Because Backstage is where the theater action is, and the Fringe is full of theater and action, this week’s mission was clear: to descend upon the Gypsy Tent and soak up the Fringeness of it all.
A tiny hitch in this otherwise flawless plan: The bar just opened and hardly anyone is here.
The band Blue Judy — Robert Cole, Susan (Robert’s wife of 36 years) and Scott Burgess — are sitting around a table waiting until it’s time to perform.
“We play avant-garde folk and what we don’t want to call bluegrass, because we don’t want to disrespect bluegrass,” Burgess says. “We call it tealgrass.”
“We’ve been part of [Fringe] since the outset,” says Robert, who is best known around D.C. for his day job as a sculptor; he’s got an eponymous studio on 15th Street NW. “The big thing about Fringe is that there’s a chance for somebody to get in who can’t get in up there,” he says, pointing his finger skyward at the Washington theater establishment.
They’re not too concerned about the nonexistent crowd. “We invited people, so they’ll feel guilty if they don’t come,” Susan says, and, as if on cue, Lisa Markuson strides over decked out in the theater-hipster uniform: thick-rimmed glasses, red lipsticked mouth, straw fedora over auburn hair.
“You made it!” cheers Susan.
“What’re you drinking?” Markuson asks.
“Blood,” says Susan, holding out her red glass of prosecco, which the bar has on tap.
Markuson calls herself “a philanthropist patron of the arts. I’m an amnesiatic mime in ‘The Circle,’ and I’m a volunteer at the bar here.” It’s her second year at Fringe, two years being the longest she’s resided in one place in the past decade. “I’m a nomad, but I’m staying here,” she says. “Unless they start Fringe in Beijing. Then I’ll go to China.”
When the Blue Judy show starts, the audience is three members strong. Robert sings and strums a song he wrote, “Cool Blue Heat”: “I’ve been good and I’ve been bad / I’ve been happy and I’ve been sad.”
Skip Bryant — that’s Big Skip to you — head of security, stands by the entrance, awaiting the masses he knows will arrive. It’s his fifth year of Fringing. He’s been a cook and a bartender, too, and he knows his way around the festival.
“The people meeting different people from all walks of life: That’s what we love,” he says. “People making six figures just hanging out with everyone, doing what they love. [You see] all nationalities, all sexualities. It’s a melting pot.”
The tent might seem dead, but he knows when the scene will liven up. “Around 9 or 10,” he says, “it gets really heavy.”