Thoughts From The Hollywood Fringe Festival
Updated: May 25, 2019
I realize I’ve been a ghost for the last month, and for that I apologize. June was an insanely busy month for me. In addition to have my play, The Importance Of Being Oscar, and my short play, The Most Famous Ghostwriter In The World, both put up in the Hollywood Fringe Festival, I also had the honor of being asked to be a judge for Theatre Unleashed. Judging the Unleashed Award (which is given to a show at the Hollywood Fringe Festival that pushes artistic boundaries while maintaining high quality of acting and the art of storytelling) meant I saw over 60 shows all in the month of June! It was amazing, exhausting, thrilling, storytelling madness! And I convinced my co-judge that we should present our award in glamourous makeup and pajamas (which we did to great amusement)!
From this experience, I learned some storytelling takeaways from seeing so many great shows – and some that really missed the mark. I want to take a moment to share these takeaways.
Show, Don’t Telll
The shows that really moved me were ones that took me through the action and lives of the characters. I felt like I was there with them. The shows that took most of the time with characters explaining something that happened made me feel removed from the story.
Build Tension, Don’t Just Yell.
So many shows reverted to characters screaming at each other in an attempt to build the drama. While I’m not against someone yelling on stage, it should come from the drama, not a substitute for creating actual tension. Plus, if it’s used sparingly, it has more impact when it is employed.
Don’t Be Afraid To Edit.
There were a lot of shows that dragged at points and could have been shorter. Very few shows made me wish they were longer. While it may be hard to cut parts of your script/story, consider overall pacing and only keep what is relevant.
Make Them Laugh And Cry.
My favorite shows at Fringe took me through a range of emotions, often playing seamlessly between lighthearted comedy and darkness that literally had me crying during several shows. Even the most serious topics need some levity to break the tension, and an underlying darkness in comedies adds additional dept.
This is so important to both length of show (see my note on editing) and performance. The best shows, especially comedies, had strong energy and quick pacing that kept me invested in the story the entire time. There is nothing wrong with an intentional pause, but use those sparingly, or the audience will use that time to check their watches.
Be Courteous To Your Audience
Remember your audience is giving their time and money to see your show. Be nice to them. This means providing trigger warnings if necessary and keeping to the listed runtime. This last one is especially important at a theatre festival where people might be going to a show immediately after yours. My co-judge and I had to walk out of several shows that ran past their listed runtime, because we couldn’t be late to the next show I had to judge.
Try Something New
We awarded the Unleashed Award to Mackers – a comedy take on Macbeth. I was pleasantly surprised that they were able to make the Shakespearian drama into a show that had me laughing so hard I teared up. Some other shows that I greatly enjoyed also took an inventive take on their material, such as Universe 101 which was part clown and mentalist act and part discussion of string theory, The Study – which was a horror play that had the audience vote to decide what happened next and a 2-person, comedic take on Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. There were many more shows I enjoyed, but too many to list here.