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!
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.
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.
Rising star Joana Knezevic is pounding the pavement in the City of Angels, forging a path for herself as an actor in theatre, television and film. When we last checked in with Joana, she had just graduated from Cal Arts' MFA Acting Program. Let's see what she's gotten herself into since then.
Roger Q. Mason (RQM): Since we last spoke, you were working on your first
theatre production in Los Angeles. What was it like making theatre in Los
Angeles for the first time?
Joana Knezevic (JK): My first role after the graduation was in Ibsen's ‘Ghosts'.
Technically we started rehearsing just one month before my graduation and that show
was kind of my bridge to the real world in LA. I was lucky to present my work in front of the Hollywood Fringe audience and received good feedback.
Making theater in Los Angeles is quite different then in Europe. It seems to me that in LA everything is faster. A lot of work you have to do on your own, before and after the rehearsals. It is very exciting because it always keeps you in shape and you have to make quick and smart acting choices. That said it is important to nourish your instincts and listen to your inner voices. That requires constant work physically and mentally. I'm in love with the LA artist community. They are very supportive and they really want to help you and navigate you into the right direction. I feel I am growing here as an actress and that's the most important thing for me right now.
RQM: Have you done any plays since then? What were those experiences like?
JK: Last November artist Edgar Arceneaux and Hauser & Wirth gallery invited me to be part of the project called ‘In response: Zoe Leonard's I want A President'. Edgar directed my solo show that we called ‘Rasputin for president', where I played a Russian monk Gregory Rasputin who came to the States to be a new president. I was fully in drag and we talked about gender issues, what does that mean being a female foreigner in the States, and problems about immigration. That day I had a chance to perform and show my work with fantastic and notable artists in LA. Some of them are Lita Albuquerque, Neo Bustamante, Patric Stuff performance Artist and co funder of Black Lives Matter, Edgar Heap of Birds, Patrisse Cullors… That day was very special because we share our deepest thoughts, concerns and feelings about our society and it was cathartic. I'm thankful to Russel Salmon from Hauser & Wirth who was there all the time helping and supporting us.
RQM: I did a little Instagram spying. You have done some film work. Tell me about some of your recent film roles.
JK: Yes, I did some short films, one music video and TV. The short film ‘One of Many' directed by Mikel Dever was part of his final exam at UCLA. It was nice experience because it reminds me how little you need to tell the story. The budget was not high and the time for filming was limited. So, again in a short period of time you have to create your character, tell the story and allow yourself to trust a young director. Working on the music video for the Danish band called ‘Idimish' was quite different. Director Inka Rusi had time to prepare the locations, story and the script. She really knows what she wants and how to direct actors. The last work that I did for TV is a short episode in the new TV show ‘In Ice Cold Blood' for Oxygen TV. Big production and huge team. It was a pleasure working on those projects.
RQM: What differences did you notice between film and theatre acting? How did you change or alter your artistic process?
JK: In terms of acting no matter which medium you use you are oblige to tell the truth.
Through the lens of camera everything looks bigger. I am a very expressive actress and that means I have to be more focused on the details of the movements, and follow the rule ‘less is more'. (laugh) Film forces you to be very intimate with the camera when everything else around you is quite the opposite. You must stay grounded and focused in the world of your character no matter what's happening on set. You can make mistakes on camera and try another take but theater will never allow you to do the same scene twice in front of the audience. That's one of the reasons why my heart belongs to theater. The stakes are higher with the live audience.
RQM: What is your current project?
JK: Currently I am working on a new show directed by Edgar Arceneaux called ‘Boney Manilly'. In this production I get to portray two men: Frank and Rasputin. I enjoy a lot in this process because this is my first time playing men in the disco world.
We have three more weeks of rehearsals before our tour to Nigeria to present a preview of this project as part of the Lagos Theater Festival in March. This is such a great opportunity to meet artists from all around the world and potentially collaborate with them. Our Los Angeles premiere is coming soon, so stay tuned!
In May I will be traveling to New York where I will be doing a workshop for the show ‘Medea' directed by Michael Alvarez and written by Peter Gray. Michael and I know each other very well from CalArts and this will be our first professional project together. I trust him fully and I can't wait to start.
