HOLLYWOOD FRINGE AND THE ART OF RECONNECTION


Matt Ritchey

Matt Ritchey

Writer, Non-Registered Critics


It's almost June, and you know what that means: It's my Mom's birthday!  (And I have to put that in print so I don't forget again.) But no, in Los Angeles June means something else - THE HOLLYWOOD FRINGE FESTIVAL! - a month of scrappy independent theater projects in small local venues. It's going into its eighth year and is bigger and better than ever, with more venues, more shows, and more opportunities.

I got involved with the Fringe in 2014 after a three year hiatus from acting and directing. I've had a quarter-life crisis, decided I hated Los Angeles (and my life) and did what it felt like everybody else was doing: I applied to Grad School so I could teach. Fortunately for my credit score, I did not get in.

But I was still stuck, miserable, in L.A. It took a while for someone to finally ask me the simple question: if you could do anything without worrying about money, where would you be? The answer was immediate: I'd be in a black box theatre working with actors… someplace on a Hawaiian island. It turns out that half of that was actually achievable! Call it fate, call it luck, call it karma, but a day later I met a group of people who needed a director for a new stage show. I interviewed and got the gig.

GEARHEAD AND THE REALBOT (Unknown Artists, Fringe 2014)

It was a fun comedy with the Unknown Artists that opened at the Complex in January '14. I had such a blast and was so eager to work with them again that I floated the idea of re-using the whole cast for a goofy play I'd written decades earlier called Romeo and Juliet In Hell. I soon discovered how much it typically costs to run a show for six weeks – a lot of money! - and instantly decided that this was a bad idea. But then my friend Beki quickly suggested that I look into doing it at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. I'd never heard of it.

Well, brothers and sisters, hallelujah, I have seen the light!  Not only did the Hollywood Fringe Festival model make it financially easier to produce a play, but it gave me access to a crowd already interested in seeing theater, made it easier for ME to see new projects, new actors and writers (I'm always looking for new collaborators), and I suddenly had a hundred new friends!

I'd forgotten that there were lots of “my kind of people" out here. But seeing tons of intimate theatre pieces, one after the other, and being able to talk with other artists about shows and art at Fringe Central, I've made more and closer friendships in the three years I've done the Fringe than I had in my previous fifteen years in Los Angeles.

Because of the 2014 Fringe, I was asked to direct two other productions that year which led to five the following year. I met writers and actors with whom I would collaborate very successfully, I got to direct film again, I had one of my plays produced as part of Theatre Unleashed's Fall Season, and most importantly, I started to see theatre again year-round. Many people I've met have had the same kinds of successes through these “Fringe-ships.”

At Fringe 2015, I met a guy named Benjamin. He'd written a great Tarantino-esque play called ZIP TIES, and we were hanging out at the Three Clubs bar talking theatre and asking what was next for each of us?  I'd had an idea for a few years - a scene, really: A film noir set on stage where a detective is driving in a car (two chairs) next to a femme fatale, and chase music is blaring. It's blaring so loudly that the audience can't hear the dialogue. In fact, the detective can't hear the femme fatale. So he turns off the “car radio” and the chase music stops. I had a few other shaky ideas for a “stage noir” but nothing much came of it. “I had the same idea,” Ben said. “A stage film noir where the characters were painted black and white!” We started brainstorming, thought it would be a GREAT show to do at a place like There Clubs (a few feet from where the idea originated), and the following year, we partnered with the Cherry Poppins burlesque company and mounted ANGEL'S FLIGHT, which won the Fringe ‘16 “Best Cabaret/Variety” Award.

If I hadn't seen Ben's show or talked with him that night, there is no way this would have happened. And while, sure, you could argue that this kind of kismet can happen anywhere at any time, the camaraderie and proximity to fellow artists at the Fringe and the sheer electricity of creativity in the air creates possibilities that could never happen at any other time. It's like a theatrical Brigadoon.

ANGEL'S IN FLIGHT, Fringe 2016 PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Kamimura

I love the Fringe because you can go watch a lavish production of a new Robot Teammate musical on the Sacred Fools Main Stage and then cross the street to someone's apartment for a one-person show that will disturb you for weeks. I saw a one-person show called MURDER BLOOD BEAR in the '15 Fringe and it reminded me of why I love theatre when it's pure, using the art form in a way that can't be replicated on film or TV. I stepped into a van to experience HAMLET in a way I'd never thought possible and my mind was truly blown, inspiring me to think further outside the box for future projects.

I try to learn something new with each show I work on, and Fringe has been a great place to experiment, get new ideas, and see new points of view.  There's something for everyone at Fringe and if you go in with an open mind, it could change your life – like it changed mine..