The Nation’s Capital Goes on the Fringe

It’s July, it’s summer, it’s Washington, D.C., and we’re right where we belong again.

On the Fringe.

It’s time once again to rock and roll, to visit what is a giant performance arts buffet, orgy, festival, conglomeration, explosion — the Capital Fringe Festival — set to take off Thursday, July 12 and run through July 29 with some 140 productions, more than 300 performances of plays, operas, one-person shows, dance productions and stuff that, as always, defies category, convention and expectations — all performed at venues fairly close together, with some exceptions.

Headquarters is Fort Fringe at 607 New York Ave., NW, out of which the Fringe Festival operates year-round, but which becomes a regular beehive of activity during the festival, starting with the recently held mind-boggling preview event held in the Baldaccino Gypsy Tent.

It’s also where you have a good opportunity to catch Julianne Brienza, the festival’s executive director and founding member, who sometimes still feels a little amazed that the festival is now in its seventh year. She can get the credit for the festival’s status as a kind of free-flowing, ongoing Washington cultural instutition, a sometimes incongruous state of affairs, given the nature of the festival.

“By its nature, this kind of festival, which is a process and a journey going from year to year, with no real permanent place that says this is what it is, isn’t exactly an institution, but we’ve become one,” Brienza said. “The festival has always been about exploration and adventure, here and from its beginnings elsewhere and in all of its forms across the country. A lot of people in this community sometimes think of it in theater terms, but it’s much more than that. It’s performance art. So, you can find dancers, burlesque, opera, cabaret, as well as plays. It’s comedy. It’s supposed to be and is on the fringe.“

Historically, the festival tends to split between local performers and groups and those from outside D.C., including Maryland and Virginia, but also folks from New York, San Francisco and all across the country as well as farther afield.

“I can’t point out highlights for you or what to expect, or give you a tip on what to see,” Brienza said. “I try to see as many performances as I can because you get a real good sense of the kind of people who come to the shows.”

Washington itself, as well as the festival, has changed over the last seven years, she noted. “There’s a very grounded and large theater audience,” Brienza said. “There’s also a lot of people — artists, and people who are in the cultural community here — who might come to the festival but can’t either afford to come to the regular theater and musical offerings, or want something different.”

“I think the festival fills a need — even a kind of gap in the community,” she said. “And Fringe isn’t just the festival itself. Like a lot of things that begin here, there’s a need to make this a full-time institution where you work year-round through educational projects and training, and you become a presence.”

But Fringe has always had a kind of wild and woolly complexity to it — the actual quality varies from year to year, from production to production. You can sort of get a flavor and pick some likely suspects just breezing through the titles and group and artists names.

We are basing this on titles alone: Dog & Pony D.C. is presenting “Beertown” which was a nominee for best play in 2011, for instance. Here are some other likely suspects and possibilities:

The Third Annual “Fool For All: Tales of Marriage and Mozzarella” from the Helen Hayes award-winning Faction of Fools Theatre Company, which specializes in Commedia del Arte, which has become very popular of late.

There’s “He Loved the Soft Porn of the City,” a musical trio piece with a gentleman by the name of Dr. Allan Von Schenkel, blending 80s New Wave, Fusion Jazz and World Beat.

As always, there’s the Dizzy Miss Lizzy’s Finn McCool, there’s Scena Theatre’s production of “Mein Kampf,” which tries to imagine Hitler’s life as a shiftless artist in Vienna. There’s a musical show about Tupac, there’s a solo piece, called “Do Not Kill Me, Killer Robots,” there’s a play about the 1968 D.C. Riots in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and there’s a play about the occupiers, D.C. and elsewhere.

“We have political shows, we have avant-garde shows — we have everything,” Brienza said. “There’s always surprises. It’s always an adventure. I think that’s the idea. “

And it’s proven to be successful: people flock to these events. In six years, 80,000 have shown up, generating $1.2 million in revenue for participating artists. The D.C. version has become the second-largest unjuried Fringe Festival in the United States.

Seventy percent of Fringe attendees are female, 70 percent are in the 25 to 55 years-of-age group. “I don’t know why the gender thing is like that,” Brienza said. “It’s interesting.”

Venues for this years festival include Fort Fringe and the Baldaccino Gypsy Tent, the Bedroom at Fort Fringe, Redrum at Fort Fringe, as well as the H Street Playhouse, the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, the D.C. Arts Center in Adams Morgan, the Warehouse, the Gala Hispanic Theatre, the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Gear Box and Mountain, at 8103 at Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church, the First Congressional United Church of Christ, Caos on F, Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, Goethe Institut, the Studio Theatre and the Source Theatre.

For complete information on tickets (they’re $17 individually), box office, schedules, times, dates and venues and individual plays, artists and groups, visit the Fringe Festival website -- CapFringe.org. ★

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