Skid Row

A Modest Proposal, or Why I Did Not Attend the Hollywood Fringe Festival

The first thing that struck me on my virgin tour of Los Angeles last October was the homeless problem. On a cab ride from LAX to DTLA (that’s LA International Airport and Downtown Los Angeles for those of you unused to the Yanks’ fondness for acronyms), I counted no fewer than seventy-three tents, most of them in residential areas far from the infamous Skid Row. The papers were full of reports, with many journalists attributing the crisis to an opioid epidemic.

So as I browsed the Hollywood Fringe Festival’s website this Spring in search of plays to review, I expected to find both issues amply represented. On homelessness there was one, on opioids, none. Serious plays in general were, in fact, hard to find amidst the 388 productions. Comedy, it seems, is the rule in Los Angeles. Comedy in the theatres and tragedy in the streets.

Lest the reader suppose I exaggerate the scale of LA’s homeless problem, consider this: On a brisk walk through Hollywood not two days into my October tour I had the misfortune to witness a paramedic performing CPR on a plainly deceased homeless woman. A few blocks later, as if to belabour the point, a billboard declared “Homelessness Kills”.

Skid Row as shown in the indie film Manifesto

“But Sebastian,” I hear the reader objecting, “A festival is a happy time. And seats are hard enough to fill without dragging in social problems. And LA is not a theatre town. And comedies win awards, &c, &c.” Fair enough. Which is why, dear reader, I did not travel to Los Angeles to attend the Hollywood Fringe Festival, and why, in the spirit of Jonathan Swift, I now advance the following modest proposal.


If LA’s playmakers are so desperate to fill seats as to be willing to ignore the city’s most pressing social problems, let them at least open their doors to a population of nearly 60,000 desperate for somewhere to sit. Let them, in other words, employ the homeless as seat fillers, so that they, too, can partake of the comic stylings of so-and-so or the irrelevant—sorry, irreverent—antics of such-and-such. So that they, too, can dull their pain with the opioid of the masses. If they are to be ignored, let them at least be entertained. This way everyone wins. The shows get full houses and the homeless get housed, albeit briefly.

“But Sebastian,” the reader whines, “The smell would be intolerable.” To which I reply, “Have you been to an LA library?” No, I say, let the stench of homelessness spread. Let it fill the hallowed halls of learning and culture. Let it penetrate even to the boardrooms and clubhouses of commerce and government. Perhaps then something will be done.

And to the team that produced The Flower Society by Maryanne Householder, my humblest apologies for failing to attend and review what I’m sure was a worthy effort. May you continue to look tragedy in the eyes and describe what you see.

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