Nor, perhaps, would other small outfits with ties to the Fringe, such as Factory 449, Dizzy Miss Lizzy’s Roadside Revue and the Molotov Theatre Group, have found rationales and identities without acquiring experience and credibility through short runs at the Fringe. You sense, too, a fringey vibe in the eclectic, genre-bending diversions of such independent troupes as the four-year-old Taffety Punk Theatre Company.
And the more direct benefits of Fringe are apparent in an outfit like banished? productions, which a couple of festivals ago served up a unique night of theater — an edible one — with its gastronomic performance piece, “A Tactile Dinner.”
“The festival is its own presence now,” says Michael Kyrioglou, a former public relations head of Woolly Mammoth, sometime publicist for Fringe shows and inveterate Fringe-goer. He thinks Fringe has heightened interest in more experimentalist kinds of theater: For example, he has noticed a significant uptick in applications for the incubator program at Flashpoint’s downtown Mead Theater Lab, on whose advisory panel he serves.
“It’s out in the ether, like the Folklife Festival,” Kyrioglou says of the Fringe. “And like any good art center, a good show there is going to feed the other ones.”
Capital Fringe has yet to generate a huge, attention-grabbing hit of its own on the magnitude of “Urinetown: The Musical,” which was born at the New York International Fringe Festival, or, in an even more culturally important vein, “Black Watch,” the acclaimed Iraq war play, which recently played at Sidney Harman Hall. It was originally developed at the granddaddy of all fringe festivals, in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Aiming for that level of successful afterlife is somewhat antithetical to the philosophy of Fringe, which is about the creation of something vital and ephemeral — a work that is concerned with the impact it can make right this instant, not six months from now. Which is why it remains difficult to apply scorecard values to all of the germinating concepts that are being massaged into theater and dance pieces at the Fringe.
“It’s like this fun little commune where people are putting up art. It’s a wonderful thing to be a part of,” says Marshall Pailet, the director, composer and co-book writer with lyricist A.D. Penedo of “Who’s Your Baghdaddy?, or How I Started the War in Iraq,” a satirical musical being birthed at the festival.
The 100-minute “Baghdaddy” is one of those hybrid events of the Fringe, a production (backed by producer Charlie Fink) that will begin as a festival entry — in a rehearsal room it’s renting in Woolly Mammoth’s D Street NW complex — and continue for two weeks after the festival ends. With a cast and crew roughly 20 people strong, “Baghdaddy” needs the box office that can be built up with a run that is a bit more extensive than the traditional handful of slots available at a Fringe.
“You do get an audience, and it’s not just friends,” says Pailet, who lives in New York but grew up in Chevy Chase. “There aren’t people coming to slam you,” he says. “It’s much more supportive and much more nurturing. And it’s okay to fail.”
As she prepares with a 40-person Fringe staff (only three of whom including herself are full time year-round) for her sixth festival, the intense Brienza says she knows all too well the transitory nature of a Fringe. That extends even to many of the festival venues, including Fort Fringe, donated to the festival by Washington developer Douglas Jemal.
The buildings, Brienza says, are to be torn down for a residential project, so the Capital Fringe one day soon will have to find a new place to live. It somehow seems right that an event celebrating works in progress should be one itself. And if Washington has learned anything from a half-dozen summers of Fringe, it’s that the steamy months become more bearable when dreamers are sharing their air.
Capital Fringe Festival
Thursday through July 24 in various performance spaces, centered around Mount Vernon Square. Visit www.capitalfringe.org.