By Jennie Webb
Seriously, June is always one of my favorite (and craziest) months in LA theater. And that’s because of the Hollywood Fringe Festival and – more specifically – the amazing work of women artists at the Fringe, and the community that’s created each year. Yep, the Fringe Femmes. It’s a fabulous, gooey, full-of-kindness-and-generosity-and-inspiration hot mess that I can’t get enough of. It’s a month where women artists laugh at the “You must be threatened by other talented women!” edict that still pops up now and again when we least expect it, and come out of the woodwork to actually SUPPORT each other.
I also find that many of us spend most of June cursing because there’s just too much to see and only so many places we can be – especially me, if I’m to grab any sort of admittedly loose hold on my often questionable sanity.
So good. July means Encore! extensions, and that we have a second chance to catch stuff we missed. (Or see stuff a second time!) Nice to note that nearly half (46%) of the extended shows are written by women. (2016 Encore! producers: 50% please?)
It’s only got one more performance on July 2, so don’t miss Bella Merlin’s turn in “Nell Gywnne: A Dramatick Essaye on Acting and Prostitution” – Bella is a polished pro and her sassy Nell shines in an admirably tight package (pun intended), beautifully directed by Miles Anderson.
Also returning for one show only (July 3) is Penny Pollak’s dark and wonderful “No Traveler: A Comedy About Suicide.” LA FPI’s Constance Strickland was lucky enough to see it during the Fringe run. Read her thoughts here: http://wp.me/p1OFoi-48I
Was really glad to find Abby Schachner’s “U and Me and My Best Friend P” on the extension list, as well. I didn’t make it to Abby’s show last Fringe, so I was truly blown away by her rock-em sock-em performance and smart, insightful, ridiculously funny verses. (What? Just one Encore! date on July 9? Not fair.)
And this year I also became a huge fan of two female directors. The first is Rosie Glen-Lambert, who brought fantastic and fantastical touches to Veronica Tjioe’s evocative “Dead Dog’s Bone: A Birthday Play.” (Will be terrific to see how this transports to Bootleg Theater July 9-11 – love the action there!)
Then there’s my brand new acquaintance Kate Motzenbacker, director of Savannah Dooley’s all-femme “Smile, Baby,” a super savvy snapshot of what it’s like to be woman today in a man’s world. (Relate much?) Kudos to stand-out actors Jessica DeBruin, Sonia Jackson, Linda Serrato-Ybarra, Molly Wixson and Madison Shepard, all puttin’ the V in Versatile. (Only performance is July 3.)
Last (but not least) on my list of “Encore! Shows by Women I (and/or Others) Managed to See” is Megan Dolan’s irresistible “Snack,” directed by Chris Game. (Oh. Chris is a man. But he gets major props on this cracker-jack show.)
Book tix now for the July 12 show.
Don’t miss SNACK! From the moment I read that Megan Dolan wrote “Writing is an act of defiance” on the top of each page as she penned SNACK I knew I was in for a real treat. The painful yet hysterical tale of Dolan’s childhood connected with my entire sold-out audience on so many levels. If you don’t love this show there must something wrong with you. Thank you Megan Dolan and Christopher Game for bringing SNACK to my world.
Check out the Women (Still) on the Fringe here: http://lafpi.com/about/women-at-work-onstage/women-on-the-fringe/
(Ladies: if your show’s not listed above, send LA FPI the info! http://lafpi.com/about/submit-show/)
Here’s a full list of all Encore productions that have been extended: http://www.theencoreawards.com/
And here’s Mick helping himself to my post-“Snack” Lorna Doones which I’d saved to enjoy at home with my Jameson’s:Tweet
Penny Pollak is a wonderful physical performer who, in her solo show “No Traveler,” combines intensity and prowess as well as having the ability to seem familiar. Watching Penny, you recognize the girl drinking too much who can’t seem to finish the puzzle, you recognize the pain of feeling completely lost. Then all of a sudden you find yourself laughing because that, too, is what occurs when we we are able to step outside ourselves and can see the bigger picture – we laugh, for we have found the humor within our pain.
“No Traveler” reveals what Hell sounds like, how glorious Heaven will ring upon our arrival and the questions that can arise if we find ourselves in Purgatory. Penny goes in between characters with stealth and ease and has a great co-actor in a vintage metal bucket onstage; it was a pleasure to see the bucket have a life of its own – I fully heard it talking.
