Since 2006, the Capital Fringe Festival has been bringing a hurly-burly grab bag of theater to D.C. audiences every summer. Anyone with an idea and a few hundred dollars can sign up to produce a play, and arts lovers flock to see them in scrappy black-box theaters or repurposed bars.
You’ve got your autobiographical one-man shows, your topical burlesques, your oddball comedies, and many, many adaptations of Shakespeare plays. These genres are still represented at this year’s three-week festival, which kicks off on Saturday, but Fringe is bringing something new to the mix: three shows commissioned and produced by Capital Fringe, and two shows created by outside experimental theater companies and presented (meaning, paid for ) by Fringe.
The goal? To elevate the quality of the Capital Fringe Festival and help D.C.’s theater scene grow, says Capital Fringe president Julianne Brienza.
“We need to keep adapting and evolving our programs, because guess what? Just like the city is growing, so are the artists in our community and what audiences want to see,” Brienza says.
Plus, these plays are giving writers, actors, directors and designers what they need most: paid, professional gigs.
“It’s really about giving another rung up the ladder for local artists to professionalize themselves and gain more experience to put on their résumés, to get them to their next gig,” she says.
Back in November, Fringe put out a call for new plays based on classic literature or myths — a popular category in the festival’s history. The three scripts Fringe selected represent a range of influences. “The City of …” is a dreamy drama based on a short story by Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges, “America’s Wives” is an allegorical piece inspired by a Nigerian folktale, and “Andromeda Breaks” is a police procedural starring the classical Greek damsel in distress.
The other two works Fringe is bringing to the Fringe Festival this year are “O Monsters” and “Barococo.” “O Monsters,” created by Philadelphia’s New Paradise Laboratories, follows a family of monsters as they attempt to find meaning in a chaotic universe. “Barococo,” by D.C.’s Happenstance Theater, is a physical comedy about excess in the age of enlightenment. Both plays came together without formal scripts. Instead, performers improvised around themes to develop the plots.
“I want people to see these plays because maybe it will challenge someone to do something like them, or challenge an audience member’s point of view,” Brienza says.
The expansion of Fringe’s mission comes at a moment when the organization is renovating its headquarters in Northeast D.C. Since the building is closed for construction, the festival was free to go anywhere, Brienza says, and the booming Southwest Waterfront neighborhood — with 13 stages spread across a few churches, Blind Whino and Arena Stage — was a natural choice.
“This year everything is literally a maximum of a seven-minute walk,” she says. “It’s the most concentrated festival we’ve ever had.”
The Capital Fringe Festival will probably stay in Southwest for another two summers, Brienza says. After that, it may return to Northeast, or it might go somewhere else.
“I want to keep moving it around so it can be more accessible for people in the city,” Brienza says.
One of the wonderful things about the Capital Fringe Festival is its eccentricity. Pick a play — any play — from among the 80 or so on offer, and you can end up seeing, well, pretty much anything. That’s why Fringe has placed a “random show” button next to its online schedule. We tried our luck five times and here’s what we wound up with.
“1 2 3: a play about abandonment and ballroom dancing”
Three sisters are placed into three different foster families when their radical activist parents go to prison. Among their coping mechanisms? Ballroom dancing, of course.
“The Tragical Comical Fool’s Game”
Characters on the lam from Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” find themselves stuck in an airport bar, as their flight to Illyria (the setting of the Bard’s “Twelfth Night”) is repeatedly delayed.
“A View From My Backyard”
Petworth-based dancer and choreographer Sara Herrara is known for her emotional, autobiographical modern dance works. This one-woman dance and storytelling performance is a meditation on memories triggered by sound, smell and taste.
This comedy by D.C.-based playwright and director Caitlin Caplinger follows queer-identified Teddy, an increasingly unhinged person on a quest to find out how they contracted neurosyphilis.
The two-man theater troupe known as VI Lenin will improvise a one-act, 45-minute play right in front of your eyes.