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Capital Fringe: Embracing the Outskirts

Capital Fringe gets ready to put on its 16th theatre festival in Georgetown.

A black background with white text the says "Find the sweet? Find the sour? Fringe is on! July 12-23, and a logo for both Georgetown and the Eldavitch DCJCC beneath the slogan. On the right side is the painted image top half of an unpeeled lemon.
The dates of the Fringe Festival. - photo credit: Capital Fringe homepage.

Fringe theatre has always been about inserting the outliers into the performance world. What started in 1947 Edinburgh as these smaller theatre troupes putting on shows on the literal fringes of larger festivals has evolved into the platforming of smaller and less traditional shows. The concept has evolved and traveled the world in the almost eighty years since its inception. Fringe theatre, now, not only creates a space for artists on the fringe of the theatre industry, but also platforms the ideas and stories that lie on the fringes of society. D.C.’s very own Capital Fringe seeks to continue this tradition and update it for the modern era. The festival, running from July 12th through July 23rd over the course of the weekends, is full of shows from both experienced and novice theatre makers.

This year marks the 16th ever Capital Fringe. Since 2005, Capital Fringe, headed by Julianne Brienza, has sought out to give upcoming theatre-makers the chance to put on their shows. The festival embraces the idea that theatre has always been for the people, by the people. The festival has had to adapt to the shrinking availability of community theatre in the city, and is now being held in exclusively in Georgetown, with two theatre spaces right next to each other and a rented bar space a brisk seven minute walk away. 

This year, the line-up is centered around the age old adage ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ The 47 shows, ranging from magic shows to musicals, cover every part of the human experience. The good, the bad, the sweet and the sour. Plus, each show will have fresh lemonade in front for you to enjoy while you watch.

“I am excited to be included in such a stellar lineup for Capital Fringe 2023. Julianne [Brienza] and her team run a rockin’ festival, and do it with excellence and finesse,” says Lauren Hance (she/her), one of 257 artists who are contributing to the festival. Of the 257 artists, about three fourths of them hail from the Washington area. 

Lauren Hance is one of the few artists who do not hail from the D.C. area, but she’s happy to be performing in the capital. Hance is the playwright and star of the one woman show, The Holy O, which follows Vera as she struggles with the decision to become a nun and in turn take a vow of celibacy. Throughout the show, Vera takes moments to address the audience members who are either the saints of the Catholic church, or characters from Vera’s own life that guide her through the decisions she must make throughout the play. The show, which director Amelia Peterson (she/her) describes as “a cross between Fleabag and The Vagina Monologues”, is making its way through the country and stopping in D.C. for the duration of the festival, with performances at the RIND Theatre on July 16th, July 22nd, and July 23rd. You can buy tickets to the show here.

A woman in a blue tank top and black leggings is laying on her side in front of a wooden chair, in the middle of a spotlight. Her back is to the viewer. She is surrounded by dirty clothes.
The Holy O, written by Lauren Hance - photo credit: Ray Kugler

The festival may be overflowing with original content, but there is also some familiar content for theatre goers. Director Madelaine Smith (she/her) took time to discuss her revamped production of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet.

Only Love is a highly concentrated look at Romeo and Juliet, that also brings the audience into the action of the play. Everyone knows the plot. Half the audience probably read it in school or has seen some version of it. That’s a hard obstacle to clear,” Smith says. “Our adaptation shifts the perspective just enough, catches you off guard ever so slightly, then pulls you into the story. Now you have to hand poison to Romeo even though you know Juliet isn’t dead. The audience can’t hold the play at a distance anymore, they are part of it.” The show takes away all but the actors playing the titular characters, and instead builds the show off of how the audience participates with the story. The show will be playing at Sweet on July 14th, 15th, 16th, 22nd and 23rd. Get tickets to Only Love here.

While both The Holy O and Only Love incorporate the audience into their shows, there are plenty of options for theatre-goers who find comfort behind the illusion of the fourth wall. For instance, there is the horror-comedy musical, Bell Wringer. The musical is a retelling of the classic Bell Witch legend accompanied by the fun sounds of blue-grass. Check out tickets for the musical here. There are also two dance shows for those who may not be interested in any of the plays themselves: A Moment in Time and Finding Home: Dance Journeys.

All of the shows, whether they were mentioned here or not, embrace the core of fringe. They are challenging theatre in one way or another. The shows are not just limited to experienced artists: the platform creates a space for newer artists to share their work. So many of the shows make a statement about living in America, critiquing issues of misogyny, the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community, or issues around racism. For a comprehensive list and overview of each show, check out the DCist’s article covering the festival here

At the end of the festival, there are the Annual Fringe Audience Awards. Throughout the duration of the festival, the audience members can vote on a variety of things (which have yet to be announced at the time of publishing), and on the last day of the festival, July 23rd, at Powerhouse, one of the rented bar spaces for the festival, awards will be given out. The event is a celebration of all the hard work everyone has put into it, and invites everyone to give their opinion and feedback on the shows they saw. 

Tickets to the shows range from $0 to $15, making them easily accessible to the general public. Spend some time this month in the theatre world, and get your tickets here!

Percy Sampson headshot for Alchemical Records

Percy Sampson

Percy Sampson, New Orleans born and Virginia bred, is finishing up their time at University of Mary Washington, where they are double majoring in English and Theatre. A passionate writer, they spend most of their free time working on (mostly horror) scripts and short stories.

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