What “No Traveler” does also does quite powerfully is remind us to listen, really listen, to those around us for we just may have the chance to save a life.
This piece can take many forms from an installation piece to theatrical staging so it will be quite interesting and beautiful to see it adapted into a feature film!
“No Traveler” is receiving one Encore! performance on Friday, July 3rd, 8pm at the Complex Theatres. Info Here: theencoreawards.com/projects/2385
A few numbers to call if someone you know needs to talk:
Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Crisis Line
caring counselors are available to talk 24/7
Teens Helping Teens
(310) 855-HOPE or (800) TLC-TEEN [toll-free in CA]
from 6pm to 10pm PST
No Traveler: A Comedy About Suicide
Written & Performed by Penny Pollack
Directed by Lindsey Hope Pearlman
Lights & Sound by luckydave
Music by Mike Milazzo & Lee Goffin-Bonefant
The theme of the story can be likened to the spirit of a verse from a John Lennon song: “Life is what happens while you’re busy making plans” (from “Beautiful Boy”).
The first unexpected is being offered a free beer upon entrance into the theater (and it’s a designer beer too.) The theater is nearly full and the seated audience is already being entertained by a clown fawning for affection and laughter. People are all smiles and curious as to what will unfold for the Four Clowns presentation of “The Halfwits’ Last Hurrah”.
A young woman at the front row is being wooed by the clown. He draws her out to the stage, and they do a Simon Says act in mime. She’s surprisingly good as she follows his soft shoe dance and improvise some of her own. I wondered if she was a member of the troupe. She was a good sport regardless.
“Butterbeans Arbuckle” (Don Colliver) shoos away the clown from the stage. He’s half dressed in a white shirt and underwear. He butters up the audience with jokes. He flirts with the females (“Who likes sausage?” A drizzling of hands go up and he picks on a pretty woman. “We’ll talk later after the show. I know of a good sausage place in Echo Park.”) He cajoles the audience to imbibe on the free booze. Finally, he chooses a volun’told’ member of the audience to be his scapegoat should any any mishaps and failures befall the evening’s presentation. “Leopold, I’m blaming it on you.”
Butterbeans runs to the back of the curtain and hails fists upon the clown for good measure of proof that he will not accept failure or fault. Lights dim down, and the show begins. Welcome to an authentic American vaudeville. In a few minutes Butterbeans is back with his assistant Nimrod (Elizabeth Godley). Nimrod’s costume is a bowler’s hat and a black vest over a white shirt, and she holds an orange cone that pipes her squeaky voice. Her enthusiasm and sweet adoration of Butterbeans wins the audience’s hearts from the get go. Already the story is rich with characters that has possibilities of the unexpected.
The show is kicked off by the Inderdorf Twins (Jennifer Carroll and Dave Honigman). Their suggestive blue dialogue was, at first, strange to my ears until the the light went on – Ahh…that’s better. The twins describes their clean country living at the farm in the alps with strange acrobatic forms and sexual innuendos of “collecting morning wood” and “riding the chicken”. The risque content is standard fare of vaudevilles. “The Halfwits’ Last Hurrah” is complete with a burlesque act by Blonde Burlesque (Jamie Franta). Her mystique is the brave face she puts on and puts out. The black eyeliner, false lashes, bright red lips on creamy skin is arresting. There’s an awkward sexuality beneath the facade. I play along and want her to seduce me with her dance, costume and song. Then she braces for the finale of her act. “Here goes nothing!” she hopes, and shakes her titties to twirl the tassles of her brassiere that covers a modest 34B cup (maybe).
Between the first and second acts a mysterious character calls out from the darkness. “Soo wee!” the voice hollers, and Butterbeans falls into a hypnotic trance that is a combination turret-body contortion that disengages him from his normal faculty into a puppet. The voice is The Real McCoy (Jolene Kim), a figure in an all white western getup that haunts Butterbeans throughout the show. She taunts him to give up his dream of theater and accept that the future is in something outside himself. The latest magic is in technology which The Real McCoy claims as what Butterbeans wants. She holds up the magic wand beyond his reach like the forbidden apple on the tree of knowledge. The relationship between Butterbeans and the Real McCoy is symbolic of the hero and his inner dragon that taunts him to fail.
