Spotlight Series: Meet Fringe Management Co-Founder Mike Blaha


This Spotlight focuses on Mike Blaha, Co-Founder of Fringe Management, a company that has produced an incredible assortment of shows for both the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Hollywood Fringe Festival. Listen in as he shares his insights on how the Coronavirus pandemic has affected both this year, especially since the initial shutdown occurred just as the Edinburgh event had begun.


Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?

Mike Blaha (Mike): I did a little bit of acting in high school, but never really thought about producing.  Then a friend of mine asked me to be his associate Artistic Director at a small, long-defunct theatre in the Valley in the late 80s and I caught the producing bug.

Since beginning in 1989, I’ve produced or co-produced over 100 shows in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, Hong Kong, London and especially at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where our company Fringe Management,  LLC (co-founded with my Edinburgh based partner, actor-director Nigel Miles Thomas) has presented approximately 70 productions since 2001.  I have also produced 18 shows at the Hollywood Fringe Festival since 2012.

I was also one of the co-founders of Sci-Fest, a festival of one act science fiction plays that ran from 2014-2016 and have served on the Board of New Musicals, Inc. for most of the last 20 years (as President from 2015-2019).

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out it needed to immediately be either postponed or cancelled?

(Mike): I was producing, along with Joel Shapiro of the Electric Lodge in Venice, the Edinburgh Fringe sensation “Hitler’s Tasters,” a brilliant dark comedy by Michelle Kholos Brooks.  We were originally scheduled to run March 12-30, 2020.  We had previews Thursday and Friday, March 12 and 13, 2020, opened on Saturday, March 14, 2020 and had to close on Sunday, March 15, 2020.

(SB): Here is “Hitler’s Tasters” promo reel on You Tube. How did you communicate the shutdown to the cast and crew?

(Mike): We communicated the heartbreaking reality of the shutdown in person with the cast and crew after the performance on Saturday night.

(SB): Are plans in place to present that production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent? 

(Mike): Fortunately, we made an archival recording on opening night and we were able to negotiate an agreement with Equity to stream that recording for a two-week period, May 8-21, 2020, so audience members who bought a ticket to the live performance, and some new audience members, were able to watch that recording during that window. It is possible that there may be a remount of the play at the Electric Lodge, but it’s tricky because the cast members, who were the actors in the Edinburgh Fringe production, are all from New York.

(SB): What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?  

(Mike): I had five shows lined up for the 2020 Hollywood Fringe Festival, including three shows from the UK (The Nights, The Tanner and West), a local sketch comedy show Gold Baby and the 7th annual “Combined Artform’s Pick of the Fringe”.  With the Hollywood Fringe now cancelled this year, except for online shows, I have lost most if not all of the planned productions, although they may return for 2021.

We were also producing 7 shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August, which has been cancelled altogether including Activities of Daily Living, Bard Overboard, Elton John: Rocketman, Elvis: He’s Back, Hiding Anne Frank, Once Upon A Time in Hollywoodland, and Two Girls: One Mic.  Fortunately, it looks like most if not all of the shows want to perform at the 2021 edition.

(SB): I saw Joanna Lipari in her one-woman show Activities for Daily Living at the Sierra Madre Playhouse and believe everyone needs to experience her incredible and very personal observations about life and love in that show. So I certainly hope she will be able to take the show to Edinburgh in 2021. (Here’s the link to my review on Broadway World.)

So now that everything is on hold, how are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Mike): Well, I’m reading my daily reports from Broadway World, of course, following updates from various theatre companies, as well friends’, colleagues’, and various theatre forums on social media (and occasionally posting myself), and trying to keep up with the amazing explosion of content by artists of every stripe on YouTube, Facebook, Patreon, Twitter . . . the list goes on.  I’m in touch with all of the artists involved with the delayed and cancelled productions referenced above, and working with a couple of them on developing new projects.

(SB): Are there any thoughts would you like to share with L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(Mike): Some people think the pandemic will move live theatre online permanently; some people think live theater will return eventually unchanged. I fall somewhere in the middle. I think there may be a hybrid model that combines live theatre with more digital innovation, both with respect to the design and production of live theater, but also respect to the supplemental, possibly complementary exploitation of those live productions.  One thing I am certain of, having witnessed the resilience and creativity of our community over these past few weeks, is that the L.A. Theatre scene will adapt and thrive in whatever becomes the “new normal.”

