As of this post, the critics and the audiences have spoken, resulting in almost 99 Hollywood Fringe productions receiving a SWEET #LemonMeter rating and 19 Fringe productions receiving #DoubleSWEET ratings (both critics and audience members agreeing on a sweet production).
It takes three reviews from critics or three reviews from the audience to generate a #LemonMeter rating.
The Better Lemons Fringe Audience and Critics Choice Awards, as well as the DoubleSweet Awards are based on the number of reviews submitted before the time of publication.
The shows with the most reviews receive the Audience and the Critics Choice Awards. The Awards are based on the number of reviews, regardless of the #LemonMeter rating of Sweet, Sweet and Sour, or Sour.
CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL THESE WINNERS who have registered their shows on Better Lemons and encouraged audiences and critics to voice their opinion about their show, regardless of the outcome!
Theatrical shows registered on the Better Lemons calendar, including Hollywood Fringe Festival Encore! Producers and Best of Broadwater Award recipients. For more shows visit our Calendar. For shows with a LemonMeter rating, visit our LemonMeter page.
FERTILE: A Conversation About the Expectation of Procreation
"WINNER Producers' Encore Award & NOMINEE Best Solo Performance 2019 Hollywood Fringe Festival!
Jenny has a plan. A plan to get pregnant. Everyone says, time is running out - she just turned 35, after all. So, when those pesky urine tests keep coming back negative, Jenny decides to take action to fix the problem. That's when she runs into real problems - and real questions about fertility AND motherhood. As Jenny faces the world of “mom options” – egg freezing, in-vitro, adoption, and more – the conversation about the expectation heats up. Taking into account a whirlwind of outside opinions from her friends, her doctors, a beloved neighbor – and even God – Jenny must ultimately look within to discover what motherhood means to her, what it means to be Fertile."
"'Love, Madness and Somewhere in Between' is a no holds barred glimpse into a mystical journey filled with love, pain, insanity, and redemption. Scattered along the way is a sprinkling of ironic comic commentary that can only come from a true survivor. “Jimmy” is not so much a hero but more a human being traversing an abusive childhood, a descent into alcoholism and finally plunging into a world of fantastical personifications which dwell amidst humanity's darkest sins. Will closure, forgiveness, and healing come in the unlikely form of the “angel warriors” – patients on the pediatric cancer ward of Children's Hospital? Does Pure Love, in fact, transform and redeem, or are some lives beyond salvation? The show had its world premiere at Theatre West on January 27th, 2019. It ran 6 performances at Hollywood Fringe 2019 and won the Encore! Producers' Award. The show has been extended for three more performances."
"Lisa Verlo performs HOLLYWOODN'T a solo show and personal journey across Hollywood's unsettling sexual landscape, directed by and developed with Jessica Lynn Johnson. A musical memoir told with candor and insight into the life of an actress before women dared to speak up. With original songs co-written with Frank Simes, Musical Director for The Who, Lisa Verlo brings humor and a light heart to a heavy subject. Creative visuals and video projections add to the multimedia recounting of her experiences on the casting couches of LA. Hollywoodn't was featured, on Wednesday, February 13, as part of SOLOFEST 2019 at the Whitefire Theatre, the largest solo theatre festival on the West Coast."
"While on a first date, Stacy's date innocently asks her if she wants red or white wine. This “trick” question immediately sets off a tsunami of Stacy's insecurities, fueled by a history of being shot down after speaking her mind. In the instant it takes to answer that “red or white?” question, Stacy takes us on a hilarious journey of her failed relationships with men, starting in the fifth grade, when she beat her first boyfriend at wall ball during recess. After that he broke up with her. So begins an unintentionally competitive pattern with men that whenever Stacy wins at life, she loses at love. With both sides of Stacy's psyche weighing in like a comical Greek chorus, Stacy tries to figure out what men really want in a women before she answers that all important first date question, 'Would you like red or white wine?'"
