EPIPHANIES AT THE FRINGE, PART IV: GETTING READY FOR FRINGE BINGE!!!

I am posting this photo of these two girls, one of whom happens to be my daughter at age five or so (on the right), because it is the purest expression I know of the beauty of human beings, and after seeing Chimpskin and then Slashed! in the Fringe, I needed something to remind me that we are not all bad.  Seriously, I felt such despair for our species after seeing those two shows, especially Chimpskin - which is a beautiful performance piece, but leaves so little room for hope that a colleague seated next to me was moved to exclaim, "Ugh! I hate humans."  A common sentiment these days and one that often comes to mind while driving on the 405 or pretty much anywhere in LA.  That's why it's important to have these reference points, these touchstones, that remind us of how loveable we can be.  For me it's this photo.  For you, something else.  Or you're welcome to borrow this image, if it helps to keep the demons away.  We can see the consequences of not having anything in the daily destruction all over the world.

MAKE A FRINGE PLAN, BEN HILL LAUGHS

I have spent a crazy amount of time putting together schedules for attending Fringe shows, but this is a less than perfect system, to say the least.  For one, some shows respond immediately to a request, while others never seem to get the message.  For another, there are so many shows - 375! - and so many that I would like to see, but there are inevitable time overlaps, and - and then one show ends at 6:30 at the Underground on Wilton, while another begins at 6:30 at the Complex on Wilcox and Santa Monica, but unless I use a transporter, I'm not going to get there and find parking until 6:45, by which time they will not allow me to enter.  NOTE TO BEN HILL: Next year, every reviewer should get issued a Fringe-authorized transporter, which henceforth shall be called a Fringesporter. Don't be cheap, we're worth it!  Because we've invested hours and hours trying to figure out your vercochte system.

OCTOBER BABY by Brooke Baumer

There is no denying that Brooke Baumer has a remarkable and deeply moving story to tell.  A practicing Catholic and admitted control freak, Brooke loves the month of October so much that she is determined to have her second child be an October-born baby.  She determines the optimal time for her and her husband to have sex toward this end, and it works!  She gets pregnant with an expecting date of October 16 - perfect, right?  No, not perfect enough for Brooke, since this is the year 2010, she is informed by a relative that if her child is born just 6 days earlier, it will be born on 10-10-10.  And so an obsession is born.  But suddenly everything starts going wrong with the pregnancy, just as Brooke finds out that her first child has autism.  She is devestated that her plans have gone so awry, and asks God for an answer: "Why have I done wrong? Why are you punishing me?"  Yes, it's a genuinely great story, but I question whether Brooke is indeed the best one to tell it.  She makes several questionable writing decisions which undercut her story's power, such as when she had us view her pregnancy sex in her In-Laws' home through the lens of the furniture on which they are making love and the surrounding rocking chair and armchair.  I mean, why does the creaky bed have a southern accent?  At least I think it was southern, because Brooke's acting ability is very limited, and her mimicking of her OBGYN often sounds a lot like her mimicking of her husband.  Nevertheless, she does have a great story to tell, and in the end we do get very wrapped up in the fate of her family.

DIVORCE: The Hip-Hop Musical by Conor Hanney

This somewhat awkward but always amusing musical doesn't endeavor to find humor in adult divorce.  Instead, it tells the story of two fourth-graders (played by actors in their 20s) who decide to break up, which causes their toys to experience heartbreak and disillusion.  The show still has a ways to go - it runs only 55 minutes, and even within that brief length, does a lot of spinning its wheels and repeating its better moments.  If it can take all that energy and wit it begins with and spin that into a full-length narrative that keeps developing the characters (sometimes it lacks at present), then it will really have something.  From a talented cast, Callie Ott and Brianna McClellan stand out.

DOG SEES GOD: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead by Bert V. Royal

This parody of the famous Peanuts comic strip has been around for 10 years and is being performed all over the country and the world, but this is my first encounter with it.  It features the familiar comic strip characters of Charlie Brown (here called CB), Pigpen (here called Matt) and Beethoven, and re-imagines them in a darkly comic scenario that ensues after the death of Snoopy.  Some of the dark humor seems dated - especially its depiction of gay characters and gay-ness as being exiled to the fringes of the community; though of course there are still many places in which this is sadly the case.  This production, directed by Jonah Platt, features teenage actors who are just graduating from high school, and they are all excellent.  More than that, they work together wonderfully as a company, and all seem deeply invested in the material, which abjures happy endings and concludes with a shocking tragedy.  I was glad for the chance to encounter this play done so well by young actors with so much commitment.

URBAN THEATRE MOVEMENT PRESENTS URBAN UNREST: A Series of Short Plays

The Urban Theatre Movement also uses dark humor to make their points, but these are anything but comic book characters.  The actors who bring these short plays to life are white, black, Latino and Jewish - the emphasis is on ethnic identity in the urban jungle of our cities.  Drugs, sex and guns are the subjects that dominate, and there are also interludes from an African-American narrator who tells parables with tragic twists.  Yet of the four plays presented, only the final one, Replica by Paul Tully, really emerged as a strong and memorable piece of writing, a play rather than a skit.  This involved a small-time drug dealer played with paranoid humor by Spencer Weitzel in a performance that had echoes for me of Al Pacino in Panic in Needle Park.  He is selling such high-grade Meth that his friend Paul (played by the author, Tully) begs for a chance to peddle it in his neighborhood and make a big score. The pitch-black comedy that unfolds has some elegant and unexpected twists and turns, but it still struck me as minor-league Stephen Adley Guirgis.  Lo and behold, when I got home I noticed that the play's program featured an endorsement from Mr Guirgis himself, who called the group "excellent. I love them."  They are very good, and are certainly worthy of our support.  But the bar has been raised so high on "the urban unrest" that surrounds us and the deepening crises of inner-city dwellers, that we need better and sharper plays than the first three presented here.

BONO AND THE EDGE WAITING FOR GODOMINO'S

Just realized that I forgot to include this very funny show in my original tour, so I'm squeezing it in now.  While a parody of Beckett's Waiting for Godot that will appeal to all theater geeks, it's also a hoot for the general public in its spin around the recordings of U2, notable both for their great musicianship and their sometimes pretentious self-seriousness.  All the actors are wonderful, and the final twist that comes with the arrival of the longed-for pizza takes it to another level.  Do the bandmates finally find what they're looking for?  Catch the last show on Saturday at 7 to find out!

WE ARE TRAFFIC: a rideshare adventure by Jonathan Lipton Meyers

And we have a winner, folks!  In the Twisted Hipster's constant search for Epiphanies, I have found the man whose entire show turns out to be an epiphany, one that elevates him at the end of this "ride" onto a plane (so to speak) of boundless optimism.  Jonathan Lipton Meyers has given us a ride very much worth taking, as he has all the qualities one looks for in both an Uber driver and the star of his own one-man show: he's a great storyteller, and he genuinely seems to love what he's doing.  While Jonathan freely admits that he has not accomplished many of the goals he set himself when coming out to Los Angeles, he has, I believe, learned something more valuable: who he is and what his strengths are, both as a performer and a person.  Because what comes across in the hour-long "ride" is how much Jonathan is like us - how imperfect and vulnerable he is, and yet how resilient and unflappable too. There's no room for self-pity or self-aggrandizement in Jonathan's vehicle, and it is the absence of these that makes it great to be riding with him.  Well, okay, I can't speak for everyone, but he certainly made me feel that way, and I felt closer to everyone else because of the warm embrace of his fellowship.  Jonathan has found an entire philosophy in the act of picking up strangers and giving them rides.  He is truly an Uber-philosopher for our times, Lyfting us up through his acceptance of himself and what his life has become.  If I'm going to put on my grumpy critic's face at all, it would just be to wonder if his epiphany at the end is entirely earned, if it might be a bit general and a bit show-bizzy - that is, giving the audience (or the riders) what he knows we want to hear.  But maybe that's my problem - maybe I'm just suspicious of finding the very epiphany I've been looking for.  Kudos to Matt Ritchey for his excellent directing work, as he has certainly coached Jonathan well in how to maintain the rhythm and flow of his "ride" until that final moment when we reach our destination - one that I hope each of you will get to experience too someday soon.

