For theatergoers, nothing beats the experience of watching a live performance unfold.
“I have so many theater stories of absolutely ridiculous things happening on stage and only the audience members will ever see,” says Ben Hill, the founder and director of the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
Fortunately, there's plenty of live theater, clowning, burlesque, dance and musicals to experience during the festival's fifth run.
Fringe officially opens June 12 and continues through June 29 with close to 300 shows across 55 venues in central Hollywood. It spotlights works from around the globe, including homegrown offerings like “Meet and Greet.” The original comedy by veteran Hollywood writers Stan Zimmerman (“Golden Girls,” “Roseanne” and “Gilmore Girls”) and Christian McLaughlin (“Married ... with Children” and “Desperate Housewives”) is set in a casting agency in Los Angeles, and its stars are recognizable. They include Teresa Ganzel (“The Tonight Show”), Vicki Lewis (“NewsRadio”), Daniele Gaither (“MADtv”) and Carolyn Hennesy (“True Blood”), as well as Paul Iacono (“The Hard Times of R.J. Berger”).
“Fringes reflect the cities they're in, which makes sense,” says Matthew Quinn, producer of Theatre Asylum, where “Meet and Greet” is one of 74 shows the venue is hosting, more than any other.
Here, anything goes. Professionals, major companies, upstart companies that have $5 and a dream, and fringe circuit veterans all get a chance to take the stage as Fringe is an open-access festival where anyone with an idea for a show and the means to produce it can become a participant. The central fringe organization provides support and group marketing, but the responsibility falls on the artist to find a venue and market the show.
Quinn tops fringe off with a best-of Encore, so he keeps his ear to the ground for shows that are buzzing during the festival, which organizers boast is “L.A.'s largest celebration of the performing arts.” One that he already knows will be part of the Encore is “Women,” a show from New York described as a mash-up of the HBO series “Girls” and Louisa May Alcott's “Little Women.”
Playwright Colin Mitchell is bringing back “Linden Arden Stole the Highlights” about a Scottish American pursued by the drug mob. On a larger scale is Michael Shaw Fisher's “The Werewolves of Hollywood Blvd.: A Damnable Rock Musical.” The show comes from the same company that previously took home the best musical award for “Exorcist” in 2013 and “Doomsday Cabaret” in 2012.
“When you won it two years in a row people are definitely looking at what you'll do next,” Quinn says.
Theatre Asylum also welcomes Australian illusionist Simon Coronel, the kids' show “Magickal Monsters” and “Giraffenstein,” a twist on Mary Shelley's monster.
The Hollywood Fringe Festival was founded in 2010 with 130 shows — a sizable start, and it's only grown. It's seen its share of clowns doing stream-of-consciousness to high school productions of “The Importance of Being Earnest” to theatrical stunts. One of the most memorable shows happened last year when a group performed a staged reading of Herman Melville's epic “Moby-Dick” from beginning to end, non-stop.
“It was pretty freaking wild. Through the night and into the next day they were swapping off shifts so that by the end, they had a pretty sizable crowd waiting for the last line,” says Hill, who modeled the Hollywood festival after the original fringe in Edinburgh, Scotland.
To navigate all there is to see, audiences should make it a point to drop in to Fringe Central, a tented watering hole on Santa Monica Boulevard where the theater community gathers to socialize, drink and compare notes on what they've seen.
Ezra Buzzington, a character actor featured on the NBC pirate epic “Crossbones,” approaches fringe by seeing all he can. As founder of fringe festivals in Seattle and New York, he's always on the lookout for the next recipient of the Ezra Buzzington Spirit of the Fringe Award, which he gives out at the closing night award parties.
It's one of many awards.
“I decided to give something called the Spirit of the Fringe because to many actors the theater really is their temple,” he says. “It's a place that captures what nothing else can capture. It's live. it's visceral and I, personally, hold that it's a physical as well as a spiritual experience. So I look for any show or performance that I feel needs to be acknowleded.”
Last year, he presented the award to actors Brendan Hunt and Leslie Murphy for their work on “Absolutely Filthy” and “Ryan Is Lost,” respectively. “Ryan Is Lost” writer Nathan Wellman also received the award. Another was presented to the production of “The Devil and Billy Markham” as a whole.
“I ran into Matt (Quinn) the other day after seeing a wonderful production of ‘The Pliant Girls' at his space, and he said to me, ‘I understand that you're giving something called the Spirit of the Fringe'; why you?'
“Well,” Buzzington says, “because I'm father of the fringe and I would put up my experience against anyone else in the country to determine what captures spirit on stage in a fringe production,” he says, chuckling. “And that's basically it.”
Hollywood Fringe Festival
When: June 12-29.
Where: Shows take place at venues in central Hollywood. The complete list is available online and at Fringe Central, 6455 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.
Tickets: Prices vary.
Information: 323-455-4585, www.hollywoodfringe.org or the Fringe Central box office.
Follow Sandra Barrera on Twitter: @sandrabarrera18