Festival on the Fringe

Posted July 9, 2008 at 5:35pm

With titles like “3 Murdered Clowns,” “I Like Nuts! (The Musical)” and “Slash Coleman has Big Matzo Balls,” the 2008 Capital Fringe Festival is anything but mainstream.

A three-year tradition in the District, the festival, which opens today, encourages artists, both veterans and newcomers, to be creative and take risks. Interested performers

need only submit an application before Dec. 31 of each year; the Fringe staff will include artists on a first-come, first-served basis depending on how many performances they can accommodate.

This year’s festival features 120 different groups performing 649 performances at 20 venues across D.C.

Performances vary from solo shows to entire companies, include comedy, drama, musicals, dance and improv, and cover themes as diverse as religion, politics, race and sexuality.

“I am so excited just about the different types of acts that are part of the festival,” said first-time Fringe performer Joey Maranto. “The thing I like about it is you can go out there and take risks. … There is something out there for everyone.”

Although past Capital Fringe Festivals spanned 10 days, the 2008 festival was extended to 18 days and runs from today through July 27. Instead of performances on Mondays and Tuesdays, the festival will host Fringe Training Factory workshops that are open to the public and teach participants a variety of stage skills including beatboxing. Executive Director Julianne Brienza said she hopes actors and nonactors alike will participate.

“The Fringe performances and workshops are really great for the community and the artists in the community,” Brienza said. “Everyone gets to be together.”

The festival traces its roots back to Scotland’s 1947 Edinburgh International Festival, where performance groups that were excluded from the event made makeshift theaters on the outskirts, or “fringe,” of the festival boundaries. Before long, these fringe performances attracted larger crowds than the main festival. The concept reached the United States in the early 1990s and today there are 25 fringe festivals nationwide, including in Greensboro, N.C., and Boulder, Colo.

The Capital Fringe Festival gives the highest percentage of money to its performers of any festival, handing over about 70 percent of ticket revenues.

This year, a new fundraiser will allow artists to walk away with even more money than before. Audience members will be required to purchase $5 buttons to gain entrance to festival venues, adding an estimated $100 to $200 to the earnings of each performance group. In return, button-wearers will receive food and drink specials, retail discounts and local theater ticket offers.

Also new this year is “Fort Fringe,” the festival’s D.C. headquarters located at the site of the former A.V. Ristorante Italiano on New York Avenue Northwest. The headquarters features two festival venues — “The Shop,” located inside the building, and “The Baldacchino,” located outside under a tent — as well as a bar area that Brienza hopes will attract nightly crowds.

“I am looking forward to having a place where people can come hang out and talk to each other,” Brienza said. “In a festival like this, people find out which performances are important by word of mouth. … And the performers need a place to come after shows.”

Among this year’s performers are three solo artists presenting political comedies that are sure to draw crowds in our nation’s capital.

“Good Enough for Government Work,” a piece tracing the ups and downs of life as a civil servant, will be performed by Maranto at Cole Studio in Dupont Circle.

A federal worker for more than 15 years, Maranto spent nearly four years polishing the comedy and will now present it in his first fringe festival.

“People say I’m just two different people,” Maranto said, referring to his divergent onstage and offstage personalities. “They never thought I would present myself the way I do onstage.”

Across town, former engineer Rick Huddle will perform “On Sale Now!” at the Warehouse Theater near the Washington Convention Center. Huddle, who performed a different piece at last year’s San Francisco Fringe Festival, created the comedy to examine our connection to shopping and how we use it to find our identities.

“When Bush told us to go out and buy stuff after September 11th to help the economy … shopping became patriotic,” Huddle said. “My piece is about the tyranny of consumerism. … Not that it’s all slamming George Bush!” he added.

Mike Daisey, one of Huddle’s mentors, will present a comedy about the secret history of Homeland Security at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre. A monologist who does not use a script of any kind, Daisey made a pilgrimage to New Mexico and stood where the first atomic bomb was detonated in preparation for his piece, “If You See Something Say Something.”

“The show is in a great deal about the failures of our government and our failure to hold our government accountable,” Daisey said. “I am looking forward to performing that in D.C., just a few blocks from the White House.”

All three performers are eager to see how audiences will react to their unusual, politically themed performances.

“As long as people walk out of there having a great time,” Maranto said, “then the show was a success.”

Tickets for the 2008 Capital Fringe Festival are available on a first-come, first-serve basis and are $15 to $35. They can be purchased at capitalfringe.org, by phone at 866-811-4111 or at the Fringe Box Office at 607 New York Ave. NW.