Four Ways to Prep for Physical Festival

physical fest Hominus Brasilis by Cia Manual at the upcoming Physical Festival Chicago. You like theater and you think Physical Festival Chicago might be something for you and your friends, but you’re not sure how to prepare for it. Will you need to bring a water bottle or ear plugs? Don’t worry, everything you need to get ready will be inside this preview of the event, so on the nights you attend, all you will have to do is walk in and flash your VIP pass. Problem number one: You don’t know what Physical Festival Chicago is. Solution number one: I lifted this quote right off their website so I can give you a quick answer. “Physical Festival is an annual contemporary, visual and physical theater festival that strives to bring to Chicago new forms of theater that are being performed around the world.” If you are still confused about this, ie: Is there sound? Will people talk? Will people be dressed in black and rolling around on the ground making animal noises? Then read more here and please stop overthinking this and go have some fun! Also, if you crave a little background information, I interviewed the founders of Physical Festival Chicago last year for Gapers Block about the origins. Problem number two: You don’t think you can afford to watch five companies from around the world do amazing theatrical things and even if you can afford it, you are not sure how to get there or if you have the time. Solution number two: You can totally afford this because it’s cheaper than most theater tickets (shows range from $10-$20 and there is a student/senior discount, VIP passes are just $60). Blow off Netflix for a night and see just one show if you are so dang busy. Trust me, it's more cutting edge and international than anything your friends have been up to lately so maybe invite them and appear worldly. Look, even Liverpool has one, but don't buy tickets to that. Ours is right near the red line at Stage 773, so you can totally get there after work. Problem number three: You are afraid to go, because you know you will love it so much that you will be tempted to run away from your day job and join a merry band of actors. Solution number three: No need to quit just yet. Try out a  few workshops (taught during the day by those same night time performers) first and see if your soul soars. Problem number four: Lastly, you would go, if only you knew any damn thing about the people and the productions you’d be attending. Like: What do they find funny or important? Why do they believe you should attend? Solution number four: You are in luck, because their website breaks it all down for you, explaining the nuances of each show. But in case you are too tired to click there, here are some interesting things they shared with me for this preview: Recent Cutbacks, makers of Hold On to Your Butts Name a cliché people toss at you when they discover you do physical theater. Rolling around on the floor in black making animal noises. Who should come to the show? Anyone who likes to laugh. Fans of Jurassic Park will be delighted, but the creativity and ingenuity of the physical comedy will also appeal to those without a working knowledge of the film. If you're into live sound/music, the fact that the show is entirely accompanied by a foley artist is pretty neat, too. Why do we need physical theater? Is it a dying art or a reviving one? People are so bombarded by manufactured images in their daily lives that they're hungry for simple physical theater because it provides something that film cannot: a workout for your imagination. In film, everything is handed to you, imaginatively speaking. Physical theater has the ability to make you do some of the imaginative work, which is an extremely joyful experience. Roughhouse theater, makers of Sad Songs for Bad People Who should come to the show? Everyone. Or let’s say, everyone over the age of 14. Sad Songs deals with some dark subject matter, but tackles it with thoughtfulness, rigorous artistry, and a (slightly perverse) sense of fun. Specifically, Sad Songs will appeal to people who enjoy live music, tales of the macabre, the grim and the gory, bad jokes, stellar visual art, one-eyed dogs, evil cowboys, ridiculous wigs, pathological children, fights, feelings, watching the sh•t hit the fan. And of course, puppetry. What is something that would surprise your audience to know about your company? The name Rough House finds its roots in Peter Brook’s categorization of “the rough theater” –theater for the people, theater that can happen in any location, theater that proudly lays bare the innards that make it run. We at Rough House remain excited by that idea – we believe that true theater magic lies in revealing your secrets, rather than keeping them. How did you get the idea for the piece you will be performing at the festival? Rough House has found ourselves fascinated on our culture’s fixation with death; our collective fears, our neurotic obsessions, the ways we cope – and avoid coping – with tragedy, on both a personal and societal scale. Sad Songs for Bad People has grown out of this fixation via a long lineage of artistic exploration. Rough House’s initial foray into the genre of the murder ballad puppet show was the aptly named Murder Ballads (2012). Much like the original Murder Ballads, Sad Songs for Bad People (which premiered in 2015) is built around a series of ditties of death and songs of tragic misfortune – but Sad Songs nudges the exploration a little deeper. The performance of the “sad songs” themselves is tangled up in a meta-narrative surrounding the performer characters. The meta-narrative arc that asks why we choose to tell the stories we do, and at what cost. Laura Simms, maker of How to Find Romania Would you rather make people laugh, cry or think and why? I want to explore and instigate the whole spectrum of emotion as well as engage people at some truly unconditional level where one feels as if they are the show as it happens. I work a lot with the audience imagination. How did you get the idea for the piece you will be performing at the festival? I was asked by the theater that commissioned me (A Traveling Jewish Theater in SF) if I wanted to tell a story about what made me a storyteller.  And what influence it was on my life to grow up Jewish in New York.  It started by my trying to figure out why I didn’t know the stories of my family although I had spent a life time telling stories from all over the world, including wild events on subways and streets in Manhattan. Can art save people and if so how? Art saves our capacity to be human beings. It brings us back into being present, in our bodies, and feeling compassion and mystery.   So there you have it, all of the information you need to go see a show or take a workshop at Physical Festival Chicago June 3-11 at Stage 773. Don't bring a water bottle, there is a bar.          
Picture of the author
Kim Campbell

Kim Campbell (they/them) is a freelance editor, podcaster and creative writer who has spent a career focusing on the arts, particularly literature, theater and circus. Former editor of CircusTalk News, they have written about theater and circus for Third Coast Review since its very beginning. Kim is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and the International Network of Circus Arts Magazines. In 2019, they were on the jury of FIRCO in Madrid (Circus Festival Iberoamericano) and in 2021 they were on the voting committee for the International Circus Awards. See their tweets at @kimzyn or follow them on Instagram.