This relationship and its battles weave in and out through the show; they are the shadows to the light of the heartful comedic acts of: Madame La Merde (Helene Udy) who walks in stilts to spin plates on towers; the angelic singing of Pruella Tickledick (Charlotte Chanler); the liquor vendor (Julia Davis), and a handkerchief trick show by Nimrod. Her expressions are reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Tramp’. Nimrod catches a teary-eyed audience, the same woman dancing on stage earlier. They have touching interlude that gives the audience some breathing space as the conflict mounts to a crescendo, like the wave building momentum to its crest.
The story has a lot of moving pieces like a chessboard game with each player having a specific contribution to the whole. Their common goal is to pull it all together for the audience. The mayhem culminates with The Real McCoy and her henchmans (Tyler Bremer and Jamarr Love) turning the stage into a scene from ancient Pompeii after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and it is left to Butterbeans and Nimrod to save the the Halfwits from The Real McCoy. How does the hero face his dragon?
The unexpected of this wonderful souffle is the texture of airy lightness of the Halfwits’ performances to the soul-satisfying struggle of Butterbeans to overcome the struggle with The Real McCoy. It is the forbearance of the heroes to be in the light, thus their last Hurrah! and to shed their mediocrity to be the bright stars on stage as well as to be immortalized in the memory and hearts of the audience.
Four Clowns production of “The Halfwits’ Last Hurrah” is the company’s 5th appearance at the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
The last performance of the show for the Fringe is this Friday, June 26th at 10:30 in the Lillian Theater located at 1076 Lillian Way LA. CA. 90038.
Get tickets through this link: http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/2166?tab=tickets
Thanks so much to Gina Young. Are you following us? https://instagram.com/thelafpi/
More great shows by women at the @hollywoodfringe — what are YOU going to see tonight?? #fringefemmes #LAthtr #hff #hff15 A photo posted by LA Female Playwrights (@thelafpi) on
By Guest Blogger Alex Dilks Pandola
I’ve produced over 10 productions that feature short plays written and directed by women. So, I was intrigued by 5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks and excited to learn more about the 5 playwrights (all women) who joined forces to produce this show.
Graduates of the USC Master of Professional Writing Program, the 5 Sirens are: Sarah Dzida (Don’t Panic), Autumn McAlpin (Ten Years Left), Kiera Nowacki (Spock at Bat), Caron Tate (Whatever Works) and Laurel Wetzork (Out of Here). They realized that by pooling their resources and sharing in the production responsibilities they had the skills to tackle everything from advertising and publicity to fundraising (check out their super-successful Indiegogo campaign) and contracts on their own.
5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks features 5 10-minute plays centered around theme of miscommunication and longing for connection. What’s wonderful about the production is that the audience is treated to five distinctly different styles and approaches to the theme.
Director Laura Steinroeder had previously worked with Laurel Wetzork and came on board to direct the five plays. Wetzork says, “she was very brave to take on five different, very strong women and make this show work.” Though directed by one person, Steinroeder allows each piece to live in its own world, so that the audience can experience the progression of a debilitating disease through a rhythmic pattern in one play (Ten Years Left) and move seamlessly into the next play about the inter-species communication between intelligent and not-so-intelligent life (Out of Here).
What I find most inspiring about 5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks is that these five women, a group as diverse as can be, banded together as a community to support each other and produce their own work. Now, they are confident that they can produce a Fringe show on their own, individually. I’m certain that whatever productions they do in the future, 5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks will be an experience that proves to be both unforgettable and invaluable. Through June 27th at Theatre Asylum.Tweet
The Hollywood Fringe Festival is a fringe-purist’s dream where content is queen and storytellers work their spreadsheets to self-produce their show.
The first play I produced for Green Light Productions was for the 2003 Philadelphia Fringe Festival. It was a two-person show about the tumultuous and creative relationship between Zelda Sayre and F. Scott Fitzgerald called Boats Against the Current. From rehearsals in living rooms, costumes from Goodwill and one-hour techs to packed houses and standing ovations, I learned how to create magic on a shoestring budget by putting the story first.
This year there are over 20 one-woman shows in the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
At the last LAFPI meeting at Samuel French I was treated to a preview of Snack by Megan Dolan. In the hysterically funny world of Snack, Dolan traces the roots of her smoothie addiction back to her childhood, posing the question “How do you parent yourself and your kids at the same time?” Snack runs until 6/27 at Theatre Asylum.
