I know some of our readers are regular and devoted Fringe-goers (as well as some performers). Those of you who are have no doubt already dug through the marginally painful Fringe Festival online database of shows, read every description, plotted out what you want to see and when you can see it, and come up with a schedule allowing you to fit in as many of your desired shows as possible.
This is not for you.
This is my reaching out to those of you who are sitting between “well, I’d kinda like to see what this is all about but I’m not sure…” and “huh?”
If you’re on the fence or not normally someone who takes in live performances I say this to you: Go. Take a shot. Live performance – whether it be theater, dance, or music – has a quality all its own and when it works it’s better than anything you can get recorded. The nice thing about Fringe is that, for the most part, even when it blows it’s still usually different and interesting. The fact that attending helps us keep a more vibrant local arts culture is icing on the cake.
I’ll do my best to point you at the resources to let you pick something that’s not a stinker. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Picking shows you can go one of two ways. If you’re a happening dude with little free time you can go over to the previously mentioned Fringe schedule and do a search by date and even time of day. Do yourself a favor and just pick the largest max per page available; flipping pages is a pain the ass because there’s no previous and next buttons and the numbers are small and hard to click. Just get em all on one screen.
You can pick genres and whether it has adult themes or not but I find those classifications to be of dubious value. If you’re going to take your kid you’re probably better off basing your decision on description. You can also press the confusing “today’s shows” button if you want but it just does the same thing as picking the date in the calendar box and doesn’t let you change the max per page.
Once something catches your eye you should check the detail page for it. For one, the popup when you hold your mouse over the title is pretty well useless. For another, they sometimes have links to the artist’s own webpages which may have clips and more info, or at least a longer description.
Case in point: Concord, Virginia: A Southern Town in Stories gets (perfectly reasonably) one paragraph on the Fringe site. However you can copy and paste the link to the artist’s website (why, Fringe, why? Was there a shortage of <A> tags?) and get a much longer description of the work. Sometimes, like with Kevin Thornton’s Sex, Dreams and Self Control, the website will even have some recorded video or audio clips to help you make up your mind.
Your second option is to start with the reviews and go from there. Obviously we’ve got some – Jenn covered Riding the Bull and Liam wrote about the Tactile Dining Experience – and there will be more to come. There’s a lot of quickie reviews over at City Paper’s Fringe and Purge blog to check out and they consistently specify what shows are remaining – an important fact when you have highly limited performances the way Fringe often does.
The biggest problem with the way the City Paper does their excellent Fringe coverage is that the blog format makes it hard to find reviews after the fact. If you started with some time constraints and now want to see if they covered it you’d have to scroll down through the list. Or you did, before they created a comprehensive rundown post listing and linking what they’ve covered so far. Someone is, presumably, updating that by hand. So if you don’t see what you’re looking for you may want to look at the main page to make sure it hasn’t been covered in the last few hours but not yet linked. Otherwise it should allow you to find the name that intrigued you in the listings and see what someone else thought.
The Washington Post’s reviews, unfortunately, have no such easy way to find them. You can use the Editor’s Choice of Fringe link and that’ll get you some information but if you’re curious about something that wasn’t one of their pics you’ll need to search for specific items. Otherwise you’ll have to scan through the full reviews list which includes non-Fringe things going on in town. The print edition sometimes has several blurbs in the arts section though I saw none in today’s paper.
Beyond that you may want to look at the Beyond2 list of Fringe Roundup links that’s off the side of City Paper’s blog or just check out DC Theater Scene. There’s other resources to be found but that’s the extent of what I’ve bothered to look through – I’m more a ready-fire-aim kind of Fringe-goer. If any of you devoted Fringe attendees have read this far please chime in with any of your favorite links in the comments and we’ll make sure they get some prominent mention.
No matter what you pick, make sure that you dress comfortably and are prepared for some heat. Fringe made a big deal out of all venues being air conditioned this year but they didn’t make any claims about how well they’d be cooled. I’ve personally heard stories of some serious sweat at two venues, so be prepared.
So go take a chance and see one – at $20 for a show ($15 admission plus the $5 button you must be wearing to be allowed into any Fringe show) it’s not much more than a movie and it’s not something you can just wait and rent in three months.
The DC Fringe Festival runs through July 26th but not all shows play all days; some will not have their first show till next week and others will close this weekend, so plan ahead.