You wake up with no plans. Browsing the web, you check out the Hollywood Fringe website – some coworkers were talking about it around the water cooler yesterday.
Not knowing exactly what to expect, you decide to give this Fringe thing a try. Browsing through tags, comments, descriptions, and various other little features to help you choose, you select shows and events that most appeal to you. Boom, you buy the tickets in one shot. That was easy, and not too expensive.
Time to step outside. Fringe has clearly arrived. Banners, chalked sidewalks, freaks of all varieties lurking around street corners. Everyone laughing, having a wild time. Something is different in this here neighborhood, you think to yourself.
You begin your day with the experience of the Outdoor Fringe event. Street performers abound vying for your attention and pleasure. That albino fire eater was a site to see. Certainly never seen anyone do that with a grilled cheese sandwich and a pair of pliers.
Delicious snack food cooking on vendor wagons. Unique and artful “gear” sold at stands nearby – “hmm, I think I need a Fringe-branded cigar holder in my life,” you wisely mumble to yourself.
Filled with sun, fun, and joy, you depart the outdoor venue to see some indoor shows. Along the way, you notice masked performers singing a song along the streets ( was that free bird?? ) . No escaping these wild Fringe folk! Feeling feisty, you start singing with them. Bad decision…more masked characters jump out and sing along with you. Ok, maybe not so bad. They slap you on the back as they move on down the road. You are feeling pretty cool.
You head to your first show of the evening – it’s a singing clown act with a libertarian bent. You laugh, you cry. You say hello to the sheepish, cigarette smoking clowns as you move to your next show down the road – turns out to be pretty close! You walk into an improvisation performance heavily utilizing multimedia and turnips. After being called on stage and used as a character in a Charlie Brown bit (that was fun), you decide you are a little hungry. You head to an official Fringe dining venue you found on the Fringe website for some dinner.
You commingle with some of your new Fringe friends, seems they are somehow all there. The masked actors are having some food (poultry) and wave to you. The clowns are eating grits, you wonder why. The albino fire eater sulks in the corner (it’s a tough life, no doubt).
There is a musical act playing at the restaurant: The world-famous Jimbo and his singing monkey. You snarf on your cocktail as the monkey jumps on your table and shakes your hand. You need another cocktail – fast. Someone you just met at the improv show drops by and you share a chuckle about your “famous moment” on stage earlier that evening (“I can’t believe you fell for the football trick! Don’t you read Peanuts?!?”).
Getting dark, time for one more Fringe show. This is a small one, a boutique show that your coworker saw the other night and recommended heartily. The house isn’t packed, but the show is fantastic. You feel you have discovered a gem. You make a note to blog about it in your fringe blog, and to give it a very positive review on their Fringe project page.
You don’t want to go home yet (this is too much fun), so you decide to grab a drink at the official bar you found on the Fringe website. Again, everyone is there! After two or three more drinks, you head to one of the hostels to after party with some of your new Fringe friends.
You spend several hours carousing and meet someone with serious date-potential – such charm and grace. Coming back to consciousness slightly, you realize you have been chatting-up Jimbo’s monkey. You don’t mind so much. That’s one funny friggin monkey – and what a singing voice.
Some of us working on this festival take it for granted that everyone knows what a Fringe Festival is. In reality, I’d say 75% of the people I talk to about the Hollywood Fringe have absolutely no idea. In this blog post, it is my mission to clear up the confusion.
Fringe Theatre was a concept begun in Britain in the early 20th century. It was considered a part of London’s Off West End theatre scene. Fringe referred to theatrical performances that strayed from the mainstream. Fringe was on the edges of what was acceptable, it was experimental and bold. It cast off the conventional moors of performed art. There was the theatre that the conservative, upper crust of society sought out and then there was the Fringe. In American terms, you might refer to fringe theatre as “off-off-Broadway”, although it has spread far beyond the Big Apple.
The first official Fringe Festival – that is a gathering of Fringe artists – was “established” in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1947. I put the “established” in quotes as it wasn’t the most organized affair at the beginning. Eight theatre companies decided to crash the much larger Edinburgh International Festival to take advantage of the scores of theatre audiences attending. Because they weren’t at the center of the International Festival, they labeled themselves as the fringe. So began a legacy that would continue to evolve to this day.
Fringe shows are usually technical sparse as the artists participating are generally not established. Houses trend towards the smaller side (30-75 seats). Venues are not always traditional in their makeup: I’ve heard tell of fringe shows performed in garages, cars, coffee houses, and offices.
Fringes are becoming more and more common in American cities – New York, Philadelphia, Des Moines, Kansas City, Washington DC, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Minneapolis, and Indianapolis all have their own fringes. Surprisingly, Los Angeles has managed to escape the Fringe craze … at least until now. It is estimated by many that fringe festivals are the only growth business in the theatre world, which has been in a steady state of decline for decades.
The good news is that fringes generally revitalize theatre communities in their towns. As it creates a community-based event, people who otherwise never attend theatre start to come out of the woodwork. A good percentage of these new audience members, their appetites whetted, will continue to attend theatre throughout the following year. As fringe becomes an annual tradition for a community, so to does the theatre industry begin to prosper. Nothing would make us happier if that were to happen in Los Angeles.
And that brings us to-date. The Hollywood Fringe will be the first festival of its kind produced in the city of Los Angeles. By uniting theatre companies across the community, city, state, country, and planet, we hope to join the upward trend of theatre in our society.
Many thanks to our friends at Fractured Atlas for admitting the Hollywood Fringe to their fellowship of sponsored organizations.
