In our opinion, a “definition of a Fringe Festival” is to play. It’s to create. It’s to experiment. This is how great theatre is made.
Did you know?
Fringe Festivals exist throughout the world as havens for underground and emerging arts scenes. The Fringe concept was incubated in Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1947, eight performance groups appeared uninvited on the “fringes” of the exclusive Edinburgh International Festival. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe has since grown into the largest arts festival in the world, annually grosses over $100 million for the local economy and remains the biggest tourist draw in the UK.
The NoHo Arts District dot com team is proud to support the Hollywood Fringe Festival as we are all Hollywood (North) and a part of L.A.’s arts corridor.
So what is the Hollywood Fringe Festival?
Each June during the Hollywood Fringe, the arts infiltrate the Hollywood neighborhood: fully equipped theaters, parks, clubs, churches, restaurants and other unexpected places host hundreds of productions by local, national, and international arts companies and independent performers. Participation in the Hollywood Fringe is completely open and uncensored. This free-for-all approach underlines the festival’s mission to be a platform for artists without the barrier of a curative body. By opening the gates to anyone with a vision, the festival is able to exhibit the most diverse and cutting-edge points-of-view the world has to offer. Additionally, by creating an environment where artists must self-produce their work, the Fringe motivates its participants to cultivate a spirit of entrepreneurialism in the arts.
We got a chance to ask the “Definition of Man” creators about their show and how it came to be. It is the example of what a Fringe Festival incubates, develops and nurishes. Meet Jason Rosario and Nikki Muller, the creators of “Definition of Man” playing at Sacred Fools Blackbox Theatre through June 25.
What made you choose to create a piece drawing from Kenneth Burke’s essay “Definition of Man?”
N: Originally, I had no idea that the piece would wind up being inspired by Burke, I was simply going off of discussions Jason and I had about what we wanted to work to look like– a highly physical piece that drew from our specific selves, something no more than an hour that would grip the audience, challenge them, confront them with challenging questions and make them think. The idea to draw from Burke arose organically– since Jason and I were discussing issues of identity, shame, and general failure of language to perfectly communicate our inner lives, the thought arose that Burke’s Definition of Man would offer the perfect framing device through which to uncover how man is moved and shaped by the words he or she uses. Since most only study Burke at a college or graduate level, I also thought it would be interesting to make these ideas more accessible, and to see them embodied and deconstructed at a performative level, where the body takes over.
How did you choose your stories?
J: We individually reflected on the themes we had chosen to explore in the piece and both started writing during our workshop phase. We knew beforehand that we wanted to allow the audience in at a very personal level, and that we’d have to get pretty vulnerable in sharing our own narratives in order to do so. Creating this piece was my opportunity to tell my story in my own way, on my own terms, stories I’ve never felt safe or comfortable enough to share. We both believed by sharing something deeply personal that we would allow the audience to identify and feel with us in their own private experience.
N: We wanted to present two unique perspectives to the audience, and the best way for us to do this was to identify where we were speaking from. There’s an idea from Donna Harraway called situated knowledges, that true objectivity is a myth, and we can only reach some kind of truth by speaking from somewhere. Identifying our specific experiences, what has shaped us as people, and what influences our understanding of the world was crucial to allowing the audience a space to insert themselves into our stories. By choosing our most vulnerable, foundational stories, I believe we allow our audience the permission to turn their gaze inward and reflect on their own life experiences as well.
What are your backgrounds?
J: I was born in Miami, FL and lived in Puerto Rico for the first couple years of my life. Most of my childhood I lived with my mother in Florida and summers in Puerto Rico with my father. I began acting in middle school, was extremely active in our high school’s drama program and moved out to Los Angeles after graduating. I’ve been studying martial arts since childhood, and have been studying Muay Thai in LA for many years– it was at a teammate’s fight that I first met Nikki and we learned of our similar love for theater and decided to collaborate on creating a new original work. I was feeling frustrated with a lack of depth in the roles I was auditioning for, especially as a native Spanish speaker– there are very generic ideas on what it means to be Latino. Los Angeles is fairly naive regarding the diversity of hispanic culture– many of them don’t even know the geography or background of Puerto Rican culture, which can be alienating and frustrating. This play allowed me to create something distinctly from myself and my culture, which I don’t see very often when auditioning.
N: I grew up in New York, also to divorced parents. My father was an East German refugee who instilled in me a great pride for the freedoms and privileges we are afforded as American citizens, which has always stayed with me. Both of my parents were deeply supportive of my academic and creative pursuits. I’ve always loved writing, and used to write and self-produce little plays with my best friends since the around the age of seven. I continued to study theater and writing in high school and got my BA in Comparative Literature with certificates from the department of Theater and Dance and Creative Writing. I got my MFA in Acting from the Moscow Art Theater School/American Repertory Theater’s Institute for Advanced Theater Training at Harvard University. During this time, I learned the rudiments of Russian partner movement, which we use in the show. After graduating, I moved to LA, where I have largely been involved in comedy and endurance training– I have completed six Ironman triathlons. Upon meeting Jason, I was inspired to funnel my athletic energies into creating something original that returned me to my dramatic roots.
Why is it a “sexier, more violent Waiting for Godot?”
We chose Waiting for Godot as our inspiration insofar as it is a very spare, philosophical, language-based show. We wanted ours to have a similar feel of desolation, but stick with only two characters, and, unlike Godot, eventually move somewhere– the “sexy” part naturally arises given that the show is about two people in a relationship, and the violence emerges from the visceral nature of their engagement. Unlike most stagings of Godot, ours is an extremely physical piece.
What can audiences expect? What would you like the audience to take away?
J: I don’t want the audience to expect anything: ideally, they will just come with an open mind. What I hope them to take away is to feel something viscerally– to be moved. Whether their reaction be anger, discomfort, sadness, or reflection, I’m hoping the piece will reach them at a personal level, cause them to reflect, and inspire them to be more empathic and open with others as a result.
N: This show is a tightly-paced hour that, while including some lofty ideas, grips the audience at a very primal level. The actors use their entire bodies and selves to tell the story, using figurative language and physicality to ask some probing questions about humanity and the self. You’ll also see us go back and forth in counter balances– often the male partner will base for a smaller, lighter female, but since we are reinforcing ideas of equality in perspective, we also reinforce it physically, both basing and both “flying.” Ideally, I would like the audience to leave with a sense of hope– hope that they truly do have the power to change themselves and, as a result, the world by changing the way they communicate. Part of the play mentions Richard Weaver’s idea of rhetoric, how every moment we speak is an opportunity to change people for the better. I hope this play reaches people at that level, and leaves them changed in a positive way.
Thanks, Jason, Nikki and the Hollywood Fringe team!
June 2 – June 25
Sacred Fools Black Box Theater
6322 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
A sexier, more violent Waiting for Godot, “Definition of Man” is a post-modern de-creation myth that drawing from Kenneth Burke’s essay of the same name investigates the human drive to communicate and the inevitable breakdown that results from the inherent incompleteness of language. In the abstracted setting of a burnt-out, post-apocalyptic ruin, the cast of two serves as a stand-in for all of humanity while grappling with their own personal struggles to maintain a sense of self in a world that has ceased to exist.
Co-created and starring – Jason Rosario and Nikki Muller
Written by Nikki Muller
Directed by JJ Mayes
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