Fringe: Freaks, Freebies, Fabulous Frustration
Washington's first-ever Capital Fringe Festival has the streets of the East End hopping all day and all evening. The District doesn't quite yet have the feel of spontaneous artistry and happening that marks the original Edinburgh Fringe, but that may yet come.
For all the skeptics who thought a mid-July street festival with dozens of theatrical events in every artistic nook and cranny of downtown was an idea whose time might never come, wrong, wrong, wrong.
We're big on Fringes in my house. The wife and I hit the Edinburgh Fringe on our honeymoon many moons ago. We took the kids for their first taste of Fringe a couple of summers ago. We go knowing that a significant percentage of the many shows will be awful. The trick is to game the program and maximize your chances of finding the gems.
That's especially tough to do when the whole point of these festivals is to present shows and performers who don't get mainstream bookings and therefore aren't likely to have a paper or electronic trail from the critics. Obviously, this has gotten much easier in the web age, as a fair number of the shows have their own sites, sometimes with video clips. But most don't have any such clues, so you have to pick shows based on name, title, the very brief descriptions in the festival program, and, if you're very lucky, the running critical guides that pop up, such as Trey Graham's festival blog. But beware: By the time even speedy Trey gets his praise of a show onto the web, the production is often completely sold out.
Yesterday, we hit three sold-out shows in the space of two hours, at the Warehouse, Woolly Mammoth and Flashpoint's Theatre Lab. Aarrrgh! But we did see two very strong shows over the weekend: Beautiful Freaks and Feats of Wonder, a latter-day carny show from the folks at Cheeky Monkey Sideshow, included an unusually good sword swallower, a punk version of the old walking on shards of glass routine, a delightfully raunchy yet cleverly PG-13 trio of singers called the O'Danny Girls, and a delightfully surly and monkish magician named Mysterion. (At the Warehouse, continuing this week.)
The bulk of the festival is taking place within an easily walkable section of downtown between 4th and 9th streets NW, from D to L streets. The 18 or so venues in that area point out the extraordinary growth in arts spaces even as that chunk of the city has been bid up into the real estate stratosphere in recent years. From the Ruppert family's unsung but enormously effective advocacy for the arts in their Warehouse complex on Seventh Street to the spaces in the Goethe Institut, the newly restored Sixth and Eye Historic Synagogue, the Flashpoint arts incubator and even Pepco's corporate headquarters on 8th Street, there are some very cool spaces for theater, dance and other performance.
We even happened across some spontaneous street performers, such as a dance troup putting on a show for an audience of eight on Freedom Plaza across from the District Building. And there are some free official Fringe performances, such as the locally-based mentalist Alain Nu, who is best known for his TV specials on the Learning Channel, but also performs regularly at the Art Barn in Gaithersburg. Nu's show at the National Theater's upstairs hallway generously known as the Helen Hayes Gallery was one of those "how does he do that?" experiences that leaves the audience shaking its collective head.
Although some shows are sold out through the end of the festival, there are still plenty of others that have tickets right up til curtain time. Check it out. It could change your notions about downtown Washington on a midsummer weekend.
By Marc Fisher |
July 24, 2006; 7:55 AM ET
Previous: How Thomas Jefferson Inspired Greenbelt (Yes, That Greenbelt) | Next: The Town, Painted Red
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Kalorama Kat | July 25, 2006 7:08 AM
Posted by: WTF | July 25, 2006 9:30 AM
Posted by: Jeff Fisher vs George Bush | August 2, 2006 11:26 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.