And now we have come back to Chimpskin and Slashed! The Musical and the end of OUR ride.

CHIMPSKIN  uses choreograph movement and stage imagery to tell the story of Lucy, a chimp taken from the wild and taught human language as part of a scientific experiment.  It is gracefully performed and quite heart-rending.

SLASHED! THE MUSICAL is a takeoff on the horror genre in which campers are slashed to bits by a ghostly killer for having sex or otherwise engaging in taboo activities.  By any standard, this is neither inventive nor does it add anything to the many examples of the genre.  It's a knockoff of a knockoff of a knockoff.  Nevertheless the full house of devotees I saw it with screamed and shouted and cheered whenever a body was hacked up and purposely fake-looking body parts were tossed into the audience.  The songs were depressingly witless, and only Fayna Sanchez as the crazy lady who knows the truth (but can't get anyone to listen) manages to rise above the blood and guts and add some style and wit.

Which bring us back to my private epiphany, this picture of innocence.  But now it looks kind of creepy, doesn't it?  I mean, depends on how look at it, but.... damn!  Kind of creepy.  How did that happen?

 


EPIPHANIES AT THE FRINGE, PART III: LIFE AND DEATH, MAGIC AND MUSIC

HIPSTER TIP AT THE FRINGE

EASY TARGETS at Sacred Fools is simply the most fun you can have at the Hollywood Fringe, and one of the most fun evenings you will ever have at the theater.  There's an A evening (Male Actors) and a B evening (Female Actors); I've only seen the A, and it's such a hoot.  Can't wait to see B.  Don't forget money for socks.

HOLLYWOOD (FRINGE) DREAMING

Oh God, I keep having this dream where I'm running down Santa Monica Boulevard, desperately running towards a pulpit on the street where a 30 year old man or woman leans.  (It's hard to distinguish gender when your eyes are jumping up and down in your head, while you can hear yourself starting to wheeze.)  Then, just as I vault across the street and race up to the pulpit, the 30 year old opens the door, then closes it behind him or her.  I race up to the door, but it's locked!  Locked! I knock, but the door doesn't open.  And then I wake up, right?  Wrong. Because this is no dream, this is an all-too-real moment of FRINGE!

I did manage, however, to see these shows: Incantesimo, Fire and Light, The Brick, Why We Become Witches, Ladies in Waiting, Roughly Hamlet, Normal.

INCANTESIMO, written by Chris Philpott, performed by Riccardo Berdini

I freely admit to being a sucker for magic.  If the trick is presented and executed well, then I will gladly applaud and "Ooh" and "Aah" with the rest of the crowd. Yet I am also usually bored, as I know that at bottom what I've seen is just a trick, and that fooling me is not such a hard thing to do. But Incantesimo is something else entirely.  It's not "magic" in any traditional sense.  Riccardo Berdini, working from a script by Chris Philpott - or perhaps it's more of a strategy and an idea? - is more mentalist than magician, trying to read the minds of his audience, especially the songs that his subjects are thinking of. Because that is the theme of the evening- how music conveys the soul of humanity and of the individual, and how its power is far greater than we tend to recognize. Human beings emerged from the swamp with a hum and a song in our hearts - a song that Riccardo Berdini is somehow able to guess. How he is able to do this, I have no clue. No more than I was able to figure out his other feats. As I said, fooling me isn't that hard.  But getting me to think about the birth of civilization and the primal role that music plays in our development - well, that's pretty great. As is Fringe for giving such a show a forum.

THE BRICK: A One Man Musical, written and performed by Bill Berry

The idea that gives rise to Bill Berry's "One Man Musical," The Brick, has an almost uncanny connection to Riccardo Berdini's show. To quote Berry's description: "It's been said that there are three deaths: first when your body ceases to function. Then when your body is put in the grave. And third when your name ... is spoken for the last time." In Berry's case, his show has him going to the grave of his mother, with whom he had a tortured relationship, and deciding whether to forgive her or to allow her her name to die as well, suffering that "third death." This provides the frame for Berry to sing his offbeat folk songs, which are paradoxically comic in nature. The songs are all good, very distinctive and well-staged by Kelly De Sarla - my favorite was one about how he and his friends tried to steal a cardboard cutout of Steve Martin at the height of his "arrow through the head" fame. I also loved the title song, about how each person's life is defined by what he or she does with his/her brick. I have to admit that this mix of comedic songs within such a serious framework was an odd one and took some getting used to; but it grew on me, and in the end it seemed appropriate to the nature of Bill Berry's argument with his German mother, who was always telling him "you will never get anywhere with this clang-clang." She couldn't have been more wrong, as Berry's show vividly demonstrates. I hope it takes up residence in a Southland cabaret where it can be appreciated by the larger audience that it deserves.

WHY WE BECOME WITCHES by Kate Motzenbacker and Sal Nicolazzo

I will say right off the bat that this is probably my favorite show from the 2017 Fringe, and I urge everyone who appreciates wit, intelligence and a generosity of spirit to see it.  Adapated from Lolly Willowes, a 1926 novel by Syvia Townsend Warner, this 40 minute gem presents us with the wonderful character of "Aunt Lolly," wonderfully played by Lisa K. Wyatt in a thrillingly brilliant staging by Kate Motzenbacker (who also co-adapted it.)  Aunt Lolly is a woman in early 20th century England who "wakes up" at 47 to find herself a spinster aunt living with her portentous brother and his family, helping to raise his children, and entirely taken for granted. She has become in essence a non-person with no prospects. That's when she takes matters into her own hands and makes a move that promises her a liberation of spirit, even as her brother does everything in his power to block it. This is a one person show that feels populated by an entire world that Ms. Wyatt and Ms. Motzenbacker bring powerfully and delightfully to life. It also provides yet another example of why the Fringe is so important, since this show defies marketing labels almost as completely as it lays claim to our lasting attention.

THE LADIES IN WAITING: The Judgement of Henry VIII by James Cougar Canfield 

I saw a friend outside the Stephanie Feury Studio after this show, and she said with an ecstatic expression on her face: "Can you believe how great that was?"  I nodded politely and said, "Yes, very good," but the truth is, I was bored. There were some standout performances from the actresses playing the victims of Henry VIII's cruelty, especially Jennifer Haining as Anne of Cleves and Wendy K. Skuse as Anne Boleyn (but those were also the best-written roles). The author James Cougar Canfield also plays the lead, and he does so in workout sweats. The result is neither royal enough nor inventive enough. Canfield seems like basically a nice guy, which Henry VIII definitely wasn't. The result is big on bombast but low on charisma. Nothing is really at stake. The women say that it is their turn to pass judgment on Henry - an interesting idea, but Canfield doesn't take it anywhere. Henry doesn't care what these women have to say in death any more than he did in life, and he doesn't give a damn about the consequences. For me, Canfield's performance exemplifies everything that leaves me cold about British acting - all form, no substance. A major disappointment for me, though, as I said, others felt differently.

