Bearded Ladies’ Late Night Snacks is a performance series seasoned to perfection

Bearded Ladies
Cass Meehan

When Nick Stuccio rhapsodizes about his Philadelphia Fringe Festival — on now through Oct. 2 — one of the things he is most enthusiastic about is the partnerships he’s built to help advance Fringe’s mission.

“Our partnerships over the last few festivals have helped us to build on what the Fringe is, and it will be in the future,” says the FringeArts CEO.

One of the Fringe’s most formidable—and certainly flashiest—partnerships has been with Philly’s Bearded Ladies Cabaret for its nightly post-show, “Late Night Snacks.” Featuring a collection of local and international performers in an annual celebration of the cabaret community near and far, the pop-up, this year in Northern Liberties, is part of both the FringeArts Festival and the upcoming Opera Philadelphia’s O-Fest.

The list of performers and dates can be found online.

Always curated and mostly hosted by Bearded Ladies’ founder and artistic director John Jarboe – with the help of mad locals such as Jess Conda, Eric Jaffe and Martha Graham Cracker – the drag-meets-poetry-meets-performance art soiree is a mess in a dress in the very best fashion. And with community support from the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, the Beards’ Late Night Snacks is official.

Cass Meehan

“It takes a lot of glitter to run a queer cabaret company,” says Jarboe, also known as Jarbeaux.

“Having the abundance of artists in this city to work with is a blessing,” she says. “The Beards still do what we’ve always done: take you on a ride on a Trojan horse, use music and pleasure to get at hard questions, and are generally just very queer and queering of all we touch.

“We make ensemble-driven musical plays, but for the past years, we have also been building spaces to meet and showcase artists in our community generally at the intersection of opera, cabaret, drag, burlesque, and performance art. We also bought a truck to drive around Philadelphia performing cabaret and offering platforms for artists to perform in and for their neighborhoods. We are connecting and resourcing artists who talk directly to you, who sit on your lap and tell you a story.”

Since 2018, a large part of the Beards story has been the Fringe Fest/Opera Philadelphia after-party Snacks live cabaret. Yes, they went digital for an international 12-hour marathon, Feast, during 2020’s pandemic Fringe with artists from around the world. Back to hosting Late Night Snacks in a building, Jarboe says of collaborating with both the Fringe and Opera Philadelphia, that, “We love sleeping around, so we’re grateful to partner with O’22 and The Fringe as a curated work.”

Fringe and Opera Philadelphia aid Late Night Snacks in marketing, ticketing, and artistic cross-pollination. And rather than think of Jarboe/Jarbeaux as LNS’ singular curator, she reminds Metro that Emily Bate, Noelle Diane Johnson, Jackie Soro, and Sally Ollove also curate with Jarboe doing live, improvisational artist pairing live, each night.

Johanna Austin

“Think of each evening as a one-night-stand between artists and audiences, so you might have a drag queen and an opera star on the same night,” she says. “Not only are the artists mingling, the audiences are too.”

Along with mingling with the “fierce poetic honesty” of spoken word artist Ursula Rucker paired with ambient guitarist Tim Motzer, local hip hop ensemble ILL DOOTS, and Philly’s Johnny Showcase, there are inventive, grand and emotional drag performances at every turn of Late Night Snacks. That means Le Gateau Chocolate coming from London to perform, and that means a newly-written work-in-progress, Threesome.

“Led by Cherdonna Shinatra featuring Martha Graham Cracker and myself (Jarbeaux), Threesome is about how three solo artists can make a show together. We are just showing a piece of it in progress.”

As far as works-in-progress go, Jarbeaux/Jarboe is still blossoming a-new.

“I’m growing and changing as a performer and Late Night Snacks is always a great place to do that,” says the creator-curator.