The festival of relevant irreverence celebrates 25 years.
All aboard the way-back machine for a nostalgic little trip to the spring of 1992. Bill Clinton is ready for a presidential run, motorists are complaining about dollar-a-gallon gas, Johnny Carson is closing in on hosting his last Tonight Show, and Orlando news outlets are about to get a momentous press release printed on tightie-whitie underwear.
The press “briefing” (get it? briefs?) announces the debut of a chronically irreverent, I-won’t-grow-up event, which marks its 25th anniversary this month. The Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival is celebrating a quarter-century of existence, having grown up in spite of itself—enough, at least, to earn a yearly place of honor on Central Florida’s cultural calendar.
To mark the anniversary, the festival’s new office space at the Shakespeare Center (the old office on Alden Avenue was recently demolished) will feature a “Fringe Museum” filled with memorabilia that includes a pair of those inaugural undies. In another nod to the past, a documentary charting the history of Fringe festivals throughout North America will be shown four times during the May 18-30 fest.
The festival will host a record-setting 143 shows this year encompassing musicals, memoirs and magicians; burlesque and boy-lesque; jugglers, dancers,
puppeteers, assorted acrobats, and a lineup of children’s shows to include what Fringe producer Michael Marinaccio describes as “a new space-pirate puppy adventure from the U.K.”
Various Fringe circuit regulars will return, including T.J. Dawe, Martin Dockery, Michael Wanzie and Mike Delamont (God Is a Scottish Drag Queen), who has come up with a takeoff on The Daily Show. Returning productions include Lil’ Women—A Rap Musical and The Screw You Revue, the latter being, needless to say, not for the easily offended.
New shows to note: Bella Culpa, a comedy about servants in an Edwardian manor who fumble their way through a variety of chores, which is described as “Downton Abbey Meets the Three Stooges,” oddly enough, since there are only two servants in the show. Call it Fringe math. Another promising show: Edgar Allan, (shown above), a suitably spooky musical about Edgar Allan Poe as a child.
One trend that will continue this year is the proliferation of venues outside of Loch Haven Park, the festival’s main staging ground. New “off-campus” venues include Savoy Orlando on Orange Avenue, and the Footlight Theatre at Parliament House Orlando on Orange Blossom Trail, as well as a bathtub in a motel room to be named later, and a show whose creators hope to stage their production in somebody’s living room. Home, sweet home. Fringe, crazy Fringe.
Apart from the anniversary milestone, there is a sadder passage to mark this year Former Fringe board member, all-around arts supporter and bon vivant extraordinaire Matt McGrath died of esophageal cancer in February. McGrath, who epitomized the festival’s irreverent joie de vivre, left instructions in his will for Guinness to be served this year at the beer tent, which will be renamed in his honor. Enjoy the festival, and raise a toast to Matt while you’re at it.
For information, visit orlandofringe.org. And go to orlandomagazine.com during the festival to check out reviews and other Fringe observations from Michael McLeod.