ROUGHLY HAMLET, adapted from Shakespeare's play by Micah Watterson

The publicity for this show describes it as "a fast-paced reimagining of one man's struggle to escape being trapped in his own mind, as he strives to make one single but very important decision, to be or not to be." That might make sense in some hypothetical other play, but it certainly has no bearing on the performance I saw. Dressed in a cheap blazer and trousers and wearing a red tie and red sneakers, Watterson seems most like a temp worker at a large corporation who is either having a fit of some kind or is intellectually jacking off during his break. I don't understand why he felt the need to create this cerebral burlesque from what is possibly the greatest play ever written. I definitely don't understand the red tie and sneakers. I can honestly say that there wasn't one single moment when I felt that Watterson had an idea that shed any light on the play or when I was glad I was there. It's possible that Watterson was inspired by Alan Cumming's one-man version of Macbeth.  (I use the word "inspired" very loosely here.) If that was indeed the case, then no, that was simply wrong-headed. Okay, break over, Micah. Now get back to work.

NORMAL by Anthony Neilson, Directed by David Mancini

This play is based on the real-life story of Peter Kurten, called both The Vampire of Dusseldorf and the Dusseldorf Monster. He murdered at least eight people back in 1929 and boasted about killing many more, including children. It's a fascinating story, as Kurten had no remorse whatsoever and freely admitted to enjoying his murders and to getting intense sexual satisfaction from these heinous acts. The story of Kurten inspired one of the greatest crimes dramas in cinematic history, Fritz Lang's M, starring Peter Lorre. It contains one of my favorite lines in movie history, when Lorre tells the German Underworld (who have captured him and put him on trial) that he rejects their verdict because "You have no idea what it is to be me." This production (by the Vagrancy Company) features a brilliant central performance by Steve Madar as Kurten and several horrifyingly effective theatrical images, but it is not satisfied with this and attempts to demonstrate how Kurten's evil corrupts the society around him, specifically the mind of his attorney, Justus Wehner, played by Arthur Keng. There is the germ of an interesting question here - does the society create the psychopath, or does the psychopath corrupt the society? But it is not really pursued. Instead we get a mishmash of horror images and psychodrama and a lot of shouting by Arthur Keng, as his character seems to have caught Kurten's psychosis as if it was the flu. It's too bad, as there are so many admirable things going on here, but it appears that director David Mancini's ambition to say too many things at once has sunk the venture, which began to resemble a summertime Haunted House. Save it for Halloween, friend.

FIRE AND LIGHT, Created by Stephanie Feury and Nathan Keyes

It has been a week since I've experienced this "immersive" and "interactive" production, and I'm still not sure what I think. It begins with a scene from a Christmas party - well no, that's not true. It began for me with a beautiful red-headed woman running around the Stephanie Feury Studio and calling out my name. When I stepped forward, she grabbed me and guided me towards the bathroom and closed the door. Then she stripped down to a red bra and panties while talking a mile a minute about her boyfriend, who had broken up with her because he felt like she didn't love him enough. I tried to give some sage advice about love, but this was a Hipster fantasy come to life, so while words were coming out of my mouth, I'm not really sure what I was saying. There was some kissing and a few other things transpired, then we went into this 1940s Christmas party, which involved more stripping and kissing (between the actors this time, not with me or anyone else in the select audience), then we were transported to another location, where a man dressed as a Bedouin Chief  engaged in some ritualized behavior with us and and with a ghost of his wife and then stripped off his clothes (definitely a theme) and exited the tent - perhaps for the afterworld. Oh, and on the ride back to our place of origin, there was an unexpected dance by a lovely blond girl on the bus. On the whole, there was a lot of rich imagery about dreams and love and loss, about the fleeting sensations of life and the many illusions that rule our time here, but for me it will always be mostly a Hipster dream come true about a beautiful red-headed woman in scarlet underwear. Sadly, the Fire section has completed its performance schedule. It was a memorable ride, and ah yes, the memory lingers.


THE UNIVERSAL CLICK AT THE HOLLYWOOD FRINGE

By Miss Barbie Q

Hello beautiful souls! This is Miss Barbie Q! Your friendly neighborhood drag queen!

What a thrill it is to be reporting from the frontlines of the 2017 Hollywood Fringe Festival (which I will lovingly refer to as the “Fringe” from now on).

But I come to you from a totally different angle. I am a trans person (I identify as GNC - Gender Non Conformist) AND a POC (Person of Color), so I got all kinds of goggles on! I'll admit, when I got the task of reporting from my point of view, my hardnose activist flag came up and kept looking for things that may or may not offend. I have show in the Fringe as well, so I have been hypersensitive of how my show is being perceived and welcomed. But as the Fringe has opened up, the preparation and people have strived to be as inclusive as possible. And I thank them for providing a space, not just Fringe Central, but the Office Hours and Workshops,  for all to be mindful.

The process has been tedious to say the least. This year I am co-writing, co-directing and co-producing!  It's called #LastDance. And I must say there are some things that are universal. Rehearsal schedules, press releases, the drama of the getting off book, the joy of blocking, workshopping and creating! Finding the right mix of actors that want to bring someone else's vision to life is beautiful to see. We have a mix of gay, trans, diverse ethnicities and that was done with a mindful purpose. I am not gonna lie, it as a task trying to get drag queens to come audition. Some of it was with timing, some were doing other projects but we as a production crew kept an open mind and realized that the right people would come as the universe saw fit and they did.

The play is dedicated to a dear friend that passed away earlier this year, so we tried to tell a poignant story alongside keeping the homage to him in mind.  That was no easy task.  Learning to agree to disagree, compromise lines, blocking, costumes all for the good of the show as a whole has been humbling and invigorating as well. Working with such talented people has made me love each one of them and make me want to knock each one them out on occasion as well. HA!

As the previews got closer, something happened. And I noticed it happens with every show I do. There is this “click” that happens when we all find this groove. I think it is a universal “click”.  I think it happened for us when we finally got into the space at the McCadden and my actors got to be in the space. Not just be, but really “be”. Aaron, the stage manager, lighting and sound extraordinaire was such a delight during tech, that it helped everyone including me realize we have a real show! What a rush! So after previews, we reminded them to come to the Fringe opening night to make a presence, speak to other performers about their shows, get to know the Fringe folks and get used to talking about themselves and the show!

Miss Barbie Q, From the 2015 Hollywood Fringe

I'll admit, I was just as nervous, although I had a solo show two years ago, I never really participated in the other events because I was on a totally different schedule and I know now that I missed out on so much, and I didn't want them to miss out.  So most of the cast and crew were able to come and yes, I was nervous!

And you know what I have found so far?

EVERYONE IS A NERVOUS AS I AM!! LOL what a relief?

I have seen two plays so far, UPSTAIRS, a musical ensemble piece, and LOVESICK, a solo piece.

Upstairs: A Musical Tragedy was such a delight. Although it has already closed, it stressed the importance of LGBT stories, especially the tragedies that cross the newsdesk (this one being about the fire that killed 30 people in New Orleans  in June of 1973) The acting, the voices, the music not only told the story, but made you feel for the them and understand that their deaths mean something. Our stories mean something. Each and every one.

Lovesick: The Misadventures of a Love-Crazed Maniac took us on a journey all its own. Bringing the bisexual element to the play, it spoke of the thirst for love, in all the wrong places and the longing to just be loved. And the epiphany we all have in learning to love ourselves. It really is a testament to what the journey is to know what love is. Really. “Lovesick is still playing.

