Ashley Steed

Ashley Steed

Ashley is a freelance make-believer (i.e., a creative producer, director, performer and writer) and has worked extensively in London and Los Angeles. When she's not chatting to passionate theatre artists about their work, you can most likely find her at Son of Semele Ensemble. Follow her shenanigans on twitter @ashleysteed.

You Never Forget Your First

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It’s been a week since the end of the inaugural Hollywood Fringe Festival. Not only was this a first for Hollywood, it was also my first fringe experience ever. The anticipation leading up to HFF was enough to send electricity though the air. And I must say – it was pretty dang memorable.

I’m just going to admit to it, Los Angeles theatre is often treated like the illegitimate bastard by cities with long-standing and rich theatrical traditions. Now when thinking of bastard, my favorite Shakespearian villain, Edmund, comes to mind. Here’s this guy who has a massive chip on his shoulder and uses it as fuel to bring down everyone around him. Definitely the “love ’em and leave ’em” type. He leaves you feeling empty, sad and a little bit dead. The Hollywood Fringe Festival, on the other hand, has definitely stood up for bastards. Not only that, but HFF certainly knows how to treat a lady right. I’ll admit it; I have been entirely wooed.

In fact, I’ve been so enchanted by our first time together, I now check twitter to see if anyone’s using the #HFF hashtag. I wonder why I have so much free time and why I’m craving sangria. I’m definitely going through HFF withdrawals. Which makes me wonder – was this just some summer fling? Or was this real love?

Let us walk through the five stages of love:

First is attraction. I was immediately attracted to the HFF. Any LA theatre practitioner knows having any kind of a festival in this town is daunting. I have a tendency to root for the underdog and think audacity is a sexy trait – something the HFF has in spades. As soon as I walked into Fringe Central, I was greeted by smiling faces, festival director Ben Hill being one of them, given my press pass and was even bought a drink. Already off to a fantastic start. I’m definitely a sucker for not only great customer service but also a well-planned, well-organized event. The OCD person inside me was immediately smitten.

Next is romance. Show after show, I was continually impressed by the quality of work I was seeing. Not only that but the fringe offered the “Fringe Friend” card which meant discounts and cheap beer. Hey, I’m a woman and we love deals. I always felt the urge to linger after a show, meet the performer(s) and get to know the staff. Something I rarely do when going to theatre. It’s now something I plan on making a habit.

Which leads to passion. There is not one person I met or saw performing at fringe that did not have passion. And the staff and volunteers of the HFF were the most passionate of all. Even the great majority of shows I saw were oozing with passion. Some standouts for me were Elaine Del Valle’s Brownsville Bred whose story from the projects in Brooklyn really resonated with me. And whose optimistic outlook on life completely charmed me. A few days after seeing Del Valle’s performance, I was fortunate to call Elaine a friend as she became my theatre buddy and we saw shows together. In between shows we’d share stories of our lives and discuss the shows we’d seen. How often does that happen in this town?

Another captivating solo show was T-O-T-A-L-L-Y by Kimleigh Smith. Never in my life have I experienced the lights coming on and being instantly captivated. That degree of magnetism can’t be taught nor learned but only lived. Just before the Fringe Awards Ceremony (and just before she won her two awards) she came up to me and thanked me for my review of her show and wanted my thoughts on how to make it better. For anyone who generally categorizes solo shows as self-indulgent has clearly never met the likes of Elaine or Kimleigh (or any of the other solo performers I met) – for these extraordinary talents it’s more than simply telling a story. It’s about sharing a part of themselves that they hope will resonate, touch and inspire others.

There were also two productions that left me breathless. First was The Birthday Boys. This play about three POW’s cuts straight through to the core. The ending left my jaw on the floor. Now, I’ve heard differing opinions on the effectiveness of the ending, which makes me love the play that much more. Excellent writing, excellent acting and an excellent fringe production.

The second show to leave me wanting more was Medea, brought to us by the out-of-towners from Indianapolis. This group of young talent was truly inspiring thanks to their creativity, passion, intensity and director Michael Burke’s stunning attention to detail. The dénouement will forever dwell in my memory.

Even the shows that were, well, less than spectacular – to put it nicely – still had heart. And how can one critique heart? As a novice critic/reviewer, I wonder if I’ll ever get past that. But then again, maybe I don’t want to.

After passion is intimacy. Anyone who was at the dance party after the fringe knows that is about as intimate as it gets. It wasn’t so much as dancing really but more like a viewpoints exercise all boozed up. In all seriousness though, there were some real, deep and lasting bonds made during this festival. We all shared stories, laughs and experiences. These are connections that will continue to develop and grow over time.

Which leaves us with the final stage of love: commitment. The commitment of the fringe staff, especially Ben Hill, is infectious. Now we need it to infect the rest of the LA theatre and arts community, whereby in their fringe fever commit to supporting this wonderful festival. One night as Ben and I were chatting about the overall success of this year’s festival and how to improve it for next year, I let out a sigh saying, “Too bad I won’t be here next year.” Taken aback, Ben earnestly asked, “why not!?” Well I’m leaving in the fall for London where I’ll be getting my Master’s in theatre and performance. “So come back for the fringe,” he said. “We need you.”

Wow. What a compliment. He’s right. Not that I specifically am needed but rather people like me who are dedicated to perpetuating LA theatre and who are determined to raise the standards, raise the quality and most importantly raise the roof (i.e. fun). If we are not enjoying what we’re doing, then what’s the point? Over the course of the fringe I reviewed over 20 shows, met some amazingly talented people and had a blast. After all the third word in HFF is festival – a celebratory feast of all things art. Now there’s something I can commit to.

What is ‘Devised Theatre’? 

“Devised theatre can be exceptional at highlighting underrepresented narratives in the world. Since everyone’s voice from the group is an integral component in the process, more perspectives get sifted through while collaborating.”

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