Dan VanHoozer, director of the Pabst and Popcorn Hour theater company

Scot McKenzie and Julianne Brienza’s pipe dream turned out to be a raging success its first year of operation: Nearly 20,000 people turned out to support their festival in 2006. Amazingly, the Capital Fringe Festival bucked the sophomore slump and put even more butts in seats last year while it continued to provide local artists a safe and cost-efficient staging ground for theatrical exploration. As with most fringe festivals, some of the offerings are decidedly amateurish—this is, unfortunately, a one-stop shop for painfully unfunny political satires and narcissistic solo shows. Still, with $15 tickets to most performances and diverse programming that spans everything from circus arts to original musicals, it’s a low-risk/high-reward opportunity to catch the next Josh Lefkowitz (who parlayed a show into an extended run at Woolly Mammoth) or the young bucks at Lunch Productions or Solas Nua reveling in unbridled creativity.