On Saturday, just after 11 p.m., at the Broadwater Theater on Santa Monica Boulevard, Selina Merrill takes the stage to perform a preview of her one-woman show, part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival. As soon as she begins to speak, audience members start throwing balled-up socks at her. Live theater can be interactive and unpredictable, and nowhere is this more true than at the Hollywood Fringe Festival, where shows like Easy Targets: Artists and Heroes allow the audience to give performers instant feedback — with socks. At least it's not shoes.

The ninth annual festival runs from June 7 to June 24, and this year features 380 shows happening in about 30 Hollywood venues, plus parties at nearby bars and event spaces. The festival, a celebration of self-expression and collaboration, is uncurated, and with so many shows, it can be hard to decide what to see. Ben Hill, the founding festival director, suggests playing a game called “What’s Near? What’s Next?”: Simply head down to the Fringe Zone on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday morning, check the festival schedule, and see what sounds appealing. He says, “You just sort of need to roll with it. You get in there, you immerse yourself in this thing, and you let it take you—and then you’ll say, ‘I really experienced something.’”

If you ask for specific show recommendations, Hill will say, “It’s festival policy not to love one child more than another.” Instead, he focuses on the festival as a whole. “I’m really excited every year to see the community come together,” he says. “We live in a world with a lot of cutthroat competition in various parts of the city, and you would think that in a festival with so much going on, where it takes so much effort to rise to the top, that there would be that kind of cutthroat attitude, but it turns out just the opposite is true. Everyone likes to lift everyone else up. It’s sort of sewn into the fabric of the festival itself.”

The full schedule of Hollywood Fringe shows can be found on the official website, where clickable tags like “absurd,” “heartfelt,” “immersive” and “dark comedy” help to narrow down the options. Desperate for advice from an insider? Below, a few of this year’s Fringe participants describe their own shows and share suggestions for what else to see.

The audience gets to sock it to performers in Easy Targets.  ; Credit: Scott Golden

The audience gets to sock it to performers in Easy Targets. ; Credit: Scott Golden

Easy Targets: Artists and Heroes
Easy Targets: Artists and Heroes is a satire of solo shows. During a series of impossibly bad solo shows, each lasting about 15 minutes, the audience is invited to throw balled-up socks (25 cents per pair) anytime they feel bored, annoyed or patronized. Producer Scott Golden, and a self-described “fringe-aholic,” is involved with four Fringe shows this year. He says, “The Burglars of Hamm started doing this show about 15 years ago. They revive it every three or four years.” It won the festival’s Best Comedy award last year, and this year it’s back with new material.

Golden also is working on Resa Fantastiskt Mystisk, a Swedish play described as “a previously unknown masterpiece.” He’s also acting in two shows — The Runaway Clone, an original musical that he calls “tons of fun,” and the 30-minute comedy Night of the Rootbeer, by fringe veteran Michael Shaw Fisher.

Golden also recommends checking out Sacred Fools Theater Company’s monster-themed lineup, including Jane Austen’s Emma Frankenstein. He saw Keeping Up With the Prozorovs and says, “It was great. It’s a Kardashian spoof based on Chekhov.” Golden also is looking forward to Hungry Bitch, a one-man show by Michael Mullen (“Everything he does is really solid,” he assures), and an immersive show called Unreal City. He says, “A lot of people who saw the preview are like, ‘This is one you’ve gotta see.’”

John "JT" Tucker Jr. (star of A&E's Born This Way) in Best Buddies; Credit: Zachary Foster

John “JT” Tucker Jr. (star of A&E's Born This Way) in Best Buddies; Credit: Zachary Foster

Best Buddies: The Hip-Hop Musical
Conor Hanney wrote and directed Best Buddies, a 60-minute musical comedy featuring 12 original songs and one unexpected earworm. Half of the cast are actors with special needs from the Born to Act Players in North Hollywood, and half are actors Hanney has worked with in the past on shows like Divorce: The Hip-Hop Musical. Hanney says, “I studied writing for kids programming at Notre Dame, so I could write for those that are biologically kids and those that are still cognitively in that demo.“ He precast this show before he started writing, and did long-form interviews with the cast members so that he could write parts that reflect their abilities.

Hanney suggests checking out Doctor Nympho vs. the Sex Zombies, a rock musical about an STD that turns people into zombies. “It’s super campy and really fun,” he says. He’s also looking forward to Sex and the Musical, Laura Wiley’s musical about how the Sex and the City women first became friends, and the one-woman shows Mulatto Math: Summing Up the Race Equation in America and Unapologetically Black.

Death and Coffee
The flyer for Annie Lesser’s show Death and Coffee describes it as “an interactive one-woman, one-audience-member show.” Lesser returns to the Hollywood Fringe for her fourth year with a 10-minute show in which one person comes into her apartment for coffee and a talk about death. She says, “It’s kind of like a conversation. I’ve written my dialogue, but I have openings where I ask the audience questions.” The visitor chooses a place to sit, but Lesser has intentionally narrowed the options. “It’s all designed so that our bodies are close to each other to breed intimacy.”

Other Fringe shows that pique Lesser’s interest include an immersive, improvisational show called Snow Fridge. “Audience members fill out a questionnaire and their answers determine the show.” Lesser was disappointed to realize that her own performance times prevent her from seeing Rochester, 1996, a three-hour immersive experience set in multiple locations. She also recommends Laertes Loves Hamlet Loves Ophelia, which she saw in previews. “It’s a modern-day adaptation of Hamlet’s relationship with Laertes and Ophelia.”

Samuel (Kyle Felts) and Angelica (Jessie Holder Tourtellotte) in Wounded.; Credit: Kerry Kazmierowicztrimm

Samuel (Kyle Felts) and Angelica (Jessie Holder Tourtellotte) in Wounded.; Credit: Kerry Kazmierowicztrimm

Wounded was written and co-produced by Kerry Kazmierowicztrimm. “It’s a three-character drama,” he explains. “It runs about 80 minutes. It’s about a woman whose husband was severely mentally and physically injured in the war, and now she acts as his full-time caregiver. It’s about when, for the first time, she’s considering having a relationship outside the marriage.” Tickets are free for veterans and their family members, although the website notes that the show is not appropriate for children.

Kazmierowicztrimm’s co-producer, Tanya Gorlow, is a returning Fringer. Her recommendations include Foxhole Stories: Twist, Pull, Smoke, Run-Motherfucker-Run!, another drama about military veterans. She says, “Their approach to the subject is very different than how we approached Wounded and is also very important and powerful. I'm looking forward to seeing it.” She’s also excited about Vixen DeVille Revealed. “It's supposed to be sexy, irreverent and empowering, and I can get behind all of those things.”

Kazmierowicztrimm suggests checking out Villain – An American Story, a drama that takes place in the aftermath of a shooting. “It follows both the family of a black teenage boy and the family of the white police officer.” He also recommends We Are Traffic, about the experiences of a car-sharing driver in Los Angeles. “It was very well done and very touching, about his attempt to try to connect with people in these short car rides.”

The producer, who has attended before but is participating in Fringe for the first time this year, conveys something a lot of people appreciate about the festival: how it reflects not only the zeitgeist but how people are thinking and feeling about the world around them right now. He says a lot of the shows take place in the present in a way that you don’t necessarily see with regional theaters, which often produce the classics. At Fringe, he says, “You get much more of a sense of what’s happening in this moment, and especially a sense of what’s happening to people in L.A.”

Hollywood Fringe Festival 2018, thru June 28; various locations and times. Full schedule and info at hollywoodfringe.org.

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