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Hollywood Fringe Festival Founder Shares Tips and Tricks for the Event

May 30, 2018 by Ashley Lee
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(Photographed by Matt Kamimura/Hollywood Fringe Festival)

The Hollywood Fringe Festival is back for its ninth year, taking over the Los Angeles area June 7-24. Modeled after the famous Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the annual, open-access event includes hundreds of shows, spanning all genres of theater and performing arts.

We caught up with Hollywood Fringe Festival founder Ben Hill to talk about how to master the massive list of shows, and where he likes to refuel with eats and drinks.

Get tickets to the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

For those who aren’t aware, what is the Hollywood Fringe Festival?
It’s an open-access festival that offers a massive buffet of choice of experiences. Like most of the other fringe festivals, there’s no curating body at all and there never will be. Performers just have to secure a venue within the designated area and register with the festival — we don’t read scripts or even look at what your show is! So it’s not like going to the Ahmanson on a Saturday night, where you pay 85 bucks, you get a drink beforehand and eat dinner afterward, and then you go to sleep. But we have close to 400 shows — I know that might sound daunting, but it’s not about one show, but the overall experience of “Fringing.”

What kind of shows are available to see?
Everything is based in the performing arts. You’ll see aspects of cabaret and variety, dance, ensemble plays and musicals, solo performances, and all the classes of comedy, from slapstick to theatrical standup. And recently, we added immersive theater — one show was a troupe that performed “Hamlet” for only one or two people at time inside a van!

How is the Hollywood edition different from other fringe festivals?
When we first started in Hollywood, I met with John Clancy, one of the founders of FringeNYC. He said, “No matter what, your festival needs to match your city.” The thing about LA is it’s vast and sprawling, to put it mildly. We wanted to create a very real sense of place and time for the performing arts, so you very much feel part of something that’s happening in theater. That’s hard in LA, especially since the perception is still that it’s a film and TV town. But this time of year, Hollywood becomes the epicenter of theater in Los Angeles.

With so many shows, what are your tips for picking what to see?
It’s good to browse through website and mark what strikes you. But I think the most fun way to do it is to get on your surfboard and just let the tide take you! Play the game of “what’s next” and “what’s near” — the shows are on the cheap side, with an average price of $12 each. There’s always something that’s about to start that’s nearby, and if it’s great, awesome; and if not, you lost ten bucks and 45 minutes. Then, grab something to eat and drink (and get a discount with your Fringe button), and talk to other people wearing a Fringe button about what they’re seeing and enjoying. You get to meet new people and try new experiences you may have never thought of seeing.

Also, L.A. people work hard and play hard, so we have six major parties throughout the festival: after the opening night party on June 6, we also have a masquerade, a runway event, a Pride party, a prom, and the closing night party.

What are some of your favorite places for bites and beverages between shows?
The Fringe button gets you discounts at a list of places that are walkable. One of my favorites is Three Clubs, which was in “Swingers.” It’s one of those bars that defines Hollywood. Right around there in the center of Theatre Row, there’s also Black, which has great cocktails, and a new theater bar called The Broadwater Plunge, which is owned by Patrick Duffy of “Dallas.” For food, I like Eat This Café and Hunter and Charlie’s.