So this is just the first installment of what a chocolate gender non-conformist sees when it comes to the Fringe. I am so grateful to be able to speak my truth and am looking forward to sharing more of the LGBT shows that are at the Fringe. Granted, I am not able to see them all, BUT I am trying my best to go to them and share with you the inspiration, the laughs and insight.

Until then!

Miss Barbie Q

Life is good!

#MissBarbieQ

#GratefulQueen


EPIPHANY EPIPHANY EPIPHANY AT THE FRINGE, PART II: A BUNCH OF MOTHERF*CKING PLAYS

For those scoring at home, here's a list of 5 plays I've seen at Fringe, that I'm going to talk about here.  (I'm going to discuss several others in Part III - so many shows, so little time!!!)

The Motherfucker with the Hat, Two Motherfuckers on a Ledge, A Vegas Kind of Love, Blackbird, The Interference.

"Epiphany, Epiphany, Epiphany..." That's what Ellyn Daniels chants in her stand-up show, Emotional Terrorism, as she waits for a former high school friend to describe the revelation she's had, that has changed her views about everything.  (See Part I of this article for a fuller explanation.)

It's also become my mantra during this Fringe Apocalypse of 375 shows, as I lurch from one fictional world to the next.  And I have been pleased and surprised by the number of times that my "epiphany" threshold has indeed been  crossed.

THE MOTHERF*CKER WITH THE HAT by Stephen Adley Guirgis

It helps to start out any production with a great script, and these actors have a spectacular one.   Stephen Gurgius's special talent is making vernacular speech sing like poetry and yet seem believably conversational too - something he may have learned from David Mamet, but unlike Mamet, Gurgius likes people, loves all his characters, refuses to judge them even at their worst and has a saint's empathy for the human condition. The Motherfucker with the Hat is designed to give actors with great rhetorical skills and street cred an outlet with unlimited potential to express their primal emotions of lust, love, rage, hate, frustration, pain, joy, and - especially - revenge.  There's also room for friendship, hope, trust and family alliances.  These actors, under the direction of Tony Gatto, do a very good job of venting their passions and searching for the happiness which mostly eludes them.  In a fine cast, Fayna Sanchez (who also co-produced) and Felipe Figueroa stand out for their inventiveness and ability to live in the dramatic moment.  The show is being done three more times this weekend, and then that's it for the Fringe.  I urge to see it if you can.

TWO MOTHERF*CKERS ON A LEDGE by Ronn Johnstone

Ronn Johnstone and Veronica Wylie, nice people, supposedly on a ledge

Destined to be referred to as "that other motherfucker play" - a sad fate to be sure - this is an intelligent and well-meaning exploration of what it really means to be a hero in one's own life as opposed to worshipping super-heroes in comic books and the films they give rise to.  The situation is this: Allyn is a patient with "a hero complex," that makes him feel like a failure unless he can "save the world."  Mattie is his doctor.  She is also a PHD candidate writing her thesis about "the hero complex as a narcissistic disorder."  Allyn goes through his doctor's desk, finds her thesis, freaks out and goes out on a ledge, driven to jump by despair - and Mattie goes after him.  Which would be fine, sort of, if the element of danger that this entails had even a shred of credibility. But it doesn't.  After a lot of back and forth about "Don't jump" - "I have nothing more to live for" - "I'm here for you, let's talk" - "what is there to talk about?" etc. - the two settle in for a conversation that could just as well be taking place in front of a fireplace as they toast marshmallows.  That is, the reality of their supposed situation is completely lost.  Even when a police siren sounds below them, there is no follow-up; no voice on a speaker telling him to go inside, no police presence on the ledge, nothing changes.  In the process of this cozy conversation, the main character switches from the patient who wants to end his life to the therapist who is suddenly resolving her own daddy issues.  Such a change in focus always signals an amateur to me, someone with lots of ideas and a lack of understanding of how to use the dramatic form.  The dialogue is pithy, though, and nicely delivered by Veronica Wylie and Ronn Johnstone (who also wrote and produced the piece).  My advice to him: next time you have this much on your mind, write an essay.

Matt Doherty and Nadiya Geldenhuys, not nice people, defintely on a ledge

A VEGAS KIND OF LOVE by Brendan Beseth

One thing that Brendan Beseth and director Eddie Kehler show here is that there is still some juice left in the femme fatale film noir crime drama.  Even stripped of all the fancy photography we're used to seeing in contemporary film treatments, stripped down to just five actors working without sets or props, it is still possible to set off some fireworks when you pluck down a sexy and somewhat amoral blond woman into a gaggle of horny guys.  The Vegas blond in this instance is played by Nadiya Geldenhuys, a 19 year old South African who comes off as early 20s and without a noticeable accent.  Her role is a series of crazy hairpin turns, and she does an excellent job of justifying these 0ften-contradictory motivations as best she can.  The guys are all good - Matt Doherty, Nicholas Read, Kofi Boakye and Henry LeBlanc - and they also do what they can to make us believe that Beseth's crazy twists and turns have some credibility.  But the performances are finally sunk by so many cliches piled on top of each other, until you start asking: why does the only black guy have to be the pimp?  Why does the cop have to have an old-fashioned drinking problem?  How are these two white guys "best friends" at work and yet they never have a scene together and the one "friend" doesn't even have a moment's hesitation before fucking his "best friend"'s girl?  The play actually ends up in an interesting place, but it travels through so many miles of bullshit to get there that it doesn't have the impact it might.  I do see some potential here - though I have to admit that my BL colleague, Enci Box, didn't, and I imagine that many women might agree with her.

BLACKBIRD by David Harrower

This is once again a great script with great opportunities for actors, and fortunately for us, Bradley Fisher and Charlotte Gulezian are very much up to the task, under the interestingly curious direction of Anna Stromberg. The play's setup is deceptively simple: Una was seduced and violated repeatedly at 12 years old by Ray, a family neighbor around 40.  Now, 15 years later, Una has tracked down Ray, now calling himself Peter, at his workplace.  In the previous production I saw, there was no doubt in my mind that this confrontation was happening in real time in a believable work rec room.  In this production, it seems more likely that we are in some kind of hell akin to Sartre's No Exit where two characters are linked in a way that can never be resolved, with behavior patterns of abuse that just keep repeating themselves.  Then a third character showed up, and I wasn't quite sure what to make of that.  In any case, this is a compelling and compulsive piece of work which has gotten under my skin both times I've seen it.  I have no patience with theatergoers who talk about shying away from plays that deal with supposedly "dark" subject matter - I mean, have you lived at all?  Are you human?  Isn't the purpose of art to shine light on the darkness, so we can better understand people and things that were confusing before?  If you have a beating heart in your chest, then come see this play.

THE INTERFERENCE by Lynda Radley

This ensemble piece about an undergraduate woman struggling for justice in her rape case against a star athlete was only here for a few performances, but it is still worth discussing.  The production by students from the Pepperdine Drama Department, directed by Drama Professor Cathy Thomas-Grant, is a powerful experience for the audience, as the many aspects of the campus rape case are dramatized by the 12 actors, some playing several different roles.  This is certainly a story of our time - though really it's been an ongoing issue for at least the last 30 years. And that's one of the problems.  The young actors faced the audience with a defiant demeanor, as if telling a forbidden story that people want to keep hidden, as if they were the Group Theatre presenting Odets's Waiting for Lefty for the first time.  (Yes, go look it up.)  But this is essentially the same story that's been told countless times on Movies of the Week and Lifetime movies and episodes of Law & Order SVU.  This is not to discount its importance or to say that such crimes are not being perpetrated with terrible frequency on college campuses, but the events depicted here have a familiarity to them and a predictability to the course they take.  The new play Actually, recently presented at the Geffen, does something far more original with similar subject matter.  Of course this is just my opinion - this production received several awards at the recent Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and the performers did a very good job of committing themselves fully to the project and its message of social bias against the rape victim.  I'm sure this play will be performed on many campuses, where it will very likely instigate important conversations.  But as a work of drama, it wearies me as a screed that is preaching to the converted.  There are no two sides here with equal validity, so there is no real conflict, only the simulation of such, calculated to make the liberal audience members feel that something important is being accomplished.  But is it?  Is it really?  Or is it just a group exercise in everyone patting themselves on the back?