"Lisa Verlo performs HOLLYWOODN'T a solo show and personal journey across Hollywood's unsettling sexual landscape, directed by and developed with Jessica Lynn Johnson. A musical memoir told with candor and insight into the life of an actress before women dared to speak up. With original songs co-written with Frank Simes, Musical Director for The Who, Lisa Verlo brings humor and a light heart to a heavy subject. Creative visuals and video projections add to the multimedia recounting of her experiences on the casting couches of LA. Hollywoodn't was featured, on Wednesday February 13, as part of SOLOFEST 2019 at the Whitefire Theatre, the largest solo theatre festival on the West Coast."
Soaring Solo Artist Award Squeeze My Cans by Cathy Schenkelberg
Dear Jeff by Callie Ott
Mr. Yunioshi by Jonathan Cho Mandy Picks A Husband by Amanda Broomell
The One-Man Improvised Musical by Conor Hanney
The Hollywood Fringe Festival is celebrating its 10th year this year and opens today, Thursday, June 13, 2019.
Annually, for the month of June, this unique "open and uncensored" non-profit theatre festival occupies Hollywood's Theatre Row, and many more adjacent venues and spaces in the Hollywood and Media District areas. Per the non-profit's site, this "open-access, community-derived event celebrating freedom of expression and collaboration in the performing arts community" can be found in parks, community centers, churches, clubs, restaurants" housing a wide variety of productions created by new individual producers, seasoned production companies, member-fueled theatre companies and residencies, and a variety of other independent self-producers–both locally and from all over the world.
This year, there are nearly 400 participating shows, most of which are also registered on the Better Lemons Calender. Here are a few shows, opening this week and next, that talked with Better Lemons about their shows.
Vivi Thai, producer and actress of "She Kills Monsters," spoke with Monique LeBleu of Better Lemons at The BLACK bar and lounge at the Hollywood Fringe Festival Office Hours mixer on May 22, 2019.
Chris Bunyi & Matt Robinson of "Olivia Wilde Does Not Survive the Apocalypse" spoke with Monique LeBleu of Better Lemons at The BLACK bar and lounge at the Hollywood Fringe Festival Office Hours mixer on May 22, 2019.
Ross spoke with Better Lemons about the new piece and what he’s been involved with since we saw him last.
Better Lemons: What have you been up to since the 2017 Fringe? Ross John Gosla: Wow, hard to believe it's been two years. Been keeping busy. I did a short run of Desert Warrior in January 2018, followed by a couple of one act plays. I was brought on staff full-time at the Complex Hollywood, where Monica Martin and team have been working at full speed to improve and renovate since she took over ownership last year.
I filmed an episode of the web series The Wasteland, in which I played a captured insurgent in a dystopian future. I shot a big commercial at the beginning of this year directed by an Academy Award-winner (NDA). Most recently, I provided the narration for the documentary Masculinity that Inspires Change that dropped on Amazon Prime this past May.
BL: Tell us a bit about the new piece. What was the inspiration? RJG: The piece follows a privileged straight white male named "Ross" as he goes on an adventure through the Man Make Machine in order to become a real man in 2019. When the Weinstein scandal broke, I found myself quickly saying, "But I'm not like that," as I’m sure many men did. And we men tended to vocalize that sentiment loudly.
But as the narrative evolved, a resounding female voice said: "Shut up and let this play out." And as it did, the moment of epiphany came. I asked myself if there were any areas of sexual violation that I have committed, any lines crossed, any boundaries not respected. And in that introspection, I found a myriad of unchecked behavior — behavior that in a different set of life circumstances could very well lead to a Weinstein-esque persona.
From there, I applied the same formula I used with Desert Warrior. I took that behavior I revealed and a couple other seemingly unrelated events (my Taekwondo years, and a couple of key conversations with my Dad), put them into the brain mixer, and here we are!
BL: Your director, Steph Martinez, is a Fringe first-timer. What’s her background? RJG: She is a blessing from Heaven. We met at the theater program at Arizona State in 2007. A similar training style — the program primarily utilizes Viewpoints as a tool to train actors and devise new work. We reconnected here in LA and are part of the same acting studio, Studio 24/7. A brilliant actress and artist, she has masterfully shaped the piece and kept me truthful in the work with insightful notes and questions. Most importantly, she has brought a perspective that is crucial to any conversation dealing with improving gender relations.
