Theatre Review: THE SINCERITY PROJECT #3 (2019) with High Pressure Fire Service

In 2014, the Team Sunshine Performance Corporation, a collective of local artists committed to eclectic and interactive live experiences, set afloat a most ambitious venture. The Sincerity Project is a 24-year experiment where members of Team Sunshine will create a piece every two years, highlighting what may have happened to them, moved them or changed within or without them during that span. Installment #2 was in the 2016 Philly Fringe Festival, at Plays & Players Theatre. This latest chapter is staged at the FringeArts building as part of FringeArts’ own High Pressure Fire Service, designed to highlight some of Philadelphia’s most innovative performers. It’s running through June 8.

My first exposure to the word “sincere” was via Peanuts. Linus knew that The Great Pumpkin would only show himself in a pumpkin patch that was “sincere.” As a child, I didn’t know what the word meant, but I knew that it set a high bar for anyone to meet. Thus, the bar is set equally high for The Sincerity Project. I have come to understand that “sincere” is defined as “to mean it.” That may seem like oversimplification, but remember: an actor’s job is to lie to you. So to put a group of performers in a situation where they have to convince the audience that they mean it inevitably results in vulnerable and authentic moments.

The cast is largely unchanged from the previous chapter. Performers and co-creators include: Aram Aghazarian, Benjamin Camp, Rachel Camp, Makoto Hirano, Mel Krodman and Mark McCloughan. In this installment, Krodman and Aghazarian do most of the heavy lifting (literally, in the case of a recurring segment where Aghazarian lifts a full cooler over his head). This makes sense; both of them have had parents pass away in the last two years, and Krodman is a new mother. They have experienced significant change since #2. McCloughan, a trans* performer, opened up about the difficulties of finding and defining oneself in the context of how others relate to you. Camp, Camp and Hirano served as set pieces, barely speaking or not speaking at all, playing the roles of supporting characters, furniture and crew.

Photo: Joanna Austin Art


The action takes place on the stage of FringeArts. There’s a blank wall, behind which are the bolted-down and empty seats of the space, and the audience is seated upstage. There’s a berber rug describing the playing field, and chairs and tables and such are moved in and out. The house lights stay up, in various levels of lukewarm brightness, for most of the hundred minutes, adding to the feeling that we are all sharing this experience.

There’s a harsh ingenuousness to The Sincerity Project. It’s self-indulgent and audacious by definition. But if you have seen at least one other installment (or you did your research), and you plopped down your $15 to $31, then you are committed to the ride and prepared to receive whatever you are about to see and hear. What you may not be prepared for, however, is the effect that such honesty and candor may have on you. Krodman’s descriptions of her father’s fight with ALS followed her undressing an immobile Aghazarian (a theme get gets revisited, the last time with a less voluntary but more adorable participant), and I knew that the likelihood of me needing to assist a loved one in a similar manner sometime in the next decade or so is very high. I felt a sudden urge to share my own stories, to be as self-indulgent and audacious as anyone would care to allow me to be, and that transference from creator/performer to audience is the essence of art.

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