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“Art answers the questions our hearts pose — and not always in ways our minds understand.”

It was solo performer Annie Houston who offered up that efficiently lyrical observation at the Warehouse Theater, sometime after 9:30 last night, in the waning hours of this year’s Capital Fringe Festival. Which made that deft little meditation on art and the heart one of the last thoughts I heard at this year’s Fringe.

And that line — from Thicker than Water, the moving autobiographical show Houston created with director Steven Scott Mazzola — made an apt shorthand summary, too, for a festival that served up everything from thrill killers, zombie rockers, and marauding space tortoises to chamber opera, classical dance, and old-school silent clowning.

Served it up to a bigger audience than ever, too. Fringe boss Julianne Brienza reports that this year’s festival moved 21,025 tickets — up a little more than 10 percent from last year, when circa 19,000 butts reportedly found their way into seats at Fringe venues across town.

(Also sold this year: precisely 10,000 units of the Fringe Button You Loved to Hate — about which more later.)

Prize Performances

As for the art? Well, Fringe audiences have spoken, voting for Ethan Now as best drama, the zombie-rock shocker Diamond Dead as best musical, and David Gaines’s sublime 7(x1) Samurai as best solo performance.

More Pick of the Fringe results, which got re-announced Sunday night at the Baldacchino following a sparsely attended Saturday-evening ceremony:

  • Best ComedyDr. Serenity Hawkfire’s Beyond Being Workshop, a New Age/self-help parody
  • Best DanceThe Fiddler Ghost, a folksy Celtic fairytale involving puppets and step dance
  • Best Experimental ShowCrashing Home, the jazzy multidisciplinary show from the WEERD Sisters

For best overall show — much to my personal humiliation — Fringe-goers picked Molotov Theater’s messy I’ll-cut-you dramedy The Sticking Place. (So much for, y’know, critical authority.)

Much to the shock of experienced handicappers, Fringe Fanatic honors went not to spreadsheet-and-walking-shoes guru Alan King, but to one Mike Riley, who apparently saw 47 Fringe shows. To which I can say only: You, sir, are a better man than I.

The Director’s Award, bestowed by Fringe staff, went to Sue Jin Song‘s rapturously reviewed Children of Medea. That prize — given, Brienza says, to an artist who’s taken artistic risks, found creative marketing strategies, and communicated honestly with the festival and with audience about self and show — comes with free registration for next year’s festival, a free ad in the Washington City Paper, and a year’s membership in the Actors Center.

Bite My Button

Now, about those buttons: If you’ve somehow forgotten, they were an innovation this year — a mandatory innovation, required (even for ticketholders and artists) to gain entry at any Fringe venue.

Not everyone likes change, apparently. Certainly not everyone likes to be charged $5 to experience change: Button-bitching, which got an early tongue-in-cheek start (not least on this blog), turned into a full-fledged phenomenon by the height of Fringe.

And not everyone was mollified by the dining-and-drinking discounts Brienza kept reminding the disgruntled masses about: One ticket-seller at last night’s closing party regaled her table with the tale of a patron who (perhaps under the influence of Weldon’s First Law of Fringegoing*) observed that “Our boys are fighting in Iraq to defend democracy, and you’re telling me I have to buy a button? This is not an option?”

On the other hand: 10,000 buttons sold, Brienza points out, translates to $249.00 — over and above ticket revenue — in the pockets of each and every act that performed in a Fringe-run venue this year. Whether that’ll translate into less bitching next year? Anybody’s guess.

Looking Ahead

Meantime, Brienza and her crew are laying plans — for ongoing monthly Fringe Factory workshops, for a possible Halloween shindig in the still-grubby bowels of Fort Fringe (where the recently signed lease runs through late 2009), and for at least one production in The Shop (the Fringe-built black-box space that will continue to operate behind the Fringe offices at 6th and New York).

Watch for new ideas, new initiatives, even new Fringe board members: a formal vote is pending, but word is that developer and Fringe landlord Doug Jemal has expressed interest in signing on.

We here at Fringe & Purge may be dropping in on those workshops from time to time, so keep an eye out for us. And for the next few days we’ll be adding more photos, courtesy of the indefatigable Paul Gillis and Bob Morrison. (Thanks for helping make us look pretty, guys.)

And of course we’ll be back with you for next year’s festival, which runs July 9 to July 26, 2009. That’s right, another three weekends at Fort Fringe, another 100-plus shows, another crop of guest bloggers.

Better start those spreadsheets now.

*Weldon’s First Law of Fringegoing: “Fringe audiences, on average, have a higher blood-alcohol content than most.” Back to story.