I’m a little late with this, but after the experience of the Hollywood Fringe, I pretty much didn’t want to think about it for the two week break I had before getting back on the road.
So, now that I’m back on the road and bored, it seems like a good time to finally report on what was an extraordinarily underwhelming experience. So, here goes…
I actually arrived in Southern California a few days before I was scheduled to do anything at the festival. My reason? Seeing one of my best friends Jeff and his wife and two kids down in Orange County. That part was fun. I hadn’t seen Jeff in years, and I’d never met his kids. They’re freaking adorable. I read them bedtime stories at night. And, Jeff and his wife Jessica are great, even if they do watch a bit too much reality TV for my taste 😉
The one thing I will say about Orange County, though, is that it’s exactly as cutoff from the rest of the world as you’ve been led to believe. Extraordinarily rich and white, the OC struck me as a very self-centered place. I could give a laundry list of things I saw that appalled me, but I’ll save whatever bile I can muster in this article for the festival.
Overall, I enjoyed my time in the OC.
I booked a small efficiency apartment about a half mile from my theater through AirBNB. The very first thing that stood out, and would prove to be a constant annoyance, was there wasn’t any dedicated parking for tenets. It was all heavily regulated and monitored street parking. I managed two parking tickets in the first few hours I was there. After that, I had to keep myself on a tight meter-feeding schedule. Parking easily ended up costing me over $20 unbudgeted dollars a day. Just my first taste of how expensive that city is.
The apartment was on Lexington Ave. The nearest big intersection was Santa Monica and Highland. That sounds like a pretty good location for people who only hear these street names in songs and movies. In reality, though, Hollywood is actually not that great. Sure, there are pockets of well-developed, nice ares. But, generally it doesn’t live up to its romanticized image.
Having been to Hollywood before (albeit 20 years ago), I knew this. And still, I was more than a little disappointed to see that the particular stretch of Santa Monica Blvd. my theater was on was definitely not one of the nice areas. Not that it was terrible. It was just shabby. Next door was a convenience store decked out with barred windows and safety glass in front of the cashier. Though, I never felt unsafe. I’ll give it that.
My venue was perfectly nice. I performed in the East Theatre, which is part of a group of theaters called The Complex. My experience with the Complex and with my tech director Rebecca was great. I have absolutely no complaints there. They were wonderful.
The fest itself, however, is incredibly underwhelming.
So, here’s the deal. Hollywood Fringe is a BYOV fringe. Bring Your Own Venue. That means instead of booking directly with the fringe, the artists book with the venues who then tell the fringe who is performing.
This is how several of the really big, established festivals (like Edinburgh) do it because they have huge built in audiences and they’ve gotten too big to manage all the venues themselves.
Hollywood Fringe is big, but it doesn’t have a built in audience. The only shows I went to with decent crowds were locals, and the audience was made up of a bunch of their friends, not festival goers.
Of course, the other big problem Hollywood has in this regard is no pass system. With a performance festival of any sort, you really want the ability to buy some sort of all inclusive pass. This saves you from having to shell out full price for each individual show. Even with the discount button they sell (which gets you a total of $1 off), the onus is still on the audience member to seek out each individual show and get their tickets. It’s tedious and not cost effective.
Every festival should have a festival pass. One price, get into any show you want.
Also, at this point, these festivals should invest in app development. Or at least a very mobile friendly website, so people can reserve on the go. Hollywood actually does this, though the app does still have some flaws.
For artists, this BYOV system puts all the pressure to build an audience on them.
Look, it’s already expected at a festival that the artists do A LOT of advertising. But, with Hollywood, it was in overdrive because there were precious few audience members to get.
Granted, I didn’t do everything I could have to drum up more audience members. I could have done more. I didn’t send out press releases and try to get reviewed. I didn’t perform at the Fringe Central cabaret. I didn’t make a lot of posters, relying instead mostly on quarter page flyers. Etc.
Look, I realized after Dallas that I didn’t have the next Swimming to Cambodia or Sleepwalk With Me on my hands, so I’m now treating this tour as a learning experience. And it’s working. The show gets better with every performance. Last night (July 11) was my best show yet, and I’ll write about that soon.
Still, though, I averaged 4 audience members per performance. Granted, my summary in the guide may not have been awesome, but it’s not too different that what I wrote for the Capital Fringe guide and I’m getting plenty of people in DC.
Outside of the fringe itself, the thing I hadn’t planned on was the utter loneliness of being a solo performer on the road. I’ve heard comedians talk about it before. Two of my favorites, Louis CK and Patton Oswalt, have both done lonely road jokes. But, it’s totally real.
It’s very lonely when you’re on the road by yourself and don’t work until 9:00 at night. And, attempting to fill my days with something other than cabin fever led to spending more money than I should have, simply because I was fighting boredom and homesickness.
I can only think of one other time in my life when I got homesick, and that’s when I was a little kid. But, I got so homesick on this trip.
Overall, I had trouble meeting people at the fringe. I just really didn’t connect with the vibe. And, since even as a participant, I was gonna have to pay full price to see other shows, I usually didn’t. (All fringes should have free participant admission. How is this not a thing?)
Of course, I also had one of the best nights of my life when one of my best friends, James Kimbrell, drove down from Salinas to see the show. He brought some great beer from the Firestone Walker Brewery and we stayed up super late talking and catching up. It was the best time I had on the trip.
Especially considering that some of my other local friends didn’t come to the show, many not even RSVP’ing to my invitation. That was a bit of a gut punch.
In fact, there have been a few gut punches in getting this thing started, and it usually stems from expecting something from people who have given every indication that I can expect something, then giving nothing. But, that’s for the postmortem article that will encompass my entire fringe experience at the end of the summer.
But, James Kimbrell will always hold a special place in my heart, if not already for the previous 20 years of friendship, then definitely for that night. Thanks, James. You’re a truly great friend.
For all the disappointment I’ve already experienced with this endeavor, it’s even more important that I point out the friends who have my back. On this trip, James Kimbrell and Jeff Norwood were amazing. This trip would have been a million times harder than it already was if it weren’t for them.
That said, I did manage to make some new friends. And, I saw some cool shows. Not always at the fringe, though. I’m going to write another article detailing my adventures in the LA comedy world.
I doubt I’ll ever do Hollywood Fringe again, but for a first time on the road learning experience, I’d say it was an overall educational experience. Now, I’m at Capital Fringe. So far, it’s better. A little.