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Capital Fringe Festival Kicks Off Today

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The 2011 Capital Fringe Festival will feature nearly 70 brand new works.
Rebecca Sheir
The 2011 Capital Fringe Festival will feature nearly 70 brand new works.

Fringe features much local flavor

All submissions to Fringe are accepted on a first come, first serve basis, and none of them are censored in any way. Any given festival includes see some pretty off the wall stuff on the stage -- in some cases, a makeshift stage, since many venues are vacant buildings that once housed things like cigar shops and churches.

More than 100 different groups are participating in this year's festival, which spans 12 stages around D.C. About half of them the plays are from people local to the D.C. area, which is something Fringe Festival executive director Julianne Brienza says organizers are highlighting.

"It is very much a local festival and we are really proud of that. And it's very much an event where word of mouth and dealing with humans face to face is how the event is run and how patrons find out about shows," she says as she sits on a white plastic light-up sofa in Fringe's headquarters in downtown D.C.

"So it's a really great way to meet people, which in Washington, D.C. is often times a very hard thing to do because a lot of us work really hard and don't take a lot of time for ourselves to have leisure."

Part of a larger theater network

Some describe the Fringe Festival, which is in its sixth year in D.C., as a kind of garden, or a cradle for artists in D.C. who then go on to do the shows again somewhere else or form their own theater groups. One of the shows from last year's festival was purchased by Pixar for a possible Broadway musical; others have gone on to other Fringe Festivals or professional runs. "That's exactly what it is," says Brienza. "It's sort of a place to try something that you believe in and that you've worked hard at and you know how to package it and invite people to it."

It also gives playwrights, producers, and actors the opportunity to workshop, network, and test out their works on new audiences -- many for the first time. "Every year during the festival, we have between 50 and 60 brand new works, which is a lot. This year I think it's 67," says Brienza.

The festival gives people the opportunity to say, "'Look at this thing I'm trying in my hour long show that I'm doing, maybe just the first 20 minutes are what I really you to see. Don't you want to help me do more?'" adds Brienza. "So, I think, that's a lot of what the festival is good at providing."

One of the artists from a previous year is currently doing a Fringe Festival tour across the United States. "She's the fourth or fifth person from D.C. that's gone and done that, which, I think, is just really great for the community because they come back with a lot of different producing skills," says Brienza. "And that helps the community, overall, sort of learn how to be independent producers."

Giving back to artists

Fringe also tries to keep that spirit of giving back going after the festival by using some of the -- admittedly very reasonably priced -- ticket sales back to the artists.

"We give about 60 to 70 percent back to the artists. Which in five years, we've given back a million dollars to the artists," says Brienza. "It's just important to me that people understand that this isn't some presented special event that's run by some corporation. It's actually run by local people for local people where the artists are taking home a percentage of their ticket money."

The sixth annual Capital Fringe Festival runs through July 24th.

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