Fringe Fest ex­pands its hori­zons

The Washington Post Sunday - - THEATER - BY NEL­SON PRESS­LEY nel­son.press­ley@wash­post.com

How do you move an an­nual sum­mer­time fes­ti­val of 100-plus acts in dozens of down­town venues?

Pretty easily, it seems. Cap­i­tal Fringe has fully aban­doned its makeshift war­ren of con­verted store­fronts, stor­age rooms and shared spa­ces around Sixth Street and New York Av­enue NW. The new head­quar­ters — pur­chased last year as part of a $9 mil­lion plan to be­come a per­ma­nent and sta­ble year-round op­er­a­tion – are on Florida Av­enue NE. That’s the nerve cen­ter and party cen­tral as the 10th an­nual Fringe Fes­ti­val launches Thurs­day, and the funky op­er­a­tion gives ev­ery sign of run­ning on cruise con­trol.

“We’re in North­east,” says Ju­lianne Brienza, Fringe’s pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive. “Try­ing to be the coolest neigh­bor­hood ever.”

The new build­ing at 1358 Florida Ave. NE, pre­vi­ously owned and oc­cu­pied by the art gallery Con­ner­smith and now dubbed the Lo­gan Fringe Arts Space, is a def­i­nite up­grade that’s still well short of slick. The rough DIY vibe is in­tact, as is the sense of ad­ven­ture that comes when pa­trons grab the thick fes­ti­val guides — big­ger than ever this year — and flip to the page with the map, fig­ur­ing out where ev­ery­thing is.

Fringe says there are now three hubs — Trinidad, H Street NE and Brook­land — although there is prac­ti­cally no ge­o­graph­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion be­tween Trinidad and H Street. Fringe edged in this di­rec­tion last year, part­ner­ing with the At­las Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter on H Street for a quar­ter of its per­for­mances. But there’s no telling how this tran­si­tional fes­ti­val will do as Fringe tries to herd cus­tomers east.

“This year is a bit of a wild card,” says Peter Kor­bel, Fringe’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer.

The big­gest chal­lenge? “De­bunk­ing the fears of get­ting here,” Brienza says. Echo­ing the fes­ti­val’s pi­o­neer­ing spirit a decade ago as it lured au­di­ences to found spa­ces around what be­came Fort Fringe, Brienza adds, “Peo­ple have to start walk­ing around this neigh­bor­hood.” The out­posts in Fringe’s new fron­tier:

Lo­gan Fringe Arts Space. Al­ready open for months and host of a cou­ple of shows, the two-story build­ing fea­tures two stages. The Trinidad Theatre, named for the site’s neigh­bor­hood, is a mod­est black box that seats about 100; so is the in-the-round venue up­stairs. (It’s called Up­stairs.)

The pop­u­lar Bier­garten tang of Fort Fringe’s out­door Bal­dacchino Tent has been re-cre­ated in the high-walled con­crete court­yard that runs from the street to the al­ley. There is a full bar un­der a tent and another bar in­doors. A food truck func­tions as the back wall against the al­ley. A DJ booth is set up un­der the tent; the live mu­sic of the late-night cabaret se­ries will be in the Trinidad.

In­doors and out­doors, the col­or­ful fur­ni­ture is cour­tesy of the 14th Street NW bou­tique Miss Pixie’s. It’s all for sale.

Box of­fice. The main box of­fice is the small for­mer li­brary at H and 13th streets NE, just across from the At­las. (Look for the letters “f-u-n” painted in a child­ish hand.) It’s high­ceilinged and bright — roomier and more invit­ing than the dingy Fort Fringe. This is where vol­un­teers will an­swer Fringe’s inau­gu­ral in­for­ma­tion phone line.

At­las Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter. The up­scale com­plex on H Street is a short walk from the Lo­gan Fringe Arts Space; the Sprenger and the Lab II will host nearly two dozen acts. Ten ad­di­tional shows will be on the same block — nine at the bar and the Arg­onaut res­tau­rant and one at Gallery O on H.

Gal­laudet Univer­sity. Site of 11 shows, Gal­laudet is about a 10-minute walk west on Florida Av­enue from the Lo­gan Fringe Arts Space. On the way is the Tree House Lounge, which will be the venue for 10 acts.

