Show & Tell

Purge Overkill Annoying buttons, big numbers, bigger matzo balls, and other closing Fringe observations

Let’s Call It Ethan: A tale of two brothers took top-drama honors at the Capital Fringe Festival.

A Fringe & Purge wrap-up!

“Art answers the questions our hearts pose—and not always in ways our minds understand.”

It was solo performer Annie Houston who offered up that ingratiatingly lyrical observation at the Warehouse Theater sometime after 9:30 p.m. Sunday night, in the waning hours of this year’s Capital Fringe Festival—which made this deft little meditation on art and the heart one of the last thoughts I heard at this year’s Fringe.

And that line, from Thicker Than Water, the moving autobiographical show Houston created with director Steven Scott Mazzola, made an apt shorthand summary, too, for a festival that served up everything from thrill killers, zombie rockers, and marauding space tortoises to chamber opera, classical dance, and old-school silent clowning.

It served it up to a bigger audience than ever, too. Fringe boss Julianne Brienza reports that this year’s festival moved 21,025 tickets—up a little more than 10 percent from last year, when circa 19,000 butts reportedly found their way into seats at Fringe venues across town.

(Also sold this year: precisely 10,000 units of the Fringe Button You Loved to Hate—see details below.)

Prize Performances

As for the art? Well, Fringe audiences have spoken, voting for Ethan Now as best drama, the zombie-rock shocker Diamond Dead as best musical, and David Gaines’ sublime 7(x1) Samurai as best solo performance.

More Pick of the Fringe results, which were re-announced Sunday night at the Baldacchino, following a sparsely attended Saturday-evening ceremony:

• Best Comedy: Dr. Serenity Hawkfire’s Beyond Being Workshop, a New Age/self-help parody

• Best Dance: The Fiddler Ghost, a folksy Celtic fairy tale involving puppets and step dance

• Best Experimental Show: Crashing Home, the jazzy multidisciplinary show from the Weerd Sisters

• For best overall show—much to my personal humiliation—Fringegoers picked Molotov Theater’s messy I’ll-cut-you dramedy, The Sticking Place. (I dismissed the show on Fringe & Purge, writing that “this Grand Guignol-inspired black comedy feels like the sort of thing a bunch of Saturday Night Live B-listers might whip up for the company holiday party.” So much for, y’know, critical authority.)

• Much to the shock of experienced handicappers, Fringe Fanatic honors went not to spreadsheet-and-walking-shoes guru Alan King, but to one Mike Riley, who apparently saw 47 Fringe shows—to which I can say only: You, sir, are a better man than I.

• The Director’s Award, bestowed by Fringe staff, went to Sue Jin Song’s rapturously reviewed Children of Medea. That prize—given, Brienza says, to an artist who’s taken artistic risks, found creative marketing strategies, and communicated honestly with the festival and with audiences about self and show—comes with free registration for next year’s festival, a free ad in City Paper, and a year’s membership in the Actors’ Center.

Bite My Button

Now, about those buttons: If you’ve somehow forgotten, they were an innovation this year—a mandatory innovation, required (even for ticketholders and artists) to gain entry at any Fringe venue—and not everyone likes change.

Also: Not everyone likes to be charged $5 to experience change. And not everyone was mollified by the dining-and-drinking discounts about which Brienza kept reminding the disgruntled masses.

One ticket-seller at Sunday’s closing party regaled her table with the tale of a patron who, perhaps under the influence of Glen Weldon’s First Law of Fringegoing,* observed that “Our boys are fighting in Iraq to defend democracy, and you’re telling me I have to buy a button? This is not an option?”

On the other hand: 10,000 buttons sold, Brienza points out, translates to $249—over and above ticket revenue—in the pockets of each and every act that performed in a Fringe-run venue this year. Whether that’ll translate into less bitching next year? Anybody’s guess.

In the meantime, Brienza and her crew are laying plans for ongoing monthly Fringe Factory workshops, for a possible Halloween shindig in the still-grubby bowels of Fort Fringe (where the recently signed lease runs through late 2009), and for at least one production in the Shop (the Fringe-built black-box space that will continue to operate behind the Fringe offices at 6th Street and New York Avenue NW). Watch for new ideas, new initiatives, even new Fringe board members: A formal vote is pending, but word is that developer and Fringe landlord Doug Jemal has expressed interest in signing on.

