City Desk

Capital Fringe Turns Artists Away for Fourth Season

Maybe it’s a victim of its own success, but D.C.’s big summer theater party has too many people banging on the door this year. The Capital Fringe Festival, entering its fourth summer, saw a 50 percent increase in artist applications this year. Festival organizers decided to cap the number of hosted productions at 124 shows (slightly higher than last year's 104)* and keep it 18 days long (July 9-26).

And that’s probably a good thing: It was difficult enough last year running around town, reading reviews, and comparing notes with friends to strategize the best way to get a flavor of the festival (believe me, I tried).

More Fringe buzz below the jump, including venue news, metro accessibility, and...button tips!

How does a festival weed out artists while preserving a “unjuried, uncurated” philosophy? Some festivals employ a weighted lottery that balances solo acts, local performers, musicals, etc. At the seat of the nation’s democracy, Fringe went the egalitarian way: first-come, first serve. Putting a show together at the last minute doesn’t cut it anymore in this town.

According to festival organizers, shows on the waiting list may still get a venue, as an average of five to seven shows drop out each year (you know, when their producers learn there’s an entrance fee, or that they actually have to… do a show). Additionally, producers can opt to find their own venues. However, Fringe is not accepting just any venue; venues must be located within a certain radius of Fort Fringe, the box office (607 New York Ave, NW).

A big change this year that will save you cab fare: ALL venues will be downtown, metro-accessible, and within walking distance of each other. In fact, 14 venues will be located in the seven blocks between Fort Fringe and 7th & D St. “This year we want to make it easy,” says executive director Julianne Brienza. “Make it easy to go to shows, make it easy to look up shows on the website.”

To that end, the Fringe website will give each show its own “wall” (Fringe meets Facebook!) where audiences can post comments about a show. “We’re trying to cultivate the uncurated voice of the nation’s capital and that extends to our audience,” Brienza explains. Naturally, walls will link to the City Paper’s Fringe and Purge blog reviews.

The website improvements, new computers for in-house graphics and videos, and broader outreach are thanks to an UPSTART grant from the D.C. commission on the Arts and Humanities. Funds are also expanding the scope of the Fringe Training Factory to teach kids at an inner-city art center to produce a show for this year’s festival.

Last year, D.C. Fringe adopted the practice used by other festivals of requiring everyone to buy a $5 button for the festival. In 2008, Fringe sold 21,500 show tickets, but quickly ran out of buttons. Initially only expecting to sell 5,000, Fringe sold 10,000. Even now, they still sell 5-10 a month for the Fringe benefits (discounts at local theaters and shops), or maybe because they’re so stylish.

Unlike festivals in other cities, 85 percent of the Capital Fringe audience is local. This year, they’re hoping to draw in out-of-towners, with advertisements hitting the Metro as early as May. What this means is that Fringe audiences better plan early, or else just like some artists, they might find themselves being turned away.

Stock tip of the week: invest in button manufacturing.

*Fringe technically involves more shows than it "hosts": That is, certain shows that go up under the banner of fringe find their own venues; these shows aren't included in the 104 tally. Last year, 120+ shows went up during the festival. Quibbles! But only 'cuz we care.

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