Also, NY based choreographer and dancer Sophie Bortolussi is directing her new show
and I'm very lucky that she cast me to be part of her magic. It's very early in the process so that's all I can say for now.
I love going to The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. On a recent visit there, I happened upon a postcard for a new show called S.O.S. Looking at it closer, I learned that the Wallis had recently formed an acting troupe. Looking at it even further, I saw it was a new devised show being presented in conjunction with Circle X. This took me forward and back. Forward to some devising projects that I am working on this spring and backward to the nascence of Atwater Village Theatre, when Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA and Circle X were sharing what was a renovated either toy or pillow factory in a part of town that was quickly becoming a new hub for creative thought and millennial lifestyle romping. That was about 10 years ago.
The task at hand: to find out what are S.O.S. and the Wallis Studio Ensemble. To help me on this quest, I got in contact with director Madeleine Dahm. Here's what I learned from her.
Roger Q. Mason (RQM): To my knowledge, Wallis Studio Ensemble is a fairly new company here in Los Angeles. Tell me a little about the history of the group?
Madeleine Dahm (MD): In the 2016 I approached The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts about the idea of a company for early-career actors, that represented the diversity of actors here in LA and explored theatre as a force for social change - they liked the idea and so Grow at the Wallis joined with me in launching the ensemble. Since its inception two-and-a-half years ago, The Ensemble has steadily acquired a reputation for creating socially conscious, cutting-edge theatre, with a strong physical component. The Ensemble has mounted four full-length productions at The Wallis and performed at two international performing arts festivals.
2018 saw the mounting of Douglas Adams environmental satire The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (LA Times ‘Pick of the Week') and Disposable - an original devised work that examined the intersection between environmental destruction and human displacement, also seen at The San Diego International Fringe Festival in June 2018. It was hailed as “hauntingly beautiful” (San Diego Tribune) and "mesmerizing....this is avant-garde theater that sticks with you long after the curtain comes down.” (ArtNow LA).
In 2016/17 The Ensemble premiered at The Wallis Thebes, a contemporary feminist adaptation of the Greek classic by British playwright Gareth Jandrell, and its first original devised play Word of Mouth, an examination of Post-Truth and a response to the 2016 election rhetoric. Word of Mouth was not only featured on National Public Radio by Priska Neely, but was also seen at Rise Up LA and at The Crisis Art Festival in Tuscany, Italy, where The Ensemble spent a week in residence in July 2017.
S.O.S. cast member Siera Williams, a member of The Wallis Studio Ensemble - photo by Jo Rodriguez
RQM: Your current show is being presented in conjunction with Circle X. How did you link up with the company? MD: This is not a partnership with Circle X, we are renting their theatre for this particular run. We really wanted to get outside of The Wallis space this year and into the 99 seat theater community, and we are very excited that Atwater Village Theater and Circle X were able to assist us with that.
RQM: What was the inspiration for S.O.S.? MD: As we discuss topics and themes for our yearly devised work, we are always drawn to contemporary issues that directly impact our company members and their communities. The one thing that we found ourselves coming back to as we began this process three months ago, was the general sense of alienation and isolation felt by many people right now. With so much focus today being on attaining financial wealth it's interesting that a country's GDP is not related to the overall happiness felt by all its citizens, in fact it seems to be the opposite. Recent studies by the World Health Organization and United Nations have revealed that feelings of loneliness and alienation are reaching global epidemic proportions, and that this general sense of feeling disconnected is reaching many communities worldwide. So much so that now many countries have actually appointed ministers for loneliness in their governments, the UK being the most recent. There is no easy answer or fix to this problem but we wanted to explore how small acts of kindness, and authentic expressions of love can help us reach across the divide, and remember more thoughtful ways to interact with each other.