BL: What message do you hope to deliver with this piece? RJG: Understanding and healing. I believe there are certain unifying male experiences that all men share. I'd like to think that if the show causes one other man to honestly examine his "gray areas," and he comes to recognize those times when he may not have actually had consent. Or he was false with his intentions, and learns from those mistakes and can foster a higher ideal in the future, that would be a powerful message indeed.
BL: How does it feel to be back at the Fringe as a performer? RJG: I love the Fringe, it's my absolute favorite time of the year. You meet so many like-minded artists and make so many new friends. The electricity in the air is palpable — this year especially. All the participants seem extra pumped!
BL: What words of advice would you give to Fringe neophytes? RJG:Dive in headfirst, have fun, hydrate, rest when needed; rinse and repeat.
Sexual Misadventures of a Straight White Male: A Privilege Story plays June 14-
29 at the Complex Hollywood’s Flight Theatre, 6472 Santa Monica Blvd. Specific dates and showtimes, as well as ticketing information, can be found on the Fringe site.
Making his Fringe debut this year is Thomas Wortham, the writer, producer and director of An American Video Store, set in one of the titular establishments that barely exist anymore.
In the midst of beginning a new job and preparing his show for the Fringe, Mr. Wortham still found the time to talk to Better Lemons.
Better Lemons: What was the inspiration behind this piece? Personal experience? Thomas Wortham: I don't know how it works now, but in the ‘90s kids would just hang out at various retail locations, whether it be the mall, an arcade or — in my case — a video store. I got hooked at a young age by my mom's VHS collection and it just never stopped. There was a Blockbuster up the street from my house that I practically grew up in. I also worked at a Hollywood Video Store in college, which was an awesome and terrible experience all at the same time. I always wanted to write some form of this story and the mistake I always made was trying to make the plot about the actual downfall of the video store business. Something in the vein of Empire Records, where it was all about saving the store.
I finally felt I had unlocked the idea when I realized the story had to be about the characters and allow the business aspects to simply act as a foundation for what was happening.
BL: Any parallels with Clerks - which, of course, would be a perfect connection? TW: It is so funny you ask this. OF COURSE Clerks and Kevin Smith are a massive influence on myself and the play. In fact, just two nights ago I attended his Fatman Beyond podcast taping in Hollywood. They do a Q&A at the end and I was able to get up and ask a question wearing a shirt that had my play's logo on it.
Kevin is so generous with folks promoting their stuff, and with his connection to video stores, he immediately asked me about my shirt and insisted I plug all aspects of my play before and after me asking my question. It was incredible. He also had some nice things to say about the Fringe, which was cool.
But in terms of the mechanics of the play, it was crucial that the script had scenes that allowed the characters to wax intellectual about movies. Very similar to how Dante and Randal talk about Star Wars in Clerks, or how Brodie and T.S. talk about Superman in Mallrats. And you know just how shitty jobs really have an impact on how our lives play out, when we are young can, whether we recognize it or not in the moment.
BL: What does (or did) the video store symbolize in American culture? TW: I think that more than anything the video store era just represented a communal experience that sadly is the biggest thing missing when you select something through a streaming service. I'm sure the algorithms that Netflix uses are very sophisticated, but the way an organic conversation with customers and clerks could lead you down such interesting and unexpected paths was something I think is impossible to replicate.
BL: Briefly, what’s the show about? How will it resonate with audiences? TW: Taking place over three pivotal moments in the history of the American video store, our intimate story of clerks and customers examines the rise and fall of a cultural phenomenon that defined a generation. The show is an hour long - with the goal being a funny, emotional and nostalgic trip down memory lane for anyone who has ever enjoyed the experience of going to a video store to pick out a movie.
BL: Can you tell us a bit about the cast? TW: My girlfriend Aidan Rees is our lead and is also a producer. She is an incredibly talented actoress who is a regular at Second City. I'm always blown away by her ability to be such a versatile performer. Going from improv to sketch to everything scripted can be challenging for anyone to execute. We found our second lead, Jeff Coppage, through a self-tape. He has the uncanny ability to add flavor to dialogue that wasn't intended as a joke, and all of a sudden I'm laughing my ass off. So damn unique and funny.
