Last month, Hollywood Fringe Festival founder and director, Ben Hill, spoke with FootLights about the 2016 Summer lineup and the general direction of the festival going forward. Fringe has uniquely positioned itself as a front-runner in the U.S. festival scene, successfully promoting local Los Angeles talent as well as attracting shows from other cities across the country including New York. So it occurred to me that Hollywood Fringe might also have some serious foreign appeal. And if it did, how could Fringe encourage greater participation by international artists on the level of other renowned festivals like Edinburgh? And how could that kind of large-scale attention ultimately help Los Angeles Theater? But, first things first. As Ben points out, there are more than just a few stones in the road on the path to success:
Ben: It’s a lot harder for international groups to come in to the United States than it is going to other countries. There are strict immigration laws when it comes to artists visiting and making money at a Fringe Festival – they’re generally not supposed to. There are quite a lot of legal hoops like, obtaining a work visa for instance, which is very hard to come by. The whole process can be a bit draconian.
You seem to have some nice relationships with the City of Los Angeles. Does the city help in any way with that process? Do they offer assistance?
Ben: As much as they can. I mean, the laws of course surrounding immigration are federal, and you need to have one of two types of visa. One of the visas, a P3 grant, basically proves that if you want to work here, then your act must be culturally unique. So the burden of proof is on the artist to convince the federal government that somehow the body of work he/she is bringing into the United States cannot be found anywhere in the United States. Then there’s the O-1 grant where the artist must prove that he/she is a genius. When you say genius, you need to be spectacular, and then you need the approval of a resident union to say, “Yeah, I’m okay with it and they’re not taking any jobs from American actors and American artists.” So there’s not really so much the local government or the state can do. The norm is that, international artists, if they want a guarantee, hire an attorney to help them through the process.
There is however, a way for artists to come in without getting one of these visas. Basically, you pledge that you aren’t earning a cent, except for compensation for your travel expenses. That, in itself of course, poses its own set of problems especially for touring artists who need to make money to support what they do. So it becomes increasingly hard from a marketing perspective for us when we’re trying to make the case for foreign productions to come in to the United States to Fringe. You are traveling very far to be at the center of the entertainment industry in Hollywood, trying to get exposure here, and that costs money, right down to the basics like where you will stay when you get here. For starters, it’s pretty expensive to board here. So one of the things that we’re exploring is how we can house touring artists at some sort of facility so they at least don’t need to pay for that cost. Hopefully we’ll see some results in the next festival.
The big idea we’re talking about right now is how to reduce the cost for touring artists in order to bring more people in to Los Angeles.
FootLights also caught up with long time organizer and theatre producer at Hollywood Fringe and Los Angeles Intimate Theater, Matthew Quinn (Combined Artform/Theatre Asylum/Best of Fringe/Encore Awards), who, as we discovered earlier this year, has coordinated a special “International House” for the 2016 Fringe thanks to the generous support of Daniel Henning and The Blank Theatre on Hollywood Row.
A Regular Little Houdini, Newport, Wales
Gandhari…in search of light, Sydney, Australia
Jack Lukeman – The King of Soho and other stories, Ireland
Bin Laden: The One Man Show, Leeds
Sweet Love Adieu, London, England
Simon Coronel – Alien of Extraordinary Ability, Melbourne Australia
Las Garcia, Dominican Republic
Cheon Ha Mu Bbong (The Amazing Fart), South Korea
Pryor Truth, New York City, NY
The Oy of Sex, San Francisco, CA
Mimi’s Suitcase, San Francisco, CA
Toiley T. Paper: Roll Model!, Burbank, CA & Orlando, FL
Cult Model, Salt Lake City, UT
The Immaculate Big Bang, New York
Rhythm and The Method – Woodstock 1969 Revisited, San Diego, CA