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These Are the People In Your Neighborhood: Jeb Kreager

September 8, 2014

Late Summer in Philadelphia is a time of distinct transition. The days grow shorter, the ales get darker, Iggles jerseys come out of dormancy, and the region’s great Fall festivals start to dot the calendar. It’s very possible that the most intriguing of all the great Philly seasonal happenings is the Fringe Festival. Curated and organized by FringeArts, this 17 day celebration of dance, theater, visual arts, music and spoken-word performance is bigger and better than ever in its 18th(!) year of existence.

We at Hog Island Press are especially stoked this year, as in the midst of it all we had the chance to catch up with Jeb Kreager – all-around rad guy and venerable star of the Philly theatre scene for nearly 2 decades. Jeb originally moved to Philly in the late 90s to start New Paradise Laboratories, a “decidedly non-narrative and imagistic” modern theatre company. He’s since built a fascinatingly huge portfolio of acting work, including hundreds of stage and screen productions both near and far. He’s also done a far bit of TV – including parts on Boardwalk Empire and Law & Order: SVU – and now splits his time between Philly and NYC.   

Jeb is currently back in town working on THE ADULTS – his 15th show with NPL. THE ADULTS has been described as a a definitive highlight of the 2014 Fringe Festival (where it is currently making its world premiere), so be sure to catch a show at the Painted Bride before it closes on September 14. Read about it here, get tickets here. Take it away, Jeb!

Hog Island Press: These Are the People In Your Neighborhood - Jeb Kreager

Who are you?
I’m Jeb Kreager. An actor, theatre maker, writer, carpenter, amateur chef, sports nut, former (but also forever) Philadelphian.

What’s your favorite Philly sandwich?
You meant sandwichES, right? When I’m in town, I know I’m gonna eat at least one of these:

1. The burger at Royal Tavern (Gouda and bacon and long hots oh my, perfect grind, great bun); Royal was my local for years and years; it also garners special points for being my “first date” burger with Julia…

2. The Veggie hoagie at Chickie’s makes me think (at least momentarily) that I could live without meat.

3.The Baby Momma bagel sandwich at Gleaner’s Cafe (I lived around the corner for about 6 years – I got one at least once a week).

4. The coconut “BLT” at Memphis Taproom (probably the best vegan sandwich I’ve ever eaten, and the most amazing transformation of an ingredient ever).

And I know it’s not a sandwich, but if I’m near 9th and Washington – no matter the time of day, even if I’ve just eaten – I get carnitas tacos at Veracruzana. My fave Mexican in the city.

Of all the unique indigenous food products in this town, which are you fondest of?
Scrapple. It trumps pretzels or water ice or cheesesteaks for me;  there are regional versions of those everywhere.  Scrapple was – still is – kind of a mind-blower. I’d never seen it before I moved to Philly – I had it for the first time at Silk City right after I found my first apartment in NoLibs. Never wanted anything else with my eggs ever since.

Who are some of your favorite Philly writers?
There are a lot of writers I’ve loved in my life so far with Philly roots (and not just the ones on your HIP shirt): Noam Chomsky, Michener (I used to read more). I like Jonathan Franzen a lot, and I used to be a big poetry guy – William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound were favorites. They both went to Penn. Or met at Penn. Or something. I think.

Tell us about some of your favorite stages and theaters in Philly.
New Paradise Laboratories has been my artistic home for almost 2 decades (I co-founded the company with college friends).  Our work is decidedly non-narrative and imagistic. Our pieces, by and large, premiere at the Live Arts/Fringe Arts festival (and our new show, THE ADULTS, runs now through September 14th; get tickets here!).

One of the reasons I’m proud to say I’m from Philadelphia is that the community is strong and its artists support each other;  I love the wide spectrum that Philly theatre produces. On one hand, you have NPL and Pig Iron and Applied Mechanics and Swim Pony and Berserker Residents and other individual artists who make new work from scratch.  Then there’s Theatre Exile and 1812 Productions and Flashpoint and Quintessence and InterAct and People’s Light (most of whom I’ve worked with a bunch) who do a good mix of ‘socially relevant’ work, newer plays, classics, comedy, satire and dark stuff.  And the companies that Philly is probably best known for on the national regional theatre scene – the Wilma (great mix of classics and new work), PTC (our spot for recent Broadway/Off-B’way hits and my favorite space in town – I hope they get their $$ situation figured out), the Arden (they choose great plays, two versatile spaces, incredible children’s programming), Walnut Street (classics, musicals) – all the bases are pretty well covered. 

Describe your perfect day in Philadelphia.
Coffee out (I have favorite shops all over the city – Rival Bros. in Fitler Square, ReAnimator in Fishtown, Elixr in CC, a bunch of others) and then maybe a jaunt down the Schuylkill – the ongoing development of the River Walk and Kelly Drive and the Water Works is just awesome. Then maybe see what’s happening on the Parkway – I’m a big museum guy. Right around then, it might be time for a drink. I love the happy hour at Loco Pez – it’s a great deal and everyone who works there is friendly even when it gets slammed. Couple cheap drafts and a plate of cheap, delicious nachos and I’m ready for the evening. I see a lot of live music here – I have many friends in bands and in the concert industry, so sometimes I get to tag along and pretend I’m a VIP. And because the bulk of my close buddies are here, the night should end at one of their houses. A nightcap (rye whiskey for me, thanks), some music on the Victrola, several laughs… sounds good.

You spend a lot of time in NYC – are there any glaring misconceptions that you find New Yorkers may have about Philly?
That Philly is far away. It’s pretty easy and cheap to get back & forth – I’ve done that trip a couple hundred times – and if you travel at the right time of day, you can get from the BFB to Midtown in 1:40ish.

I’d also say there’s a sense among (some) New Yorkers that Philadelphia is an inferior arts town. It’s not, it’s just smaller. I sometimes joke that the distance is greater in the southbound lane because it’s hard to get NYC theatre folk to get down to Philly to see a great show, but I have Philly friends who go up to New York for shows a lot. And there’s a ton of theatre and dance up there. And a lot of it is great. But a lot of it is really bad. And bad theatre isn’t better just because it’s in New York – in fact, maybe it’s worse, if we’re dealing in perceptions. The quality of work in Philadelphia, percentage-wise, might even be a little higher than New York – the body of work is just smaller.

You can take 3 Philly-related albums on a roadtrip. What are they?
The Roots’ Things Fall Apart, Ween’s The Mollusk (New Hope counts, right?) and EITHER Coltrane’s A Love Supreme OR Bowie’s Young Americans. Is that cheating? [Editor’s Note: No this is not cheating. In fact it’s the opposite]

Got a favorite local watering hole in Philly?
Got a couple – kind of depends who I’m visiting and when.  I miss the bands and the sweat, but The Khyber is a mainstay.   I’m a beer guy, so when I’m in West Philly we usually hit Local 44, and Kraftwork when the venue is Fishtown. Still love Standard Tap. And it sucks the next morning when you have to wash your sheets and hit the cleaners (and I’m not even a smoker) but there’s something about The Glinch that takes me back to the old bars I used to go into with my pop. Pure old school.

What’s your favorite HIP design? 
GRAVY – I get props for it wherever I go. Even in New York.


Thanks Jeb! (Lookin’ good in that Way You Goin? number, btw.)  Friends, don’t forget to check out THE ADULTS now through September 14th at the Painted Bride. Until then – enjoy your life, love your neighbors, wear Hog Island Press.

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