Patricia Foster Rye

Patricia Foster Rye

Hollywood Fringe Festival Returns for Second Year

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2011 marks the second year for the Hollywood Fringe Festival, an annual celebration of the emerging arts.  This year close to 200 arts groups will present over 800 performances, workshops, exhibitions and events in central Hollywood.

Environments for the Fringe include both traditional and unorthodox venues — fully equipped theaters, street corners, clubs, bars and places unexpected.  Performances are self-produced by local, national, and international arts companies and independent performers.  In the spirit of most Fringes, participation is open, non-curated and uncensored.

Hollywood is a likely choice for a fringe festival, as it has long been a source of unapologetic opinion, with an underground scene that reflects a deep passion for the cutting edge.

The Hollywood Fringe Festival mission is to host an environment for bold and experimental works, champion underground art and artists, vitalize the arts industry in Los Angeles and promote and enrich the Hollywood neighborhood.

Ben Hill

Co-founder and festival director Ben Hill credits the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland as his principal inspiration.  The Fringe concept began in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1947.  Eight performance groups appeared on the “˜fringes’ of the exclusive Edinburgh International Festival.  Since then it has grown into the largest arts festival in the world.

Fringe Festivals now appear in dozens of cities nationally and around the world, as havens for underground and innovative arts scenes. “I’ve been attending Fringe Festivals all my life and always dreamed of founding one,” Hill says.

Many artists and theaters found last year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival invaluable for the continued life of their projects. “Companies like Theatre Unleashed, needtheater and Coeurage Theatre Company are growing in stature as they produce fully realized seasons of theater,” says  Hill. “Theatre Asylum booked the rest of their season based on 2010 Fringe Festival shows.”

Also,  “shows like Four Clowns, The Birthday Boys and Elevator left Fringe 2010 for continuous and extended runs to high acclaim,” continues Hill.

4 Clowns, conceived and directed by Jeremy Aluma, was nominated for the 2010 Hollywood Fringe Festival Best World Premiere and won the 2010 Hollywood Fringe Festival Best in Dance and Physical Theatre.  Since its festival premiere, Four Clowns, as it’s now spelled, has played at the Sacred Fools Theatre in Los Angeles and at the Long Beach Playhouse.  This summer the production will tour nationally including the San Francisco and Minnesota Fringe Festivals.

Alexis Jones as Sad Clown

Four Clowns is a physical, musical and emotional journey into what it means to be a human being. The evening consists of a series of comedy skits portraying the human condition presented by the Sad Clown, the Angry Clown, the Mischievous Clown and the Nervous Clown. When asked about the after-life of his show, Aluma says, “The Fringe Festival not only gave us the feeling that we could continue this show but I also made the many connections necessary to extend the life of the piece.  Los Angeles is like an incubator. It’s easier for us to get shows up than it is in Chicago or New York. To work a show and get it great and then take it around the country just felt like the natural next step. The Hollywood Fringe literally inspired our show to become a troupe.”

Raymond Lee as Angry Clown, Amir Levi as Nervous Clown, Alexis Jones as Sad Clown and Kevin Klein as Mischievous Clown in "Four Clowns"

Aluma is returning to the Hollywood Fringe Festival 2011 with Four Clowns: Romeo and Juliet.  “We’re using Shakespeare’s play as our jumping off point. Romeo is the Sad Clown, Juliet is the Angry Clown. Mercutio is the Mischievous Clown and Tybalt is the Nervous Clown,” Aluma says.  In addition there’s a fifth clown who, “has seen the play and thinks it’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen and wants to put it on with his buddies.”

“Tragedies are ultimately funnier than comedies when you adapt them,” continues Aluma.  “There’s murder, there’s suicide but there’s also love.  Violence and sex, that’s what people really appreciated in Four Clowns, so those elements are definitely still there.”

The Birthday Boys, by Aaron Kozak, was the winner of the 2010 Hollywood Fringe First Award (world premiere) and the LA Fringe Award (LA Theatre Review Critic’s Choice).

