Life on the Fringe – The Festival

The Hollywood Fringe Festival

Last Saturday I took the Metro to Hollywood to check out the possibility of doing a stage show for the Hollywood Fringe.

While the Hollywood Fringe was started in 2010, the original Fringe event was in Edinburgh Scotland in 1947. The Edinburgh International Festival had been created to raise morale for the post-WWII recovery but area theater groups were unhappy at being snubbed. Only high end (and high priced) companies had been invited. So they went and staged their own productions in whatever nooks and crannies they could find on the fringes of the official festival. Hence the name “Fringe” took hold and the event grew and spread to other cities.

The festival in Edinburgh is now the single biggest theater festival in the world.

I’ve been in Hollywood on a weekend often enough to know there is zero parking available. The Hollywood and Vine Metro station is about a mile from the venue where the talk was being given. No sweat. Before Metro, it would have been Big Sweat. Private parking structures would charge as much as going to a play would cost. There is still private parking but some of the lots have become new high rises.

Across the street from the station is the Pantages. The musical Frozen is still playing. PantagesSoon it will be replaced by Escape to Margaritaville. Later in the summer, they’ll be doing Hamilton. My wife and I and son have tickets for it. The last time we went there it was for the Blue Man Group.

Inside, the building is an art deco masterpiece.

They’ve really cleaned the place up. Just a couple of decades ago Hollywood was grungy. Beggars lined the street and pickpockets abounded. Street performers would become aggressive in trying to get a “donation”. If you looked like a lost tourist you looked like a target. The buildings were run down and the sidewalks were filthy.

I wouldn’t say it has regained its glory but it is still pretty cool with the Walk of Stars and all the landmark buildings;  the Pantages theater, the Wax Museum, the Egyptian, the Chinese Theatre, the Cinerama Dome, the Dolby theater and nearby, the Hollywood Bowl. Even the stoplight timing has been rationalized for better pedestrian and traffic flow.

Schwab’s Drugstore is long gone, so no chance to be discovered there anymore. Instead, there’s a Trader Joe’s.

I walk east to Vine from the station and head south. Vine from Hollywood to Sunset has a couple of very expensive clubs. There were long lines waiting for their turn to get in. Sunset lacks the iconic locations of Hollywood but still dazzles with light and color. I keep going.

Like this… only at night.

Between Sunset and Santa Monica, I enter a whole new world. The street lights are farther apart. Here we have a homeless encampment centered around a Goodwill store. The sidewalk is partly blocked by a number of tents. Other people spread a tarp over boxes and luggage. It looks scary but I feel reasonably safe. There are pedestrians and street traffic around me.

These people aren’t the folks to worry about. The homeless are rarely violent criminals themselves, though they may be extremely opportunistic about “finding” stuff. I respect them. I’ve been homeless myself and I am grateful I never had to live on the sidewalk.

I get to Santa Monica and cross and hang a right. This particular stretch of Santa Monica is run-down but at least there are no tents. There’s a Broadwater bar and behind it a Broadwater Theater where the talk is being given.

The point of contemporary Fringe Festivals is to allow unheard of and unknown individuals and companies an opportunity to perform their work in a major cultural center at minimum cost. The Hollywood Fringe follows this tradition. There are no gatekeepers or censorship. Everyone is responsible for their own product. There are plenty of people willing to help, some for free and some for a fee.

Theaters of different sizes (from 20 to several hundred seats) are available at very modest costs and the participant gets to keep the box office take. OTOH, the theaters are guaranteed to be booked up all day long during the festival. Win-win. The Fringe Festival is a major tourist event in LA with lots of publicity. People go there with the intent of seeing as many shows as possible and the Fringe offers participants publicity. Fringe-friendly businesses offer discounts to participants.

There is no reason why one shouldn’t promote one’s own show with flyers, social media, word of mouth and whatever paid media one can afford. If it makes the difference between 50% and 70% capacity, that could be a lot of money in your pocket. The average ticket is around $12 but you control that completely.

Ok, I got that.

At one point I was feeling kind of being goofy and I mimicked a heart attack. If you have ever watched Sanford and Sons, you’ve seen the fake heart attacks of Fred Sanford and you know exactly what I did.

The woman next to me flipped out. She thought it was a real heart attack. I had to stop and explain that it might be a part of my routine in my show. She introduced herself and shook my hand. Her name is May and based on my “heart attack” she wants to see my performance.

I talked to some venue providers and the Fringe Organizers. I needed to decide how big of a venue I thought I could fill and how many showings to have. The basic package varies by venue. Typical was 5 showings at different times so everyone gets a show in the prime time and a mixture of other slots. The venues that looked good were in the $200 per show range with time slots of one to two hours. That includes setup and breakdown. There’s also insurance and technical support you have to pay for. They also said they could hook me up with 3 other people with Asperger’s who had done shows in the past as kind of mentors.

Offset against this would be ticket sales. If few people showed up I’d be out a couple thousand. I have to think about that.

Last year there’d been a play, “Disrobed”, where the cast was nude and the audience Fringe disrobedwere also required to be nude. They called it “immersive theater” and it sold out, won an award, and was given an extension after the Festival was over.  It didn’t strike me as being particularly incredible. (When I saw it the 2019 Fringe was long over.)

I’m thinking, “I can do that. A light-hearted show about aging, Asperger’s and the meaning of life. Maybe a smaller theater, one with a thrust stage to emphasize vulnerability. Fifty seats, so the rent won’t break me while I’m waiting for ticket sales to come in.

After the official meeting, there was a get together in the adjacent bar for “networking”. Some of the drink proceeds would go to the Festival.

From the instant I walked into that bar, my Aspie issues started going crazy. Dark and crowded. Very loud music. Very loud and chaotic vocal noise. I can talk to a person if I have a specific need but to strike up a purely social conversation with a total stranger? These were all very social people and I am not comfortable being social. Too many strikes, so not on my agenda today. Anxiety levels started skyrocketing and I split.

Hollywood and Vine MetroThe walk back to the Metro station was very relaxing. The homeless were all asleep.

I got on the train. No place to sit so I stand and hang onto a pole as it starts moving. I am starting to feel really jazzed about this! It’s really going to happen. I’m going to be actor, producer, and director for a show in a small Hollywood theater. Never done anything even vaguely like it. How cool is that? I’m so high I start doing a pole dance right there. That brought some stares.

Next stop, people get off and seats are empty. I sit and start thinking about the lady and her reaction to my heart attack routine. I start laughing, really cracking up. People move away from me.

In a seat on the other side of the aisle, there’s a ragged elderly homeless guy. He starts talking to me in a thick Spanish accent. I can barely make out the words. He’s saying stuff about living for today because tomorrow may not come. Be happy now because tomorrow you don’t know what may happen. Some very wise words from a guy on the down and outs.

I get off the train at the North Hollywood stop. He’ll be on the train all night – or until someone kicks him off. I smile and say, “Adios y vaya con dios.” It is a significant portion of my Spanish language vocabulary. He smiles and waved back.

What a perfect end to the night!


Due to COVID-19, the festival has been suspended indefinitely. Heavy sigh!

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