If you’re not quite sure where to start with the extensive show list available at the Hollywood Fringe Festival, you might want to go straight to Fringe Central Station on the south side of Santa Monica Boulevard near Vine (not to be confused with Fringe Central Mainstage at the Open Fist, just to the east). There, you can check out the evening offerings at the Fringe Cabaret. It’s fun, it’s upbeat and — except for your bar tab — it’s totally free.
Every night throughout the festival from 6 to 9 pm, the Hollywood Fringe Cabaret hopes to showcase selected segments of shows and all forms of variety acts interested in performing at the venue — comedy, dance, magic and music, with all styles from the traditional to the experimental. The only requirement is every performer at the Fringe Cabaret must also have a show playing elsewhere in the Fringe. In some cases, cast members of a Fringe show put something together just for the Cabaret, using the opportunity to promote and attract more people to their Fringe show.
Also, on Monday June 18 and Tuesday June 19, special Cabaret Nights are scheduled for 9 pm. These programs will present back-to-back programming, as opposed to the more leisurely pace of the early-evening Fringe Cabarets, in which new material is slated for each half-hour.
Special programs director Jon Armstrong, an award-winning local magician, spearheads this year’s programming. He promises the Fringe Cabaret will be not only a cool-kid hot spot but an always fun destination on your itinerant Fringe day. “The cabaret is upbeat and fun. We won’t turn [performers] away, but we try to encourage things to fit the venue,” says Armstrong. “People sitting around drinking and having a good time don’t really want to see deep introspection about cancer.”
Joining the full-time Fringe staff in 2011, Armstrong has done his own magic shows as part of the Fringe. An accomplished magician who chairs the board of trustees of the Academy of Magical Arts — the organization that operates the Magic Castle — Armstrong also has previous performance experience in Canadian Fringe festivals and played a part in the launch of the first Orlando Fringe Festival.
Armstrong’s work at the Magic Castle includes running “all aspects of magic,” a position he maintains alongside his year-round commitment on staff at the Hollywood Fringe. “We’re all plate spinners here,” he jokes, as so many of his colleagues pull double — and triple — duty throughout the Fringe. As performer, producer and organizer, he identifies with performing artists from all genres.
“When people come to the Magic Castle they dress up, you have to be invited,” he explains. “You are there to see magic.” This scenario is ideal, as opposed to the situation in which a magician works a corporate event as a side show, where the audience is distracted or occupied by so many other things. “In those cases, you are an intrusion,” he says. “And that’s miserable for a performer.”
Armstrong hopes the Cabaret will not only provide a fun atmosphere to celebrate a multitude of performers and their specialties, but also expose Fringe audiences to productions happening at other venues in the mile-wide radius of theater venues encompassing the Hollywood Fringe scene.
“I can sympathize and empathize with performers trying to get their work out there,” Armstrong states. “And someone might come [to the Cabaret] and say, ‘I really liked this little performance, I think I might go see their whole show.’”
Armstrong also feels passionate about bringing in more family-friendly programs to the Fringe and launched this year’s Fringe Family events. With special free programs just for kids during the day on Sundays, parents can bring the little ones without fear they might experience something “too avant-garde for them to handle.”
Assisting with the busy schedule, Armstrong brought on another seasoned variety performer, Bella Luna, to serve as Cabaret manager and handle day-to-day operations as well as manage support for the performers. Luna offers guidance for performers who may not know exactly what they want to perform; however, in the end, each performer has the final say in what to present at the Cabaret. Luna finds multiple positive outcomes for everyone involved.
“With a Cabaret spot, performers are given a chance to shine in a public forum that can then cause patrons to actively seek out their show,” Luna describes. “Or give other participants ideas on how to cross-promote or cultivate new projects with people they feel are on their same wavelength.”
An accomplished theater professional in her own right, Luna has done everything from performing and directing to producing and stage managing. With professional
experience at some of LA’s most notable venues — the Geffen, Matrix, Odyssey and Skirball, to name a few — Luna’s own burlesque career has persisted for more than five years.Â She master-plans the monthly episodic vaudevillian variety show, The Red Light Revue, at Theatre Asylum in Hollywood.
Luna reaped the benefit of performing at the 2011 Hollywood Fringe and feels dedicated to creating a similarly positive experience for other artists. “It opened up a whole new world of collaboration and brainstorming among people from different artistic backgrounds,” she says of her previous experience. “I hope it will invigorate artists and patrons to appreciate each other’s experiences and talents.”
Without the totality of the Fringe driving audience to its Fringe Central Station location, the Cabaret might be challenged sustaining itself as a stand-alone venue. But organizers at the Fringe hope the distinct variety of performances — and the free price of admission — will inspire audiences and artists to partake in the Cabaret as they explore the many offerings of the Fringe.
“In this case, people come to the Fringe to experience new things and new performers,” Armstrong says. “With this venue we are able to bring performers to people who really want to see them.”
“I think it’s a great way to further build this artistic community that Fringe is all about,” concludes Luna.
“Buy a beer at the bar and hang out. There’s not even a cover charge,” Armstrong says. “Come hang out and see cool stuff.”
Hollywood Fringe Cabaret, nightly beginning Thursday June 14, 6-9 pm through June 24. Cabaret Nights June 18-19, 9 pm. Fringe Central Station, 6314 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood. Free. 213-222-8340. www.hollywoodfringe.org.