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The Edgier Side of the Edge of the World

Theater* This year's festival of productions in sub-100-seat venues puts the emphasis on innovation, organizers say.


The subtitle of this year's fourth annual Edge of the World Theater Festival is "Breaking New Ground." So what's new with this agglomeration of 48 productions in 37 sub-100-seat venues?

The festival, opening Thursday and playing through Oct. 20, is becoming more selective. This year, about 10 applicants were rejected, compared to only two last year and none the first two years, said Ray Simmons and Amy Edlin, two of the festival's three executive directors.

The festival wants "edgy" work--though its directors admit that the definition of the word is elusive. They have even devoted a round-table session Oct. 20 to a discussion of what "edgy" means.

Without naming names, Edlin and Simmons said the shows that were rejected by the curators--Katharine Noon and the third festival executive director, Christopher DeWan--didn't seem innovative or uniquely theatrical. Among examples cited were sitcom-style plays, a show in which one actor plays five characters and other performances that weren't actual "plays."

This year's festival is marginally more centralized than the spread-out proceedings of the past. More than half of the shows are in Hollywood and Silver Lake--enough that City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who represents that area, arranged a $1,000 city grant for the festival. One idea being floated is that the festival may look for one or two theaters next year, in which a large chunk of festival programming would be presented nearly around the clock. This year, weekday programming begins no earlier than 5 p.m.

Despite the trend toward centralization, festival organizers are attempting to reach out to other neighborhoods by holding the four round-table sessions at venues in other areas: 24th Street Theatre just north of USC, Inglewood Playhouse, Autry Museum of Western Heritage on the northeast corner of Griffith Park, and Armory Northwest in Pasadena.

Unlike previous festivals, this year's has formal nonprofit status, complete with a board of directors and the three executive directors. In the past, most festival decisions were made by a group of 13 people, "each with very strong opinions," Simmons said.

The budget, however, remains tiny--only $11,000, mostly spent on printing. Theatre LA, the service and advocacy organization that represents most L.A. theater companies and producers, contributed $3,500. Other sources of revenue are application fees and sales of "passports"--$15 passes that provide admission to any festival show for an additional $5 per show, plus discounts at 21 restaurants, many of which are near festival venues. The individual theaters keep two-thirds of the passport revenue.

Past festivals have raised questions about whether the festival period is different from a normal 10 days in L.A.'s sub-100-seat theater scene, which produces more than 1,000 shows each year. "In L.A., there's a festival going on every week," Simmons said. But Edlin and Simmons pointed to a handful of productions they said were created for the festival and others that were scheduled to coincide with the festival.

Little progress has been made in diversifying the festival along ethnic or racial lines. Only one minority-specific company, the Asian American Lodestone Theatre, is taking part. Simmons and Edlin said they sent applications to a number of other companies that weren't made up predominantly of white artists but received no responses.

Simmons and Edlin are unabashed in their hope that their audience is younger than normal theater audiences. "Otherwise it's a dead art form," Simmons said.


Information: or (310) 281-7920. Information and passports are also available from noon to 6 p.m. at Open Fist Theatre, 1625 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood.

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