The Capital Fringe Festival is about to begin and it will be bigger and better than ever, with 120 groups represented and more than 600 performances offered between July 10 and July 27.

Now in its third year, the festival takes place in 20 venues throughout Washington and includes everything from solo shows to multimedia events to something that bills itself as a "comedy about free speech and cream cheese."

"It was originally a performing arts community idea," Julianne Brienza said in a recent interview. Brienza is the executive director and one of eight founding members of the festival. "It's not just a theater festival. That's an important distinction for us. We're an unjuried festival, so no one chooses who gets in. Applications become available mid-October and we accept them until Dec. 31. It's first-come, first-served."

As a "self-producing" festival, arts groups apply by telling the festival organizers what their productions entail and what kind of space they need. Then the organizers, who pay for the venues they use, match various groups to appropriate spaces. The money for the rental of venues comes from foundations, the District of Columbia government and from individuals' donations.

This year, the opening night party will be at Fort Fringe, 607 New York Ave. NW from 9 p.m. to midnight. There are no shows on Mondays and Tuesdays. Performances on Wednesdays through Fridays go from 5:30 p.m. to midnight. On weekends, they last from noon until almost 1 a.m.

This year, to get into any Fringe performance, audience members need to purchase a button ($5), which will directly benefit the artists in the festival and will also entitle button-holders to discounts in many area businesses and arts events.

"That button is good for the entire year, until next year's festival," Brienza explained. "We're going to do discounts every month, so there's a lot of benefit to buying a button. People will get information about discounts e-mailed to them each month."

In addition to the button, a ticket to each performance costs $15, although there are different levels of support and multiperformance passes are available, ranging from $50 to $300. At the end of the festival there will be a party at Fort Fringe where awards will be given out. For tickets, call 866-811-4111. For details and a schedule of events, visit