S.O.S. cast member, Viva Kanani Obiajulu Wittman, a member of The Wallis Studio Ensemble - photo by Jo Rodriguez
RQM: This piece is devised. What was your devising process for this show? I'm curious to learn more about the dynamic between you and the ensemble members specifically. MD: The devising process usually begins by brainstorming topics and themes that are of interest to the company - as we begin to narrow down themes that we would like to explore, each member brings in support materials that can include text, photographs, music, newspaper articles, videos, all kinds of references. There is a lot of discussion in the early stages but, once we have landed on a specific focus for the work, we primarily begin developing the piece through improvisation. The devising process is very long and much of the material that is originated in the studio actually ends up on the “cutting-room floor.” As we hone in on the arc of the piece, many wonderful moments that we have created simply no longer have a place in the work and so we have to let them go. As the Director of a devised work it is my job to be the keeper of the initial vision and to bring all of the elements together in a cohesive way. It's like shooting a movie out of sequence, sometimes you're working on a section that will end up being at the end, but you're working on it first. Devising can be challenging for actors because there isn't an obvious through line that you would have with an existing play, and so there is a lot of trust that has to develop between director and actor, and actor and actor. It requires actors who are willing to jump off at the deep end, and have faith that we will get to where we need to by the end of the process.
RQM: What's next for Wallis Studio Ensemble? MD: We hope to bring S.O.S to the Hollywood Fringe Festival this year. Then we have our second production of the season, which will be at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts June 6th through 9th, that will not be a devised piece but rather an existing play, on which we have yet to decide.
Featured photo: Cast of S.O.S. - photo by Jo Rodriguez
Local screenwriter and playwright, Steven Vlasak, premiered his Encore Award-winning play "Nights at the Algonquin Round Table" at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2017.
The play opened at the Three Clubs bar and cabaret in Hollywood, a theatre perfect and appropriate in its speakeasy-themed cabaret and bar space, which earned it a "Double Sweet" LemonMeter rating on Better Lemons.
Since then, the show has been picked up by the Studio Player's producers in Lexington, Kentucky, where the show is due to open soon in January next year.
In this interview, at Oeno Vino Wines, Vlasak talks on writing, prohibition, the Roaring Twenties, women's liberation and early sexual revolution, as well as on his very favorite subject–Dorothy Parker and the famous journalists and notorious "wise-cracking" writers of her "vicious circle," Robert Benchley,Franklin Pierce Adams, Alexander Woollcott, and George S. Kaufman, and their luncheons at New York's legendary Algonquin Hotel.
For more information on Steven Vlasak and "Nights at the Algonquin Round Table", its history and its future, visit Algonquinwits on Facebook.
"Nights at the Algonquin Round Table" by Steven Vlasak opens in Lexington, Kentucky, at The Carriage House, January 10, 2019, and plays January 13-27, 2019. The Carriage House Theatre is located at 154 W. Bell Ct. and tickets for these shows are available through their ticketing agency.
The 11:11 experience is what happens when you tap into a creative flow, something beyond conscious thought, serendipity you might call it, that exact moment when everything comes together. For the theater and film production company called the 11:11 Experience, who are led by writer-director Micheal Leoni, it also means connection.
They have created a space - called simply the 11:11 - where they want to bring unlike-minded people together, challenging audiences with socially conscious work aimed to provoke awareness.
The 11:11 is located on Kings Road in West Hollywood and was last known as the Macha Theater. The aluminum warehouse exterior remains basically the same, but the interior is all new. It is intended to be a venue for all of the arts – hosting dance performances, film screenings, pop-up art pieces as well as theater like Famous, an original play by Leoni.
In a very fractured and diverse Los Angeles, they want the 11:11 to be something beyond a rental space or a home for a rep company. "We want artists to feel comfortable here, and create a community or hang out where people can be inspired, and develop new ideas," says Leoni.
Elevator, the play
11:11 didn't anticipate taking over the Macha. Their show Elevator – about seven strangers trapped in an elevator who confront their preconceptions and differences – ran at the Macha in 2010 after premiering during the first Hollywood Fringe Festival. 11:11 loved the Macha, and Famous was set to open there earlier this year. They planned to partner with the operator of the Macha theater and be something of a company in rep. She left the partnership rather abruptly, however, no longer wanting to deal with managing the space. An opportunity suddenly presented itself when the landlord offered the theater to 11:11.
"We came in planning to open a show, and suddenly we're renovating a space and opening a show on the same timeline," says Michelle Kaufer, a producer with the company who handles the logistics of running the 11:11 space. They just wanted to be creative, but all of a sudden, as Kaufer says, they also became general contractors – and may have wondered how that ever happened. But they decided to embrace the moment, and dove headfirst into it, learning along the way.
