Is the Hollywood Fringe really ‘fringe'?.... by a Disheartened Fringe Participant

The Lemon


I wrote, directed, and performed in a show in the 2017 Hollywood Fringe Festival, and I came away rather disheartened.
At first, I thought that this was completely my fault. I went straight to the drawing board to assess where I went wrong; marketing? Price? Budgeting? What was it that led me to have a rather unsuccesful brief run?
I'm not an egomaniac, but I am very confident in my abilities as an artist, and I strongly believe my product was of a high standard. I had industry professionals, some with decades of theater and acting experience under their belt, come and assess (brutally, honestly) my show. Yet all the feedback, and everyone who came to the show, was very positive…
In fact, people were really impressed. It was, according to many, the bravest and best original piece of theatre they had seen in a long time, and one of the best on offer at the festival (this also coming from other festival artitsts and theatre staff).
So, if the product was at a good standard, what happened?
Ticket sales were low. Very low… I mean, one evening, I had 6 people in the audience (including my usher, mother, and roommate).  Probably the hardest thing I've had to do in my career.
I had a pretty small budget, but I ran ads on the Fringe website, put flyers in all the places we could put flyers, and put the word out on social media and through all available channels. I followed the ‘marketing advice' completely.  Maybe I could have done better with marketing, I guess, but I don't think I did terribly either.
What I noticed was that all the shows with lines out doors, and coincidentally, all the shows that won awards, were artists returning with the same company and building off success of previous years. The ‘popular kids' of the fringe had an advantage and I guess, rightly so.
It just doesn't sit well with me that as I watched the same people getting up to accept awards, I couldn't help but feel that this establishment who was trying to be so ‘un-Hollywood' , was in fact, very ‘Hollywood'.  It was a glorified popularity contest. The best show was probably not going to the best show, but in fact, just the most popular show.
Doesn't this contradict what the term ‘fringe' means??...
In my experience, going to a "fringe" theatre festival is about going to the most obscure, international, and weird pieces of theatre. The more unknown the piece, the better. That's fringe. Not the piece that has a big budget because of success from last year's show. Those people should be working to get their pieces in a proper theatre season at a proper theatre and ‘graduating' to be the ‘adults' of the theatre world.
I had moderate ‘success'. I had an extension, producers award, and an audience critic award from an established (independent) review site. But to be honest, there were half a dozen awards at the ceremony that I, and others, thought I deserved at least a nomination for.
But given that the majority of my audience members were friends, collegues, connections, and people in my life, I was never going to scoop any of these awards. Again, I'm not looking for validation, but it's very unsatisfying as an artist to be so handicapped when it comes to recognition by your peers.
I was disheartened by the fact that you could have the most heartfelt, original piece of storytelling at the festival, yet you haven't got a chance of winning any of the awards, because you simply won't get the crowds. You will quite literally drown in the swamp that is Hollywood Fringe.
Does the festival need judges to go to each show to make it fair? Maybe.
Could I have done things better on my end? Of course.
Does the festival need to have a big think about supporting emerging, new, international artists? Absolutely.
I didn't feel a big sense of ‘community'. It felt like high school. The ‘cool kids' of returning years snubbed the new kids. The festival didn't really value the concept of originality or creativity from new practitioners.
Long story short, I wouldn't the Hollywood Fringe again, nor would I recomment it to any other practitioner.
I thought I was alone, but the more I voiced my concerns, the more I learned that others felt the same, and that other festivals around the world were a lot more in line with the ‘fringe' concept than the Hollywood festival…
Don't get me wrong, it's a big task to hold that many practitioners and run such a diverse and complex organisation, but the word ‘fringe' should certainly be omitted from their title unless some serious changes are made.
Yours Sincerely
A Disheartened Artist