The festival, offering more than 100 productions this time — a marginally smaller roster than last year — begins Thursday and continues through July 24. It will occupy 11 spaces, most of them clustered just east of Mount Vernon Square, in the shadow of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. In its sixth
July in Washington, the locally produced festival will not be all that different from its first. Most of the 60-to-90-minute shows are being created by groups from the region, with the usual injections of originality and lunacy: titles include “Tales of Courage and Poultry,” “Insurgent Sonata,” “My Dad Is Now Ready for His Sponge Bath” and “Shall I Compare Thee to a Purple Haze?”
What has changed over that time goes beyond a greater recognition of audiences’ summer theater appetite and a broadening of schedules. (Before Fringe, some theater did occur in July, primarily at the Kennedy Center and 2ndStage at Studio Theatre.)
And although Fringe is greeted in some quarters with a barely tolerant roll of the eyes — oh, goodness, are the kids out of control again? — it has helped to foster a looser spirit in Washington’s art world. It has given further license to innovation and continues to be a necessary counterpoint to the city’s over-arching favoring of monuments and large institutions.
As far as the festival’s executive director, Julianne Brienza, is concerned, Fringe’s influence has not infiltrated nearly far enough, despite the fact that it can count on selling in the neighborhood of 30,000 tickets, as it did last summer. For the first time, it is raising ticket prices, from $15 to $17 per show. The required festival button will cost $7, up from $5.
Over the past six years, the festival has returned more than $1 million to its participating artists. (The nonprofit Capital Fringe, the nation’s fourth-largest fringe behind those in New York, Philadelphia and Minnesota, shares its ticket revenue with the individual shows.)
Brienza, who has been running the festival since its inception, had hoped by this point that Fringe’s imprint would be even sharper — that, for instance, the festival’s youthful ethos would have compelled more communal questioning of what larger purposes theater in Washington sees for itself, and thereby prompted some in the community to take it in new directions.