The other hot spot in Trinidad is W.S. Jenks & Son, a hard­ware store a block east of Lo­gan on Bladens­burg Road. Eleven shows are slated there.

Dance Place. The Brook­land main­stay next to Catholic Univer­sity re­opened in Septem­ber af­ter a $4 mil­lion ren­o­va­tion, and nearly 30 acts will be seen in three spa­ces there. Fringe has hired a shut­tle ser­vice to carry au­di­ences on a cir­cuit with three stops: Brook­land Metro, Gal­laudet and Lo­gan. The shut­tle is free if you have a Fringe but­ton, the one-time $5 item ($7 af­ter July 9) you need to get into each show.

As usual, there are an ad­di­tional half-dozen or so venues off the of­fi­cial grounds, and it wouldn’t be Fringe with­out a lit­tle some­thing off the wall. With “Dish­washer,” Fringe vet­eran Brian Feld­man will wash dishes in your kitchen if you live in the Dis­trict. Toron­to­based sculp­tor Bran­don Vick­erd’s “Dance of the Cranes” fea­tures chore­og­ra­phy be­tween two high-rise con­struc­tion cranes at 600Mas­sachusetts Ave. NW. (July 15 only; free — no tick­ets re­quired).

The fes­ti­val is still un-cu­rated, with en­trants ac­cepted on a first-come, first-served ba­sis. By de­sign, it’s a grab bag, a splotchy inkblot gen­er­ated by the hive mind. You can see va­ri­ety acts, bur­lesque artists, Shake­spearean adap­ta­tions, solo sto­ry­tellers, comedies, dance troupes — you name it. Some of the frisky ti­tles are great, though two of the best have been can­celed (“Apoca­lypse Meow” and “Tin­derella”). Other ti­tles you can re­sist (“S--Sto­ries”).

Tick­ets went on sale June 22, and while Brienza cau­tions that it was just one day, that first day’s take was bet­ter than in ei­ther of the past two years, in­clud­ing the 2013 high-wa­ter mark. What drove the sales? “An­tic­i­pa­tion,” sug­gests box of­fice man­ager Curtis St­edge, fig­ur­ing that peo­ple are ea­ger to sur­vey the new ter­rain.

Kor­bel be­lieves it’s helped to have a run­ning start, go­ing back to the At­las col­lab­o­ra­tion last year and get­ting the new space online this win­ter. “We’ve been open since Fe­bru­ary 3 and do­ing things on the reg­u­lar,” he says in the of­fice he shares with Brienza. (There’s a ham­mock in a cor­ner.) “I think peo­ple love this build­ing.”

How it will fit in the neigh­bor­hood re­mains to be seen. The long-de­layed street­cars still glide up and down H Street on a test­ing ba­sis, and signs on the doors read “Do Not Board,” a marker of how the fast-chang­ing area is still in mid-process. In­fra­struc­ture isn’t to­tally ready to sup­port evolv­ing pat­terns and habits.

New busi­nesses and res­i­dences keep pop­ping up on Florida Av­enue and Bladens­burg Road, but dur­ing a Fringe preview event in late June, the largely black res­i­dents on side­walks and row­house porches gazed at the largely white hipster crowd drift­ing into the Lo­gan space. In the al­ley, three of­fi­cers in a po­lice cruiser peered around the food truck into the crowded court­yard and asked what was hap­pen­ing. Told it was an arts fes­ti­val and a new year-round per­for­mance spot, one of­fi­cer replied that it could be good for the neigh­bor­hood. “It might take a minute, though,” she said. In­side, the preview event filled to over­flow­ing.

“Fringe is sticky,” Kor­bel says. “Peo­ple re­ally just like the fes­ti­val.”

Cap­i­tal Fringe Fes­ti­val July 9-Aug. 2. Main fes­ti­val box of­fice, 1300 H St. NE. Lo­gan Fringe Arts Space, 1358 Florida Ave. NE. In­for­ma­tion phone line: 866-811-4111. Tick­ets online: www.cap­i­tal­fringe.org.

KATHER­INE FREY/THE WASHINGTON POST

Cap­i­tal Fringe’s new home base is on Florida Av­enue in North­east. The big­gest chal­lenge, ac­cord­ing to chief ex­ec­u­tive Ju­lianne Brienza: “De­bunk­ing the fears of get­ting here.”

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