Of course, this has been a very difficult time for all of us.  One of the things that has kept me sane in spite of all the postponements and cancellations and missed openings is the knowledge that theatre has been around for a couple of thousand years and ain’t going anywhere.  It may be very different or not that different at all; but in a few weeks or months we will all be sitting in a dark black box once again in thrall to the magic of live theatre!


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



FRINGE 2017: MUST-SEE MUSICALS!

By Jared Pixler

The past few years I've had the pleasure of working with a few of the creative folks in the musical theater who have started to call this area home.  There are some exciting new musicals being created here, and there's no reason why one of these couldn't become the next break-out hit.  I mean, Dear Evan Hansen had to start somewhere, right?  (Oh, and don't forget to check out the Tony Awards Show this Sunday at 8!  Who knows, one of these Frings shows below may be there next year.)

So if you get a chance in the next few weeks – and I highly recommend that you do! - I'd suggest you check out the new musical by Laura Wiley (Wiley Original Musicals). Her show this year is a parody of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight called Buffy Kills Edward: A Musical Romp. I collaborated with her last year on Winter is Coming: A Musical Parody, with my writing partner David Evan Stolworthy, and it was one of the hits of the Fringe.

I'm always excited to see what Robot Teammate comes up with each year, and this year they bring us a new musical adventure in Turbulence!  A few years ago the Fringe gave  The Video Games (another show I wrote with David), their Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda award, and I have been a fan (maybe groupie? I bought the album of their 2016 Fringe musical Thug Tunnel the day it came out.

Check out the full list of musicals here and find your favorite hook. The Fringe festival is in the midst of previews now and officially opens June 8th.  Here is a short list of some musicals that have caught my eye:

13th Grade By Dan Testa and Pamela Eberhardt

This musical produced by the Unknown Artists promises 90's inspired tunes set in 1998 at a community college. It might miss the younger millennial crowd but I have a feeling that this musical has something for everyone. At the very least it will give some of us fuel for our next 90's themed house party and for the rest of us a good dash of nostalgia. Their fringe director, Andy Kenarek, suggests the humor is in the vein of Wet Hot American Summer, Strangers with Candy and Saved by the Bell so, I'm all in.

SLASHED! The Musical By Sean Keller

An 80's slasher movie themed musical that takes place at a summer camp? Referred to as Camp Doom? I'm all in. The good people at nerdist (one of my favorite sites) already  wrote a full article on it here, you can even listen to one of the songs from the show. It looks dark and awesome.

TRUMP IN SPACE - The Musical

Book and lyrics by Gillian Bellinger and Landon Kirksey. Music by Tony Gonzalez and Sam Johnides. Directed by Matt Zettell. Choreography by Annabeth Rickley. Presented by Texpats Productions.

While there are more than a few (I counted seven) shows with Trump mentioned in the title or keyword search. This musical promises Star Trek, meets Rent, Battlestar Galactica and the aftermath of Trump, 400 years in the future. The performance also takes place at one of my favorite venues that is off the typical fringe path. Check this one out at at The Actors Company, in the Let Live Theatre. While you are at it, stick around for all the other great shows in that venue.

COMIC-CON The Musical By Laura Watkins & Nicholas David Brandt

As a fan of comic conventions and convention performer this musical sounds like a blast. It has been in development since last year and is making its Premiere for the Fringe festival. A bit longer than your typical fringe show but something that I can't wait to see. For anyone that wants to cosplay (for the non convention goer, cosplaying is coming dressed as your favorite comic, video game, anime or other character) there is an actual costume contest sometime during the performance.

MY MID-20's CRISIS the Musical

By Kali Davis, Music by: Matt Davis

Usually I shy away from these kind of stories as they seem to abound at Fringe (I've even written my own). But this year I am giving this one a chance because well… honestly they promise “dancing ovarian eggs” (piqued my curiosity) and because of my own recent foray into Tinder land. Maybe this is something that I need to see.

MISSMATCH

By Amanda Conlon

This is a musical adventure about navigating the current online dating world. And it is based off of true stories. From their promotional video it looks like a lot of fun. At only 50 minutes I'm hoping it will be time well spent!

All in all there are too many musicals to cover in one article. Go see a musical or two this Hollywood Fringe, you won't be disappointed!