The 11:11 opened about five months ago. They hosted an opening night with bands, dancers and magicians, an event which briefly drew the ire of neighbors who thought the 11:11 was going to be a club. "After that," says Kaufer, "we introduced ourselves to the neighborhood and as soon as they realized that we were going to be a theater, and not a night club, they became much more supportive."
The 11:11 cafe/lobby is done up in what they call a retro-Laurel Canyon vibe, it's walls covered with film posters and album covers they found at thrift shops. The interior has a far more luxurious feel than that of it's predecessor, which had seen better days (originally opening in 1973 as The Globe Playhouse, a warehouse theater modeled on the Shakespearian-era Globe Theatre in London--you can still see the Tudor style windows and framework peeking through the remodeling.) Even more impressive is the technical firepower on the stage, featuring state of the art sound and theatrical lighting.
The Playground, the play
The five core members of the 11:11 Experience have worked together since The Playground, another original play by Leoni inspired by the true stories of homeless kids. Together they found a collective passion. They seldom if ever work outside the company, and juggling multiple projects is a habit for them. It's a little bit of magic and a little bit of crazy as Producer Michelle Kaufer says – a unique energy that has attracted people who mesh well within the group.
Erica Katzin, Creative Development Executive, says meeting the 11:11 Experience was very inspiring – they were doing, she says, meaningful work that was stylistic, edgy and different. She works closely with Leoni, researching and acting as a sounding board for his scripts. "I'd rather continue with this than keep farming out and finding out about whatever stupid meaningless stuff, which is great and it's still work, but why would I stop doing something that I find so meaningful and engaging and so connective through the company, but also from the people you meet?" she says.
Leoni writes and directs all of their material. He is certainly busy – writing another play about hazing called Frat Boy, as well as finishing a treatment for a musical. He's also written two feature film scripts, completed the show bible and first episode of a television show--and "he'll probably go home and paint his room a different color," says Christine Dickson, who runs the lobby's cafe/bar and created the look of the new space with Leoni. All of this work seems animated not only by a desire to do socially conscious work, but to resist overthinking and hesitation (Leoni also wrote Dare to be Bad, a pocket book about creative freedom similar to Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon.)
Famous is my first exposure to their work. It is about a taboo topic – the sexual exploitation of young actors by older, more powerful men in Hollywood (although the play also portrays sexual assault inflicted on an underage actress.) Leoni at one point dropped the project because friends warned him that it could get him blacklisted. It takes place in 1994 during a party thrown by an actor named Jason Mast (Christopher Dietrick), who has just been nominated for an Oscar.
The play was originally conceived as a screenplay, and that's easy to see in the construction of the scenes and the way we jump from character to character and room to room. The action is played simultaneously on a video screen that Mast watches as the characters slowly spiral toward a dark conclusion that leaves no one unharmed.
Famous is about the abuse of power in Hollywood, but as the play progresses, it delves into themes that everyone--and not just industry insiders-- can understand. Katzin believes Famous is "...ultimately about dealing with your past, dealing with yourself and with whatever those boundaries to gain success you must cross that are sometimes questionable."
We see plenty of disturbing scenes during the play, but it's never gratuitous. The full technical prowess of the 11:11 is on display here – strobe lights to simulate slow motion, actors moving backwards as though stepping back in time, brilliant lighting design, the stunning multi-level set that looks like a cutaway of a Hollywood Hills home - although this abundance of technique sometimes overwhelms the material, muting the play's emotional impact.
The piece, however, cannot be faulted for a lack of ambition, and audiences have reacted strongly to its depiction of abuse. Leoni said they have seen people walk out before intermission, not necessarily because they disliked the show, but because the material reminded them of their own experiences, things they hadn't talked about with anyone.
"When we were putting it up, we didn't realize how it was going to affect audiences." says Leoni. "We had people leaving during intermission, sometimes four or five a night, and we thought the show might not be working." But Leoni found that many of those early exits came back. "What's beautiful is what they tell us." he says. "I've had people come up to me and say, 'I'm back, I left during intermission, because I was triggered and needed to process, and now I've come right back to see it.'"
