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The Making of a Show, Part 1: Inappropriate! at the Hollywood Fringe

Editor’s Note: Buzz theater writer Laura Foti Cohen has reviewed Hollywood Fringe Festival productions since 2018. This year she co-wrote and -produced one with the theater company she belongs to; she documents the process here. Inappropriate! opens June 6 and you can get tickets here.

Early this year, the artistic directors of NEO Ensemble Theatre decided it was time to break out of Zoom boxes and put on an in-person show. Michael Caldwell and Rachel Winfree and the rest of the NEO company had taken Zoom production to new heights. But it was time to hear the laughter of the unmuted.

Michael and Rachel produced the NEO themed compilation shows Family Secrets (2017) and Inappropriate (2018) in North Hollywood. Both were sellouts and enormous fun. NEO was a week away from opening night of our 2020 show, Character Flaws, when COVID-19 shut us down.

Since then, we’ve debated the right time to return to live, in-person performances. Without the luxury/albatross of a physical theater, we danced around committing to a rental, now exponentially more expensive. We saw many productions miss performances or shut down completely due to an outbreak of COVID—even as recently as this month.

Fringe was the perfect solution. Fringe registration and theater rentals are reasonably priced, due to high volume. (One theater can host more than a dozen shows over the course of the Festival’s 25-day run.) And there’s an amazingly supportive and extensive Fringe community that adds to the joy of putting on a show again.

NEO actor/writer David St. James and I joined Michael and Rachel as producers. NEO actor AnnaLisa Erickson took on the heavy lifting of designing and producing all our graphics. Together the five of us set out to craft—and market—a show that brought the NEO experience to the Fringe format.

We decided to adapt Inappropriate, selecting the funniest comedy pieces so we could keep the new show to an hour—optimal Fringe length. We toured a number of Fringe venues and selected the one we felt worked best for our show: Three Clubs, part of a bar on Vine Street. Its 75-seat theater was refurbished over lockdown, plus they served booze!

We set a ticket price ($15). We were on our way!

The playwrights of the show’s five main short plays—Rom Watson, Beth Polsky, me and the ensemble led by Michael and Rachel—did some script updates. Then, while Rachel and Michael cast the show, AnnaLisa developed its graphic look.

An “inappropriate” flasher quickly emerged as the theme. “It took a village to come up with eye-catching, fun graphics for Inappropriate!” AnnaLisa says. “Luckily, NEO has a production team that could verbalize what they had in mind, and then trusted me enough to turn me loose. A wonderful Inappropriate! actor with a camera and a trench coat volunteered as our iconic flasher. When you join us for the show, see if you can identify him!”

The flasher graphic is used on our show’s page, on social media, and on the all-important Fringe postcard. These are distributed at Fringe events and to anyone you know who will accept them. AnnaLisa also designed a pre-stained Three Clubs coaster that will be used to promote the show.

NEO Ensemble Theatre Fringe participants Jerry Weil, Maura Swanson, Laura Foti Cohen, David St. James and Beth Nintzel

I wrote a press release and set to work creating a media list to identify reviewers of the show. The last time I put together a (very different) media list was when I co-chaired the Windsor Square-Hancock Park Historical Society’s garden tour, a decade ago. (Don’t miss this year’s version!) The list took weeks, but I ended up with more than 75 media outlets—very few of whom responded to our offer of Fringe reviewer tickets. It’s rough out there for a small theater company!

We brainstormed a custom Three Clubs drink to represent our show; Michael came up with the winner, Flasher in the Rye. The show’s 16 NEO participants go to all the Fringe events to be part of the community—and exchange postcards. And, oh yes, as our opening date of June 6 nears, we’re in rehearsals for the show.

More on that part of the Fringe process next time.

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Laura Foti Cohen
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 Theatre West.

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