When was the last time you attended a play or live show? With the annual FringeArts festivities starting tonight, what better way to kick off the two week celebration by speaking with one of Philly’s most talented artistic directors – Jess Conda. Starring in the upcoming Eternal Glamnation show (view the trailer here) hosted at The Underground Arts Building, Jess is a pivotal part of the arts scene here. Femme & Fortune had the pleasure to interview her about her inspirations and views on the Philadelphia arts and entertainment industry, so keep reading to find out more!
Jess Conda: I’m the newly appointed Artistic Director of BRAT Productions. This is my first year as Artistic Director, but I’ve been involved with the company since 2003. I was that intern who volunteered for everything and eventually became an ever-present presence. My career model is basically, “I’m here for you, and eventually, I’m just here.”
Jess Conda: I’ve been a theater kid forever. I was the little girl in the dance recital who had to be carried off stage because I was still tapping after the performance was over. When I was 3, I threw a mega tantrum in the church Christmas pageant because I wanted to play the baby Jesus (who was played by a doll). I got choked up in the audience watching plays growing up because I knew that I wanted that life for myself. I’ve had the art bug, the call to perform, whatever you wanna call it for my whole life, really.
Jess Conda: The best advice I can give is to be kind and work your ass off. Be kind to everyone from the leading actress to the box office manager to the person sweeping the stage. Why? Because this community is small and well connected. Also, everyone wears a lot of hats–so you could be the sweeping the stage for a project one minute and be the lead actress on another project in the next minute. Everyone does everything. It all connects. And this is a business of relationships. Work your ass off because you’re gonna have to–you’re an artist, but you need to wear all of these other hats. And hold down a day job on top of that. Being a professional artist takes hard work, crazy time management skills, and just plain ol’ grit. That’s why I call our community a community of ART WARRIORS.
Jess Conda: Philly is a great town for artists because it’s cheap to live here, and the community is very accessible. And the community truly feels like a community. The artists here authentically support each other’s work in unique ways. There is less of a feeling of cut throat, kill or be killed competition here. Artists will advocate for both themselves and each other for projects, volunteer for each other and and are great at connecting young artists to opportunities. You don’t get that feeling in other cities.I also think that Philly is a great place to create original or devised work. There is a real appetite for making new work here. Unfortunately, sometimes I think that the artists are more interested in new work than the audiences. I don’t know if that’s because of lack of interest or a glitch in how we are able to advertise, how we reach people and let them know who we are and what we are doing. I wish there was a way to reach the masses in the way that sports and large concert events reach. This can be tricky because as indie theater makers we are often under staffed, and perform in ever changing venues. But when people see a small, independent entertainment event, they are effected in a way unlike any other form of entertainment. That’s great, but the downside is that it can be a struggle to let people know that the art is even out there in the first place. And of course, I wish there was more national government funding for artists and art educators–in other countries, being an artist is thought of as an important profession and there are a lot more resources.
Femme & Fortune: What’s your favorite Philly neighborhood and why?
Jess Conda: I’m from the suburbs, yo. Elkins Park, represent! I love my neighborhood because it’s a 20 minute train ride to the city proper. So I get to do what I love in Philly, and then fall asleep listening to crickets and wind rustling through big trees. Best of both worlds.
Femme & Fortune: What’s next for you this fall and winter?
Jess Conda: BRAT, BRAT and more BRAT. I’m diving head first into the world of running a non-profit theater company. I have lots of ideas about theatrical events to promote young artists and use rock and roll music in performance in new ways, so set your dials to BRAT to hear the latest. Also, this December, I’ll be singing with the Peek A Boo Revue in their Holiday burlesque, which has been a dream of mine since I came to Philadelphia–singing sultry songs in a knock out dress backed up by a full piece band. Merry Christmas to me.
We must say, we’ve gotten bit by the theater bug thanks to Jess Conda. Eternal Damnation debuts this Sunday, September 8th and on September 15th (buy tickets here), so make sure to watch Jess live. Be sure to keep up with BRAT Productions and Jess via Facebook & Twitter, and keep supporting the wonderful arts community here in Philadelphia.