EPIPHANY EPIPHANY EPIPHANY AT THE FRINGE, PART I: FOUR SOLO SHOWS

"Epiphany epiphany epiphany," Ellyn Daniels chants at one point during her stand-up Fringe show, Emotional Terrorism.

The context is this: Ellyn has just run into an old high school friend from Florida here in Hollywood, and she is crashing at the friend's house after a party. The friend has to go out to an acting audition, but she tells Ellyn on the phone that she's had an epiphany, and now she sees everything in her life differently. When the friend returns, Ellyn starts her chant and then waits to hear this "epiphany." What she hears instead is some sort of half-assed New Age psychobabble. Ellyn then confesses to her friend that she may have slept with her friend's boyfriend - she was so drunk at the party she can't remember too clearly - and at first, the friend is okay with that, and then she isn't. And then she disappears as a character from the show and presumably from Ellyn's life.

A development that summed up for me one of the perils of Fringe - that is, there are SO MANY SHOWS, and in many cases, nothing seems to matter very much. That is, you pay your $12, you hang for an hour, and then you move on to the next show. Fine. But is that enough?

For many folks, yes it is. I kept hearing all around me, especially from men and women in their mid-20s, "I just love the Fringe."

And there's a lot to love, it's true. There's a lot of talent on display, and a lot of ingenuity, and a lot of variety, and a lot of fun.

The Fringe opening night party was a sweaty hoot, with plenty of photo ops for the participants and lots of Fringe-related activities, as illustrated by the two posted photos I took that night.

But an "epiphany" here or there would be nice too, wouldn't it? That is, something that lingered in your thoughts for the drive home.

So here is a rundown and a roundup and a cavalcade of experiences - something for everyone, I'm sure, and lots to think about too, at least for this Fringer. Starting out with the one person shows, which abound.

EMOTIONAL TERRORISM by Ellyn Daniels

The publicity for this show states that Ellyn Daniels "takes us on an intoxicating ride ... from sitting on the precipice of suicide to finding salvation through stand-up," but that is not an accurate description of what I saw. Not only doesn't Ellyn find "salvation through stand-up comedy," she doesn't even seem particularly funny. And we never get to see even a snippet of Ellyn's "act." What we do hear about is Ellyn's search for stardom, which she very perceptively equates with trying to get her parents' attention. "My parents talked about characters on How I Met Your Mother with much greater interest than they ever talked about me," she tells us. "If I could just get on a hit sitcom, then my parents would finally care about me that much too." But Ellyn finds it hard to get on a sitcom, just as she's found it hard to excel as a model and as a dancer before this. Pretty, blond, tall and thin, she has the physique and manner that seem suitable to dancing and modeling, but she lost patience with both because her successes were not big enough to satisfy her need for specialness. Comedy would seem like a less than ideal arena for a young woman with her attributes, as the male comics I know would descend on her like piranha. However, the best thing about her show were her self-lacerating comic asides, as when she mocked herself for "taking moral advice from a porno star" (her Hollywood roommate). So maybe Ellyn Daniels is growing into her persona of a woman who has swum with the piranha and lived to joke about it. Who knows? A word to the wise - don't obsess about fame. Worry more about how to tell a good story. Right now, the stories are strung together like a shark's tooth necklace. The best comics know how to blend the stories together and call back aspects and details. So hang in there, Ellyn, it's all part of a process, and you're well on your way.

F*CK TINDER by David Rodwin

David Rodwin is one of those storytellers who knows how to blend his stories, who frankly has a mastery over his material that most comedians and performance artists could learn a lot from. His story of a contemporary hetero man's search for love and happiness comes across as oddly brave in times such as ours, in which smart, handsome, well-educated (all of which David is) white or Jewish guys are often seen as the enemy. We learn about his move to San Franciso, his falling in love with the woman he expected to marry, and then how this oddly (again) leads him to his first visit to a sex club and to his first acid trip. David is a very charismatic performer, and he has emotionally choreographed his tale in a sophisticated way. The only thing missing for me is his personal vulnerability and angst, and the distinct and distinctly memorable point of view that masters of the form like Spalding Gray and Eric Bogosian (the Hipster had the pleasure of seeing both perform several times) brought to related material. But yes, David Rodwin does deserve to be mentioned in such company, and there are very few edgy storytellers with his gifts out there right now, mining this kind of material. So catch him at this level while you still can.

UNDER THE JELLO MOLD by Jennie Fahn

Jennie Fahn is another master storyteller, though very different from David Rodwin - less hip, less edgy, more in the female Jewish comedy tradition of Joan Rivers, though very much her own person. (She actually reminded me most of Chandler Bing's girlfriend Janice on Friends.) The day I saw her perform, the A/C had gone out, and the Ruby Theatre at the Complex was packed to the brim. While producer Tom Cavanaugh distributed fans to the audience, it was still going to be a task to keep interest in her show. But Jennie had no problem with it, she had the audience laughing and hanging on every word from the start, as she weaved her tale about her deeply eccentric (to the point of actual cuckoo-ness) mother, and how Jennie dealt with her, both in life and in depth. It is very rich material, and I assume that there's an 80-90 minute version as well. Judging by her huge success here, I certainly think there's an audience for such an evening. My only advice would be to loosen up a bit and relate more to the audience, to the here and now. But maybe she does in other circumstances. When the A/C is out on a hot day in LA, the here and now may be something to keep at bay.

 

There is a myth going around that being a part of Fringe means that a certain degree of amateurishness is involved - wait, what? Oh yes, I spread that one myself, earlier in this article. Well, while this can be the case - and yes, I have had to walk out of a few shows that had gone off the rails - it is certainly not so here, where we are once again in the hands of a wonderful storyteller working with sublime control of her material.

 

CONFESSIONS OF A MULATTO LOVE-CHILD by Bellina Logan

Bellina Logan - like Jennie Fahn - has constructed a one woman show around her relationship with her deeply eccentric mother, though the two mothers are as different as Bellina is from Jennie. Bellina's mother, Avril, was an Englishwoman living in New York and attending the Actors Studio there when she met the African-American actor who soon became Bellina's father. Avril already had two older daughters, and she would regularly trek from New York to London to Los Angeles with her girls, until at some point it was just her and Bellina (and a number of cats she was very attached to). Bellina Logan is a lovely sophisticated woman with an English accent and an elegant sense of humor that gracefully brings the audience along with her on her journey, much as her mother had brought Bellina along. The anecdotes are (mostly) seamlessly interwomen, and Bellina conveys so much affection for and acceptance of her mother's often-questionable behavior, that it imbues everyone present with a sense of goodwill. She extends this warmth even to her stories about racial issues, as growing up she is often mistaken for various ethnicities. I would advise you not to miss this, but I know how difficult it is to get a ticket. All I can say is, keep trying.

 

 


THIS JAM-PACKED CRAZY WEEK, PART II: THE FRINGE APOCALYPSE!!!