The tagline for the play is "before we knew," but we have not come so far from 1994 as we might like to think, the revelations of the #metoo movement notwithstanding. "An actor came up to me, and he said the same thing that happened to this character happened to him, so it is still happening," says Leoni. He was shocked when a director he met at a recent party told him, "C'mon what director hasn't taken out their dick and made an actor jerk them off, c'mon?" Leoni was most struck by how cavalierly he said it, like it was just routine business, and not a big deal at all.
Famous also has triggered something of a reckoning for anyone in the industry who saw such abuse and did nothing to stop it. "People have come to the show, whether they are producers or people that we talk to afterward, and we can feel the guilt that they have. We've even had male directors and producers approach us and say I'm part of the problem, I didn't molest people, but I put them into that situation, and they're starting to say I've got to change," says Leoni.
The long overdue conversation about the abuse of women has only begun, but in the case of male victims, there has been little discussion yet, only the same unsubstantiated rumors about certain actors and producers that have been circulating for years. There has not yet been that one floodgate moment when someone speaks up, enabling countless others to step forward (the Kevin Spacey revelations may have brought some of this problem to light, but hardly all of it.) Famous wants to jumpstart that conversation.
Ideally Leoni would like to see actors and others who have experienced this type of abuse step forward and talk about their experiences – a chance not only for them to get this story out of their system, but perhaps change the industry before the same thing happens to someone else.
Leoni believes male victims have been afraid to speak out because of the male ego, and the way men are taught to handle themselves. Men are supposed to be strong, and if they were attacked it is seen as an indication of their own weakness – not entirely dissimilar from when women are ridiculously blamed for being raped. The cast worked intensely on this idea of male ego and the shame that comes with acknowledging you have been sexually assaulted. No one wants to say anything--and as Kaufer points out, this is the ultimate abuse of power - knowing that you can do whatever you want because your victim will not say anything.
Dickson cried when she first saw Famous during previews. It struck her in a way she wasn't expecting (she sounds like she is only half-joking when she says it is the most she cried since Trump's election.) She felt it tapped into the collective unconscious of the victims. "I was sobbing in a way where I don't even know where it came from, but I think as a women too you've been in so many situations where you've had to decide – when you've been stuck in a predatory situation – how to handle it," she says.
"I feel like there's been a process over the past decades of how the police and how you deal with a woman who has been sexually assaulted, but there's really been no talk about how you deal with a man whose been sexually assaulted," says Dickson.
A male victim might be younger and stronger than their attacker, and more than capable of defeating them in a fight, but this shame and psychological intimidation stops them from resisting, or even talking about what happened--because their assailant has fame and power on their side. This is what power, and desire for fame, can do. The repercussions of stopping the attack scared them into inaction.
You may find yourself asking how one play in a small theater is going to make much of a difference. Maybe it won't change a thing, but the collaborative nature of the work, and the process of developing a story, is at least as important as any impact it might have. And if your work reaches even one person, maybe has them reconsider their point of view or feel empathy for another human being, then hasn't it been worth all the long hours needed to bring that work to life?
"I think art has the capacity to change the world, I really do," says Kaufer. "You can't change the world in one fell swoop, it's one morsel at a time, one person at a time. It's the same thing: change is progressive." She is fueled by having a theater or film experience where you feel an impact, and can have an intense discussion about it afterward. "It's ultimately about facilitating the vision and connecting people to it because there's something fulfilling for me when someone walks out of a show and they're crying or they're laughing or they're hugging each other," she says.
That's why there is a joy to be found within the company--not always, as Katzin says, evident on the surface because catharsis isn't joyful. "There's an enjoyment that comes from all the work we do, from being on set encouraging collaboration--there is a joy in the process," she says.
"The bigger message of the show – yes, it's about abuse and sexual harassment and your inner child and fighting your demons, but I think what it's really about...is being an artist," says Leoni, his words echoing the monologue that ends Famous. "We're all here to create, and no matter what you do, you're an artist." The 11:11 Experience has found something they believe in – their why as Leoni puts it, and he believes when you find a calling you have to follow it. Within their work and the space they have created, the 11:11 Experience asks at least one important question--What do you want to do? Once you have answered that question, jump in without a second thought and commit everything you have to making it happen.
