Theater on the Fringe

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Stick with me. This is a long quote from 25 years ago but it's really relevant right now.

"Los Angeles has no great public monument which focuses attention and serves as a backdrop for a festival. Its disparate elements, its sprawl, its multiple cultures, all contribute to the city's central paradox - its identity lies in its diversity. This reality combined with the fact that Los Angeles is essentially vehicular and private rather than pedestrian and public, might lead one to believe the city is ill suited to host an arts festival."

That's from a report on the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival They overcame the challenges of LA with millions of dollars – not to mention that in that fleeting moment the city had a magical sense of possibility.

So here's the question: In a city where the geography conspires against a central point of focus – and with a public somewhat lukewarm to theater in general – is it possible to sustain a theater festival on a shoestring budget and a dream?

The latest brave answer to that question is the Hollywood Fringe Festival, which is running through June 27.

The festival is a loose collection of 31 different venues and the performances of 184 different companies over 11 days.

So what is a Fringe festival? Well, in the case of the world famous Edinburgh Fringe, it's a festival that happens around the ‘fringe‘ of the main Edinburgh International Arts Festival. It began when a group of uninvited actors decided they'd put their work up along side the more traditional fare and see who'd come.

Fringe festivals tend to be rough and edgy affairs that lend themselves well to solo shows, experimental work, bawdy comedies, and production values that travel well in a couple of suitcases. They pride themselves on being open to all comers. If you can find a venue, you can perform - no artistic director, no jury, no one choosing the work.

The result is some of the best and absolute worst theater you can imagine. And that's the beauty and the curse of fringe festivals. At their best these festivals, like LA, have a stunning diversity. At their worst the work is unfocused and lacks a center . . . like LA.

The Hollywood Fringe is off to a good start. They've attracted an astonishing number of companies - from across the city, across the country and even a couple shows from across the world. They've tackled the geography challenge by confining the Festival to a square mile of Hollywood and they've gotten the support of Backstage and the LA Weekly to run a truly staggering number of reviews - all promising signs for a festival in its first year.

The real test of the Fringe festival is: will there be enough good work and will they reach the kind of critical mass that convinces people in this private, vehicular city to sit in a theater on a sunny California day or a warm summer night.

Well, if any city can pull off a fringe, it should be LA.

The Hollywood Fringe runs through June 27.

For info on the Fringe text the word "curtain" to 69866.

I'd love to hear the best and worst of what you've seen on the fringe at

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.