Interview: Matthew Quinn And Bertha Rodriguez of Combined Artform on the HOLLYWOOD INDEPENDENT THEATER FESTIVAL

Taking Place from September 2023 through May 2024

By: Sep. 05, 2023
Interview: Matthew Quinn And Bertha Rodriguez of Combined Artform on the HOLLYWOOD INDEPENDENT THEATER FESTIVAL
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Interview: Matthew Quinn And Bertha Rodriguez of Combined Artform on the HOLLYWOOD INDEPENDENT THEATER FESTIVAL

Those who attend the Hollywood Fringe Festival (HFF) surely know the married couple, Matthew Quinn and Bertha Rodriguez (pictured at this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival), producers and venue managers who have been putting together many selections since HFF began in 2010 via their company Combined Artform and Asylum venues. Continuing the celebration of independent plays, the duo has created the Hollywood Independent Theater Festival (HITFEST), opening in September featuring encore performances from this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival.

I was curious why the duo decided to organize a new independent theater festival, what types of plays will be offered, why they chose the venues for it, and how they are going about finding new plays to bring to Hollywood over the next nine months.

Hello, you two very busy world travelers. I understand you are at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (EdFringe) right now. Do you attend it every year?

Matthew: It has been a busy year, thankfully. This is my second time at EdFringe. The first was in 2019, which was EdFringe’s largest year. This year, like the HFF, the EdFringe seems to be almost back to full attendance. It is wonderful to be back, it really is a magical place. Starting next year, we plan to come back and bring shows with us.

Bertha: This is my first time; it has given me an opportunity to experience for myself the Mecca of Fringe Performing Arts.

Interview: Matthew Quinn And Bertha Rodriguez of Combined Artform on the HOLLYWOOD INDEPENDENT THEATER FESTIVAL

Is EdFringe one of the sources for shows you bring to the Hollywood Fringe Festival as well as to the new HITFEST?

Matthew: While we have found some shows interested in coming to the Hollywood Fringe Festival as I did in 2019, the purpose for this year's EdFringe visit besides scouting for shows is to increase our network and to let shows, artists and other festival representatives here know about the HITFEST. It has been a successful visit and we’re really looking forward to what this year brings.

Bertha: EdFringe is just an amazing event that anyone who loves theater should experience. It’s like nothing you’ve seen in the states. Generations of people in Scotland, as well as other European countries, have been brought up attending theater and this festival. There are people of all ages, whole families coming to see theater. It is a place to meet and connect with so many productions from around the world.

What is the HITFEST?

Bertha: The HITFEST is a new festival concept that will feature the top shows of the Hollywood Fringe Festival and other festivals around the world. Combined Artform, our production theatre company, is partnering with artists and venues in Hollywood to launch the HITFEST.

Matthew: It’s not your everyday festival! It will take place over nine months on weeknights so it’s flexible for artists and venues and their needs as well as giving industry, bookers, and audiences a chance to see top shows from the festival circuit. In a sense, it has been developing over the last few years based on discussions we’ve had with artists and other people involved in festivals. It is obvious that the current structure of theatre as a whole is not working; however, the fringe festival model seems to be working. For artists it allows them to put up a show for a shorter run, with shared publicity and a community.

In addition, as I meet more artists who plan to tour the states, it seems that to have a festival running throughout most of the year would let these artists who already have bookings in NYC or Chicago, easily add a stop in Hollywood at a prestigious theater like the Hudson. Furthermore, the emphasis along with a public audience is to get industry to see the shows and offer them additional opportunities. In a sense it is the next stage of a fringe festival, elevating the shows to a broader audience.

Who thought of the idea to create it and why?

Matthew: I guess it has been stewing in our brains for a while. It developed during conversations with artists, other fringes, and a lot of conversations with the SoHo Playhouse Artistic Director, Darren Lee Cole, who suggested that following the Hollywood Encores, we should have a “vertical” festival of the top shows, in a larger venue and with higher ticket prices to reflect the quality of the show. The idea further solidified during this year's HFF through talks with Zeke Rettman, the managing director of the Hudson Theatre. In addition, talking with the artists, we learned several of them just wanted the opportunity to run their show. HITFEST lets them do that.