On a recent Thursday, a few days before the 2017 Fringe shows began previewing, I squeezed my Hipster self into a jam-packed Cellar 43 on Cahuenga.  This was a party in the series of parties that marks the Fringe season, but it was my first experience of this year's Hollywood Fringers, and a lively group it was.  I've been a participant in two Fringes myself as a playwright, but this was a larger and more frenetic gathering than the ones I remembered.

I soon ran into Matt Quinn, the producer of the Asylum series of Fringe shows, and he provided me with his own insight into this year's Fringe.

"It's crazy this year, just crazy.  I don't know what happened, but there's a frantic end-of-times quality to people's need to express themselves right now.  I don't know if it's a Trump thing or what, but it's like all these people seem to feel like the apocalypse could be right around the corner, so what's the use of waiting 'til next year?  The result is, there's more than twice as many Fringers this year than ever before, and there's something like 30 new musicals.  I've never been so busy."

Matt Quinn, King of the Asylum Apocalypse, with his Queen

Actually there's more like 40 new musicals being presented.  And 375 productions overall.  Yes, that's right, 375 productions!  Most being done for no more than 3 or 4 times.  In a city where traffic jams and parking are already a nightmare, that may indeed qualify as an apocalypse, if not the apocalypse.

I spoke to many people that night, including a lady who was giving out bags of peanuts to promote her performance of Allan Sherman's songs - she and I were the only ones there who knew who Allan Sherman was ("Hello Mudder, Hello Fadder"? No?) but I still didn't get the connection with peanuts.  And countless hopeful aspiring artists - literally, I completely lost count - all of whose shows I promised to attend. And I meant it.

AND WE'RE OFF!

I started off fast, going to two shows on the first night - TOO MANY HITLERS and MR. MARMALADE.  I was actually intending to see "Doctor Faustus," as its star, Brando Cutts, was one of the artists I had spoken to at the party.  But his show started at 11 pm, and I couldn't quite see myself soaking in Christopher Marlowe's heroic verse play at that hour, no matter how condensed it was.  I must admit that I faltered later in the week, as life and lack of sleep caught up with my best intentions, and traffic was indeed a nightmare, preventing me from getting to the early shows on time.  But here we are, doing the best we can to make you aware of the often-amazing work going on all around you.  Here's a roundup of five shows, with many more to come.  Yes, miles to go before I sleep, miles to go before I sleep...as I finish writing this at 5:38 in the morning.

TOO MANY HITLERS; or THE DECOY DECAMERON by Steven Benaquist, directed by Benaquist and Joe Wagner

When was it exactly that Hitler became funny?  Was it when Charlie Chaplin lampooned him in The Great Dictator or when Mel Brooks lampooned all the Nazis in Springtime for Hitler?  To give some perspective, I was horrified the first time I saw both in the late '60s.  I am a very secular Jew, but Hitler and his hench-people attempted to wipe out my people, and that's never struck me as very funny.  By the early 1970s I had become hip to the brilliance of both - Chaplin made his movie without knowing about the extermination camps, and Mel Brooks is just the sharpest and fastest comic mind we've ever had.  But a part of me still stands with Mike Nichols, who came to the US from Germany when he was four and would never direct any play or movie with a Holocaust theme.  That's more severe than me - I've actually written a play with that theme (The Kitchen Girl), and I feel like the emotional after-effects of this cataclysmic event are important to write about.  The pop culture aspect, though, not so much.  And there's so much of it!  So much!

Too Many Hitlers presents us with the comedy spectacle of all Hitler's decoys congregating in his bunker on the last night of WWII on the orders of the Fuhrer himself.  The first 10 or 15 minutes are funny, as two very stubborn decoys refuse to submit to the other, each insisting that he and he alone is the real Adolf.  One of them even has his own decoy, who freely admits he's a decoy and pledges to lay down his life in the service of the other decoy.  But then the decoys keep coming - nine of them in all, with one woman secretary trying to keep some sense of order (I guess that's what she was doing - Amber Kenny does a nice job with the role, but she wasn't given a central enough role to play).  While the sight of nine white guys with Hitler haircuts and moustaches cluttered together on a small stage may sound funny, it actually gets kind of depressing.  Apparently these decoys are being given their walking papers, as the war is ending and the Fuhrer no longer needs them.  Okay, but then why not let us see that?  Why not dramatize this moment between the real Hitler and the fake Hitlers, which would give the performance some kind of point and bring in a few genuine surprises.  Instead it meanders from one Hitler joke to another, while all these decoys celebrate together like the cast of a play that's just closed.  There are several funny performers - Matt Champagne and Charlie Farrel stood out for me - and of course my long-lost relative, Cameron Fife - but the the reality of the Holocaust just gets lost here, and we end up in a bad vaudeville sketch that feels like a joke without a punchline.  And one that goes on for 40 minutes too long.  (But you hang in there, Cameron!  Momo says hi.)

MR. MARMALADE by Noah Haidle, Directed by Dennis Neal

I had been hearing about Mr. Marmalade for a few years now, and so I was glad for the chance to catch it at Sacred Fools at 10:30 at night - probably the perfect time to see this funny and disturbed play.  First off, let me say that the entire cast is excellent, led by Melody Ricketts, playing four year old Lucy who is wise beyond her years and haunted by dreams both horrifying and terrifying, that mimic adult tragedies but that only children can see.  Melody is innocent and jaded in equal measure and in just the right ways.   Miles Berman is also a standout as Larry, Lucy's playmate, who is also plagued by scary imaginary characters and by real suicidal urges as well. Paul Major is also very good as Mr. Marmalade, Lucy's imaginary businessman-friend, who is presumably a replacement for her father, not mentioned in the play.  While there are many fiendishly funny twists and turns, the overall effect is a sad one.  Is it an indictment of a sick and twisted society or is it about childhood and all the fears and terrors that reside there?  Or both?

Go see the play and decide.

JUST OLD WOMAN FROM OLD COUNTRY by Trina Shpur, Directed by Trina and Patrick Williams

Her father died doing this leap, but at least the vodka bottle didn't break

I watched this very funny one woman show - or is it a takeoff on a one woman show? - with a sold-out house of enthusiastic fans, who giggled and howled at every deadpan-delivered "joke."  The conceit here is that Baba Barraboulya (played by Trina Shpur) has come over here from "the old country" of Ukraine to stay with a succession of American relatives, each of whom is more eager than the next to get rid of her.  Trina has constructed a very funny persona of a fish out of water - a yokel from the old country who makes a fool of herself time and again with American manners and institutions, such as the time she goes to the super market and tried to haggle over every item with the person at the cash register. At bottom, though, her character has hold of a life force that gets her through even the worst embarrassments and will clearly help her outlive us all.  Some of the more obvious jokes in the middle of her one hour routine fell flat, and Baba's habit of yelling at her numbskull nephew to change the slides gets old really fast.  But Trina has enough of that life force herself to outlast her less funny material and make the experience feel like a triumph.

Besides that, everyone gets a shot of real potato vodka (very yummy!) and a small pierogi and slice of sausage.   No wonder the house was so full.  I'm sure as Trina keeps working on this material, her character will become even richer and more memorable, even as she remains very funny.

Wishing you well with that, Baba!

THE RED GUITAR: A Jazz Libretto written and performed by Bruce Forman

Veteran jazz guitarist has been there and back, and he has lived to tell the tale.  He is the living definition of a craftsman, who has devoted his life to studying jazz guitar legends like Wes Montgomery and Django Reinhardt, and studying with jazz legends like Sonny Rollins and Ray Brown.  When Clint Eastwood needed a jazz craftsman to help him with some of the recordings for his movie about Charlie Parker, Bird, who was it he turned to?  Bruce Forman, of course.  Bruce has some stories to tell from his lengthy career, and The Red Guitar gives him the chance to tell them.  And it's an absolute pleasure to hear him play.