Kristin Morris is a close friend of mine and an extremely accomplished actor. I saw her in West Side Story at Musical Theatre West in Long Beach and I always knew I would love to write a part that would be brought to life by her amazing talents. Antoine Dillard, Misao McGregor and Angelique Maurnaé were all actors that Aidan had worked with before. While I was not familiar with their work, they have all knocked it out of the park and made their characters jump off the page in a way I never could have imagined.
BL: Is this your first Fringe experience? Or have you attended in previous years, either as an audience member or talent? TW:First time Fringer in every capacity. I am so excited and thankful to be exposed to this brand new weird world.
BL: What other shows intrigue you at #hff19? TW:Lots of shows that are also at Stephanie Feury look great. I have had the chance to meet the creators of George. and Treason so I look forward to seeing those. The ladies who are putting on 2 for 1 seem to be cooking up something unique. An Excuse to Behave Badly sounds like a really smart and fun concept. I am intrigued by the ambitious premise of She Kills Monsters. I am sure there are plenty more I would love to see but honestly those are some of the folks who I have met at office hours that caught my eye.
I look forward to a Fringe year when I can be just an attendee and have more time to learn about other shows instead of focusing so much on ours.
BL: Finally, have you made the trek to the last remaining Blockbuster in Bend, Oregon? TW:I have not. I would love to. Fortunately, there are a handful of video stores still operating in the LA area that I have gone to recently to help inspire the show. In particular, Cinefile Video in Santa Monica made me feel at home, so if any of this conversation makes you miss the experience, go check ‘em out and show them some love!
An American Video Store plays June 9-29 at the Stephanie Feury Studio
Theatre, 5636 Melrose Avenue. Specific dates, show times and ticketing
information can be found on the Fringe site.
Making her Fringe debut this year is singer, actor and Los Angeles native Victoria Gordon, who is bringing her cabaret show to the Complex in Hollywood. The piece, entitled Victoria Gordon — Live at the Hollywood Fringe, is a combination of musical performance and comedy.
In anticipation of her upcoming appearance, Ms. Gordon spoke with Better Lemons about her show and her all-around Fringe experience.
Better Lemons: You performed this show before, right? What’s different about this Fringe production? Victoria Gordon: I did perform a version of this show before — in September 2018 at the Broad in Santa Monica. But I knew that wasn’t the finished version. As soon as I got the video of that show back, I started taking notes to figure out what I liked and what I didn’t. And I used that to refresh and expand my repertoire, which also led me to write new monologues. At the end of the day, while some of the songs are the same, almost everything around them is different.
BL: And the music… How were the pieces selected? VG: Everything came to me differently. I love musicals and listen to cast albums all the time, so sometimes, a song just hits me and I think, “I have to sing that!” That’s how the song “Another Round,” from Bright Star, ended up in the show - I was at the Ahmanson, watching the cast perform it, and I just knew I had to do it. Others are old favorites, like “It Might As Well Be Spring,” or characters I’ve dreamed of playing, like Mabel Normand in Mack and Mabel (that’s how I wound up with “Wherever He Ain’t,” one of Mabel’s big moments). And then there are the songs I never imagined singing, but someone else suggested and I quickly realized that they were right. “I Am What I Am” is one I never saw myself performing, but my sister told me I had to give it a try, and now it’s a cornerstone of my act — thanks, Natalie!
BL: How about the band? Did they accompany you in last year’s show? VG: Two out of three, yes! I met my Musical Director-slash-drummer, Sam Webster, through two contacts: my arranger and a studio musician I trust. They both recommended Sam, so I contacted him and we hit it off right away. He brought in both my bass player, Chelsea Stevens, and pianist, Adam Bravo. Adam is new for this show. He wasn’t available in the fall, but I’m a huge fan already!
BL: Is this your first time at the Fringe? How are you enjoying the experience? VG:This is my first Fringe as a participant. I had no idea what to expect going in, but I’m really thrilled to be part of it! I’ve met so many incredible people and learned so much about theater and performance. This is such a great and inclusive community.
