There are still tickets available for the final weekend of Ceaseless Fun’s The Stars. To purchase yours and learn more about the production, please visit its Hollywood Fringe Festival event page here.
“You’re not going to be immortal, but you can do better than most. You can leave an outline of yourself behind for everyone to gather around and admire forever.”
It’s always an experience walking down Hollywood Boulevard. The dual tides of dereliction and commercialism crashing into one another in a maelstrom of civic identity where the prevailing current can shift from block to block. Homeless, tourists, street vendors, theatergoers, faux costumed characters, Scientologists, drunken party-goers, misshapen wax celebrities, and unassuming locals all sharing the same sidewalk, connected by the scuffed and soiled memorials upon which they tread. A constellation of stars that goes on for blocks; the only monument where it’s sociably acceptable to walk all over it. A little disrespectful, but at least they’re remembered. You remember them, don’t you?
Venture along the Hollywood Walk of Fame far enough and you are guaranteed to see something memorable, and that guarantee only intensifies if you find yourself there this June taking a walk with The Stars, Ceaseless Fun’s breezy but affecting offering for this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival. On its own, The Stars is a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek discourse on the soul-decaying allure of status, consumerism, celebrity, and the struggles that come part and parcel with trying to maintain your sense of identity in this year and in this city. As the concluding installment of Ceaseless Fun’s stellar, compact season it serves as the final thoughts in a meditation on personal perception and ownership of the self that has collectively been the deepest, most ambitious, and rewarding theatrical experience this immersive community has generated all year.
In an art form that usually requires precision timing and an exacting control over all aspects of the environment in order to compensate for the inherent unpredictability of the audience, the creators and performers of The Stars should be applauded for undertaking the audacious risk of enacting such a thoughtful, dialogue-intensive experience along nine of the loudest, most crowded blocks in the city. The cacophony never becomes distracting, instead it builds a sort of natural sonic backdrop that creates a deliciously-ironic sort of privacy where the performer can say what they want as loud as they want only to you without garnering attention from the hundreds of other pedestrians similarly engrossed in their own lives.
Occasionally I would make fleeting side-eye glances if we lingered close to a single bystander, studying their faces to see if they began to eavesdrop, wondering if it would even be possible for them to discern the nature of what was happening or if the camouflage was complete. On the other side of the coin, during the brief intervals between encounters I found myself scanning the crowds, trying to pick out who my next guide might turn out to be and wondering at each wrong guess what I might hear about and learn if that person had been the one to take my arm and usher me further along my path. What would their specific take be on this crazy city and what it does to us?
Ceaseless Fun is uniformly excellent with its casting no matter the cast size, and in a show with so much potential for unforeseeable variables and distractions they have put together a troupe of fearless, unflappable immersive veterans, each of whom delivers confidant, emotionally vulnerable, utterly charming work in the most unforgiving of playing spaces. Somehow each of them conjures an impregnable bubble of compelling intimacy during your time together while still keeping things loose and spontaneous enough to react to and comment on whatever may be happening around them, embracing it as part of that night’s unique walk. They succeed in keeping you as realistically engaged and present as possible in spite of Ceaseless Fun’s usual mode of one-sided communication. In this show, more than any other, I found myself biting my tongue; making an effort not to chime in for fear of derailing the flow of the piece.
The Stars is Ceaseless Fun’s only show this year wherein it is possible to experience the entire script in a single viewing, and as such it presents the most complete picture of the authors’ intent and serves as the ideal summation of the season’s overarching message. Though The Stars exemplifies the best of Ceaseless Fun’s proclivity for carefully articulated rumination on the human condition, it also proves to be the lightest, most genuinely funny of the set. There is a sort of beguiling silliness on the page that each of the characters carry with them as they pass you amongst one another, to the point where they are permitted to zigzag into bits of cheeky meta commentary that are as refreshing as they are surprising. That being said, the humor is always used in service of the piece, even as it appears to attempt to undermine itself.
The characters themselves are archetypes we have seen before, and our preconceived notions of who these figures represent, not only as broad stereotypes but as analogs for real people we may have encountered during our time in Los Angeles, are the fuel on which the encounters run. The aspiring actress whose ambition and thirst for fame vastly outweighs her talent; the faux hipster revolutionary whose bluster is a smokescreen to hide his own desperation for success and acknowledgment; the post-modern self-aware character who knows he’s in a play and therefore thinks we’re all just products of the media we consume; the scruffy pop-philosopher who almost twenty years after Fight Club came out can observe without a hint of irony that you don’t own your things, your things own you. No one can argue that these constructs are wholly original, but taken together, presented in this new way, Ceaseless Fun unleashes them on one another, contradicting and deconstructing each other’s messages until they gradually coalesce into a deeper, more satisfying moral.
