Ben Hill’s Hollywood Fringe: Part I

footlights ben hill hollywood fringe festivalThe 2016 Hollywood Fringe Festival has been gearing up for months with a constant stream of excitement and information appearing on Facebook and Twitter, where local participants are already posting notices of their shows.  I caught up with Festival founder and director Ben Hill in a semi-calm-before-the-storm call to find out, “what’s new”.

Radical change has happened on Hollywood Row with Sacred Fools taking over the corner of Lillian Way and Santa Monica.  Has that affected The Hollywood Fringe in any way this year?

Ben: Not really, I mean, it’s just about developing relationships with the new venue manager. Obviously, Sacred Fools is coming in to what was one of our largest spaces previously run by Matt Quinn and the former Theater Asylum who were very active in Fringe and had established the Asylum brand as a collection of other venues. Fringe has simply added Sacred Fools to the family.

What’s different this year at Fringe?

We say, “Every year is a revolution,” because it’s an entirely new aesthetic and an entirely new group of participating artists. I think what people want to get out of Fringe remains the same, but because the programming every year is so different, we don’t know precisely if there are going to be any themes or any major differences. It’s part of the excitement. One new element is Matt Quinn curating shows at The Blank Theatre and branding The Blank as an international house.  The shows under Matt’s brand will all be internationally focused and that’s one area that we hope to nurture and expand.

This is new participation…

Yeah. Usually, The Young Playwrights Festival happens and we partner with that festival every year. So we do have a relationship. But The Blank Theatre itself has not been a participant in the Fringe up until now and that’s an exciting development.

How much does marketing and social media “drive” the festival?

Every individual show’s marketing as well as the festival’s overall promotion contribute to what we call the “Fringe Effect”, a co-mingling of audiences. One of the primary aspects of our marketing plan is that the festival not only benefits from the various investments we make promoting the festival itself and the shows, via billboards, cool signs, radio, print and online ads and etc., but that the festival benefit from the individuals promoting their shows. As a result of participants bringing people to the festival, audiences realize, “Oh, there are other shows. There might be some that I’m interested in. I’ll go see those.” And obviously we have workshops in town all throughout the Fringe season to help people get a grasp on strategies that work with social media. It’s a mix. You need to find a way to use multiple mediums to provide multiple impressions upon potential patrons. You can’t put all your eggs in one basket.

What’s your goal going forward? A bigger festival? A broader reach?

FL_AD_v01The size of the Fringe Festival will vary every year and I don’t mark success by how many performances we sell. I mark success by increased attendance on a participant-by-participant basis. We look at metrics, tracking, how full are the houses. We find it’s much more important than number of shows. Moving forward, we’d also liked to engage much more with other cultures and communities in Los Angeles. This year, for example, is very heavily based upon the LGBTQ community. But we’d like a broader outreach effort towards Spanish-speaking, Asian American and African-American performing artists. I’d like to figure out how we can help Los Angeles Theatre grow and prosper not just in the month of June, but all year around.

Our mission however, is to create more theatrical producers.  Every year we obviously add to the list of theatrical producers that we train, but we’d like to see them keep going on. We always have our Spring workshops to focus on marketing and promotion and festival preparations, which has been very successful.  But last year we began our creative fall series and workshops focused on the creative process as well.  We help the artist get started on creating the art and specifically in the Fringe genre, which differentiates from say a show that happens during the rest of the year. We help them develop a show that might be more successful at Fringe.  It’s just about finding the right programs. Some are successful and some are not. We keep the stuff that works and drop what doesn’t. You constantly hone and improve.

Ben Hill talks about the International component of Hollywood Fringe in Part II of this interview.

About Tracey Paleo

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Tracey Paleo is Associate Editor at FootLights Magazine. She's also the Founder and Chief Editor of the arts and culture site, Gia On The Move, where she often reviews live performance events.

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