This weekend I saw Jennifer Bobiwash’s Indians in a Box: There’s No “I” in NDN where Bobiwash sets out on a journey to discover what it truly means to be a modern American Indian. Through the laughs of Bobiwash’s story, we begin to understand the many complexities of her identity and how it’s shaped her life. NDN runs until 6/17 at Lounge Theatre.
There is an electric energy during the fringe, as artists become Olympians and audiences become active participants in the creation of these raw, intimate, now-or-never productions. Check out the “one woman show” tab on the HFF site where you’ll find an amazing group of storytellers who are the true heart and soul of this year’s fringe.Tweet
I have been trying all week to explain my first Fringe experience, but the words are jumbled and come out in a string of disjointed sentences. Which, truth be told, is how this whole experience has been making me feel.
My first show was a preview on Sunday. I have been fighting with the words that make up my play. As I try to memorize them for my show I wonder why the heck I wrote these things and why I want to share them with the world. As I sit on the stage, in an empty theater, running through my show. Pencil in hand, I cross out sections of text that will be cut next time. Right now my brain is settled in to the story, however repetitive the text is.
I try to distract myself by writing other things, poems, writing challenges on hitRecord, and random postings about how to use social media. My brain seems to be distracted for a bit. Shhhh! Don’t tell it I’m blogging here.
My play has been workshopped on a few occasions and I’ve sat and read it to remind myself of the story, but it wasn’t until I had to perform it off book that I could see the (w)holes. For as long as I have written and re-written the same circumstances with different characters and locations, it was always the same story. After I had resigned myself to finally putting it to bed and completing it, I pulled together stories that would best lead to a completed play. Workshopping it allowed me read the play for an audience, solicit feedback, see what was working and wasn’t. I sat in the back of the room listening to the words I had thought were brilliant when someone else was reading them. I explained to the dramaturg, director and actor about my thought process. We spent a day with the timeline of the main character. Me answering questions about the backstory of the story. At the time not understanding why they were asking. It was only later after I had a quiet moment that I could reflect upon their questions and why they mattered. My story was missing the tiny details that gave color to the who and why. The moments I took for granted as just knowing they were there, and when I read the lines I could see them. I’m reminded about seeing the forest through the trees and I never understood the meaning of it. Being in the thick of the action, but knowing what’s going on.
But now as I reviewed the lines and tried to commit them to memory, these tiny details are getting in my way and tying my tongue. Alliteration and repetition fill my story and at times as I try to say the lines, I lose the poetry in an effort to just say the lines. I can see the trees.
That’s where I’m at now. I just have to be the performer and forget the writer. As much as I have been trained to honor the writer’s words, it’s time to trust that I know what I’m saying and just do.
I’ve taken so many different writing classes, but each instructor has said “go see solo shows”! Luckily Fringe is filled with them and each offers me more insight into the writing process.
Now go out there and see some shows!Tweet
Last year I was called in at the last minute to help out friends who had a show in Fringe. This was the first time I had ever mingled with so much theater in L.A. I participated only to the extent that I went and worked on my show then went home. Our venue was off the grid as far as theater spaces go. We were in a studio space, where rooms were rented out during the day, mainly for classes or casting sessions.
This year I am participating as a playwright and performer. I don’t know if I had known the extent of the festival, if I would have signed up. I had my first preview on Sunday. All I can say is one down, two to go. Along with worrying about performing, I am trying to mingle as much as I can with other shows.
Last night I went to a show that was also showing at the Lounge. I met the writer/producer, Michelle March, at our the orientation meeting. When I saw the title of “Diversity Auditions” my mind went immediately to the casting calls that are put out by all the big networks when they are looking for actors of color. As a diversity actor, I was intrigued and when I read the project description for it and wasn’t sure I what I was in for.
With a simple set up of chairs and a spotlight, you learn a little about each characters life. Each story different from the last, engaging and leaving me wanting to know more about them. I couldn’t help at times from laughing out loud especially as I tried to imagined the “Asian Jessica Rabbit”. Monologues addressed current issues that touch everyone’s lives and weren’t limited to the LGBTQQ community. As a first timer, Diversity Auditions presentation was eye-opening and informed the audience of the definition of Diversity. Congrats to cast and crew! Happy Fringe.Tweet
by Guest Blogger Sarah Dzida
I am a huge fan of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. I remember being introduced to it by my father through the copy he had on his bookshelf. I’ve reread the epic book many times because it has … well, everything, and when I say everything, I mean it literally. There’s greed, revenge, love, hate, family issues, mistaken identities, embezzlement, history, politics and pirates! It’s over 1000+ pages of pure drama. So when I met Kelly d’Angelo at an early Fringe Workshop who said she had been working on her adaptation for a Count of Monte Cristo musical for 10 years, I was pretty impressed. And curious—just how was she going to pull that off?