Ali Saam, Nando Betancur and Colin Carney in "Birthday Boys"

The play is an apolitical dark comedy about three Marines, who are prisoners of war in Iraq. “It’s about three guys and the circumstances the find themselves in. They learn everything you would learn in a war drama but in this case it’s based around a less significant event,” says Kozak. The production played the historic Texas Theatre (where Lee Harvey Oswald was captured) in Dallas, May 26-29.

Kozak also credits the Hollywood Fringe Festival with the continued life of The Birthday Boys.  “I can’t say enough what a great thing it was for me. I made great connections and met a lot of people.  Networking was easy because the festival was such a fun time. Our seven week NoHo run of the play came from a guy who was my neighbor at the Fringe Festival.”

Kozak is returning to the 2011 Fringe Festival directing Voices From Chornobyl, Jr. by Cindy Marie Jenkins. The play is based on interviews from Svetlana Alexievich’s book of the same name (but slightly different spelling) that was created to raise awareness of the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident.

“It’s a children’s play about whether nuclear power is good or bad, “ Kozak explains. “It’s not Jack-and-the-Beanstalk, but a play that deals with real things, real drama. It’s about how parents hide things from their kids,” Kozak says.  “The play treats kids like they’re intelligent human beings, which is why it also has appeal for adults.”

“The protagonist is a woman who’s reflecting on the Chernobyl experience,” Kozak continues.  “She assumes her character as a child and we see her parents hiding and sugar-coating everything.  The little kid learns about something horrible that’s happened in her life and how her parents handled it and how she handled it.”

Kozak is planning to tour middle schools with the play and schedule question-and-answer sessions with the kids and a nuclear power expert.

In addition to inspiring the participating artists, the Hollywood Fringe Festival is credited with stimulating audience interest in a time when many fear theatergoers are an endangered species.  This end result is known as the Fringe Effect, or the cross-pollination of audience support.

“In the last week of Fringe 2010 we saw a spike in return visits from patrons who had joined the Fringe to see a familiar company but continued to explore other shows,”  Ben Hill says. “I have also seen a lot of new faces in the LA theater scene that I met through Fringe.”

The Hollywood Fringe Festival is continuing to grow.  Hill says, “We are creating a few new programs this year including Fringe Family, Fringe Film and a much enhanced Fringe Central location at Art/Works with five performance spaces and a large, tented area for networking, socializing and the Fringe Cabaret featuring nightly performances.”

Jeremy Aluma

“We’ve also added food trucks that will be parked in front of venues and around Fringe Central,” Hill continues,  “We have five “˜official’ spots identified and will be rotating our fleet of food trucks between them on a daily basis. We will be tweeting, blogging and Facebooking truck locations.”

“We also have volunteers scheduled to work the streets, talking to and providing buttons for festival-goers,” Hill adds.

Hill is very optimistic about the future of the Hollywood Fringe Festival.  “We hope to see a fully funded festival with mature programs across the areas we seek to address.  Much more emphasis will be placed on outreach, education and year-round programming, not to mention the possibility of a road show.”

Hill added, “We’d like to invite the LA theater community to join us at the opening night party on June 15.”

The Hollywood Fringe Festival runs from June 16 to June 26 with a Fringe Award Ceremony and Closing Night Party on June 26.

The Festival takes place in the heart of Hollywood bounded by Franklin Ave, Gower Street, Melrose Avenue and La Brea Ave. Some venues include: Elephant Theatre, iO West, Theatre Asylum, Theatre of NOTE, the Complex, the Lounge Theatre and the Open Fist Theatre.Tickets are available online and at Fringe Central (Art/Works Theatre 6585 Santa Monica Blvd. Hollywood). Tickets may be purchased by performance, by day or by venue. Tickets range from Free to $25 with an average cost of $11.

For tickets and a full list of venues, performance dates and times visit www.HollywoodFringe.org .