You know that scene in “Caddyshack” where Bushwood Country Club opens up its pool for fifteen minutes to the unruly gang of caddies? That’s kind of what the Hollywood Fringe Festival is like. There’s the distinct feeling that the gates have been thrown open and every theatrical nutbar in the SoCal area has been invited in. And this is essentially true. One of the Fringe’s most notable features is that it is uncurated. If you’ve got the wherewithal to sign up and the money to rent a space for a few hours, you’re in. It’s a free-for-all and being a fan of both “Caddyshack” and free-for-alls, I decided to go for one, wall-to-wall day of Fringe theater. I am armed with paper, pens, a large bag of Skittles and an even larger bottle of Mountain Dew. I am moderately psyched.
2:20pm, June 14: I arrive at my first venue, Theatre Asylum, for the afternoon performance of I Am Google. Now, you don’t have to be Joseph Papp to know that 2:30pm on a Thursday is not the ideal time to put on a play. Not surprisingly, the house is light. Like, it’s me and one other guy, an older gentleman wearing what looks to be the Texas flag as a shirt. We make idle chitchat in the lobby and he hands me a card advertising the Youtube page for a movie he’s in. It’s called “Hitman” and there’s a picture of him holding what looks to be a SuperSoaker while cackling maniacally. We’re really on the fringe now, people.
2:30pm: I Am Google is a one-man show wherein the performer, Craig Shaynak, plays an anthropomorphized Google. The size of the house has obviously taken a little of the wind out of Shaynak’s sails and he makes awkward, self-deprecating jokes about how few of us there are. It actually ends up benefitting the performance, in my opinion. The show is filled with goofy, good-natured humor (puns about cookies and Java, depictions of Twitter as a Valley Girl and Yahoo as Google’s loser cousin, etc.) It doesn’t exactly blow my mind but it’s the kind of stuff that becomes moderately charming when it’s directed specifically at you. Shaynak amiably chats with us afterward about his plans to hammer home the show’s final message about stepping away from the computer and experiencing real life instead by renting a bus and inviting the audience to go bowling with him.
3:30pm: I stop by a very poorly stocked liquor store for even more sugar and caffeine. Behind a register outfitted with a crucifix and a Hillary Clinton bobblehead, a small boy has his head buried in a laptop computer, checking his Facebook page. I feel a vague twinge of I Am Google‘s thematic resonance and the faint urge to go bowling.
3:45pm: I check in at Fringe HQ. They hand me a press pass and I am immediately whisked away on a power trip, the size of which is vastly disproportionate to the power this pass actually gives me.
4:00pm: Second show of the day. Love Potion. There’s the barest hint of a plot here, something about a mad scientist and his nurse assistant trying to revive the dead or concoct the titular potion or something. It’s all just an excuse for the four actors to perform various acrobatic routines. The mad scientist (who is named Dr. Pineapple and looks just like the guy from LMFAO) juggles some balls. The nurse dances in, on and around a large box. Another guy does that thing where you climb up a rope and kinda twist yourself up in it and then hang upside down. It’s all scored to the best of the mid-aughts, i.e. Missy Elliot’s “Get Ur Freak On,” Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love,” Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” So, at least sonically, Love Potion and I are vibing.
5:00pm: Dinner break! My choices are the Santa Monica Boulevard Shakey’s (which rivals a Central Florida Olive Garden as the site of the single most surreal chain-restaurant dining experience I have ever had) and a Baja Fresh. I opt for the latter and am rewarded with a burrito and some televised U.S. Open golf.
6:15pm: Palate sufficiently cleansed, I kill some time in a Target. A pretty girl spots my press pass and cocks an intrigued eyebrow in my direction. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the highlight of my day! I am never taking this thing off.
7:00pm: Third show of the day. It’s called Boxwindowdoor but evidently, tonight’s performance will simply be window, part two of a planned trilogy. I wonder if this is the part where window discovers his father is actually Darth Vader. Or maybe this is the one where window goes to war with Jewish gangster Hyman Roth while we flashback to window’s rise to power on the mean streets of New York City.
7:30pm: The show is advertised to be an hour long but it turns out to be more like fifteen minutes. I can’t tell if this is an abridged version to offset the fact that it started a half hour late or if this is the true, intended length. The show is apparently part of a years long study into dream interpretation and is the kind of deeply metaphorical work that is both obviously, intensely personal and totally incomprehensible. Let’s just say that the fifteen minutes felt like an hour if you catch my drift.
8:30pm: I arrive at LiveTheatreBlog pretty excited mostly because I assume that the word “blog” means the show will be about me. But as it goes on, I descend into crankiness. I’m willing to concede that my bad mood might be because I’m tired and dirty and crashing from the astronomical amounts of caffeine leaving my body but also the show’s hyped use of “new media” amounts to nothing more than a guy walking around the stage filming the performer for an alleged live stream that feels much more intrusive than it does futuristic and the solo performer’s smirky, uber-confident style bugs me. In very Moth-like fashion, he’s performing the blog entries of a colleague who joined the Peace Corps and travelled to Albania and it’s exactly the kind of story you would expect. A jaded American finds enlightenment by sharing moments of humanity with third-world peasants. I tune out, I admit it.
9:30pm: I skip the last show I’m supposed to see and head home, mostly because I’m a shell of a dramaturg at this point but also because I feel like the flawed but admittedly sincere LiveTheatreBlog is actually a perfect end to my Fringe. At the end of the performance, the guy said something that had managed to stick. He said that we tell stories to reminds ourselves that we are here. That is why we tell stories. It’s why we do theater, to remind ourselves that we are alive and present and feeling, that we are here. To declare it for the world to hear. And the Fringe gives anyone who wants it that opportunity. Yes, it’s a Caddyshackian mob of unruliness and yes, there were plenty of Baby Ruth-in-the-pool moments for me today but I’ll still say it and I will mean it: Fringe on!
About the Author: Dylan Southard is the co-Artistic Director of needtheater and previously served as their resident dramaturg and literary manager. Production dramaturgy credits for needtheater include: Fatboy, Mercury Fur, Scarcity, tempOdyssey, and The Web. He also directed needtheater's world premiere production of Guided Consideration of a Lamentable Deed. He is the resident dramaturg for The Robey Theatre Company at the Los Angeles Theater Center, where he runs the advanced playwrights lab and helps to oversee new play development. He is also an associate artist with the international, new script development group LoNyLa, and works as a script consultant for theaters, including The Center Theatre Group, The Geffen Playhouse, The Theatre @ Boston Court, and Native Voices at the Autry. He trained for two years under a dramaturgy fellowship at Centerstage in Baltimore and is a graduate of Wesleyan University.