This year’s Free Fringe Festival, showcased a variety of art forms and a wide expanse of talent. On September 22, the web series Things I’d Like to Do Instead Of Thinking About Men held its premiere as part of the festival. Actress/filmmaker Irina Varina works in both theater and film — both on stage and behind the scenes, giving voice to atypical stories centered around her own experience, as well as the experiences of those seeking connection. Irina is excited to share her unique new series with the world, and has given Phindie a look behind the scenes:
Phindie: Your show has a very compelling title. I don’t even know what to expect from it.
Irina Varina: Thank you. I wasn’t going for a tricky title (it’s actually very, very straightforward) but yes, you’re right, people’s reactions have been similar to yours. And I really enjoy that.
Phindie: Is there a specific tone/genre you’re going for?
Irina Varina: Hmm I’d say it’s a wild mix of confessional youtube-type videos, “interviews”, phantasmagoria, and straightforward narrative.
Phindie: You’ve referred to it as a “phantasmagoria.” Can you expound upon that?
Irina Varina: Because some of the events (and I immediately thought: “Who knows, maybe all of the events?”) in the show are happening in this space that is a dream or a basement of one’s psyche or a hallucination.
Phindie: Sounds pretty trippy. The format of 5-6 minute episodes is unique. Can you talk about the choice to break the piece up as such?
Irina Varina: I recently finished a “journey” with my first feature film, Us, Forever Ago. We worked on it for 2.5 years, screened for a year at indie festivals and art galleries, and released online this June. It’s been a great ride and I wanted to work on something “lighter” – in pressure, responsibilities and turn-around. I wanted to play. For example, to do things that a part of me would normally consider too cheesy, or to use music (I rarely use music in my films), or to have sound effects (again, don’t usually do that either), or to create an intentional surreal world. Web-series format seemed like the right fit. While doing some research, I came across a web-series I liked and it had 6 episodes. I thought it was a good number – not too high (so not too much pressure) and not too low (enough time to play). 5-6 minutes per episode for a web-series is pretty common, actually. And it felt right to me too for the same reasons above.
I also tried to play with the idea that it (filmmaking) doesn’t have to be as stressful as we usually make it to be. Or at least, it doesn’t have to be for this project. Making films certainly has all the potential elements to be stressful – like, many creative people with different skills coming together to make a creative project happen within a limited time frame. I wanted to observe myself to see if my decision making at particular moments created stress and if it could be avoided. Like, do I really, really need that shot or is it better to let it go because we are behind schedule?
Phindie: Ah yes, the “kill your darlings” aspect of creativity. It’s a heartbreaking, but necessary evil. Your series is being presents as a part of the Free Fringe, which is offering digital programming as a medium this year. Was your series created with Free Fringe in mind?
Irina Varina: No, it wasn’t on my mind. The series was created with “I want to play” in mind and with “oh there is so much talent around, why am I not filming these people?” It’s the first year for Free Fringe Philly. I thought it might be a good place to premiere because many actors from the Philly theater/dance community are in the series. I wasn’t sure if we were the right fit for them because, you know, it’s a web-series, not a live act. But I reached out and they said “yes.”
Phindie: Was it a goal of yours to use local creators?
Irina Varina: I’ve never filmed anything in Philadelphia. I split my time between Philly and New York, and my film community was always in NYC by default. Why? Partly, because I came to Philly to study at Headlong Performance Institute and most of the people I met here were from theater or dance. And partly, because of my narrow-mindedness. Philly has great talent (who happen to be my friends), resources at my fingertips, shorter distances, unexplored locations, less traffic. It was a gift really for this project to shoot here. And I am truly grateful to everyone who got involved.
Phindie: Care to drop any names of collaborators?
Irina Varina: Yes, I’d love to drop names! My cinematographer was Kate Raines who is well-known Philly photographer with a great eye for translating ideas into visual stories. I met my sound mixer Bill Drummer at one of the Pop Up Anthology events, a local screening series run by Katherine Elisabeth Clark. All actors were from Philly theater-dance scene—Christina Gesualdi, Scott Rodrigue, Kelly Filios, Anita Holland, Bianca Sanchez, Laura Vriend, Kevin Aoussou, Robert Weick, Vanessa Ogbuehi.
The only non-locals were sound designer Floyd Raynor who is based in The Netherlands and who I worked with on my feature film. And Anna Marie Nguyen who color graded this project and is based in NYC.
Phindie:That’s a wonderful pool of talent. I’m excited to see so many locals out there creating things! Beyond Fringe, will there be more to the story? Will there be a second season, if you will?
Irina Varina: I hope so! I’d love to film the entire community I am a part of here so it’d be like a photo album of this time in our lives.
[Free Fringe Cabaret, 448 N. 10th Street] September 22, 2019; freefringephilly.com/acts/things-id-like-to-do-instead-of-thinking-about-men-at-ffpc
Things I’d Like to Do Instead of Thinking About Men will be available soon here: http://vimeo.com/tiltdiotam