BL: What makes “Live” a good fit for the Fringe? What can audiences expect? VG: My show is a throwback. I’ve been describing it lately as an “old-school nightclub act,” back in the day when lounge singers were off-duty Broadway performers. It’s not something that many people my age do anymore, but it’s the only music I’ve ever wanted to sing, and I think Fringe audiences are used to less-than-expected offerings.
Audiences can expect to laugh a lot — usually with me, but sometimes at me—and to hear showtunes they know and love (or maybe a few they don’t know yet!). It’s also just a fun show. I modeled it after Bernadette Peters and Jane Krakowski’s shows, and what I love about them is that they’re just enjoyable shows, filled with entertaining stories and great songs. Nothing too dramatic or depressing; it’s a lighthearted but still touching show.
BL: Tell us a bit about your background. VG: I grew up in Los Angeles, as did both of my parents, so all of my grandparents were very active in my childhood. My mom’s family was all musical; my dad’s family worked in TV comedy. Both sides were very accomplished, so I got to see what it really takes to be successful in music or entertainment. I grew up playing the violin, but later switched to singing, and haven’t looked back since! I always wanted to be an actress and singer, and got into writing in my teens. I started producing comedic film and TV projects for Amazon while still in college, and post-college, that became my full-time job. But when the opportunity to stage a solo cabaret came up, I jumped at the chance, and Victoria Gordon Live was born. It’s been a great way to put everything I know — performance, production, and live events — into practice at once.
BL: Since the Fringe is a collaboration, what other shows intrigue you? VG: So many! I have a folder filled with sixty-ish Fringe flyers and they all sound like great shows. I am especially excited for Bunny the Elf, because Christi Pedigo has brought so much sunshine to Fringe this year; Leaving Prince Charming, because Lara Repko’s story is so personal and moving; and Batter Up! My Brain on Baseball, because the idea of a baseball trivia show is just so Fringe.
Victoria Gordon — Live at the Hollywood Fringe plays June 6 (preview) through June 27 at the Complex Hollywood’s OMR Theatre, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd. Information and ticketing can be obtained on the Fringe site.
After taking 2018 off, the award-winning improv musical comedy troupe Robot Teammate is making a welcome return to this year’s Fringe with Pockets, a brand-new production.
Kat Primeau, Robot Teammate member and producer, co-writer, choreographer and co-star of Pockets, was happy to speak with Better Lemons about the troupe’s Fringe comeback and the new show.
Better Lemons: Tell us a bit about the genesis of Pockets. Kat Primeau: Robot Teammate completed our "T-Trilogy" of musicals (Timeheart, Thug Tunnel and Turbulence!) with an off-Broadway run at SoHo Playhouse in 2017. After that, we had been joking about doing a "P-Trilogy," with Perm, a parody in the realm of Hair, when Dave [Reynolds] pitched a story about "Pockets, a young female thief." We thought it could be a perfect vehicle for Molly [Dworsky] to star in, and our story grew from there. We actually wrote songs and a script for the first version of Pockets that got completely thrown out, but we love the story now and hope it will be our funniest, most touching tale yet!
BL: What about the music? Was it a collaborative effort? KP: Everything about a Robot Teammate musical is collaborative, and each song has a different origin story. Our musical director and teammate, Branson NeJame, has crafted a beautiful theme for the kingdom of Crumpeton and shaped every improvised and demo'd idea with loving attention. Some songs were lyric-driven, whereas others were inspired by a melody. Others are hammered out through many rounds and rewrites and deliberate arrangement. It's quite different than what we are used to as musical improvisers, so we always relish the songwriting process.
BL: Since it’s a period piece, what style — or styles — is the music? And how were the sets and costuming created? KP: Aside from a bardic tone, the music is modern. Branson has been inspired by ELO to create a fusion of pop, rock, disco and classical music, with a little tango and reggae thrown in. Our production elements are limited to due to the nature of 15-minute Fringe load-ins, and our costumes are a mishmash of borrowed period pieces and modern basics. The book and lyrics go a long way in filling out our world, so we are able to leave room for the imagination.
