15 Anniversary Artist Interviews: Ron Litman

Ron Litman spun refuse into Capital Fringe gold in 2012 with his one-man hit, DC Trash. It was a quintessential Fringe piece, digging deep into the cans that line the alleys of the nation’s capital to find its heart and soul.

DC Trash drew heavily on DC native Litman’s observations working as a trashman in a fast-transforming city.

“I drive a trash truck for my cousin’s trash hauling business,” says Litman, “and I would go everywhere in DC…. These neighborhoods that I grew up in that are now so radically different. Places that were burned to the ground during the riots in 1968.”

DC Trash set Litman’s pointed observations on a gentrifying metropolis with ambitions to be a “shining city on a hill” to music.

“The first section is the present, as as a trash truck driver,” he says. “The second is my past – growing up in my parents’ delicatessen, and all my relatives and their businesses in DC. And the last is my jaundiced view of what DC is becoming.”

The show was a hit at the 2012 Fringe, spawning an expanded version (DC Trash – RECYCLED! at the 2015 festival  – as well as a 2019 performance at The Kennedy Center. Litman has also written and performed three more shows at Fringe: Fish Out of Water (2013) Waiting for Armageddon (2014), and Crazy in America (2016).

Litman left DC in 1975. Upon returning home to DC after extended sojourns in Los Angeles, New York and Wisconsin, he took a gig as a trashman in a city that had utterly transformed. The new job and and the juxtaposition of past and present DC sparked his imagination, and spurred him to create DC Trash.

Yet it was one particular pickup job at the shuttered A.V. Ristorante – which became the heart of Fort Fringe for many years of the festival – that led Litman to an encounter with Capital Fringe founder Julianne Brienza that helped him find a home for it.

“I was working outside, dismantling the fountain at [A.V. Ristorante],” he recalls. “My trash company came to demolish it, and we were taking it away, brick by fucking brick. And the door opens, and there’s a skinny woman coming out to smoke a cigarette.”

Litman started to sell DC Trash to Brienza right then and there. “I told her: ‘I’m Ron Litman. I’m a performer, but I’m working for a trash company at the moment.’ And she goes, “Well, you know, make your application.’ We talked and I knew right away that this was going to be terrific.”

Brienza slotted DC Trash into Fort Fringe’s Bedroom venue. Litman says that the sweaty close quarters of that space proved to be the perfect environment. But just don’t sit too close.

“It was so intimate,” he recalls. “People thought that there’s this crazy man, just, you know, a few feet away from them…With my kind of stuff, contact with the audience is absolutely essential.  Unfortunately. I’m a spitter. Me and Al Pacino. So the first couple of rows are just going to get it.”

Wet or dry, Fringe audiences loved DC Trash. “It’s personal,” he says. “It’s real, and it’s true, and it’s funny and people flipped out at it. They thought it was terrific.”

Litman relished the work’s graduation to a one-off showing at the Baldacchino Gypsy Tent in 2012. He remembers doing that performance of DC Trash “nonstop at a hundred miles an hour, and it’s a hundred and five degrees in this packed circus tent in the middle of the afternoon in July. I must have lost six or seven pounds in this performance, and I ain’t got much to lose but hair, you know. It was truly amazing.”

 – Richard Byrne