If success can be measured by a mention in Johnny Carson's monologue, then Los Angeles' first Fringe Festival has made it to the top.
On Sept. 4, opening day of the grass-roots celebration of the arts that ended Sunday, Carson quipped about musician/composer Sandra Tsing Loh's Harbor Freeway rush-hour serenade.
The national exposure was only one of the indicators that Fringe Festival executive director Aaron Paley cited Tuesday in claiming that the monthlong, multimedia festival featuring home-grown, lesser-known artists and smaller arts organizations succeeded "in every measure." And even though acknowledging that the festival had detractors, he said organizers plan to stage another Fringe, under his direction, to run concurrently with the second Los Angeles Festival in 1989.
Why else does Paley deem the Fringe a success?
"For one, we expected to get 100 groups doing 200 events, and we ended up with a total of 500 groups and individuals doing 450 events in 210 sites around the county," he said.
"Also, my feeling, from talking to artists, is that they feel the Fringe Festival gave them a sense of identity and community and an awareness of what was going on in their own city that they didn't have before . . . there's a feeling of 'L. A. is a great place to be if you're interested in culture.' "
Terry Wolverton, development director of the Woman's Building and a Fringe participant and board member, concurred: "The arts community of L. A., particularly the small and multicultural (ethnic minority) arts organizations, got to reveal their size, their diversity, their scope and their strength and many more people are aware of that community now then they were before the Fringe."
An immediate tally of ticket sales is impossible as the Fringe had no central ticketing. But public response was strong, continued Paley, who, with his staff, has questioned at least half the Fringe participants on the matter.
"It seems that either everyone held their own--and that's an accomplishment because a big fear was that they would lose audiences to the Los Angeles Festival," Paley said, "or, they increased their audiences dramatically. . . . Certain theaters experienced gigantic increases, getting 200 people (for a single performance) instead of 50."
(A more scientific gauge of public response will be available later this month after he receives a comprehensive questionnaire back from all Fringe participants, Paley said.)
The Fringe--which mined the broad and diverse cultural and social makeup of Los Angeles with such events as a Celtic music concert in Hollywood, a Nigerian dance performance in San Pedro, an exhibit of Mexican and Chicano artworks in Exposition Park and a 27-event gay and lesbian theater festival staged from Silver Lake to Downey--also benefited by extensive coverage by the local print and electronic media Paley said.
"Our whole raison d'etre was to enable these independent artists and organizations to share the spotlight while these (Los Angeles Festival) artists came in from all over the world--and they certainly did."
A national public relations campaign and conversations here with arts administrators from Singapore and Stockholm, among others, have also made Paley confident that "people all over the world know that there was a Fringe Festival going on in Los Angeles."
The Fringe also succeeded by attracting audiences to "go explore new things," Paley said. "People were willing to go to weird places (beaches, parks, a freeway) at weird times (from dawn to midnight) to see things they never would have experienced."
A number of Fringe participants seemed to benefit immediately from the publicity they received as well.
"We had three Fringe performances," said dancer/choreographer Karen Goodman, "and for the last one, we had to turn people away. . . . A lot of my audience just came from having read the Fringe catalogue."
However, several observers and participants complained about a number of problems.
The Fringe 45-page catalogue--listing some 450 events by discipline, not by date--elicited most complaints, Paley said. A sense of isolation from one another bothered many participants, and, as even Paley said, "audiences just didn't materialize" for some events, while other presentations "got very poor critical reviews."
In addition, most Fringe participants, who had to put up from $100-$250 to enter the festival (though the fee was waived for about 40 entrants) plus pay to produce their own events, were forced to scrounge for funds to take part.
Many of these problems stemmed in part from a "shoestring" Fringe budget, Paley said, which totaled $118,000 to cover its managerial expenses for 15 months.
Paley said he hopes to recitify some of these problems by raising enough money to double the budget in 1989. Some of the changes he'd like to see are: a day-by-day calendar, a festival club for artists and producers to fraternize and exchange creative ideas, and possibly a central ticketing system or "some kind of discount pass."