Jenny Lynn Towns e-mail inbox is a pretty exciting place these days.
You folks sound like really hip Nazis, begins a message from one M. Pike. Good luck with that ‘collective’ pro Big Business / Rich Elites / Big Government thing you’re working on.
The DC Theatre Collective co-founder is unfazed. Her troupes Capital Fringe entry, The Tea Party Project a history of the movement compiled from cited quotations of many of its most visible exponents has drawn a little ripple of attention from the enthusiasts it portrays, thanks in part to a preview of sorts Jillian Bandes wrote for the conservative website Town Hall the day before the festival opened. Bandess piece produced comments like this:
$15 bucks a head to watch a theatre performance? WoW!! Reckon how much they charge for popcorn and soda?? Sounds like the public nipple NObamaElMessiah is supplying his libturd suckbuddies must be paying well.
Well, this sort of thing is what the internet is for, no?
And even though bringing in audiences who dont ordinarily turn out for theater is one of the fringes goals, the outrage over $15 tickets and the comment about popcorn is telling. Two people in the front row for last Friday nights performance of The Tea Party Project at Fort Fringes Redrum space had to be asked to stop video-recording the show on an iPhone, and they certainly didnt seem down with the enterprise.
If it all seems like a tempest in a er, like its been blown out of proportion, perhaps thats because there seem to be so few politically-themed shows in the festival. Among the close to 140 entries, you might expect a few more just statistically, even if the festival didnt happen to be occurring right smack in the heart of democracy.
The searchable genre field on the festivals online box office includes tags for cabaret and puppetry. (And also, curiously, for theatre — which might be somebodys idea of a joke, as it filters out all results.) But theres no tag for satire or agitprop. The Minnesota Fringe, by contrast, has searchable tags for satire and “political.” And the Philadelphia Live Arts / Philly Fringe online show listing has a tag for Political/Social. (Also: Philip Glass Score.)
Combing the Capital Fringe Festival guide carefully turns up a mere handful of shows with identifiable political elements. SeeNoSun OnStage‘s local premiere of Edmund White‘s Terre Haute is a fiction inspired by writer Gore Vidal‘s correspondence with the imprisoned Timothy McVeigh the man convicted of orchestrating the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City who was executed in 2001. K.W. Kuchar‘s ten/thirtyfour is an ambitious new historical play about the 1968 riots that followed in the aftermath of Martin Luther King, Jr.s assassination. Returning solo performer Mark Whitney critiqued the civil liberties-eroding wars on drugs and terror, and another fringe veteran, Ed Hamell has been closing his performances with a song called Coulters Snatch.
So theres reason to believe festival Executive Director Julianne Brienza when she says political content is sprinkled throughout a lot of things. Nothing about a show called Mother-in-Law: The Musical would prime you to expect a song called Obama is a Muslim, but there it is. Still, Its not a political theatre festival, Brienza says.
People ask us every year. Theyre always thinking there should be [more political work in the festival] because its D.C. and the major industry here is government, she says. I kind of think thats why theres not. But shes adamant in her stance that the festival is unjuried. It doesn’t disallow shows for reasons of content, political or otherwise.
She points out that GS-14, a sendup of bureaucracy in the Federal workplace, was one of the first shows to sell out this year. Theyre government workers, and all the people they work with go to their shows, she says.
Hamells 2009 show, The Terrorism of Everyday Life had a stronger political element than his more autobiographical entry this year, This Is Your Brain on Rock and Roll. He says that even among supposedly open-to-anything Fringe programmers and audiences, the editorializing sometimes doesnt go over for his crowd any better than it did for the Dixie Chicks’.
“Supposedly, these fringe festivals are edgy and forward-thinking and progressive, but oddly enough, some of them are more conservative than you might think, Hamell says. They would prefer that it was more, I don’t know, cross-dressing cabaret or something.