That said, it must be added that Bruce is not the most charismatic of stage personalities, and a little more pizzazz would have gone a long way to making "the Red Guitar" something haunting and memorable - like "The Red Shoes" and "The Red Violin" - and not just a pretext for hearing some great tunes laid down by a master.  But hey - why pass up any chance to hear a master at work?  Only one show left, on Friday June 16 at 9 pm.  It's a very small house, so don't miss out.

IN THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW by Katherine Cortez, directed by Elina de Santos

This is without a doubt the most powerful piece I've seen so far in the Fringe, and I hope it garners a large following.  A 75 minute exploration of a tragedy very similar to the Pulse Nightclub shooting of a year ago, it captures this shattering event in very human terms while also daring to bring in a strong spiritual element too - spiritual as opposed to religious, which comes in for some very pointed criticism.  In a strong cast,  Ethan Rains, Rachel Sorsa, Tania Verafield and especially Dylan Arnold stand out as characters caught in the headlights of history and in a struggle that isn't their own - until it is.  The double-casting of several actors works very theatrically here, especially with Ethan Rains, who plays both the mass-murderer and a deeply-sensitive and loving gay man - and he is equally effective at conveying the essence of both.  Elina de Santos does a wonderful job in letting the play find its rhythm, but she somehow leaves out the joy and celebration that would be everywhere in this gay nightclub.  Even the characters in the poster are dancing -  how come there's no dancing onstage?  It doesn't make any sense, and it causes the production to miss an important point about the jealousy and anger that such unabashed joy breeds in those incapable of taking part in it.  It's also a missed opportunity theatrically, as the dancing would add a mesmerizing element that could break up the excessive wordiness of some of the dialogue.  Hopefully this will be incorporated down the line with a play that has so much to say to our time about the difficulty of being vulnerably human in a world filled with hate.


MATT (RITCHEY) and BEN (HILL): A Very Fringey Conversation

The 2017 Hollywood Fringe Festival has arrived!

A full month (well, not quite - June 1-25) of dramas, comedies, dance pieces, devised productions, cabarets, one-person shows, musicals, burlesques, and more!  I've been a big Fringe fan for years and I wanted to find out a bit more about how this all began. I had a chat with Ben Hill, the Festival Director, about just that.

BEN HILL, The Fringe Guy

MATT: What was your process for starting the Hollywood Fringe Festival?

BEN: Well, first off it wasn't just me - there was a dedicated team of folks - many of them family and close friends working for basically nothing while we planned month over month and year over year.

Dave McKeever and I had produced an awesome little festival in Washington DC called The Hatchery Festival. The idea was to produce three workshop productions a year from emerging playwrights. It was fun, a wonderful learning experience and ultimately gave us the taste to do something more expansive.

Our communication director Stacy Jones Hill and I did quite a bit of traveling - and we'd make our way to Edinburgh whenever we could. This was before we moved to LA. Edinburgh Fringe is a truly inspiring event - I've never seen so many people congregated in one place to enjoy the performing arts; it's incredible. Those trips planted the seed.

So then we move to Los Angeles - and we live just off Wilcox adjacent to Theatre Row. We'd walk up and down that road every day and wonder: could we bring a fringe here?

The talking heads at the time weren't that bullish on our chances. I took a lot of meetings that ended with a “good luck with that, kid” remark. But somehow our obsession drove us on.

We started planning in late 2007 with the idea we'd launch the festival in 2009. Two years passed and we decided we still didn't have our ducks in order so we decided to push a year - best decision ever.

And so after hundreds of meetings and thousands of planning hours, we were ready to launch in June of 2010.

MATT RITCHEY, playwright/director

MATT: And I know it's been getting bigger every year - this year with over there hundred shows! I'm always making a spreadsheet of shows so I can see as many as possible, but it's a sea of theatre! How many shows are you personally able to go to see these days?

BEN: Oof. Not nearly as many as I'd like. My schedule is pretty crazy during Fringe. I do try to see as many shows as I can during extensions.

MATT: The Encore Producer's Awards for extensions is sometimes the only way I'm able to catch shows as well! When originally planning a big theatre Festival, did you have any particular goal in mind?

BEN: It's always been about bringing the performing-arts-loving community together around the best theatre party ever.

We were thinking at least 20 official venues to be filled with performances of all types: Comedy, New Plays, Hip Hop, Dramas, Solo Artists, and more. her would be multiple programs to keep things interesting. For example, there may be two nights dedicated to 10-minute plays. Perhaps we will stage a new play festival to celebrate new works. We may stage an improv festival or one dedicated to sketch comedy. The nice thing about Fringe is that it is all-encompassing. We needn't be hog-tied by a specific vision; all performance-based art is welcome.

Up and down theatre row, everywhere you look there will be stuff to look at. Clowns, Mimes, Commedia, fire eaters, performance artists. Add to that food stands, merchandise sellers, information booths. We hope to create a real circus-like scene, making the the neighborhood a little crazy.

Hollywood is a wonderfully diverse neighborhood steeped in history and culture. It's also a little rebellious, a little rock n' roll. And, of course, there are tons of venues all within walking distance. We want audience members to easily wander between theatres to check out new and interesting events. And we wanted this to be for the community. We welcome  participation, feedback, thoughts, complaints – all of it. We oblige every request; we will always be open minded. It is not our place (the festival producers) to make judgments on art, politics, religion, etc. If you have the passion, we are here to help you realize your vision.

MATT: It's common practice in the community to get postcards to hand out to other participants and potential audience members to promote the show and I know you offer ways to advertise online, in the main program, and by hosting mixers.  Are there any keys to successfully promoting?

BEN: We try to give people lots of options - paid and free - to promote their shows. This lets participants mix and match with their available budget.  Ultimately, the best promotion at Fringe is to have a great show, word tends to spread.

MATT: The Fringe has such a wide swath of styles - from kids shows to burlesque and even “the audience is naked” shows. Do you have ways to delineate family-friendly shows from the more irreverent ones or to lure the family audience?

BEN: We do have a “family friendly” flag on shows that can be used to sort results. As a family guy, I'd love to see more family friendly shows participate at the Fringe.

MATT: What about a longterm plan? Like, where do you see this in five years?

BEN again

BEN: The long term plan is expanding our collective cultural reach to new communities. Our scholarships program is an example of what we are doing here.

And of course, we want to hook more people into the performing arts. Hundreds of years ago, my theatre tech professor held up a vial and said “this is theatre dust, it's the most addictive substance in the world. Once you breath it in, you will never shake it out of your veins.” We want to be enablers of theatre junkies.

The Hollywood Fringe Festival has just opened! Check out hollywoodfringe.org for the schedule!


FRINGE 2017: MUST-SEE MUSICALS!

By Jared Pixler

The past few years I've had the pleasure of working with a few of the creative folks in the musical theater who have started to call this area home.  There are some exciting new musicals being created here, and there's no reason why one of these couldn't become the next break-out hit.  I mean, Dear Evan Hansen had to start somewhere, right?  (Oh, and don't forget to check out the Tony Awards Show this Sunday at 8!  Who knows, one of these Frings shows below may be there next year.)

So if you get a chance in the next few weeks – and I highly recommend that you do! - I'd suggest you check out the new musical by Laura Wiley (Wiley Original Musicals). Her show this year is a parody of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight called Buffy Kills Edward: A Musical Romp. I collaborated with her last year on Winter is Coming: A Musical Parody, with my writing partner David Evan Stolworthy, and it was one of the hits of the Fringe.

