A New Institution: Hollywood Fringe Festival

Photo courtesy Hollywood Fringe Festival.

The Hollywood Fringe is an annual, open-access, community-derived event celebrating freedom of expression and collaboration in the performing arts. During the Hollywood Fringe the arts infiltrate the Hollywood neighborhood: Fully equipped theaters, parks, clubs, churches, restaurants and other unexpected places host hundreds of productions by diverse arts companies and independent performers. Participation is completely open and uncensored. The free-for-all approach underlines the festival's mission to be a platform for artists without the barrier of a curative body. By opening the gates to anyone with a vision, the festival is able to exhibit the most diverse and cutting-edge points-of-view.

The Hollywood Fringe Festival is like a Vegas buffet and can be approached using the same strategies: Start with something light, perhaps a comedy, move on to more robust fare, finish with something sweet. Go back for seconds. Not everything will be to your liking but, no worries, go back and try something else. Why not? Tickets are cheap at $10 to $15, and many are pay what you can -- and, if you want, you can buy a $5 Fringe Button that gets you a dollar off shows and other events like parties, workshops and, of course, drinks at the Fringe Central Station.

The Fringe website tells you everything you need to know with listings of venues, shows and other events, reviews, tips for parking, walking and travel, and the location of the box office and Fringe Central Station.

There are many plays to be performed at Hollywood Fringe, but here are two festival show picks:


Jesus Ride

So this guy walks into a dark room. He sits down and for 70 minutes tells a story about his own life. He connects his story to larger universal stories and illustrates these stories with hundreds of edited film clips and projected photographic stills. I am reminded of the simple power of theater. Without a big budget, smoke machines, trapezes, or orchestra pits, a guy tells a story in a dark room and I am captivated -- transported. This is theater.

"Jesus Ride" is an original solo performance that chronicles playwright and performer Mike Schlitt's adventures working on the worst "Jesus Movie" ever made. Integrating hundreds of film clips and photographic images into a theatrical celebration of the Cinematic Savior, it's the tale of two epic heroes on a search for transcendence: Jesus, the Son of God -- Mike, the son of a TV writer.

Here's Mike's story in his own words:

"When I was 33 years old, toiling away in my own virtual obscurity while waiting to be discovered as the next Steven Spielberg, I took a job managing post-production for a feature length motion control ride on the life of Jesus Christ. I was certain my work on this ludicrous endeavor would provide endless material to regale friends and family for years to come.

In spite of my jaded intentions, the experience impacted me profoundly. I read the Bible for the first time, read books about the Bible, even books about books about the Good Book. I am Jewish by birth, agnostic by choice, a movie going zealot by avocation. My interest in Jesus' story didn't lead to any religious conversion, but it did result in my watching -- and thoroughly enjoying -- 33 films about Jesus Christ. It turns out the Savior and the Silver Screen share a long and fruitful history together.

As I continued to read -- religious texts, philosophical tracts and every movie history book I could get my hands on -- I made even more unexpected connections: between Evangelical Christians and Orthodox Jews, between the Crucifixion and the Holocaust, between Polish shtetls and Hollywood back lots, even between Jesus movies and Porn.

Photo: Matthew McCray.
Photo: Matthew McCray.

When the motion control rides' writer/producer/director (a sanctimonious Born Again bully and an incompetent filmmaker to boot) instructed me to write a padded bid so that he could pocket the difference between my estimate and money actually spent, I found myself deeply conflicted. Should I go eye for an eye? Or turn the other cheek? Do the right thing and lose my job in the process, or write the padded bid, despite my misgivings, and live to fight another day?

The events leading up to, and stemming from, this impossible dilemma provide the spine of 'Jesus Ride's' multi-layered narrative: the history of film, the history of Jews in America, the history of Jesus and Christianity, and my own personal family history all play a critical role in this theatrical re-telling of my strange, surreal cinematic adventure. How did an impoverished rabbi become the father of modern Christianity? How did Hollywood, an industry 'run by Jews' address the Bible's thorny 'Jewish Question' in the course of making religious themed films? How did my father, the man who instilled in me a love for the movies and inspired me to become an artist myself, meet the creative and ethical challenges of his own career in Hollywood? And how will all of these historical precedents and family legacies impact my own course of action in 'Jesus Ride's' climactic moment of truth? Will the sins of the father be visited upon the son? The play addresses these complex questions, and many more, as it juxtaposes my own life experience with both images and anecdotes of the Cinematic Son of God himself -- from his first appearance on the silver screen to his most recent (and lucrative) cinematic incarnation."

For more information: www.mikeschlitt.com



"Take Me To The Poorhouse" is an original comedy about Lizzie, a middle-class Nigerian third grader who dreams of becoming poor in hopes of winning the heart of her popular classmate. Inspired by true events, this "upside-down Cinderella story" is a children's story for adults -- witty and wise, hilarious and heartfelt. Audiences are offered a fresh glimpse of African life as they are introduced to a girl eager to reject herself in to order to feel like she belongs. "Poorhouse" is the recipient of the American Repertory Theatre Moscow Art Theatre Institute Alumni Association's Lab Grant, and finalist of NELA Art microgrant.

Young writer/performer Liz Femi studied at the U of Rochester International Theatre Program and holds an MFA in Acting from Harvard University. Her performance belies her age. Femi is a charismatic actress who moves seamlessly from character to character as she weaves a charming and, at times, poignant story of childhood.

Photo:  Henning Fisher Photography.
Photo: Henning Fisher Photography.

In Liz's own words:

"Growing up, I remember watching TV and seeing the same images of African children -- where the child is poverty and disease ravaged---and there was always this blank face. Never anything behind the eyes. The eyes were completely devoid of any spirit or energy, which I found problematic because the kids I grew up with were so quirky and funny and imaginative, and I didn't see any of those images on television.

I also wrote it to share a glimpse of African life that people may have never seen and to challenge, hopefully, stereotypes about Africans."

For more information: www.takemetothepoorhouse.com


The fourth annual Hollywood Fringe Festival will take place June 13th-30th after a week of previews on June 6th-11th.


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