My niece and I participated in a workshop in preparation for the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Hanford Multicultural Theater is not only a participant but has also won a diversity scholarship to participate.
The workshop was at Studio C in Hollywood, right in the heart of Theatre Row. Executive producer Matthew Quinn spelled out the Hollywood Fringe process with pointers for having the best experience at the festival. Towards the end of the workshop Matthew added final notes for the participants. The usual, “Always ask questions.” The pleasant, “We are happy to help you.” Then a request from the fringe staff members, “Don’t be a jerk.” That last one made sense, but I pondered what initiated such a request.
What happened that caused an early declaration of “Don’t be a jerk?” Did the fringe have a person who ruined the good aspects of the festival and now they flat out say to all new participants that being a jerk is unacceptable? Or do they understand their industry and how by its nature it brings out the pompous that they want to prevent straight away? Or is it a warning, that no one will want to play with you if you do not know how to work well with others?
Admittedly, the request is understandable. However, it was a bit jarring to hear in my elation of being part of the festival. A month later, my niece and I went to a Hollywood Fringe social event and it was joyous. Everyone there was extremely nice and friendly. This social event occurred a month before the state shutdown so additional social events had to continue online. For the activities online I came to the same conclusion. These are genuinely nice people who run this festival.
Do jerks know they are a jerk? Someone hellbent on getting their way at the expense of others, yielding to their own selfish goals by manufacturing worlds in a pursuit of self-righteousness, may have pathology. We have met them in other occupations. Might even have one in the family. It is common to think that those in the performance arts are more apt to be like that, but we all have seen it in other professions. In other professions they tend to be fired. In the arts, they tend to deconstruct art and all the art professional can do is make a mental note to not work or be around that person anymore. “Don’t be a jerk” declarations at preliminary meetings may be a way to warn the narcissist their shenanigans will not be welcomed.
I probably should not be surprised by the request. In the short history of HMTC there was a disturbance that caused the creation of a sign at the entrance of our theater which reads “Promoting a peaceful and tranquil environment to advance in human goals. Infractors will be asked to go elsewhere.” It is also included in the registration form to be initialed by all participants. So, it appears we are just like the Hollywood Fringe Festival trying to promote a peaceful environment for all and art’s sake.
Why make declarations like this by the Hollywood Fringe Festival and small companies like HMTC? I refuse to believe there are that many jerks to contend with, but the arts are particularly vulnerable to destruction from jerks. Creative energy and even artistic brilliance of an artist, or a group of artists, can become kneecapped by jerks. Hence, Hollywood Fringe Festival tells its new participants, “Don’t be a jerk.”
I have often heard that Hollywood has in their midst ‘lost children.’ Maybe lost children term is a cover name for jerks. Now I know for certain that Hollywood prefers to be without them.
Silvia Gonzalez Scherer is the Executive Artistic Director and co-founder of the Hanford Multicultural Theater Company. She is also a playwright and an actress.
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