It’s officially on, and the energy is palpable. The pandemic gave Hollywood Fringe Festival show creators time to hone their pieces, a luxury not previously available, and the extra effort shows. If you see one show between now and June 26, make it a Fringe show!
Need another reason? Fringe Festival audiences are always enthusiastic and engaged. That’s in part because they’re liberally seeded with friends (and parents) of the creators, often carrying flowers. It’s a special theater experience all around.
So head to the Fringe website and find something that’s right for you. You can search by title or category to find something that will resonate. You can search by schedule, making it easy to go at the last minute (few shows sell out). But go.
Here are some examples of what’s on.
A tour de force from writer/performer Steve Trzaska, Camp Ginger wows with an original multi-character solo musical. A must for redheads and non-redheads alike, Camp Ginger is heartwarming and vulnerable as it presents 8th-grade life at a camp for gingers.
Trzaska plays a semi-autobiographical version of his younger self, as well as almost a dozen other characters from a love interest (Persimmon) to the camp’s owner (Red) to a unique coach (Rooster). Each character has their own song and reinforces the show’s clear and empowering message about accepting and supporting others.
The songs, written by Trzaska and Noel Katz (he plays keyboards throughout), are uniformly terrific. Ginger opens and closes with beautiful songs about colors (“Box of Crayons” and “Every Color in the Rainbow”) that appropriately emphasize red. This is a winning show that brought back poignant childhood memories of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
Joy Mamey directs.
Teaching a Robot to Love
Laser Malena-Webber wrote the book and lyrics and co-wrote (with E. Aaron Wilson) the music for Teaching a Robot to Love (the musical)! We asked him to describe the path to Fringe greatness.
What is the genesis of this project? It feels like a conglomeration of multiple elements and genres, so I’m curious about the initial spark(s) that set it on its way.
Teaching a Robot to Love is my first musical. I have been a touring singer/songwriter with my band the Doubleclicks for 10 years, and also a comedian and sketch writer at UCB. This project is a culmination of all of those things, and a way to tell the story of me coming out as non-binary, as well as a fun anti-capitalist sci-fi tale about some interns who accidentally create human life.
The pandemic created an opportunity when I wasn’t touring to create something longer than I’d ever made before, and this project was born from time, inspiration, and a group of really incredible, dedicated collaborators.
How did it all come together? How did the group collaborate during the pandemic? What were some moments of breakthrough and joy, as well as obstacles?
We started by creating a concept album. Aaron Wilson and I wrote songs and recorded demos virtually with each other, and then we were able to do some virtual readings with the cast to tighten up the script. We recorded the cast album together over a weekend in 2021, and released that to a Billboard-charting debut last fall.
It was really hard to create something in isolation that I knew had to be amazing—I didn’t want any of my tiny mistakes or laziness to be amplified by all of the effort that other people had to put into it. However, the opposite has happened: everything I was insecure about has become infinitely more beautiful and incredible thanks to the talent and collaboration of this team. We decided to bring this show to Fringe in order to get it on its feet in a safe environment, and seeing these songs come to life with costumes and choreography has been absolutely stunning.
What do you hope people take away from the show?
The show has a strong message about change, acceptance, and joy — it’s well-timed for pride month.
What are your future plans for the show?
At this moment, I’m just excited that we were able to get it up once, and so soon! But I’m hoping we can get it out there more spots, into more theaters or festivals!
Is It History or Is It His-Story?
Teachers gotta teach, and former drama teacher and history buff Kirsten Laurel Caplan gives a detailed lesson on three women unfairly ignored by history: Mercy Otis Warren, Phyllis Wheatley and Sara Josepha Buell Hale. The women are undeniably fascinating, but the hour of prerecorded video, voiceover, canned applause and a confusing set up remove most of the joy of learning.
Caplan plays six characters, herself, and a caricatured game show hostess and four competitors: Dr. Smart E. Pantz, Dr. Gabriel Woke, Karen Straightlaced and Bombastic Bob Racy. They are participating in “Opposing Viewpoints,” voting on whether the three historic women deserve to be added to “The Almighty Seventh Grade History Book.” The four “experts” vote (and tie). The audience theoretically votes, but is actually notified up front that the outcome is already set.
The time-consuming and noisy wraparound material undercuts the message about who gets to write history. The point is a good one: Men known for a single epigram make the textbook while women with much greater accomplishments are ignored. While Caplan gets an A for effort, the presentation is frustrating.
Camp Ginger plays at Actors Company’s Other Space Theatre, 916 Formosa Drive, on Saturday, June 11 at 7:00pm, Sunday, June 12 at 2:30pm and Thursday, June 16 at 7:30pm. Running time is 1 hour. Tickets are $12.
Teaching a Robot to Love has a running time of 2 hours. It is scheduled for performances on Saturday, June 11 at 8:00pm and Sunday, June 12 at 11:00am at the Broadwater (Black Box), 6322 Santa Monica Blvd. There are also two virtual performances at the same time. Tickets are $10-15.
Is It History or Is It His-Story? has a running time of 1 hour. It is scheduled for performances on Saturday, June 11 at 3:45 pm and Sunday, June 25 at 4:45pm at Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave. Tickets are $12.99.
About Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Neo Ensemble Theatre in Hollywood.
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