Credit: Illustration by Stephanie Rudig

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Capital Fringe has a lot to celebrate this year: 70 years ago, the first Fringe festival was held in Edinburgh, Scotland. Since then, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival has grown into the largest arts festival in the world, inspiring dozens of similar ones worldwide, including here in D.C. It’s a momentous anniversary for Fringe all over, but for Capital Fringe, this isn’t just a year for celebration. This is a year to send a message.

And its message this year is loud and clear. This year’s official logo, drawn by local artist Bill Warrell, takes inspiration from the Iwo Jima Memorial, with stagehands unified in erecting a tent instead of soldiers lifting the American flag. It’s a bold, stark image—the perfect embodiment of what this year’s event is all about.

“When approaching the design for the twelfth annual Fringe Festival, I felt the weight of the shrinking art scene in our nation’s Capital, and I was inspired by this inscription,” Capital Fringe founder and CEO Julianne Brienza writes, alluding to the inscription on the Iwo Jima Memorial that reads, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”

“Artists are equipped to examine what our human experience is right now,” she continues. “Through art, they are constantly challenging boundaries and reminding us of what we all have in common. We all want to express ourselves, face the unexpected, and go towards the unknown.”

A look at this year’s programming confirms that. Many of the productions are direct reactions to, or commentary on, the current sociopolitical climate. Productions like “It’s What We Do”: A Play about the Occupation; HOWL: In the Time of Trump; Just Like a Woman; Nevertheless, She Persisted: Stories of Connection in a Disconnected Society; and P.I.C.: The Prison Industrial Complex all explicitly deal with current issues plaguing the world. Dozens more in this year’s festival tap into the fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, confusion, helplessness, hopelessness, and, ultimately, hopefulness of our collective consciousness.

At the center of Warrell’s drawing is an African-American man sporting a bandana, dark glasses, and a goatee, helping to lift up the tent. He’s not just some random figure Warrell drew. He was a real person and a longtime friend of Warrell’s: Anthony J. Houston, known as “Spade” to his friends and family. Spade spent years in D.C. as a stagehand and served as the technical director for Warrell’s longtime production company, District Curators. Spade died in 2013, and his inclusion in Fringe’s design this year is a testament to the people who lift up the District’s resilient arts scene, especially in the face of great adversity. 

For her part, Brienza sums up this year’s mission with a question: “When will we ever hear answers to questions posed by the less powerful? Those that lift the lights, the tent, and ultimately our city up?”  —Matt Cohen

Driven to the Stage

Uber driver Clyde Ensslin makes his Fringe debut with a one-man show about Thomas Jefferson’s secret, unflattering history.

Stolen Glances

A playwright explores what led a disgraced local rabbi to voyeurism.

Bank Accounts

An award-winning Fringe production about the West Bank occupation brings its pro-peace message back to the stage.

Let’s Take This Offline

In Nevertheless, She Persisted, Lauren Hanna crowdsources stories for the stage.