Fringe & Purge may come back to life sporadically with reports from those workshops, or from that Halloween bash. Meanwhile, this year’s coverage—the news, the reviews and the shameless self-promotion, the bitching, the backbiting, and the brouhaha over the blogger who bailed out early—lives on at washingtoncitypaper.com/fringe.

Next year’s Capital Fringe runs from July 9-26. Gentlemen, start your spreadsheets.

* “Fringe audiences, on average, have a higher blood-alcohol content than most.”

LEAVE A COMMENT

Reader responses from the Fringe & Purge blog at washingtoncitypaper.com/fringe

The button. What can I say? The idea is nice but in practice it is like something the MVA would do to you. Expensive, time-consuming, and irritating. As an artist, I knew when accepting a Fringe show that there wouldn’t be much money in it. I’d rather the ticket price be the total and no add-ons, button optional. Anyone with an artist’s pass should not need a button.

POSTED BY GG on Sunday, JULY 27, AT 7:26 P.M.

Finally, a play [I Like Nuts!] that has everyting in life I have ever wanted, a Robot, a Pirate, a Vampire, and two Squirrels on a musical quest for nuts.

It’s sad that they forgot about adding 2 birds into the cast with broken left wings so they can only fly in left handed circles.

POSTED BY CHANCY On Monday, JULY 21, AT 4:02 P.M.

A polyester-suited devout Jew who accidentally becomes impregnated by a Fairy God Jewish Mother—a Jewish hand-puppet super hero named “Super Cock,” and a spiritual mentorship of a big, orange, Matzo ball. What’s not to like about “Slash Coleman has Big Matzo Balls”?

POSTED BY BECCA B on monday, JULY 21, at 10:27 A.M.

We can forgive them the lack of an engaging plot or some form of character development, but you might think that [Power House:] the Disco Energy Dance Along Show would at least offer some energy and dancing. Think again. And if the people responsible for this effort had thought about it, they would have realized that it’s not possible to pump up the volume to disco energy level while the cast are mumbling their feeble lines. Or attempting to sing, god help us.

POSTED BY JASPER ADISON on Sunday, JULY 20, at 7:51 P.M.

Ultimately, you have to find a way to believe that what you’re doing is the “right” way to do it, or you have to step back, take stock, admit your mistakes, and fix it. We can never improve as artists unless we’re willing to blame ourselves for what we may fail to convey rather than blaming the audience for what they fail to “get.”

POSTED BY RODNEY on Wednesday, JULY 23, at 5:51 P.M.

I went to the play [The Naked Party] because I wanted to see the girls take their clothes off. (Sit on the left side of the audience by the middle aisle for the best views).

Funny to see people pretend that this was art. The dialogue was just some whiny claptrap to tune out while scoping out the vag. Who doesn’t love amateur pussy?

POSTED BY MIKE on Tuesday, JULY 22, at 1:39 P.M.

Between the nazi no-late-seating policy (I was turned away at 9:55 for a 10:00 show!) the poorly structured guide, and the @#?%$ buttons, it was prohibitively difficult to see a show at the last minute. There were many days when I would have stuck around to see a show after work, but it was just too difficult to even figure out where to go- and I work in Penn Quarter!

Posted by Nick on Monday, July 28, 2008, at 12:01 p.m.

For altogether too much fringe coverage, visit the Fringe & Purge blog.

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Our Readers Say

A friend had wanted to see one of the plays (which I had seen previously, for free) and I had agreed to go along, knowing Fringe generally had some good stuff that might not be seen otherwise, and the particular show I was going to see was well done and featured several friends of mine. The price seemed a bit steep, but I could deal with paying the $20 to see an hour long show. We met up with some friends earlier in the evening, which meant 4 of us were going--$80. Then we got to the door and were told buttons were required, which for the four of us made up the cost of another ticket. The guide was poor and the show fairly unorganized (the ticket desk didn't even have people at it until 20 minutes before the show). Interested parties had to stand outside the theater because the front doors weren’t even open. Had we known in advance, we wouldn’t have attended. While I have no problems supporting artists in a festival like this, next year I plan on steering clear and spending my money seeing artists who have more reasonably priced shows without a surprise 25% charge added on.

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