Jewish Artists Prove to Be Fringe Elements


Linda Dubin Garfield was a school guidance counselor for 38 years before she decided to take her own advice and follow her dreams.

Now, she is participating for the tenth time — she retired in 2002 — in one of more than 140 curated shows and performances of the annual Philadelphia Fringe Festival, put on by FringeArts of Philadelphia. The festival, which runs this year from Sept. 3 to 19, celebrates and features works by independent artists at venues all around the city.

While she had aspirations of becoming an artist from the beginning, Garfield said her mother wouldn’t let her pursue the artistic path — it was the ’60s, and there were too many hippies, according to her mother.

Garfield, who is a past president of the Philadelphia council of AMIT, the Israeli nonprofit dedicated to bettering children’s lives, for a time, has made a post-retirement career out of printmaking and working with “monotypes.”

She encourages others to follow their own artistic impulses with her “Portraits and Stories” series at the festival. This year, participants will explore the theme of “family.”

She brings all of the supplies the emerging artists might need, from scissors to colored paper, to The Book Trader in Old City, where her events will take place on Sept. 6 and 13 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. From there, it’s up to each person to create something representing how he or she feels about “family.”

After they create their masterpieces, they share the stories behind their final products.

“It’s amazing what happens,” Garfield said. “It’s like you’re in kindergarten again. You open up and talk freely about your life and the topic — it’s just fabulous.”

The discussion brings people together who might not have met otherwise, she said. By creating together, it gives them common ground that makes them feel more comfortable sharing their personal stories with each other.

“I like to pick topics that are broad enough that people can interpret it however they want and something meaningful and psychologically important in some way. I hadn’t covered family, and I think family’s important for everyone because they either love them or they hate them. It will work well for images and stories and conversations.”

Garfield — who also started ARTsisters, a group of 20 professional women visual artists who empower each other through their art, in 2005 — hosts a pre-Fringe birthday party each year that invites others to participate and create pieces that she will hang up in the Book Trader for others to look at as the festival begins.

She also donates 20 percent of sales of her art each year to a charity. This year, to go with the theme, she will donate a portion of the profits to Family Support Services.

“It makes you feel good to create something and I think we all have that in us. I think art is one people miss in their lives, and when they have an opportunity to do it, it’s very enriching and I feel good that I give people that opportunity.”

Others express their creativity through performance and are looking forward to sharing the experience with an audience.

Brian Shapiro will be revisiting a piece he originally did 20 years ago about a topic everyone has an opinion on: technology.

Shapiro, who is originally from Los Angeles and now lives in Philadelphia, will perform “A Few Thousand Upgrades Later,” which was based on a series of interviews he did for a graduate school project. He talked with six people in various professions about the future of technology and how it would impact society, including Burning Man founder Larry Harvey.

Some predictions were right, he said, and some were very wrong.

“I felt it was worth revisiting to see if any of these predictions held up or did not,” he said.

Online anonymity, for example, was one prognostication that did not come to pass.

One interviewee believed the Internet would present the opportunity to express oneself anonymously and retain an anonymous online presence, which, as is evidenced on a daily basis, is exceedingly difficult.

In 1995, when email was first starting to gain traction, Shapiro was in San Francisco, and that kind of technology wasn’t something he was initially comfortable with, to say the least.

“On a personal level, I was scared to death of it,” he said, laughing. “I did the research to kind of alleviate my own fears.”

For the performance, he is acting as the interviewees as well. He isn’t sure yet whether he will use sound bites of the actual interviews he had conducted — “there’s only so much I can do in Garage Band,” he joked — but he will try and remain as true to their characters as possible.

“It’s not just going to be the same show,” he said. “I’m sprinkling in present-day social commentary, and my own personal opinions and facts. We want the audience to be engaged with the piece, but we also want it to be relevant to their lives.”

The original piece, which was called “Americans Online,” was developed, staged and performed only once, as part of his master’s program in communications at San Francisco State.

“There was a lot of weight on it,” he said. “I remember being on the stage and at one particular moment, my brain went completely blank. That was the most gut-wrenching performance.”

He did recover from that lapse, enough so that he has been performing ever since.

“Once it was in me, I thought, ‘Why haven’t I been doing this my whole life?’” he recalled.

One challenge to reviving the show, he said, is maintaining the authenticity of the characters. As these interviews were conducted in the 1990s, these are characters that may not be used to the technological staples of today, like cell phones.

“These were characters that never experienced texting,” he explained. “It almost comes through in their thinking — they pause and reflect and talk about things. It’s so interesting.”

“I’m looking forward to fun exchanges with the audience [and] hearing what people say afterwards,” he added.

The performance will run at the London Grill in Fairmount  on Sept. 3, 10, 12 and 18 at 8 p.m., and a 2 p.m. performance on Sept. 13.


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