Since its 1996 inception and introduction to the Philadelphia Fringe Festival two years later, New Paradise Laboratories founder and artistic director Whit MacLaughlin has made the most startling brand of experimental, genre-jumbling performance art. From ‘The Fab 4 Reach the Pearly Gates’ through the more recent likes of ’27,’ ‘The Adults,’ and ‘O Monsters,’ MacLaughlin and his NPL dare to dare.
What MacLaughlin hasn’t done as part of NPL—up until now with ‘707 Hazardous Moves’—is act with them, despite his pre-NPL days as a performance artist. An obsession with Stéphane Mallarmé’s complex and lengthy poem, ‘A Throw of Dice Will Never Abolish Chance’ is to blame for bringing MacLaughlin onto the stage – that and a life altering decade where he was shot, and his wife, Catharine Slusar (who also appears in 2021’s Fringe with ‘Joyous Eddies House of Theater’) was ill for a time. MacLaughlin also gave up theater, came back and during COVID, was quarantined with an OCD diagnosis.
So, there’s THAT.
Going back to his startup with Philadelphia and Fringe, MacLaughlin says he “never imagined, then, looking forward 25 years, and talking about a new New Paradise piece. It was a heady time…finding a scene (the Fringe), that was hankering for the sort of work we were doing. That was a fantastic surprise. Startling when you think of how the festival impacted the city and its different neighborhoods. Artists invigorate neighborhoods. It was like going from party to party.”
The party went on for some time and grew, then went virtual before the pandemic made it a must—and New Paradise Lab’s content drew inwards, when turning to the aforementioned unplanned circumstances of MacLaughlin’s life.
“For 25 years I have tried to explain that which New Paradise Labs, actually does,” says MacLaughlin. “It became time, I think…with this show, to step out from behind the bushes of New Paradise Lab’s legacy where I was watching other people do crazy stuff that I was propelling them to do, and decide to do something crazy myself. Something unanticipated.”
‘707 Hazardous Moves’ Dramaturg Jessica Rizzo has known MacLaughlin for some time, but only started collaborating on the ‘707’ project with a mind toward being a second voice/sounding board for the one-man show. “This conversation started off during long walks through the frozen tundra of Philadelphia’s long COVID winter, without knowing that this is how it would manifest,” says Rizzo.
“To be frank,” starts MacLaughlin, “I wanted to wrap my head around something impossible to talk about: this poem from 1897, a poem which flummoxed the world, Stéphane Mallarmé’s ‘A Throw of Dice Will Never Abolish Chance’ became an obsession.”
Mallarmé’s pre-Dada-ist poem is everything from abstract and coolly distant, to deeply spiritual and interpersonal, to looking into a dream world and the horrors of Earth, all at the same time. It is past and present.
“I can’t speak for Mallarmé’, but I believed that there was a kindred spirit there,” says MacLaughlin of the mesmerizingly odd expose of a radical poem.
‘707 Hazardous Moves’ will be on stage Sept. 16-18 at FringeArts, 140 N Columbus Blvd. For information and tickets, visit fringearts.com/event/707-hazardous-moves