400 Live Shows Descend For The Hollywood Fringe Festival — Here's How To Decide What To See

The Fringe Festival is taking over Hollywood's Theatre Row. (Courtesy Hollywood Fringe Festival)

Have you noticed more of your artsy friends inviting you to their theater shows than usual? That's because June means it's time for the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

This is the festival's 10th year of inviting people to put up productions, creating a community with more than 400 different shows putting on nearly 2,000 performances this month, at nearly 40 different venues. The shows have been in previews, but they officially launch Thursday and run through the end of the month.

Playwright/actor John Brahan, who wrote and appears in Fringe show All Our Pretty Songs, moved out here with his friend for last year's Fringe Festival on the recommendation of one of his acting coaches.

"I knew that it would give me purpose when I came out here," Brahan said. "That I would at least have something that occupied my time for my first month and a half, and a way to meet people, a way to get plugged in to some sort of artistic scene out here."

Brahan managed to find a community and build confidence. His first show had four people in the audience — including three friends. By the end of its run, the team had won a Fringe Festival award.

"We knew that we wanted to continue creating, and that this is the best way to hold ourselves accountable," Brahan said. "It's kind of like if a shark stops swimming, you know? If an artist stops creating, then what's the point?"

HOW TO FIGURE OUT WHICH FRINGE SHOWS TO SEE

The Fringe Festival has mascots. Terrifying, upsetting mascots. (Courtesy Hollywood Fringe Festival)

Fringe offers a database of the hundreds of shows being put up, searchable by keywords, categories, venue, and more. Looking for a musical? Comedy? Something political? Have at it.

One of the best ways to see some of the landscape is to check out the Fringe's cabaret shows. They give you 2- to 6-minute excerpts from a bunch of different Fringe shows, letting you try the sampler platter before buying a ticket to the full show.

The Festival itself doesn't promote individual shows, as they try to offer the same chance for each show to find an audience — but the one recommendation Festival Director Ben Hill would give is to check out one of the festival's 16 immersive theater shows.

Here's how he described one of the immersive shows that was held last year at the Three Clubs.

"You would be guided by your guide to some decision point, and then it would lead to another decision point," Hill said. "And then a car will pull up and convince two people in one group to get in a car, and then they'll drive you to a tent on the side of the road where you go in and meet some crazy guy."

Then all the various plot lines converge, bringing the audience back together. But if that sounds a little too action-adventure movie for you, there are smaller immersive options — like another of last year's shows, Death and Coffee, by Annie Lesser (who also happens to be an occasional contributor here at LAist).

"She'd sit down and she'd offer you a coffee or a hot chocolate," Hill said, "And she'd tell you a story about her grandfather dying and her relation to the grandfather. And to most people, might think, 'Why would I do that?' ... With this one, I was getting this incredibly intimate, conversational, in an apartment of a very talented performer, just for me. And I came out feeling very transformed."

Here's our list of some of the festival's notable shows, especially those that take place here in Southern California.

ALL OUR PRETTY SONGS

Get ready to rock (mediocrely). (Courtesy All Our Pretty Songs)

It's not a musical, but it's a play with music. This show's about mediocre musician/Kurt Cobain wannabe Neil who moves to Los Angeles to become a rock star, but gets faced with the harsh reality that he just might not be good enough, at least not yet.

Neil has to decide whether to keep chasing his dreams or do something more practical — a timeless L.A. conundrum. It's something that the show's creators have been dealing with themselves after moving out here.

"The inspiration definitely comes from own struggles as artists," playwright/actor Brahan said, "and feeling like, hmmm — are we doing what we should be doing? Or should we cut our losses and find something else that's more stable?"

The show includes four songs, helping to move the story along. Brahan played music professionally in college, though he's not the musician in the show. That would be Dan Schultz, Brahan's friend who also directed the show.

"Our show is like an anti-A Star Is Born," Brahan said. "We have average people trying to do something extraordinary."

Last year's festival helped Brahan get a meeting with a management group — so they're hoping for even more success this time around.

A TRIBUTE TO DOUG

Doug holds a special place in the hearts of '90s kids everywhere. The Nickelodeon cartoon was funny, but earnest, and this tribute — with the blessing of the show's creator — brings the classic cartoon to life.

BEST NIGHT EVER: A BACHELOR(ETTE) NIGHT

Limo party! You get to join a couple the night before the Big Day in this immersive show, taking on the roles of the other attendees at this joint bachelor/bachelorette party. You'll play the bridesmaids and groomsmen, and you'll even get free drinks — while dealing with this couple's drama. They promise that the couple's fate lies in the audience's hands.

THE FLOWER SOCIETY

This one goes right to our public radio hearts — it was inspired by an NPR story about the lessons homeless women learn in their daily lives. Playwright Maryanne Householder went out on the streets of L.A. to conduct her own interviews with homeless people, helping to construct a one-act play about four homeless women and the battles they face. It's a heavy topic — but the show also promises to help the audience find hope for a better future.

I'M JENNIFER MOTHER F—-ING LAWRENCE

No, the real Jennifer Lawrence is not in this play. But this is a character study of the Lawrence we all think we know from celebrity profiles. The story follows Lawrence as she bunks with actress Rose Byrne (also not the real Bryne) in a Hawaiian bungalow as they face their greatest fear: a spider. Their assistants are supporting characters, with dilemmas that ring true to the way celebs and their handlers interact.

The actresses may not be dead ringers for the real celebs, but they capture the pop culture vibe of their personalities.

MY TRANS WIFE

If you're ready to embrace a true story, this show stars a real-life couple — both women, one transgender. It deals with what happens in a relationship when a member of the couple struggles with gender identity, while the other has to grapple with their long-held Catholic beliefs.

The creators hope to empower people who are considered "different" and to tell audiences that love transcends everything.

PICNIC PARTY

The latest project from Annie Lesser, who put on that Death and Coffee show mentioned above. An immersive show, this one allows up to 16 audience members at a time to experience a silent disco experience/picnic. There's not necessarily any food — but they promise to give you some food for thought.

View this post on Instagram

#HFF19 #PicnicPartyLA #PicnicParty #silentdisco #positivity

A post shared by Picnic Party (@picnicpartyla) on

The picnic appears to be a lot more about affirmation than eating.

ROCK BAND MURDER MYSTERY

An immersive theater experience, you get to live a rock and roll fantasy — while solving a murder. You'll be given a role, ranging from band member to groupie. And one of you might just be the murderer.

Each show allows a maximum of 12 people to take part. Don't worry about not being able to live up to the rock star musicianship — the music of the world comes from the Rock Band and Guitar Hero video games.

MORE FRINGE SHOWS SET IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA:

Get in line for one of 400 different shows. (Courtesy Hollywood Fringe Festival)

ASK US YOUR QUESTIONS

This story has been updated.