BL: Who’s playing whom? KP: Pockets stars Molly Dworsky as Bellamina Crumbledunk, the precocious thirteen-year-old daughter of The Duchess of Crumpeton, Winifred Dolores Crumbledunk, played by me. When Bellamina rebels against her mother, she enters society's underbelly and befriends the mischievous crook, Veegan (Chris Bramante). Dave Reynolds rounds out our main cast as Town Crier — Rob Crier, The Clutch to the Duch — Barkly St. Piggins, and the revolutionary Jim Val Jim. We also have an ensemble cast of friends joining us again this year.
BL: What can audiences expect when they attend the show? What makes Pockets a good fit for the Hollywood Fringe? KP: We are lucky to have an incredible live band led by Branson NeJame on keys, Harrison Lee on cello, trombone, and guitar, Chris Sousa on bass, and Sam Kirsch on drums, so expect the music to be completely original and totally rockin'! The British-ish world we've built together is charming and wacky and fast-paced, so audiences may experience deep belly laughs and perhaps even a bit of "The Feelz."
We have a dynamic female protagonist and a fresh take on the mother-daughter story, so we hope to present a thoroughly modern piece of musical theater that delights and truly does us justice as writers and content creators. We have poured our hearts and lives into this musical, and we believe there's something for everyone — woman or man, young or old — to fall in love with.
Molly Dworsky, Kat Primeau, Dave Reynolds, Branson NeJame and Chris Bramante are Robot Teammate in POCKETS - photo by Dave Newberg
BL: It’s been a couple of years since Turbulence!. What has Robot Teammate been up to? KP: Robot Teammate spent 2017 working on Turbulence!, taking home awards for Best Musical, Best World Premiere, A Little New Music’s Outstanding Songwriting and Better Lemon’s Critics' Choice at Hollywood Fringe before traveling to NYC to do an Off-Broadway run at the historic SoHo Playhouse. It was an exhilarating and exhausting endeavor, and finding a way to follow up our success hasn't been easy. We've kept up our improvised musical performances at venues like Westside Comedy and Impro Studio Theatre, and recorded some podcast material we may or may not release.
Personally, I lost my dad to a bewildering form of early-onset dementia known as Frontotemporal Degeneration, wrote a children's book for my niece, and recorded an album with my band, Sumeau. We've had all manner of life experiences pop up since then, and two of our teammates left our collective to focus on their solo projects, so we really just took the time to regroup and refine the kind of stories we want to spend time scripting and bringing into the world. Each musical is an intensive, collaborative labor of love, so we didn't want to rush things.
BL: What keeps you coming back to the Fringe? KP: Fringe is an incredible breeding ground for creativity, and the energy around new works is unparalleled in LA. Since 2015, we've devoted our Junes to this community, and the payoff has been incredible. We love the artists we meet, the connections we make, the fun we have, the shows we see, and the feedback we receive. It is such a stark contrast from any improv festival we've been a part of, and there's truly nothing like the deadline of Opening Night to really light a fire under our butts and make an idea come to fruition.
BL: What other shows are you interested in seeing at the Fringe? KP: I am so stoked to see Four Clowns returning to HFF with a new show, Shakedown at the Dusty Spur!! There are several new shows promising badass women from medieval times, so we will definitely be checking those out. The Duchess & The Stripper, 45 Milligrams, Earth To Karen, Hamiltunes, and Tabletop Musical are all on my must-see list this year.
Pockets plays June 15-29 at The Broadwater, 1076 Lillian Way. Ticketing
information and specific dates and showtimes can be obtained on the Fringe site.
Another piece making its world premiere at the Fringe is Son of a Bitch, the story of the controversial political strategist Lee Atwater. It was written by Lucy Gillespie, playwright of last year’s Keeping Up with the Prozorovs, and directed by Billy Ray Brewton, who helmed last year’s A Beast/A Burden at the Fringe.
Ms. Gillespie took some time from her busy Fringe schedule to talk to Better Lemons about the new show.
Better Lemons: What was the inspiration for Son of a Bitch? Lucy Gillespie: Lee Atwater is an awesome character. I wanted to work with Billy Ray Brewton, and this was right up his alley. Also, it's a fun writing challenge to condense all that history/spin into plot.
BL: As a native Brit, what did you find intriguing about the story of Atwater, one of the most polarizing political figures of our time? Why tell his story now? LG: Though I grew up in the UK, my mother is from Chicago, and she raised us to self-identify as American. This was confusing and alienating for me as a teenager living in London in the early 2000's, where the last thing you wanted to be was American.