The minds behind Ceaseless Fun are, first and foremost, philosophers and empaths of the highest order. They have big ideas that they want to share with you, but rather than present them dryly or neatly or even linearly, these storytellers instead make their points gradually, accumulatively, drawing you into the interior lives of its characters for acutely-observed moments of sublime vulnerability and confessional rawness that, when received and internalized in just the right way, with just the right person, at just the right time, can reveal the nature of our existence. It isn’t something you can read about in a psychology textbook or spiritual tome. They know it’s in the naked honesty of eye contact when you ask a question you already know the answer to. The shadow of realization that passes over a person’s face at the moment they finally notice they’ve become everything they once feared. The squeeze of a hand to reassure a loved one that you’re still there. Ceaseless Fun endows its characters with a melancholy introspection and complexity that safely simulate the sort of depths that an audience can plumb in service to their own moments of self-reflection and understanding, facilitating the kind of euphoric realizations that can only grow from the most deep-seated pain.
Ceaseless Fun’s season of shows, which began in January with the achingly haunting Agnosia, later followed by the surprisingly expansive but no less humane They Who Saw the Deep in May, and finished now with The Stars, is collectively subtitled The Outline of a Human. If you take a piece of paper and draw the outline of a human, there are certain characteristics you would always include to make sure it was recognizably human in shape. And if you were to go one step further, trying to draw the outline of a particular human, like the silhouettes an artist can cut for you at a theme park, you would naturally include certain observable attributes that were specific to that person. The slope of their nose, the pout of their lips, maybe a distinctive hairstyle if you remember them having one. If you work at it enough, maybe others who knew the person would recognize it, agreeing that it’s a fine likeness and a fair representation of who they were. The only problem is, however well observed the outline might be, by its very definition there is nothing inside of it. A bit like what happens when you draw the outline of a star and attach a person’s name to it; a hollow, mass-produced shorthand somehow accepted as enough to represent everything that this person was, including the lifetime of struggle and compromise that led to them being judged worthy of a star at all.
There is obviously a reason why we chose that particular shape as the symbol to represent a person’s ascension to our cultural consciousness’ exalted plain. Not just because they shine brightly but also because, from our brief, mortal point of view, they shine forever. Just as we can look up at the night sky and see the light from a star that has taken thousands of years to travel from its source to our eyes, we want to leave behind a shining representation that reverberates through generations and sustains itself long after we’re gone. Some of us will be remembered through the fame that our art can bring as we impact and influence those who take it in. Still others will strike out in a more Epic fashion with actions that will shape the face of the world itself even as voices of doubt fill their head. Most of us will settle for the humbler glow of our loved ones as they hold onto their private loss like a pair of shoes or a Christmas tree ornament they can’t bring themselves to put away. In some fashion, for some time, we will all be remembered, but that isn’t the same as living on. It is a memory of us, a reflection curated by someone else’s perception and only sustained by copies of copies that will distort, misconstrue, and simplify until you no longer represent yourself, but an idea or feeling belonging to someone else that is somehow adjacent to you. Marilyn Monroe’s face printed on a tin lunchbox filled with pink jellybeans given out at a bridal shower. We all know what that says. It has nothing to do with her.
In our obsession to control whatever form we and our memory will be transmuted into as we take our place amongst the stars, it can be painfully easy to let the concerns of tomorrow drown out the gentler pleasures of today. It is with this final thought that The Stars, The Outline of a Human, and Ceaseless Fun leave us. In six months we were treated to three wholly unique shows tied together by the same thread that connects us all. Through tremendous prolificacy, artistry, and soulfulness, Ceaseless Fun has proven itself as an immersive force of the highest caliber. As we await their return after a well-deserved hiatus, let us take their final message to heart. To make the time every once in a while to quiet all the voices, breathe deeply, and allow yourself to enjoy that right now, for one brief, improbable moment, you are you. Bigger and better than any outline could contain. Leave the rest to who you leave behind. For now, enjoy the quiet. And the noise.