What could cause Washingtonians to willingly hang out in an un-air-conditioned tent during one of the hottest summers in history and brave sitting through a bad case (as one audience member put it) of “swamp ass”?
Why, the Capital Fringe Festival, of course!
WHAT IT IS:
I’m stealing directly from Cap Fringe’s website:
“Capital Fringe Festival is the only major un-juried, self-producing, open-access Festival in the Washington, DC area and occurs in July each year. The Fringe Festival provides all artists, whether new or established, a venue to express and develop their talents and artistic visions in total freedom.”
HOW BIG IT IS:
In 2011 alone, Fringe sold 28,000 tickets to 715 performances of 137 productions, featuring over 3,000 artists at 12 venues located around the Mt. Vernon, Chinatown, and Penn Quarter neighborhoods. This year, ticket sales are up.
WHY D.C. ROCKS IT:
This ain’t my first rodeo, as they say. I was producing work for the Boulder and Minneapolis Fringe Festivals before I ever made my way to the District. Boulder’s festival felt like a wacky venue for a few oddball artists; it was fairly unprofessional and community oriented. Minneapolis was the opposite; the height of professionalism, it brought in international competition that often left the local companies in the dark. D.C. has the perfect in-between. We are well run and draw a few traveling companies but are focused on helping the small professional companies grow, giving the newbies a shot to show what they’ve got.
The hub of the festival occurs in a pseudo-outdoor beer garten/performance space called “The Baldacchino Gypsy Tent Bar,” or as artists call it, “the tent.” The tent could not be a better designed hub if it tried. It draws you in with its hanging outdoor lights and graffiti artwork. You want to go in and have the Prosecco on tap and check out the dude in the skirt with the crazy hair. Throughout the festival, I kept saying I was taking the night off and then finding myself back at the tent again. It reminds me of a Ray Bradbury story where a circus tent lures you in and you can never get out again. I read too much science fiction.
WHAT UN-JURIED MEANS:
The fact that this is un-juried is one of the most important parts. NYC and Philly both jury their festivals, which means you have a selection committee filtering the work they have deemed worthy. Here in D.C. (as well as at many other festivals, I should say), we believe that the fringe by nature should be unfiltered. Yes, that means crap gets put into the mix, but that is part of the fun – figuring out what to see and what not to see. If you are savvy, you figure out what’s good very quickly. Most importantly, this is the chance people have to experiment. To test their hand. To see if something crazy might actually be something amazing. How can you make really good art without failing a couple times, or at least taking some big risks? Jurying a festival takes that away from artists. AKA death to art.
I am a huge advocate of the theatre community in this town because I believe the artists here are supportive of each other and good, down-to-earth people. Of course, you get your token crazy assholes just like in any other profession, but for the most part you have to have your shit together to do well here, and you have to have help. Fringe allows us to connect with other companies to talk about things like sharing rehearsal spaces, co-producing work, talking up the next productions, fundraising, and brainstorming artistic ideas. I found like minds, I found ideas for projects, I’ve kept up with friends from past shows and made new ones.
HOW IT WORKS:
The shows themselves are short, most running about an hour but no more than about an hour and half, which allows folks to see multiple shows per night. The festival itself has several different spaces so shows can happen simultaneously, but they attempt to keep the venues close together so you can see things in different spaces easily. You must buy a $7 button as your entrance to the festival and then each show costs an additional fee.
If you live in D.C. and don’t plan on coming to this festival, you are missing out on one of the biggest local artistic adventures of the year, so I feel bad for you. If you need recommendations, let me know; I’m seeing my sixth show of the festival tonight and will double that number by the end of next week.
Most importantly, come see “CABARET XXX: Love The One You’re With” by Pinky Swear Productions. You won’t regret it. We promise.