Arts Desk

Expert Analysis: I Don’t Think It’s Really Such a Big-Ass Deal that the Capital Fringe Festival Is Raising Ticket Prices

The Sixth Annual Capital Fringe Festival will see the 17-day, 100-plus-show bacchanal’s first price hike. While the cost to performing artists to apply to the festival has more than doubled risen significantly since 2006—to $850 $750 last year, including a $175 insurance fee—ticket prices had held firm at $15 a performance, with a number of multi-admission options available at lower per-show cost.

This year’s festival, slated for July 7-24, will charge $17 for individual tickets and $7 for the controversial Fringe button—a one-time purchase required for admission to any Fringe venue that was introduced in 2008. Capital Fringe Executive Director Julianne Brienza has defended the button as a necessity that quickly pays for itself if one takes advantage of the various discounts it brings at area restaurants and other Fringe sponsors. The multi-ticket packages are inflating by $5 apiece, which is a smaller markup, percentage-wise, than the others.

I wrote a story taking stock of the Fringe’s five years of evolution last summer, and my reaction to the increase is basically a shrug. The festival is a boon to the city in my opinion, one very good reason not to blow town during the severely dehydrating month of July. Brienza claims the quality of the festival has increased in the last half-decade, and I’d concur. The volume of Fringe applications, and particularly the number of artists traveling from other cities to participate, has grown faster than the Fringe’s capacity has, anecdotally improving the odds that the number of quality productions will also go up.

Fringe remains a crap-shoot, of course, but the whole purpose of a festival is to promote risk-taking, not just by the artists but by the audience, too. And if you buy a multi-show pass, the actual amount of the increase becomes negligible—especially when weighed against the enhancements to the Fringe experience that’ve come into being since the beginning, like the advent of the Baldacchino Gypsy Tent, that faintly pee-smelling oasis with its cold, abundant, not-overpriced Southampton Double White Ale and similarly reasonable if very-slow-to-arrive offerings of bar food, wherein makers and consumers of theater and Theatre can (and actually do) mingle freely. Brienza told me last year it’s the concessions that’re mainly responsible for helping the festival earn more than 70 percent of its annual operating budget, making it far less reliant on grants and contributions than are most performing arts organizations. But the bottom line is that attendance has grown every year of the Fringe's existence, and last year broke all prior records. Attendees purchased 33,897 tickets, up from 25,500 in 2009. In both raw numbers and as a percentage of the prior year's sales, that was the biggest attendance boost in the Fringe's history, by a big margin. My unscientific hunch is the new pricing won't depress turnout this summer.

Tickets for the 2011 Capital Fringe Festival go on sale June 20. The next event on the Fringe calendar is “Wattage: A New Theater Illuminating Tradition and Survival,” a four-play collaboration with the National Museum of the American Indian that runs April 21-May 8.

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  • Richard

    Have no problem with a price hike but I hope it is accompanied by an upgrade in venues for performance. Some of the Fringe's pressure cooker venues verge past uncomfortable and into unacceptable for legitimate performance if the temperature tickles 85 F. Which is, like, all the time in July in DC. (I'm looking at you, "The Clinic"!!!!)

  • http://www.welovedc.com/ Don

    I don't mind a price hike. I'd prefer they pushed it up another buck or so and shitcanned the button. I concur with you that Fringe is a time for audience risk-taking and the button is a discouragement.

    Whenever I hear Brienza defending it I think of every time I've heard a volunteer explain the need for one to a purchaser. I wonder whether she's ever stood at the entrance of a venue and listened to those conversations? Last year I watched a two minute conversation between a ticket seller and a couple who'd happened across the event.

    After being told it was $15 to come in they then got told they'd have to pony up another $5 each. They clearly felt like they were being upsold or deceived about the real cost and responded to the statement that it could be re-used by saying "we're not even sure we want to see this one show." Eventually they walked off.

    The button is no serious expense to those of us who go to a dozen shows but for someone pondering an outing it's a 33% increase in price. Well, it was. Now it's 42%.

  • MM

    Where did you get the figure of $850 to apply? The 2011 application says: $30 early application fee, $50 regular application fee, and $575 participation fee.

  • Chris Klimek

    I just checked in with Julianne Brienza, who says that the 2010 application fee was $575 plus $175 for insurance, so I overstated in error by $100. This year, she tells me, the participation fee remains $575 but the insurance fee has gone up to $200. I regret my mistake.

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