What does this mean? Donations to the Fringe (made through Fractured Atlas) are now tax deductible. Give a gift of money to the Fringe, write it off on your taxes.
This does not mean we have 501c3 status ourselves. We are using Fractured Atlas as an umbrella organization.
This is great news as we gear up to begin our development/fund raising efforts in the new year.
With an event and a vision this massive, there is only one way to produce it: One little step at a time.
To make a project like this workable, we have divided it into phases. These phases define what we should be doing, who we should be talking to, and what goals we should achieve. The big picture becomes clearer and tasks more manageable when you think of the project in these terms.
This is phase one: Preliminary Planning.
During this phase we are working with definition, research, and basic framework (organizational, technical, and strategic).
Who are we and what are we trying to achieve? We have been slowly defining our mission and our principles as a group to answer these questions. The mission more or less defined itself – we are here for the city, the community, and the artists. The principles have become more and more clear over time – what is it we value? What is our “constitution”, our core laws? Obviously these are important decisions as their implications stretch (hopefully) many years into the future.
MARKETING & BRANDING
In case you didn’t notice from my last post, this is indeed a focus right now. We begin with the logo, which will help us define identity, shapes, colors, fonts, etc. This immediately informs our business cards and letterhead which will be the next tasks. By February, we hope to launch an official “branded” website that will provide more information on our plans (don’t worry, the blog will still exist, too). As we start to prepare information packets for the press, artists, producers, industry, and the venues, the brand will inform them all visually. We have already discovered some alternative approaches to marketing we can use thanks to some smart thinking from our production team.
We have recruited just under ten core production team members to manage such tasks as marketing, design, venues, technology, development, and research. I will be introducing them in later posts. We use a product called Basecamp to serve our internal project management needs. Basecamp gives us an online home for our project. Rather than emails, we normally communicate via posts and comments. All of our electronic communication is centralized in one place. It also allows us to track task lists, collaborative documents, files, and milestones. Members of the project receive email updates as relevant information is posted in basecamp. Project management is 95% communication, and we find Basecamp is a perfect fit for this end.
We have already made the decision that this will be a technology-heavy event. Our goal is to provide the most advanced web presence to our staffers, volunteers, audience, community, and associated artists. For example, we are building a world-class web-based submissions system whereby community members can vote on their favorite projects – “winners” will be invited to participate in official Fringe venues come Summer 2010. We are also developing online services for the audience (where to eat, what to see, where to stay) and artists (boarding, online workshops, collaborating). We have made a lot of progress already – we hope to launch a beta version of our submissions service before the Summer begins – and are on track to do so!
We obviously need money to accomplish our plans and one of the big research projects right now is learning where to find it. We are searching through all the typical avenues: Grants, individual fund raising, fund raising events, sponsors. We are also investigating alternative options such as Internet micro-donations, contextual and relevant online advertising, and more. We have the time to do this right, so research is of the highest importance right now.
That’s a rough description of what’s on our plate right now. As things progress and we move on to new tasks and goals, we will certainly keep our community informed.
One of the more challenging tasks when founding any endeavor is defining the brand. I have needed to go through this process several times – and it is never easy.
I find myself searching for words, images, movies, anything that would express the mood and purpose fluttering about in my head. As I also work in the web development world, I end up collaborating with graphic artists often. I have done so enough to accept that I am not one of them – actually, I envy the natural inclination to make beauty out of ugliness and wish I had the talent for it. As such, I try not to communicate specific design ideas (they will be bad), rather I like to convey moods and non-specific images.
Some of your honorable producers and I were watching a wonderful documentary released recently called Helvetica. It’s about a font (you heard me right). Actually, helvetica is probably the single most used font of all time. I thought the film would put us in the correct mindset to tackle this recent challenge of branding the Fringe. What it has done is driven most of us slightly insane – this font is everywhere and we can’t stop noticing it. I needed to force myself to stop looking at typefaces else I might really start to lose it.
Typography aside, branding is tough. It’s tough because you need to first know what you want to express, then figure out the most artful way to express it. As such, we spent many a late night in these early days of planning (we go up in 2010) just talking about what the Fringe is. If the Fringe were a Peanuts character, who would it be? (pigpen). If it were an artist who would it be? (bansky). If it were a movie would it gross more than 100 million? (probably not).
We came up with some basic language to try to express our brand so artists could have a crack at it:
Graffiti Art ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ the Fringe is tagged on walls, sidewalks.
The Fringe is an idea whose time has come.
The idea EMERGED from the streets.
Floating molecules joined to become an organism ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ that organism is the Fringe.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œFringe is RisingÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
Grimy, Dirty, and Pure
ItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s from the people
It had to happen.
Banksy meets hollywood.
A carnival, a circus
Then there was my idea to try to move forward without a well-defined brand. I wanted to make the brand a combination of all the artists with whom we collaborate – our brand is the brand of “Hollywood Art”. I felt like this would be the opening paragraph to a larger treatise shepherding in a “post branding era”. Noble thoughts, eh? Ok, so it isn’t very practical in practice. Recognizability goes a long way towards attracting audiences – certainly one of our “goals” in this process. Artist exposure is apart of our mission – and that’s hard to do without an audience.
Even though these initial, idealist notions may not work as initially conceived, I still think there is something to it. The Fringe is unique amongst artistic organizations in that it is a meeting of artistic minds, a hub of creative thought. Fringes bring together divergent forces in the art community into an organic whole. How can we graphically and artfully capture and represent this as an organization? These are the high minded thoughts that keep us up at night – we will all see how they work out.
We are making some progress, fortunately. We happen to be associates and friends with some very talented artists and are exploring some interesting ideas. As soon as we have some candidates, we will post them here.