When 9/11 happened, my friends all cut school to protest "Americanization.” They burned effigies of President Bush in the streets. I was often called upon to explain or apologize for the atrocities of my people. Looking back, I think that's a big part of what led me to leave the UK at 18. I felt unwanted, like I had to pick a side.
I first learned about Lee Atwater in 2008, when I was living in Chicago after college. Between the devastation of the financial crisis and the upswell of hope from the Obama campaign, the air was very charged. I saw a documentary about Lee, became obsessed, and read every book I could find. I think I felt like that was whom I needed to channel and become in order to survive in America. I wrote a play about him, The Atwater Campaign, which went on to become an O'Neill Finalist, effectively starting my career as a playwright.
Politics is a perennial topic — and especially now. A lot of folks are asking how we got here. The answer is, largely, Lee Atwater.
But he was a much more complex, charismatic, compelling human than the demonized bogeyman/genius the liberal and right wing media make him out to be.
BL: How do you hope audiences will react to the piece — on both sides ofthe political spectrum? LG: It's interesting because you assume — or I did — that a bunch of theater people in LA will all be ultra-liberal, preaching to the choir. Between the cast and crew, we actually represent a wide political spectrum. So much so that we had to put the kibosh on talking politics after some workshop readings got heated...
Our intention is to show Lee Atwater as a man, and how his personality catalyzed a dramatic shift within the Republican party, and subsequently American politics. We have no interest in theater that's dogmatic or preachy. We want everyone, regardless of political stripe, to laugh, lean in and learn.
Left to right: Billy Ray Brewton (director), Corsica Wilson (Gladys), Chloe Dworkin (Cass), Lucy Gillespie (Playwright)
BL: Tell us a bit about your collaboration with the director, another Fringe veteran, Billy Ray Brewton. How did you work together on the piece? LG: I saw Billy Ray's A Beast/A Burden last year, thought it was hysterical and brilliant, and knew I wanted to work with him. Though The Atwater Campaign was an O'Neill Finalist, it had never been produced, so I'd been sort of roaming the earth looking for a home for it ever since. In August 2018, I sent that script to Billy Ray — a Southern boy like Lee — and he signed on immediately. We chatted about story/character/cast/production throughout the year, and then I rewrote the entire script for him before rehearsals started.
It's been an equally scary and thrilling ride. There were definitely moments in April where I wanted to cut and run, never to be heard from again. In theory, I love to devise and workshop; in practice you need a foundation of trust to give in to the process. My baseline is neurotic, and Billy Ray is so chill. It took me a minute to realize that's because he trusts me, and he's not worried. That helped me relax and go with the flow.
Now we're rehearsing, and I'm in awe of him and the actors. He has such a quick, brilliant mind for orchestration. It's a master class watching him zoom in to the tiny details, then zoom out to the big picture. I'm super excited to share this with the world.
Ben Hethcoat (Lee Atwater), and Luke Forbes (George "W" Bush)
BL: Is there humor in this show? LG: For sure. I'd describe the tone as political satire.
BL: Tell us about the performers and how they came to be cast in their roles. LG: The cast is a mixture of Prozorovs and Burdens. Ben Hethcoat, who played Chris Burden last year, is reviving his 70s hairstyle for Lee Atwater. Corsica Wilson, playing Gladys, is also a Burden alum. On the Prozorovs side, we have Chloe Dworkin — who you may recall as the pregnant, constipated Olga - playing Cass. Luke Forbes, who played the Kanye-esque Demetrion, is now a young George W Bush.
Rounding out the cast are David McElwee (writer/director of Rory and the Devil, also in Fringe), who is bffs with Ben from college, and Dennis Gersten, who saved all of our asses by signing on at the last minute as George H W Bush.
BL: What makes Son of a Bitch a good fit for the Hollywood Fringe? LG: It's bold and funny, fast-paced and hard-hitting. We work hard, but we don't take ourselves too seriously.
