Pig Iron) and Adam Lazarus (A Philippe Gaulier protege). Bouffon is a performance style that relishes critiquing the people and institutions that have power and influence as well as lambasting those who set the rules for how society should function. The Berserker Residents played with this style for our 2015 show It’s So Learning.

Lastly, Dungeon and Dragons. A life long passion that is the groundwork on which Cockatrice rest.

Phindie: And Lee?

Lee Minora: The initial impetus for my piece, Cheeks, came from a desire to play with form and style. I had just finished creating It’s So Learning with the Berserker Residents and I was hungry for more bouffon clown and curious about pushing the boundaries of audience interaction. Brad had already made a small sample of his piece, Cockatrice. It had, and still has, a wonderful sense of childlike play; and it got me thinking about how I played when I was little. I must have been a weird kid because I was always dressing up as English orphans (read:only child). I was a big fan of movies like A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, so I made them part of the palette because they were something that always brought me joy and pleasure. I’m also fascinated about what it means to be an artist, particularly one in a female body. It was undeniable it would be part of the piece because it’s a question I’m constantly grappling with as I create.Those three things came together to be the palette of my piece.

Bradley K. Wrenn and Lee Minora.

Bradley K. Wrenn and Lee Minora.

Phindie: What makes it fitting alongside the other works?

Bradley K. Wrenn: The amazing thing about all three of us is that we have each worked extensively in the devised/collaborative theater community. We have probably spent a combined twenty years making work with ensembles. There is an enormous amount of freedom and fear that comes along with a piece where you don’t have to compromise and the only person who you have to please is yourself.

Mary McCool: I feel lucky to be in the same venue as Lee and Brad’s double bill; there’s definitely a shared spirit of adventure.

Lee Minora: I don’t know how I snuck in here with the likes of Mary McCool and Brad Wrenn, so let me just say I feel pretty lucky to have tricked them into hanging with me!

Phindie: How did it the shared bill come about?

Lee Minora: I Fucking Dare You, which is the umbrella for both Brad and my’s shows, came about pretty organically. Brad and I had been making other pieces together. We’d written some film scripts and stand-up material after It’s So Learning and once Brad started showing excerpts of Cockatrice a dare was made: make two solo pieces and presented them in the 2016 Fringe Festival. If I turned down a Berserker dare I could never hold my head up at Your Sunday’s Best (a month stand-up event hosted by the Berserker Residents). So I was making my first solo show! We chatted with Mary and the stars aligned. She was making a piece that was exploring some of the same styles and forms as we were! It’s been so exciting! Come see Cheeks, I dare you.

Mary McCool: The run of my show picks up where theirs leaves off. I had hoped to do a midnight show on their closing, but it was too logistically crazy. So while they’re separate productions, it’s a cool coincidence that we’re each exploring interactive forms and some bouffon-inspired clowns in our solo shows; I think there’s some real vitality to that. Plays & Players has become a hub for a lot of funny, exciting new work, including Good Good Comedy’s events, Your Sunday Best, and countless DIY shows— they’re amazingly supportive. I’m excited by all these developments, surely it means something…

Phindie: Have you given each other notes?

Bradley K. Wrenn: Lee and I are accountability buddies who have been rehearsing together for about three months (on and off). We give each other notes and help each other with production needs.

Lee Minora: Yes, Brad and I are, like he said, accountability buddies!

Phindie: What do you like about the others’ pieces? 

Bradley K. Wrenn: Lee’s piece is wonderful irreverent while at the seem time being deeply personal.

Lee Minora: Brad’s piece is hilarious, it’s dangerous and smart as hell! It’s also really alive and because of that I can watch it again and again. I haven’t seen Mary’s piece yet. We’ve talked about what she’s working on and the small tastes I’ve had are brilliant. I can’t wait to see it!

Mary McCool: I’ve been able to see Brad’s and some of Lee’s piece—I love the immediate sense of play in each. They’re both fantastically adept performers having so much fun, being in on their game as audience is theatrically live, bold, satisfying. I look forward to seeing more, and hoping they’ll see some of my stuff this week.

Phindie: Have Brad and Lee’s pieces informed your work?

Mary McCool: I’m definitely inspired by what Lee and Brad are doing. It’s more shared artistic territory than direct collaboration, but it’s supportive and fruitful. For example, a touchstone for developing my show has been Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theater Manifesto. I shared it with Adrienne Mackey, who’s working with me as an outside eye/director on THIS INFO, and Adrienne shared it with Brad, who shared it with Lee, and then Lee and I had a cool conversation about it, and she mentioned that it helped inspire a recent breakthrough in her piece…It’s a brilliant document that we’re all digging into, and I love the discourse we’re having about it, the experiments we’re making, what it is we’re trying to do. I’m doing a solo show in the company of other solo shows; it’s rich. Alone, together!

Phindie: Do you have any picks for other Fringe shows?

Bradley K. Wrenn: You bet! Feed by Applied Mechanics and Almanac’s Exile 2588.

Lee Minora: Yes! Feed! Applied Mechanics! I’m always so excited by what they’re creating! And Chris Davis.

Mary McCool: Ditto what Lee and Brad said, definitely. And I don’t know these guys, but the 7-Person Chair Pyramid High Wire Act looks cool too. Also, Shadow House!

Lee Minora: Ahh me too Shadow House!!

Phindie: Great picks, thanks folks!

[Skinner Studio at Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Place, 3rd Floor] September 9-17, 2016fringearts.com/i-fucking-dare-you (I Fucking Dare You); September 18-23, 2016fringearts.com/info-will-change-life (THIS INFO WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE).

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About the author

Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.