Bertha: When Matthew first approached me with the idea, I thought it was great! We, as venue managers and producers, have been involved with the Hollywood Fringe Festival since the onset in 2010. Every year, I saw some incredible shows where you could see the love, commitment, dedication that was put into it, not to mention the quality of the show, just to see it end right after the HFF or after their Encore. I always felt, if only these productions had a chance at a later point to be seen by additional audiences, have the chance to be picked up by another theater for a run, or for industry to see the potential of creating a film or tv series from it, wouldn’t that be great? And now, maybe that can happen with the HITFEST.

Interview: Matthew Quinn And Bertha Rodriguez of Combined Artform on the HOLLYWOOD INDEPENDENT THEATER FESTIVAL

Tell me about the types of plays being presented. Are they mostly HFF23 encores?

Matthew: The HITFEST inaugural selections are from this year’s HFF with upcoming months featuring shows from other festivals including the EdFringe. September shows represent a range of ensemble and solo work, dance, comedy, music, and drama. Some of these shows will have short runs, others will just be showcased on certain evenings. New shows and venues will be added each month creating an ongoing, flexible, and scalable festival. Starting later this year, we will be hosting shows that are touring around the world as well as some LA based shows from HFF years past and non-fringe shows. The hope is as this grows there will be a local show that will team up with an out-of-town show each night to help with getting them an audience. This is the ultimate vision of HITFEST.

Bertha: Combined Artform, since its inception in 1998, has always prided itself on being diverse and representing a wide range of genres of live performance as well as artists. The HITFEST will continue doing so.

How do you go about selecting the plays?

Matthew: One of the things we have learned from years of running Pick of the Fringe and The Hollywood Encore Producers’ Award (www.hollywoodencores.com) is there is a wide range of shows that attract different audiences. Because of this, we try to offer all types of shows. Most have won awards or are well reviewed. Some will greatly benefit from having an opportunity to be viewed by new audiences. These are like the ENCORES which are based on artistic merit, commercial success, and developmental potential.

Bertha: The HITFEST reflects the shows that meet all the criteria Matthew mentioned and continue to draw a crowd.

Are you finding SAG/AFTRA union actors are working onstage more while the strike continues? Is that also true for writers?

Matthew: It’s interesting how shortly after we moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco, the last writers’ strike was going. Back then you did see a lot of writers and actors producing theater projects. This year, with the tough economy and the challenges of getting an audience post pandemic, and AB5, I can’t say I’m seeing the same surge. But I’m dealing with festival shows, perhaps a more traditional venue may be seeing something different.

How did you decide on the Hudson Theatre and Stephanie Feury Theatre as the locations for HITFEST? 

Matthew: We’ve had a long-standing relationship with Stephanie Feury of Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre, who has always been supportive of our projects and of the theatre community. When Zeke and I started talking about a festival, through our conversation we came up with the name HITFEST during this year's HFF. As we talked, I realized a mid-week festival spread-out over a longer period would help everyone involved, from the venues to the shows to the audiences and industry.

Interview: Matthew Quinn And Bertha Rodriguez of Combined Artform on the HOLLYWOOD INDEPENDENT THEATER FESTIVAL

Rainee Blake in “Joni Mitchell: Take Me As I Am” - 9/6/23 @ 8:30 PM at the Stephanie Feury Studio Theater.  Be transported back to a night in 1976 in this intimate one-woman show. 

Will other locations be added as the festival continues?

Matthew: Yes. We have already started reaching out to other venues. What makes this festival so different is the fact that it is very flexible and scalable, so if another venue in Hollywood has two hit shows they want to showcase, they can contact me and we can work them into the HITFEST. They’ll enjoy the umbrella of the HITFEST, including publicity and a great website. This element of the HITFEST I think is one of the most exciting parts of it, especially during these tough times due to the challenges the theater community is facing, while venues are always looking for bookings, especially performances on off nights.

Bertha: We are hoping other venues will see the value and want to participate in future months. All venues in Hollywood are welcomed.

Tell me about your company Combined Artform that allows you to travel to look for plays to bring to festivals in Hollywood? Is that the only goal of the company?

Matthew: We love theatre. And we feel that the festival model and fringe is the way that theater can come back to California and the rest of the US. Coming to EdFringe is part of the process in making those connections with artists and organizations to explore and learn how we can nurture and grow our theatre community here in Los Angeles.