Want to produce a show at the Hollywood Fringe Festival (HFF) and don't know how?
Excited about the thought of doing a show at HFF , but have concerns and questions?
Get the answers to your questions and an overview of the Hollywood Fringe in this 3 hour introduction workshop, taught by Matthew Quinn, a 20+ year veteran producer/ and 9 year HFF experienced Venue Manager.
“How to Produce a Hollywood Fringe Show”
The workshop will walk you through the step by step process of creating a project, finding a venue, creating a budget, publicity and production as well as money saving tips and the best way to utilize all the HFF has to offer.. This workshop is valuable for any independent theatre producer. In addition, each participant will get an E-File including an adjustable budget and timeline.
Cost - $40
Sign up at http://hff18.org/4267
Photo by Monique A. LeBleu - Director Jessica Lynn Johnson of Soaring Solo, at the Hollywood Fringe Festival Prom Night 2016, Hollywood, California.
I interviewed Director Jessica Lynn Johnson, teacher of Soaring Solo, a how-to series of workshops and individual instruction on creating solo theatrical projects and bringing them to fruition. Jessica is often a one-woman cheering squad for her students, creating unique costumes out of their promotional bar cards and items for Fringe Festival parties.
I first met Johnson at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2016, dressed head to toe in a costume crafted entirely from her students' and other producers' show cards. This creative endeavor she makes special each year for the annually anticipated social event, "Prom Night."
After seeing some of her students' shows at the festival and at the Whitefire Annual Solofest, I caught her in action at a recent Saturday morning workshop with LAFPI: The Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative at Whitefire Theatre, on Saturday, July 21, 2018.
I later spoke with Johnson, here, where we talked on the mechanics of her process for creating solo artist theatrical projects, her use of inspiring and provocative word prompts with exploring through two-minute on-the-spot writing, the free workshops she teaches at the Whitefire Theatre, and various festivals and creative outlets that feature solo shows such as Solofest, the Hollywood Fringe Festival, the North Hollywood Fringe Festival, and work with The Los Angeles Women's Playwrights Initiative.
The atmosphere in her home studio is designed to be conducive to creativity, both for herself and for her students, and she talked further on how the process that she teaches can go far beyond that of creating a solo show, but lead a deeper path into self-discovery.
I interviewed Heather Keller of the "Chemo Barbie Show" which has made its journey from the Hollywood Fringe Festival to this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival, now currently underway until the end of the month.
In this series of five podcasts, Keller talks on her cancer diagnosis, the ups, downs, and side effects of treatment, "cold-capping" (to keep her hair), healthy living, the enduring and lost relationships (the other side effects of cancer), workshopping at Samuel French and Johnson's Soaring Solo, woman power, the desire and plans to raise a family with her husband Brian McCarthy, and motherhood and planning for Edinburgh Fringe.
After her breast cancer diagnosis on December 30, 2015 and a few months into her treatments, Keller has been documenting her experience through a series of YouTube videos on her channel "Keep Abreast W/ Heather: A Cancer Survivor's Story," with her videos reaching cumulatively over 150,000 views.
Inspired through a few propitious events in her writing and further encouraged by her director Jessica Lynn Johnson through her solo artist workshops, and encouraged by the many comments from those affected by cancer on her YouTube channel, Keller then developed the funny and charming, with only a smattering of bittersweetness, "Chemo Barbie: My Lady Bits' Journey Through Breast Cancer."
Premiering at Studio C in Hollywood for the 2017 Hollywood Fringe Festival, it was nominated for Best Solo Show and won the Encore Producers' Award. After running its encore, it then went to the Whitefire Theatre's annual Solofest in 2017 where Keller began to think even broader for the future of the show.
Still currently being treated to stay cancer-free, through crowd-funding assistance and with producers Michael Blaha and Nigel Thomas, Keller has brought the "Chemo Barbie Show" to Edinburgh's Gilded Balloon Teviot for a coveted run in annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The Chemo Barbie Show plays at 1:30 p.m. every day from now until Tuesday, August 28, 2018, with the exception of this coming Monday, August 13, 2018, (the only day the show is dark) at the Gilded Balloon Teviot. For those planning to visit Edinburgh this month, visit the Edinburgh Fringe Festival ticketing page for tickets.