For a more current preview of Capital Fringe, click here.
Live theatre isn’t live theatre over Zoom. Virtual theatre has potential to transport an audience, but the likelihood of success is minimal. Connections between a cast and crowd sorta need to be in the flesh. No theatre festival connects cast and crowd quite like the Capital Fringe Festival. And after two years of delays, Capital Fringe is finally back, live, in person, in a brand-new neighborhood.
The annual festival returns to multiple stages over two weekends in the middle of July. For the first time in its 17-year history, Capital Fringe will occur in Georgetown.
According to Joe Sternlieb, CEO and President of the Georgetown Business Improvement District (BID), “We’re all craving a return to live performances and are eager to welcome artists and attendees to our historic and unique spaces.”
Capital Fringe founding director Julianne Brienza told us this partnership was a long time coming. “We’ve talked with the Georgetown BID for probably seven or eight years about having the festival there. They really wanted to work with us and have a real partnership. And when you get that type of support, that’s awesome.”
Theatregoers will enjoy shows in a former gym, a former shoe store, a former store that marketed clothes to people under the age of 21 and more businesses that used to be other businesses.
“I think it’s a little interesting and kind of dystopian, that we are literally in retail shops like Forever 21, Washington Sports Club, DSW, CrossFit, that all have closed because of the pandemic,” Brienza says. “It honestly feels kind of appropriate. Especially since when Fringe first started, we were able to use more unique venues because they actually existed in the District. But where we are today with the way the city has developed over the past two decades, it’s really boring. Just architecture that kind of all looks the same with a lot of glass and various shades of gray.”
More than 250 artists will take over these former retail spaces, staging original works in custom-built houses. Each theater will seat 51 theatergoers, in a nod to D.C.’s path to statehood and due to Covid safety.
“I have been thinking about how to bring the festival back in a way that feels comfortable for people. So, every theater is 51 seats. And the schedule is very much pared down, with shows only Thursday through Sunday. The pacing is not as intense as it was pre-Covid. I know that most theaters are experiencing houses of 40% to 50% sold. I know music venues are experiencing high turnouts like they’ve never known. I don’t know what people are going to do. But what the audience does will let us know if we should continue.”
The diversity of the rooms mirrors the diversity of the productions. Capital Fringe is the only area theatre festival that allows creatives to do whatever they want in their original works.
“Literally no one else does what Capital Fringe does, which provides a platform to primarily local DMV artists to do whatever the f–k they want, with no one telling them no, besides parameter issues with what we can accommodate,” Brienza explains.
The diversity of productions is evident in show descriptions alone.
“We have a show a 17-year-old wrote, ‘Static: Noise of a New Musical,’ about a family in Appalachia going through trials and tribulations and the songs sound pretty good,” Brienza says. “We have a show called ‘Higher,’ about people trying to escape the pandemic in a hot air balloon. We’ve got silly cabaret shows. We’ve got shows about Sheboygan. We’ve got shows about what it is to be a mixed race. Shows about cloning. It just runs the gamut.”
Exploring many topics and types of theatre is one of the festival’s goals. According to Brienza, it’s also the GOAT of the art form.
“If theatre is going to do its job, we have to be able to show the full range of human emotions. And that is what is in the festival, it’s literally people sharing, creating shows, creating musicals, based on emotions or trips they’ve gone on in the last two years.”
The diversity of Capital Fringe has set the annual festival apart for years — and so has Brienza’s ability to learn on the job.
“Most of the artists haven’t ever been responsible for doing a whole show,” Brienza told us. “They learn to rely on themselves, they have to communicate to other people, they have to learn to trust people. It could be great, or it could be really bad. The idea of trusting themselves, trusting other people, learning how to communicate to groups, and all that kind of stuff.”
It’s not just a lot of work for each artist, it’s a lot of work for Brienza. The festival doesn’t exist without her, and for 17 years, it’s been her calling card. Coming out (fingers crossed) of the pandemic, Capital Fringe occupies an even more important part of the D.C. theatre scene.
“It is a lot of work. And it is something I cannot do in perpetuity. But especially, as I think the art scene emerges from the pandemic, and we are so heavily weighted with federally funded and city-funded organizations that are very highly curated, that there is a little bit of the wild voice here in the DMV area that needs to have its place.”
Another first for this year’s Fringe is the ticketing process. Gone are the well-received multi-show passes. Instead, tickets cost only $15 per show.
“This is an earning opportunity for the artists so we’re only selling single tickets. The artists get 70% of the ticket revenue. And so, when you’re attending the festival, you’re actually giving to the artists.” (Related, an adult ticket at the nearby AMC Georgetown is $17.26 after taxes and a convenience fee.)
If you’re at all interested in attending any of the shows, you’ll want to move quickly. Once again, each room only seats 51 theatergoers and once the originally scheduled run is over, it’s over.
“And we’re not extending, we’re not adding shows. That is not an option in any schedule that I have created or will create in the future.”
If you’re looking for something a little more DIY in a location that’s maybe a tad dystopian and needs a bit of hope, you’ll want to consult the full 2022 Capital Fringe Festival schedule.
“If you’re having trouble figuring out how you’re feeling like the rest of the humans on the planet, it might be a good time to check into live theater that isn’t super f–king expensive,” Brienza says. “And just sitting in the theater, watching humans do some stuff for a little bit and be like, ‘I kind of relate to that.’ That’s the goal.”