Bertha: Combined Artform has evolved since 1998 when it first was a theatre company with a troupe in San Francisco, to a theater production company when we moved to Los Angeles in 2007. Since we have been involved in theater for a while now in various roles, we’d like to think we can spot a good show that has “legs” when we see one. One of our goals as a production company is to highlight through the HITFEST all those involved with a production, including the playwright, director, producers, and performers among others.

Interview: Matthew Quinn And Bertha Rodriguez of Combined Artform on the HOLLYWOOD INDEPENDENT THEATER FESTIVAL

Rodney Gardiner in “Smote This, A Comedy About God...And Other Serious $h*t” 9/13/23 @ 7 PM and 9/27/23 @ 8:30 PM at the Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre. In this one-man comedy, Rodney tries to abandon God despite his deeply Christian and Caribbean roots. 

What is it about independent theater that makes you want to keep organizing festivals in Hollywood?

Matthew: I feel that independent theater is really where the new stories are coming from and represent a wide range of ideas from a very diverse pool of artists. For most of these shows, a fringe will give them 3-6 performances, so an opportunity to perform and possibly get extended is great for the artist and the audience. Now with HITFEST, we can elevate these stories and give the artists a next step.

Bertha: The HITFEST came about organically based on everyone’s needs, and we are hoping it will be well received.

What are festival ticket prices and how did you decide on what to charge?

Matthew:  Ticket prices range between $20 to $30 with discounts for senior citizens, students, and SAG/AFTRA and WGA members. Show passes are also available, offering discounts on tickets for multi-show packs.

Bertha: Which will save the audience money when they see two shows on the same day.

Matthew: With prices going up everywhere, including our production costs, we felt it was important to raise ticket prices just a little from what HFF shows charge. 

Interview: Matthew Quinn And Bertha Rodriguez of Combined Artform on the HOLLYWOOD INDEPENDENT THEATER FESTIVAL

“Yoniverse” - 9/18/23 @ 7 PM at The Hudson Theatres. Yoniverse is a deep reflection, a commitment to uplift, and a celebration of the complexity of being a South Asian woman in America. 

Are all the shows being produced by your company, Combined Artform?

Matthew:  Combined Artform is producing the entire festival with each production being independently produced. This is a similar model to the HFF but on a much smaller scale.

When you decide to offer a spot to shows at this year’s EdFringe, do you offer financial subsidies for travel or places to stay while those shows are in Los Angeles?

Matthew: We’re offering a straight up box-office split. Shows we chose from EdFringe for this first year are all based in Los Angeles. For shows in the future, the hope is that we become a stop along the way of a much larger tour, so most of their costs would be covered by the main tour. Hopefully, we will be able to identify sponsors for future festivals so we can offer more funding for out-of-town shows as well as local shows.

Bertha: Our hope is that if the HITFEST is successful and that others will see the benefit in having such a festival. Our future goal is to have individuals or organizations want to sponsor a show to come to Los Angeles by helping us provide some sort of financial support for out-of-town as well as Los Angeles area shows.

Who manages the everyday workings of HITFEST for you; the business end including ticket sales and disbursement?

Bertha: As the operations manager of the company, I do the bulk of the paperwork, disbursements, and other office management duties required. As Combined Artform’s publicist, I also manage the publicity aspect of the festival. Matthew and I, along with the individual productions, are handling the marketing part.

Interview: Matthew Quinn And Bertha Rodriguez of Combined Artform on the HOLLYWOOD INDEPENDENT THEATER FESTIVAL

“Rhythm Delivered” - 9/26/23 @ 7 PM at the Hudson Theatres. A family-friendly performance of tap, body percussion, drumming, tech, humor, and audience interaction.

That sounds like a 24/7 job! Are the two of you planning to attend every HITFEST play?

Matthew: That is the plan. We want to meet the audience and theater professionals who are supporting live theater. In addition, the key to all of this, as demonstrated by the HFF, is the importance of community – and you have to show up to have a community.

Bertha: I will, especially if reviewers, critics, or other industry show up. So come see these shows and I’ll meet you there!

Can writers and/or actors who would like to have their play entered into the HITFEST contact you to make that happen? Or are you only accepting plays previously presented in other festivals?

