First, the bad news: In its third year, the Capital Fringe Festival will have to get by without Courtney.

Ah, Courtney. Courtney, whose outré outfits, brassy personality, and shameless sidewalk busking helped draw audiences in droves to her one-woman shows.

Courtney, who last year successfully sent up both Barbarella and Cosmo in a single solo evening.

Courtney who, in the Fringe & Purge confessional at the 2007 opening-night party, cheerfully told the camera about a Fringe fling she’d had the year before with local theatergeek … oh, let’s leave him alone. It was a confessional, after all.

So a moment of silence, if you please, for the dearly departed Courtney, who’s not returning to Fringe — and whose last name we will tactfully omit here — because she’s apparently found domestic bliss in the Twin Cities. God bless her.

But fret not, Fringe devotees: Chocolate Jesus is back, presumably because one sold-out Fringe run in 2007 makes a fringer hungry for another one in 2008.

Slash Coleman is back, apparently looking a lot like Jesus, with an honest-to-God grew-it-himself beard and a show whose title involves the phrase “Big Matzo Balls.”

The indefatigable Hilary Kacser is back, marketing a new show “from veteran Capital Fringe hitmakers” — which, you know, more power to you, sister. It’s nice, in a town that didn’t have a fringe festival until 24* months ago, that we’ve got veteran fringe hit-makers to call our own.

In all, 40-odd Fringe acts are repeat offenders. And 40 percent of this year’s 104 acts call the District of Columbia home. Another 20 percent hail from the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

Those are numbers that CapFringe Executive Director Julianne Brienza rattles off without hesitation — she’s efficient that way, to the point of being a little scary sometimes — and with a kind of pride.

More stats Brienza seems pleased to pimp:

– Fringe is nearly 30 percent bigger, up from 84 presenting artists last year.

– Permanent year-round staff is 30 percent bigger, too, up from 2 to 3. Total festival-month staff: 37, including production management, box office personnel, venue managers, an uber-venue manager to wrangle those ven

– The festival spans 18 days this year, July 10-27, up from 11 — and even if you discount the two Mondays and two Tuesdays when Fringe will take a breather (unlike in past years), there are 14 performance days. Again, almost a 30-percent increase.

Also: One two-year lease on Fringe’s first-ever semi-permanent home. Which was infested, in true fringe tradition, with what Brienza likes to describe as “fierce, man-eating rats.”

(No, seriously: They were so mean they fought back when staffers poked ’em with sticks. So big and so numerous they reportedly unnerved even developer Doug Jemal, whose company controls the property — and when a D.C. landlord thinks twice about a building tour, you know you’ve got vector control issues.)

Fort Fringe, as Brienza & Co. like to call it, is in the old A.V. Ristorante building at the corner of 6th Street and New York Avenue, NW, behind a gaudy new Fringe Festival awning and next to a towering white marquee that’s been dubbed the Baldacchino. (That would be the fancy white thing in the picture above.)

That tent’ll be an open-air venue and bar, home to some of the festival’s louder acts (they’ll be competing with traffic noise, after all) and to Thursday’s opening-night bash.

Indoors at Fort Fringe: a newly built black-box space, in what apparently used to be an olive pantry, that’ll be available for rent to performing artists all year round.

As for the art? Well, it’s Fringe, so who the hell knows? “Unjuried, risk-taking, independent,” and whatnot. That’s the accentuate-the-positive approach, anyway.

If you’re looking for real-time guidance, I’ll be weighing in — along with several City Paper collaborators and a select cadre of guest reviewers (you’ll be meeting them shortly) — here at Fringe & Purge.

We’ll serve up quick-hit reviews, explainers, reminders, last-minute news, video interviews, and more — in fact, you can already watch highlights from last week’s boozy Fringe Preview night at RFD.

So visit early, visit often, and don’t be afraid to chime in. It’s Fringe, after all: Unjuried, risk-taking, independent — and this year, as user-generated as we can make it.

*Originally that said “48 months,” but I was thinking “two years.” No, really, I swear. C’mon, I’m an arts critic: Math hurts. Back to corrected sentence.

Next: Of Buttons, Rules, and Other Possibly Annoying Fringe Phenomena