And although Fringe has often been compared to a flea market of productions, with as much junk as gems, the festival has facilitated quite a few success stories. Below, meet a few Fringe mainstays that may have gotten their feet wet at the festival but now manage backflips off the high-dive.
Then: In some ways, the inception of Washington Rogues took place in New York when artistic director Ryan Taylor went to see the weirdest performance he could find — “Busted Jesus Comix,” performed in a six-floor walk-up — after taking in such big-name shows as “The Lion King” and Baz Luhrmann’s “La Boheme” (“which was awful,” Taylor recalls).
“It really showed me what theater could be,” he says. “It was my first time seeing new, cutting-edge, politically relevant stuff.”
The Rogues made their debut eight years later at Capital Fringe 2008 with a version of “Busted Jesus Comix,” a comedic drama about a boy whose audacious comic strip places him on the wrong side of the law. The company has continued along that path of political theater while performing at Fringe every summer since. The group also took part in Arena Stage’s Edward Albee Festival with readings of “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia” and recently launched a reading series at BloomBars.
When it comes to selecting material, Taylor has a straightforward philosophy: “If something scares you, you should do it.”
Now: This year’s Fringe installment finds the Rogues circling back to its “Comix” roots with a stylistically similar show, “Mitzi’s Abortion,” by Seattle-based playwright Elizabeth Heffron. The production follows a woman at a heart-breaking crossroads: When she finds out she is carrying a child with a birth defect, everyone has an opinion on what her next move should be. Lighter moments break up the heavy story line, including scenes with Mitzi’s spiritual adviser, the gluttonous ghost of Saint Thomas Aquinas.
Pinky Swear Productions
Then: As the name suggests, Pinky Swear started with a promise. When Karen Lange and Allyson Harkey watched a 2008 Fringe show with degradingly stereotypical female characters, the pair vowed to do better.
“I think the playwright could have used an editor,” Lange says. “And maybe a smack upside the head.”
The following year, the pinky swear paid off. “Freakshow” captured the group’s preferred ethos — “a little dark and a little edgy,” Lange explains — and looked at female outsiders populating a sideshow act under the big top, including an armless, legless woman.