On the way to the world premiere this past Friday, my dad and I played a game: What scene would get turned into a song?
“Can you imagine Edmond singing?,” I asked. “Like, ‘REVENGE!’ ”
“Maybe there will be a duet? Something … ‘You killed my father!’ ,” my dad said.
There really was no way to guess the right answer, but my father and I were delighted with what we saw. The cast and crew performed over 10 scenes full of music. It’s two days later, and I still find myself humming certain lyrics in songs. We were also pleased at how much humor Kelly, her crew and cast pulled out of the plot. Funny jokes. Funny moments, and even funny songs, like the duet between pretty Valentine de Villefort and her fiancé who she does not want to marry.
You put diamonds and stars in our eyes, Kelly! Congrats to the cast and crew. I hope you have a successful run through the 2015 Fringe!
Sarah Dzida is a Los Angeles playwright who also has a play in the Fringe Festival, please also go see 5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks!
by Guest Blogger Laurel M. Wetzork
First time fringer
Where and what is my audience?
Myself and four other female playwrights have a 55-minute show, 5 SIRENS: Beware of Rocks! One show of five 10-minute plays, about miscommunication and the longing for connection. We all felt, when we met months ago and decided to work together, that this theme could apply to our different pieces. Yet when I’ve turned to my usual group of friends and loyal ticket buyers, some people’s response to buying tickets has been withdrawn, almost muted or terse. Is it the month of June? That they’ll have to drive to Hollywood and brave the crazy parking nightmare that is the Fringe? Is it that they aren’t sure they want to see something I’ve warned them is for those over the age of 18 (language, adult themes)?
I do feel that some of our shows will challenge some people. But the people who expect a Disney ending shouldn’t be surprised, as they supposedly know my work and the work of the other writers. Maybe they’re tired of the dark themes I tend to explore. Yet, should I write for a particular audience? Make a happy ending to please someone else? Stupid questions, I know. Of course we shouldn’t write to please others, unless we’re hired to do so (or are writing for a specific audience — more on this later).
As playwrights and writers, I feel that it is often our job to explore hidden, subconscious, and sometimes emotionally laden subjects. Whether the writing comes out as comedy, drama, or a dreamscape, is up to the writer. People have said about my piece for the Fringe, “Well, that changes tone.” But life, to me, does change tone, and isn’t one note. Laughter often goes with tears, and without laughter, life would be unbearable. Theater, to me, can change lives in a way that movies, films, and books don’t. It is experienced right now, the plays themselves can make people think or argue or question preconceived ideas, and the emotions that come up can heal.
About writing for a specific audience, my play LEVELS was written for an audience consisting of abused women. It wasn’t my intent as a writer to entertain or make happy endings. I wanted to share my own healing at the hands (fists?) of abuse, and show that it was possible to find hope, healing, and love. After the performances of the play, women came up to me afterwards and repeated the same phrases: “I thought I was alone, that I was the only one who experienced this abuse.” “I’m not alone, or a freak, am I?” “Thank you, I thought I was the only one who reacted this way.” They were moved to contemplate the possibly of healing, of a shared experience, of a future that might be filled with hope, by a very uncomfortable theater piece.
So if those particular friends respond again with terse replies, I know now what I’ll say. Our job as playwrights is to write what we see and explore uncomfortable truths, and by bringing our writing to light in a performance, perhaps facilitate healing. “Be brave,” I’ll say. “And be willing to explore what theater, and the hearts of so many playwrights, have to offer. You might be surprised, moved, and unexpectedly changed.”
So where is our audience? I do know, even if a theater is bare except for one person, that one person may experience a life-changing event when watching what we write. They may see the possibility for hope. And they may also just laugh. So keep writing those plays, and sharing your vision. You never know who it will touch. And heal.
For tickets to “5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks” go to http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/2125?tab=tickets 5 Siren playwrights: laurel m wetzork, sarah dzida, laura steinroeder, autumn mcalpin, kiera nowacki, caron tate. Laurel is the LA FPI Onstage Editor.Tweet