The Insider

Fringe Fan

By Eviana Hartman
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, July 16, 2006

Eleven days. Thirty venues. Ninety-seven theater groups staging more than 400 shows -- ranging from a one-man "Star Wars" trilogy to Mexican puppetry set to the poems of Edgar Allan Poe. It's largely happening thanks to the efforts of one woman: Julianne Brienza, the theater veteran who, along with co-founder Damian Sinclair, is launching the first-annual Capital Fringe Festival, which begins this Thursday.

The Fringe, as it's known to theater buffs, originated in 1947, when eight uninvited performance groups turned up at the exclusive Edinburgh International Festival and staged a series of renegade performances. Brienza estimates Washington is the 76th city worldwide to adopt the tradition, and the festival's goings-on will cut a wide swath across the city, hitting venues from the Warehouse Theater to the Canadian Embassy.

When she isn't catching shows at Wonderland Ballroom or sampling the stir-fry at Chinatown's Wok 'n Roll, Brienza can be found glued to her computer, enlisting performers, negotiating with venues both traditional and unusual and, of course, planning some rather large parties.

We tracked her down at her Gallery Place office to find out more about her plan for, as she refers to it, "Fringe World Domination."

How did you get into theater?

I grew up in Montana, and the first play I did was "Annie Get Your Gun." I went to college in Wisconsin for theater. . . . I ended up getting a job at the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia and I did their Arden apprenticeship program, which is a nine-month program where you work 80 hours a week and it teaches you every aspect of theater. . . . I ended up working in the Philadelphia theater community for about three years, working for the Philadelphia Fringe, doing puppet theater and doing any other work I could get -- because that's what you do when you work in theater.

What brought you to Washington?

I came to D.C. randomly before I moved here, and I thought it was a great city and really easy to get around -- I don't drive, so I thought that was really great. I thought the theater scene was starting to breathe and have a life of its own, and it felt like a place I could come and be a part of.

How did Capital Fringe come about?

When I moved to D.C. I had no idea there wasn't a Fringe Festival. I thought they were everywhere. . . . My friend Damian, who I also knew in Philadelphia, and I ended up talking about it. The more we talked about it, the more ideas came into play. It turned into action steps, and then we got incorporated as a nonprofit.

How do you define "fringe"? A recent article in The Post defined it as theater with ticket prices of $20 or less.

Lots of people think of "fringe" as a kind of aesthetic, that it means it's crazy and edgy. I think that is part of it, but it's also a style of producing -- the show is typically 70 minutes long. It's more of a grass-roots effort; it really runs the gamut, from an opera to a traditional play to a burlesque show to being a sideshow. Those are all things that will be in this festival.

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