‘St. Jimmy Celebrates ‘The Food at Our Feet’’
Dance Place: Hyman M. Perlo Studio
3225 8th St., N.E.
July 18 at 3 p.m.
July 19 at 4:45 p.m.
July 22 at 8:45 p.m.
July 24 at 8:15 p.m.
July 15 at 9 p.m.
July 26 at 4 p.m.
‘Straight Faced Lies’
Logan Fringe Arts Space
1358 Florida Ave., N.E.
July 10 at 8:15 p.m.
July 12 at noon
July 14 at 6:30 p.m.
July 19 at 5 p.m.
July 23 at 6:30 p.m.
July 26 at 12:15 p.m.
All shows and details at capitalfringe.org
For all the talk of Washington being more of a theater town than people realize, when Julianne Brienza moved here more than a decade ago, she found it lacking in some key elements.
For one thing, she says she found a livelier arts and culture scene in the City of Brotherly Love.
“I was really surprised that the city was not as lively as Philadelphia was. I just kind of thought that all major cities were somewhat similar,” Brienza says.
Brienza returned to Philadelphia for its Fringe Festival and after coming back to D.C., decided that the District could benefit from having one of its own. She consulted with Damian Sinclair, Capital Fringe’s other co-founder, and they decided they needed to bring the Fringe Festival to D.C.
The Capital Fringe Festival (capitalfringe.org) celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and runs through Aug. 2 at various venues throughout D.C. It had its kick-off Thursday.
Fringe festivals began in 1947 in Edinburgh, Scotland as an alternative festival that would run at the same time as the Edinburgh International Festival. Since then, Fringe festivals have arrived all over the United Kingdom, Europe, Canada, Australia and the United States.
Capital Fringe has grown to be the second largest Fringe Festival in the United States. Over the past decade it has managed to generate $1.7 million for artists, premiered more than 600 new works and also provided 886 paid positions. On average, about 130 shows are brought to the Fringe festival each year.
Hopefuls can go online to submit their proposals for shows and spots are given on a first-come, first-served basis.
Brienza says that the focus of Fringe Festival isn’t about individual shows but more about the performing arts community as a whole succeeding and collaborating together in the District.
“It’s about a place for artists to really network and form companies and do things outside of the festival,” Brienza says. “The festival is just a launching pad for other things to happen in the city with the performing arts.”
Mark Williams, playwright of “Straight Faced Lies,” and Jimmy Grzelak, playwright and star of his solo show “St. Jimmy Celebrates ‘The Food at Our Feet,’” are both returning. This will be Williams’ third Fringe and Grzelak’s second. Both are gay.
Williams wrote poetry in high school and half-heartedly decided to apply for the dramatic writing program at New York University.
“They wanted creative material so I was like, ‘Here’s all my sad boy poetry, take that,’” Williams says. “I think it actually had peanut butter stains on it. I put no real thought or effort into it.”
He didn’t expect the program to lead him toward playwriting in the long term and was pleasantly surprised.
“When I saw my first play in front of an audience at the end of freshman year it just hooked me,” Williams says. “It was like magic. I couldn’t stop.”
Williams’ first play showcased at Capital Fringe was titled “Recovery” in 2013. He returned again in 2014 with his play “The Other Day.” This year “Straight-Faced Lies” tells the story of a dysfunctional family Thanksgiving that includes a loving wife and mother preparing for her husband’s arrival home from jail, a drunk and homeless aunt and a closeted gay son who is outed by his lover at dinner, among other shenanigans.
Capital Fringe provides the venue for these plays to be shown as well as handling the main marketing to promote the shows. The playwright must handle all other fees, including costumes, payment to cast, crew and director and any other costs. Williams funded his show by saving up his money in little ways and “not eating a $10 salad for lunch every day.”
The play will also have a special timely political twist as those who wish to get married can bring their marriage license and can be married by an officiated cast member after the play.
Williams says the decision to include a marriage ceremony at the play came right after the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize marriage across the country and decided it would be a fun celebration after the play.
Grzelak’s “St. Jimmy Celebrates ‘The Food at Our Feet’” is the culmination of a project Grzelak began right after college. He received a grant from the alumni of Williams College to travel the world for 365 days to “increase international understanding and world peace.” Grzelak used the grant to meet different people around the world who claimed to be God.
“They didn’t have any specific requirements for the project,” Grzelak says. “They kind of just said go out there and find yourselves and that’s what I tried to do.”
While meeting different gurus, teachers and other people who claimed to be saints or gods, Grzelak, whose first play “How to be a Terrorist” was in Capital Fringe in 2013, made a peculiar connection.
“I noticed a difference between different religious leaders and cooking hosts,” Grzelak says. “I really think that those two things in the end are not so different. The project is putting that crazy idea out there and showing how it might not be so crazy in the end.”
He describes his solo show as “a cooking show meets a church service.” The show explores the connection between religious teachers like the Buddha and cooking hosts such as Rachael Ray and Paula Deen.
Shows like “Straight-Faced Lies” and “St. Jimmy Celebrates ‘The Food at Our Feet’” can be the kick-off for more theater success down the road. Both Williams and Grzelak have showcased their work at other Fringe Festivals in the country.
Brienza notes that many artists from Capital Fringe have taken their shows beyond the festival and started theater companies such as Pinky Swear Productions, to show their work year-round in the District. Its “The Last Burlesque” is in the festival this year.
It’s a goal many artists at Capital Fringe would love to have the opportunity to do for D.C. audiences.
“I’m especially excited for access to an audience in D.C.,” Grzelak says. “D.C. audiences are so politically well-versed. There’s a real reason for Fringe to exist there, despite there already being a lot of thinking and art happening in the city.”