Theatre as a Uniter

In a recent conversation with Matt Wells of Need Theater, the topic of the uniting power of theatre emerged.

This has been a passion of mine since I began theatre decades ago. My love and respect for the art form grew from the diversity of talent required to launch a successful piece of theatre. Directors, Producers, Designers, Actors, Technicians, Stage Managers, etc, etc. Each job requiring an undeniably unique talent, each person required to work (sometimes painfully) close together.

It’s really a beautiful thing and a constant mystery how it works out. Those outside the theatre community have no idea what a miracle a single theatre production can be.

It drives me crazy, then, when I hear people get worked up about competition in theatre, as if we are playing a zero-sum game. It’s bewildering how short sighted this mindset is.

For my first professional theatre job (in an unnamed large theatre in the Mid-Atlantic region), I was constructing their first website. In a moment of inspiration, I suggested creating a page on the site dedicated to the theatre community in the city – sort of a “if you liked our show, then you will love these theatres, too”. My idealism was quickly squashed by the management – “Why on earth would we want to help other theatres?!?!” they quipped.

Here’s the reality of the situation: Theatre in the United States is in crisis. People have long since given up their local theatre trips for a jaunt to the Multiplex (digitally distributed media is cutting into that market, as well). The picture gets even bleaker when you focus on the younger generation, most of whom have never stepped foot in a playhouse.

It is in times of crisis that all theatre artists must band together, cast aside ego and ambition, and work as a community. Eternal optimist that I am, I believe that American Theatre has its greatest days on the horizon. We need to find that “key” that will unlock theatre in today’s generational imaginations.

Of course, I believe that Fringe is part of the answer. The Fringe we are planning here in Hollywood seeks to confront this problem directly. Using various ideas in our collective arsenal, we seek to band together disparate artists and artistic ideas in a grand celebration.

We will involve the community in the artistic process to provide an essence of ownership in the festival here. Our belief is that theatre is a communion between the artists and the community. Unlike previous theatre experiences, the audience/community will be intimately involved in the process. Perhaps they could even grow to appreciate the fascinating elements at work in a theatrical creation.

Building social and professional settings for artists to convene, discuss, and create is another goal. Speaking with travelers of past Fringe festivals, this element is sorely needed in the Fringe process. Our hope is that relationships sparked in the build-up and execution of the 2010 festival will lead to magical creations for festivals and playhouses down the road. I will be posting about some of our specific ideas in the near future.

As we are calling ourselves the most democratic arts festival on the planet, the concept of “The People” is very dear to our most cherished organizational values. Much of our effort will be devoted to inviting that sacred entity into the theatrical process.

What’s good for the people and the community is good for theatre itself.
All theatre benefits from an energized, educated, and involved audience.

Hollywood in the NYTimes

You hear about Hollywood the concept constantly in the main stream media. Not so often do you hear about Hollywood the neighborhood. The New York Times published this article today doing just that.

They cover a couple of my favorite spots – Runyon Canyon, the ArcLight, Roscoe’s Chicken, Amoeba Records.

No doubt written by an entertainment journalist with nothing to do around Golden Globes times.

Voting for the Fringe

As mentioned previously, we have decided on a “democratic solution” to select included projects for Fringe 2010.

In true 21st century style, we will launch a website whereby theatre producers and artists post information about their project. This may include words, pictures, videos, and more, whatever it takes to best represent their group or idea. Members of the community will vote on which projects they would like to see in the festival. The projects with the most votes are accepted into the Fringe.

This begs a very serious question: How does voting work?

Quick answer is that we haven’t decided yet. There are actually many different methods we could employ to decide the winners. Thus we in the Fringe production team have begun a study of the riveting world of voting theory. It’s actually quite apropos to discuss voting methods now as American democracy is once again front-and-center in the news. I recently ran across a very intriguing article on some of the major contemporary thinking in this discipline.

Most common and familiar to Americans is Plurality Voting. Using this system, voters cast their ballot for a single candidate; one person, one vote. The winner is simply the candidate with the most votes. Sound simple? It is, and according to many perhaps the most unfair voting system available. For the fringe festival, this is almost certainly a bad idea for pretty obvious reasons. You may like many acts applying for the Fringe, and indeed all those acts may end up being included. You should be able to vote for more than just one.

A second method, perhaps more appropriate for our purpose, is Range Voting. In this system voters rank each project on a scale of (for example) 1 to 5 stars. The votes are tallied up by simply adding all the points together. A project with 150 “one star” votes would tie one with 30 “5 star” votes. Winning the vote becomes a function of both popularity (number of ratings) and quality (number of stars). This method would be more appropriate for our purposes at Fringe.

A final method under consideration is known as Approval Voting. Using this method, voters simply vote for as many projects/candidates as they wish. Those with the most votes “win”. In Fringe terms, you either support a given project or just don’t. You can support as many projects as you like. This, too, may be a very effective method for our needs.

This is a lot to work with as we decide on the “most perfect” voting system for Fringe. The first option (plurality) is almost certainly a bad fit. At the very least, we’d like to give community members the ability to spread their votes across multiple projects. The question is whether voters can “rate” the projects as well.

One wonders if the founding fathers grappled with these issues. Especially in this primary season, I for one would like something more than a one person, one vote system.

The Outdoor Fringe Event

I have always been sort of a theme park freak.

It wasn’t the rides per se that attracted me – it was the experience. When I enter a given theme park, I don’t rush to the tallest coaster, I tend to walk around and soak up the atmosphere. I then start to get very judgmental – comparing everything to great theme parks I have attended in the past. I suppose in an alternative life I should have been a professional theme park designer.

But no, I chose a life in the theatre – which itself is an experiential existence. When we attend the theatre we find ourself transported into the world of the production. We give over a part of ourselves and surrender our grip on reality to adopt this new reality on stage. If only we could reach out and touch it…interact with the world in front of us. Wouldn’t that be cool?

Enter the Fringe outdoor event: An experience in performance, decor, food, and spectacle. We are in the (very) early stages of planning this particular extravaganza and the scale, scope, and ambitiousness of our ideas thus far has me very excited. We are thinking the artistic and theatrical equivalent of a world-class renaissance festival, if that metaphor appeals to you.

So what is this event of which you speak? (you may ask)

To compliment the indoor events – ye olde fringe faire – we produce an event to include various street and outdoor performances. We create a unique experience for the fringe-goer. Walk into the Fringe outdoor event and you are greeted with the world of fringe: Its sights, smells, music, and fun.

Hungry for details? Me too. We are currently seriously discussing the content and form of this part of the festival. With the proper funds, folks, and commitment we can create something very special – a spiritual hub for the fest. This is an ambitious project to compliment a VERY ambitious uber-project, so we welcome our community’s help and support.

As more decisions are made and milestones achieved, you can bet you will be hearing more about it. For one, I think we need a better title than “the outdoor event”.

Donate to the Fringe

Courtesy of our fiscal sponsors at Fractured Atlas, you can now make a tax deductible donation to benefit the early operations of the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

Follow this link to find out how you can give to the Fringe. We rely on our community’s help to lift this festival from the ground, so please pledge your support today. Donations from $1 to $5,000 are welcome online. Please contact us at for donations greater than $5000.

Hollywood Fringe is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions in behalf of Hollywood Fringe may be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.

Direction Link for donations:

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