September 21, 2019

The Fringe Festival Grows Up

April Wish, star of Clementine, and husband Corey Wish. Photo by Joy Bennett.
I have been covering the Hollywood Fringe Festival, held here for the past ten years, for six years now. I’ve also been going to the 2019 Fringe Festival this past few days, and simply could not be more impressed at how this festival has evolved and grown into a world-class performing arts celebration.  Seats are filled, ticket sales are up, and the quality and variety of these live performances are remarkable and diverse. The shows are impressively and professionally produced, often on quite limited budgets.
Ben and Stacy Hill, and a caring and dedicated staff and team of volunteers work tirelessly to bring the community top-notch entertainment, theatre, musical acts, comedy, dance, and solo performances.  This year, the overall quality and variety of shows are simply breathtaking. Fringe Festivals were started in Scotland in 1947, on the fringes of the snooty Edinburgh International Festival.  Now fringe festivals are all over the world, and are a well-spring of independent, emerging artistic talent. Fringe festivals provide invaluable opportunities for creative folks to polish their art, network and gain invaluable production experience.  They also give their hosting communities huge economic and cultural benefits.The Hollywood Fringe Festival is one of the largest fringe festivals and is ever expanding, with more shows, larger audiences, and ever-higher quality productions as the years fly by.The Hollywood Fringe Festival opened on June 13 this year, and runs through June 30th.  It is held near Santa Monica Blvd. and up and down the street near Highland and Vine, with other venues sprinkled north and south in Hollywood nearby.  I highly recommend you check out the festival, and see at least a few of the outstanding offerings this year. All the information, schedule, and descriptions of the performances are available here.

They also have a delightful YouTube channel called Fringe TV that shares videos of many of the events and parties. If you can’t get out to the festival, at least screen some of the YouTube Fringe TV videos online. They’re most entertaining.

In addition, there is an excellent free book called Hollywood Fringe Festival Guide – 2019 which covers all the events, schedule, ticketing information, and details on nearby restaurants and bars.  The Fringe guidebook is available for free at Fringe Central, at 6450 Santa Monica Blvd., and at the various venues and theaters of the festival.

Fringe Central is right in the heart of the festival. This is a friendly, colorful bar with a Fringe Concierge where you can sip a drink, buy Fringe merchandise, and mix and mingle with fellow Fringers, staff members, and other live theater lovers.

You can also buy a Fringe button for $5 that gives you $1.00 off tickets and discounts at Fringe Hotspots, and $1 off drinks at Fringe Central, etc. Many of the local restaurants and bars offer 10% to 15% discounts to Fringe participants, too. A complete list of discounts available is in the Hollywood Fringe Festival Guide.

The Festival also has wonderful opening night and closing night parties which are open to the public where you can meet and mingle with the talented performers, meet some of the staff and fellow Fringers.  They throw great parties that are simply too much fun.

One of the most delightful things about Fringe shows is the chance to meet and congratulate the casts and crews of these shows immediately after the performances.  These dedicated performers work tirelessly to perfect their art, and very much deserve our admiration and support.

For our Jewish Journal friends, the Fringe Festival ties to Jewish culture and history are numerous and varied.  There is a show called “Shiva for Anne Frank,” a one-woman play written and performed by Rachel McKay Steele; numerous other productions by Jewish actors and writers, and Clementine (reviewed below) which is based on the true story of an actress/mother and her daughter and son.  She is married to a Jewish man in real life, and their two children are Jewish.   Many of the productions feature Jewish actors and writers.  Also, the Opening Night party for Fringe Festival itself was held at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, Anita May Rosenstein Campus, a well-known Jewish philanthropist and descendant of the May Co. Department stores founder.

If you are hungry, there are food trucks offering delicious treats to keep up your energy as you trek from one show to another.  Every dish I’ve had from their food trucks has been tasty and nicely presented.

I recommend arriving early to secure a parking spot nearby.  There is on-street parking, and some lots in the area, but if you arrive early you can stroll along and peruse the many theatres in the area, grab some of the postcards describing the shows, and enjoy Fringe Central or other venues in the area.

All of this information is in the Fringe Guidebook which is available at Fringe Central, and on-line at hollywoodfringe.org.

And just starting this year, there is a comfortable new Starbucks at Santa Monica Blvd. and Vine.  Yummy coffees, sandwiches and treats, and open until 10 pm, and 11:30 pm on Friday and Saturday nights.

Below are just a few reviews of the performances I have seen already.  I will return again to see more shows and update here as I do.  I just wish I had the time and energy to see all 400 shows!

Here are capsule reviews of shows I attended in the order that I saw them:

“Monkey Mind” A delightful comic/tragic take on a young singer’s journey from a depressed teen to a gifted singer, all encouraged by her voice teacher.  She tells her to ignore her Monkey Mind of doubt, discouragement and negativity.  Just delightful, outstanding singing too.  This show was written by a renowned Los Angeles voice teacher Terri Weiss.  Her own students cast the show, and from the talent they display, her teaching skills are formidable.  Directed and choreographed by John Coppola (yes, he’s related), this is a bright, diverting, and uplifting gem.

“My Trans Wife” This extraordinary show tells the true life story of a couple who started as a man and a woman, and became two women, told by the couple that actually lived through it.  It is a heartfelt, fascinating tale, told with gentle humor, searing honestly, and a special kind of grace only two people who have been through such a remarkable journey could share.  Outstanding and not to be missed.  I will return to see the show again soon, something I rarely do.

“Clementine” OK get out your tissues, this one will shatter your heart.  I have never seen a better, more emotionally searing description of motherhood and the impossible task that entails, written and performed by an incredibly talented writer and actress telling the true story of her own life.  Remarkably brave, this 75-minute long solo performance bounces back and forth, as parenting itself does, from remembering your own childhood, to seeing yourself in your children.  It beautifully and perfectly captures the exhaustion, joy and everyday challenges and thrills of creating a new life.  Poetically written and masterfully acted.  I’m weeping as I write this review, it moved me so. Simply unforgettable.

“Scarlett Fever” This unusual and delightful production uses dance, drumming, music, movement, and poetic dialogue to tell the story of the casting of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind.  Written/directed and choreographed by the incredibly talented John Wuchte, it’s a venue for his technique he calls Tribal Acting.  Tribal acting is “a hybrid of viewpoints and Suzuki that incorporates live percussion” (from the program).   Most enjoyable!  A wonderfully talented cast as well.

Lots of photos I took are available on my Flickr page here:  flickr.com/joybennett

My congratulations to Ben and Stacy Hill and their dedicated staff, and to all the performers and crew in this year’s festival.  It is a remarkable accomplishment, and a wonderful gift to the residents and visitors of Los Angeles.

Note the Hollywood Fringe is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.  All proceeds from ticket sales are given back to the participating artists and theaters.  Consider making a tax-deductible donation yourself to support this incredible festival at hollywoodfringe.org/donate.  Support the arts: they are the essence and highest expression of our shared humanity.