I'm always excited to see what Robot Teammate comes up with each year, and this year they bring us a new musical adventure in Turbulence!  A few years ago the Fringe gave  The Video Games (another show I wrote with David), their Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda award, and I have been a fan (maybe groupie? I bought the album of their 2016 Fringe musical Thug Tunnel the day it came out.

Check out the full list of musicals here and find your favorite hook. The Fringe festival is in the midst of previews now and officially opens June 8th.  Here is a short list of some musicals that have caught my eye:

13th Grade By Dan Testa and Pamela Eberhardt

This musical produced by the Unknown Artists promises 90's inspired tunes set in 1998 at a community college. It might miss the younger millennial crowd but I have a feeling that this musical has something for everyone. At the very least it will give some of us fuel for our next 90's themed house party and for the rest of us a good dash of nostalgia. Their fringe director, Andy Kenarek, suggests the humor is in the vein of Wet Hot American Summer, Strangers with Candy and Saved by the Bell so, I'm all in.

SLASHED! The Musical By Sean Keller

An 80's slasher movie themed musical that takes place at a summer camp? Referred to as Camp Doom? I'm all in. The good people at nerdist (one of my favorite sites) already  wrote a full article on it here, you can even listen to one of the songs from the show. It looks dark and awesome.

TRUMP IN SPACE - The Musical

Book and lyrics by Gillian Bellinger and Landon Kirksey. Music by Tony Gonzalez and Sam Johnides. Directed by Matt Zettell. Choreography by Annabeth Rickley. Presented by Texpats Productions.

While there are more than a few (I counted seven) shows with Trump mentioned in the title or keyword search. This musical promises Star Trek, meets Rent, Battlestar Galactica and the aftermath of Trump, 400 years in the future. The performance also takes place at one of my favorite venues that is off the typical fringe path. Check this one out at at The Actors Company, in the Let Live Theatre. While you are at it, stick around for all the other great shows in that venue.

COMIC-CON The Musical By Laura Watkins & Nicholas David Brandt

As a fan of comic conventions and convention performer this musical sounds like a blast. It has been in development since last year and is making its Premiere for the Fringe festival. A bit longer than your typical fringe show but something that I can't wait to see. For anyone that wants to cosplay (for the non convention goer, cosplaying is coming dressed as your favorite comic, video game, anime or other character) there is an actual costume contest sometime during the performance.

MY MID-20's CRISIS the Musical

By Kali Davis, Music by: Matt Davis

Usually I shy away from these kind of stories as they seem to abound at Fringe (I've even written my own). But this year I am giving this one a chance because well… honestly they promise “dancing ovarian eggs” (piqued my curiosity) and because of my own recent foray into Tinder land. Maybe this is something that I need to see.

MISSMATCH

By Amanda Conlon

This is a musical adventure about navigating the current online dating world. And it is based off of true stories. From their promotional video it looks like a lot of fun. At only 50 minutes I'm hoping it will be time well spent!

All in all there are too many musicals to cover in one article. Go see a musical or two this Hollywood Fringe, you won't be disappointed!


F*CK TINDER: FIVE QUESTIONS FOR DAVID RODWIN AT THE HOLLYWOOD FRINGE

Writer/performer David Rodwin has returned to Los Angeles to present his new solo show F*ck Tinder during the Hollywood Fringe Festival at Sacred Fools Theatre.

Lauded by the San Francisco Bay Guardian as, “an exceptional, inspiring talent,” Rodwin's show is sure to be one of the toasts of the Fringe this year.  As he prepared for his presentation of F*ck Tinder here in Hollywood, I took some time to ask David a few questions about the work, his development process, and what creative pursuits are next on the horizon for him.

1) So you're back in LA for the Fringe Festival.  Where have you been?  What have you been up to?

I moved to San Francisco a few months after doing my last solo show Total Novice at HFF'14. I moved because my girlfriend broke up with me and an hour later, when I went out for a walk to think about how I was going to have to move out, I got held up at gunpoint. The next day a dear friend in San Francisco called me up and said “I heard about what happened. You need to get out of LA. I need a roommate. Move up." So I did.

2) What's F*ck Tinder all about?

F*ck Tinder is about kinky sex, polyamory, and acid trips. But mostly it's about the crazy we dive into when we enter the world of dating on apps. It's also a love story. The first half is about the first year I spent in San Francisco where I wanted to have fun and get freaky after being in a committed relationship while I was hearing about how people were on this insane new app which I thought was all about  “Free sex. Right now. Often weird.” I found out the weird part was true, but that was more about the people. There was far less se than I was hoping. But those awkward encounters are what make comedy. People are FUNNY. The second half is when I started wanting something more. Something deeper. And that's when I really found the weird. San Francisco weird.

3) This piece isn't your first solo show.  What's your process in creating solo work?

I worked with Spalding Gray for a while years ago and I've inherited his process for storytelling. I have other solo work that is musical in nature, for which I have a very different process. My first three solo shows were one-man, multimedia operas. I used a very different process. But for the last two shows, I used Spalding's style, which is to write an extremely brief outline, a few words to remind you of each sequence (1-5 min). Talk the story out loud with your mouth. Do it again and remember what worked well. Do it in front of an audience. Do it again and again, remembering what you did last time. Finding the words with your mouth.

I don't write the shows down until a show is set which can take dozens of performances. When I do they're just a transcription. That keeps it very lively. I see too many shows where I can tell the performing is reciting words they've memorized. Even when it's their own, it can often feel stale to my ears. The process I use can be terrifying. There's nothing to hold on to. And for me the biggest challenge at Fringe is keeping the shows on time. I could do a 24 hour version of F*ck Tinder tomorrow. In fact, I might do that for Valentine's Day next year. Partially for fun and partially to bring attention to the book of F*ck Tinder which will be released then, but you can get online one chapter at a time, in serialized form through Patreon starting June 8. Sign up for it here: https://www.f-tinder.com/book

4) Has Tinder ruined the art of courtship?

When was there an art of courtship?

Seriously though, I've been awkward around girls my entire life. I actually have an entire section in my book F*ck Tinder about the genesis of that. Sadly the live show is only an hour and I can't fit it in. Suffice to say it revolves around the prettiest girl in 5th grade making fun of me in a fictionalized story she wrote about me being a mad scientist that the teacher thought was so great she decided to share it with the whole class.

But in terms of courtship, the biggest thing today is that all rules have been thrown out the window. Especially in San Francisco. No one knows what the other is hoping for or expecting. One person's idea of courtship can be a huge turn off to someone else. I ruined a perfectly good fuckbuddy once when I told her “I like you,” that was too much commitment for her. Personally, I like to like the people I have sex with. Not her. Also, I was disabused of the notion that women in San Francisco wants to be monogamous, much less get married and have kids. In two years meeting people in real life and online, I haven't met one. Out of 120 women I dated.

I think that's peculiar to San Francisco, but the non-monogamy movement has been taking hold around the country. I wish it had when I was younger. But again, the problem of courtship is expectations. And even on Tinder, which was invented as the “Straight man's Grinder,” now many people post NOT HERE FOR HOOK-UPS. But sometimes the ones who say that in all caps are doing it because they were there for just that last week. And they don't always mean what they say, which is a real problem in a world where I demand not just affirmative consent, but enthusiastic consent. Even if I'm at a sex club.

5) What's next?

I'm directing and starring in a feature film of my last one man show Total Novice. I may eventually go back to the original title “Crackwhore Pornstar Love,” but while I'm raising the funds, I'm sticking with Total Novice. Want to invest in a movie? Check out the teaser at: www.jadelake.com