Oh Ho! The Fringe Festival’s a Comin’!

hollywood fringe mount rushmore ben hill hffDo you hear the faint sound of trumpets blaring an announcement of something about to happen? Do you feel the tremor of excitement as a whirlwind of activity is beginning to transform Hollywood, the way a new circus changes an open field into a land of fun and excitement? Listen for it, it’s happening soon. The June 6th opening of the 7th Annual Hollywood Fringe Festival.

Fringe Festivals have a long tradition. It’s genesis goes back to The Edinbugh Fringe Festival started in 1947 (yes in Scotland) as a place for clamoring artists who couldn’t get into the first International Film Festival. Theatre artists seeing an opportunity of course jumped in and now there are festivals all over the world. The Hollywood Fringe Festival is quickly becoming one of the big ones.

Artists from all over the world come to Los Angeles for a month of what can be seen as a circus of theatre. There are one-man shows and magic shows, there are musicals, dramas and dance. There are traveling shows, and there are brand new shows. There is Commedia dell’arte and there is mime. What they all have in common is that this is the trend of new theatrical creation.

No longer awaiting the latest release by publishers, theatre artists are discovering that they have a symphony of voices within themselves. Actors are becoming writers, writers are becoming actors, and the material they create is personal and intimate. It’s the very fodder that makes the Fringe environment thrive.

Building a career in theatre has always been a long shot. The odds are better then the lottery, but then so is getting struck by lighting. Until recently, the plan had been to start doing shows if you’re an actor, and eventually someone important will see you and your dreams will be fulfilled. There were many steps in there, of course, but that was the basic plan.

If you were a playwright, your primary hope was that by sitting in your environment of choice, be it a study, or if you were adventurous, a coffee shop. One day, after submitting to anyone that would read your work, the mythical important person would catch your work and get your material produced.

What is now happening, is that writers/actors/producers, have all become one. There’s a greater sense of opportunity, more control over destiny, a feeling that maybe you can stack the deck a little bit in your favor. And it would be absurd not to see that the Fringe movement has had a high impact on that way of thinking. By providing a relatively low-production-cost threshold, theatre artists have an opportunity to spread their wings, expand their horizons and test new concepts without the profound fear of economic disaster, which is always looming in theatrical productions.

This is not a curated event, so there are no lines one has to abide by, and the very openness of the event encourages many to try. For some, one of the rewards is an opportunity to get an extended run awarded after the Fringe closes. For others, the shear volume of people coming to check out the event (more than 50,000 tickets were sold last year) increases the odds of finding collaborators and maybe even some patronage. For all, it’s a chance to engage in their art form and have a receptive audience brought to their doorstep.

For the audience, it’s an opportunity to be closer to the art. There’s an immediate kinship between performers and audience, a common adventure. Very few shows run more than an hour, and the opportunity to binge on different shows over the coarse of a day, weekend, week or through the month, should be enough to satiate any jonzing for something different and new.

Much as independent films have become a vehicle for creating stars and major players in the film industry, Fringe Festivals offer a similar route for the theatre artists. Just as Sundance has become one of the “important” film festivals, Hollywood Fringe is making similar inroads. It’s a match made in heaven so to speak, artists and audience and Hollywood all meeting together. Don’t miss it.

About Peter Finlayson

Peter Finlayson is the Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-chief of FootLights magazine and footlight.click. While working on a prelaw program at the University of Michigan, he happily got involved with the theatre program. Much to his mother’s chagrin, law school never happened, but in a career spanning more than 4 decades, Peter has performed, directed or designed more than 150 productions. In his spare time, he is working on a new play. You can follow him on Twitter @Thtrdog .

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