Matthew: To be in HITFEST, you must have performed in at least one performance festival, like the Hollywood Fringe or Edinburgh Fringe. Currently, we utilize our own scouting network in selecting shows, but this will change over the months. We do see a world where there is an application form, and we can scout and have others scout for us for the big “HITS” in festivals happening around the world.

Bertha: As Matthew said previously, if a show is touring because they may have financial support from either their home country or sponsorship, we would like them to consider a stop in Los Angeles at the HITFEST. 

Do you see the ultimate goal of the HITFEST is getting shows professionally produced elsewhere?

Matthew: Exactly, for both us and the shows. Not only do we hope to get industry here to see shows and extend them, but also TV and Film people who may be interested in finding the next “Fleabag.” In addition, we plan to tour shows from the HITFEST with our growing network of theaters in California and the nation. In general, this is a celebration of the best of the festival circuit to be seen by audiences and industry. I should add that as part of the road to getting produced, several shows are using this opportunity to continue to tighten their show, prepare for a tour, and build an audience or whatever their needs may be.

Interview: Matthew Quinn And Bertha Rodriguez of Combined Artform on the HOLLYWOOD INDEPENDENT THEATER FESTIVAL

Anything else you would like to add?

Matthew: We want to make sure that the entire SoCal Industry from theaters, cultural centers, bookers and the TV and Film industry are aware of HITFEST and hope they will come to check out these shows.

Bertha: I want to thank you Shari, and Broadway World, for being such supporters of intimate and fringe theater. We hope to get more support from audiences, reviewers, and media outlets, like yourself and Broadway World, and give intimate and fringe theater a chance, and not look down on it because it’s not traditional theater. Everyone from the media should come see and cover HITFEST as they will be pleasantly surprised, and we must give innovative ideas for presenting performing arts a chance. We all can’t like the same thing; it would be a boring world if that was the case. We need to move along with how theater is being developed and presented in these challenging times. If we don’t, we will continue to lose our audiences and more theatre companies and venues will close.

To find out more about the selections and schedule of the HITFEST opening September 6, 2023 through May 2024 on Mondays-Tuesdays-Wednesdays evenings at 7pm and 8:30pm, visit https://hitfest.stagey.net/ 

Interview: Matthew Quinn And Bertha Rodriguez of Combined Artform on the HOLLYWOOD INDEPENDENT THEATER FESTIVAL

The September HITFEST schedule includes:

Playing at Stephanie Feury Studio Theater - 5636 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles 90038 

“Sonnets From Suburbia” - 9/6/23 @ 7 PM and 9/20/23 @ 8:30 PM : Lady Penelope reflects on modern life through her wry, beautifully crafted Elizabethan sonnets. 

“Joni Mitchell: Take Me As I Am” - 9/6/23 @ 8:30 PM Be transported back to a night in 1976 in this intimate one-woman show. 

“Homeless Romantic” - 9/20/23 @ 7p PM Comedian and critic, Tony Bartolone digs deep into the underbelly of society in this insanely funny exploration of self. 

“Haunting Rights’ - 9/13/23 @ 8:30 PM, 9/27 @ 7 PM Every Theatre has its ghost...There can only be one. 

“Smote This, A Comedy About God...And Other Serious $h*t” 9/13/23 @ 7 PM and 9/27/23 @ 8:30 PM In this one-man comedy, Rodney tries to abandon God despite his deeply Christian and Caribbean roots. 

Playing at The Hudson Theatres - 6539 Santa Monica Blvd. Los Angeles, 90038 

“Yoniverse” - 9/18/23 @ 7 PM Yoniverse is a deep reflection, a commitment to uplift, and a celebration of the complexity of being a South Asian woman in America. 

“Mark Pleases You” - 9/18/23 @ 8:30 PM Mark Pleases You is a high-energy, emotional, silly exploration of people-pleasing and what it means to be a good person.

“Dream Big” 9/26/23 @ 8:30 PM A middle-aged woman, who feels she's failed at her life dreams, arranges a one-night stand before carrying out her exit plan. 

“Rhythm Delivered” - 9/26/23 @ 7 PM A family-friendly performance of tap, body percussion, drumming, tech, humor, and audience interaction.




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