BL: What brings you back to the Fringe again this year? LG: Last year was so much fun. Between the show rehearsals, our tight and loving Chekhovian-Kardashian cast family, the wider network of Fringers, and all the great theater we saw, it was just a blast. I spend the rest of the year writing screenplays and pitches, which is lonely and somewhat more creatively constricting, so I've been counting down the days. No joke, I hit up Billy Ray about this project in August.
INTERNAL’s writer/director, Erik Blair, was kind enough to give Better Lemons a sneak preview of this intriguing new production and how it fits in with the Fringe.
Better Lemons: Tell us a bit about the genesis of Internal. Erik Blair: One of the ongoing ideas behind They Played Productions is to examine horror stories from new and different angles. That's what made us launch as a company with a werewolf rock musical and do a multi-chapter modern immersive version of Frankenstein over a 15-month period.
We continue to be really interested in looking at how horror stories are told and seeing how we can transform them in a modern setting or through a new lens.
Internal came from the idea that zombie stories are always about the shambling (or rushing) horde swarming around a group of people. We wanted to find a new way to tell the story — for one person, using specific technological ideas, and on the streets of Hollywood. We couldn't be more excited about how it's coming out!
BL: Briefly, what’s the show about? EB:The show is about a growing viral zombie threat that is happening in real- time. It's a show built for one audience at a time as they traverse the streets around Vine and Santa Monica. As audience members walk, they will experience a story that is happening directly to them.
The goal is to find a way to terrify audiences by weaving a personal story in the midst of the busy Friday nights of Hollywood.
BL: What are the immersive aspects? EB: This is one of the most exciting aspects of the show for us. We're going to try to immerse audiences directly into a story that is tailored to each audience member — while they are walking around outside.
We're going to use technology to place the audience member directly in the role of someone living through the early stages of a zombie apocalypse while still letting them experience the street they are walking on at the same time. We're going to add actors to the experience who are completely relevant to the story — and yet if others walk by, they wouldn't even look twice. It's a combination of clever storytelling and using the street itself as part of the story.
BL: What can audiences expect when they attend the show? EB: They can expect to have a full story with a beginning, middle and absolutely terrifying end. They will find that the show places them directly where they are in real-space, even as the story they are experiencing is something mysterious, terrible and dark. This is not a kids story in any way — it's very much a horror tale.
BL: What makes Internal a good fit for the Hollywood Fringe? EB: The Hollywood Fringe Festival is about trying things out that can't be done easily elsewhere. This is a true experiment for us as we try to find a simple but compelling way to flip the zombie story around. It might be too much for audiences — or too little.
And that's what makes it so interesting to us as a concept and also makes it a perfect fit for the festival. Hollywood Fringe has always embraced productions that expand how people think about theatrical experiences, and we fit that idea of expansion perfectly this year.
BL: Is anyone in the show that people will recognize from past Fringes? EB: We're excited to have two new actors for this year, as well as one veteran, Adam Briggs, who is very excited to be back once again.
BL: How many Fringes have you participated in? EB: I've been a participant in Fringe since 2016 as an actor/stage manager and They Played Productions has had a production that we have written, directed and produced since 2017. So this is HFF number four for us.
BL: What keeps you coming back? EB:The sheer creativity of the festival is a tremendous draw for us. Last year, They Played Productions even launched our own sponsored award because we love the vast and unique takes on stories, theater and performance that we see every year. Even if we had a year that we didn't bring a production, I'd still be running around the festival and seeing everything I can manage to get to during the month. We just love HFF all around.
BL: What other shows are you interested in seeing at the Fringe? EB:Everything immersive (as that's our focus these days). But a more accurate question would be what I'm not interested in — and the answer is very, very little.
I long ago learned that my favorite shows every year are those that I go see spontaneously and randomly. These days, I simply select the shows that I can up front, watch those shows that request to be considered for our awards....and then I just choose things that sound interesting at the moment.
Really, there's no wrong thing to go see in a festival full of such incredible talent and passion.
Internal will be performed on Friday nights from June 7 to 28 at the Hollywood Fringe. Audiences begin their experience at the corner of Santa Monica and Vine. traveling north to Sunset and back south to Vine. This performance requires audience members to be able to traverse that distance at a walking pace.
Ticketing and further information can be found on the Fringe site.