A decade ago Julianne Brienza saw great untapped potential in D.C.’s strong theater scene. “We have many high-end, expensive theater experiences in the District of Columbia,” explains Brienza, who helped launch the Capital Fringe Festival in 2006, “but we were very much invested in growing the base and a mid-level scene. And it’s cool that that’s kind of happening.”
The popular weeks-long annual festival has become the second largest un-juried fringe event in the U.S., and is known for its often wacky, non-mainstream fare. But to an appreciable extent, the non-mainstream is becoming mainstream. As one indicator, there’s the annual Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company, known as the John Aniello Award. “The last five companies have all started at Capital Fringe,” Brienza explains. From Rick Hammerly’s theater collective Factory449, now in residence at the Anacostia Arts Center, to the commedia dell’Arte-focused Faction of Fools at Gallaudet University, to the puppet-focused Pointless Theatre Company at CulturalDC’s Flashpoint, Capital Fringe has had a hand in expanding what is seen and where.
As ever, at next month’s 9th annual festival a notable portion of the 145 productions have particular appeal to the LGBT community. A few of the highlights include Martin, Love, Sex & Rhythm, dancer/choreographer Alvaro Maldonado’s all-male pop musical revue exploring “gay on gay shaming” and open relationships, Love Song to Miss Kitty, Patrick DiBattista and Elizabeth Laffoon’s comedy with music, about a villain who tries to turn a lesbian-owned country western bar into a dance boutique, and A Lesbian Belle Tells!, Elizabeth McCain’s true tale of the crazy characters in her native Mississippi as well as in gay D.C.
This year’s festival, also offering expanded live music performances, will be the last at Fort Fringe. Capital Fringe has already announced that the Atlas Performing Arts Center, currently a Fringe presenting venue, will play a larger role next year. But there’s more news to come.
“We’re inching towards a big announcement,” Brienza says, declining to say anything further. “It’s going to be fucking awesome.”
Capital Fringe runs from July 10 to July 27, at various venues but based at Fort Fringe, 607 New York Ave. NW. Tickets are $17 a show, plus a one-time purchase of a $5 Fringe button, or multi-show passes range from $30 to $350. Call 866-811-4111 or visit capitalfringe.org for a full schedule and tickets.