Fringe Benefits

Dubbed a celebration of G through OMG...
Dubbed a celebration of G through OMG, the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival returns for its 23rd year May 14-27 in and around Loch Haven Park. The longest-running fringe festival in the United States, this unjuried and uncensored collection of over 600 ticketed performances will also offer 75 free shows on the outdoor stage and at Kids Fringe. Following is a sneak peek at five shows and the local actors and writers behind them.

Photographed by Roberto Gonzalez at Annie Russell Theatre, Rollins College, For schedules and more information about the Fringe Festival, go to

Reincarnation Soup

While writer/actor Viet Nguyen was born in the U.S., his experience growing up as one of just a handful of Vietnamese Americans in his south Florida hometown continues to inform his contributions to Fringe, which include The Monkey King in 2012 and Reincarnation Soup in 2010. He’ll revive the latter hourlong show with some rewrites this year. “I wanted to bring Reincarnation Soup back because I felt like I had some unfinished business with it,” Nguyen says. “The title is based on this myth that after we die we go into this long line and wait for some soup that erases our memory before we move on to the next life.” Nguyen plays eight different female and male characters, each exploring the Vietnamese American experience. “There just aren’t many Asian American stories being told on the stage,” he says.  “I write about these experiences and hopefully get audiences to relate to them, and I think it allows me to showcase the resilience of these people.”

FLIGHT: A Crane’s Story

Merging dance, kites and puppetry, the IBEX Puppetry troupe returns to Fringe with its environmental conservation-themed FLIGHT: A Crane’s Story. “Cranes are a necessary part of our ecosystem, but we tend to lose them in development and loss of wetlands,” says troupe leader Heather Henson, daughter of legendary puppeteer Jim Henson. She has been a part of Fringe as a producer, director, puppeteer and actress since the festival was spread across multiple venues in downtown Orlando. Local performer Tymisha Harris will be the puppeteer for the crane during the 60-minute show, which she describes as sweet, uplifting and family-friendly. “FLIGHT follows the life cycle of the whooping crane using a lot of Native American ideals and universal themes,” says Harris, who will share the stage with Henson—both are professional kite fliers and professional dancers. Henson adds: “The show also has an original score performed live by Red Road Warrior. They give the show an interactive concert vibe.”

Something’s Weird in Weeki Wachee

If there’s one thing John Ryan has learned in his seven years with Fringe as a writer, producer, director and actor, it’s that a good show title and a noteworthy cast are a winning combination. His 2014 contribution, Something’s Weird in Weeki Wachee, follows that formula with a nod to one of Central Florida’s most kitschy roadside attractions and the acting prowess of local legends Elizabeth Murff and Peg O’Keef, for whom he wrote the 75-minute dark comedy about two former mermaid performers living in seclusion and harboring a sinister secret. “It’s a show that deals with local lore, and this will appeal to Orlando audiences,’’ says Ryan. “It also blends high campy comedy with dark drama, and I think that is something that historically Fringe audiences have been interested in. Audiences come to Fringe expecting something that’s willing to push boundaries. It’s nice to be able to do something with no restraints.” 

There’s No Place Like Home

As one of the Fringe Festival’s most seasoned and award-winning veterans, playwright/theater producer Michael Wanzie has entered a show into Fringe’s lottery nearly every year since 1993, wearing various hats, including writer, director and actor. “I always approach Fringe as the chance to try original material with a really diverse audience and, if it gets a good review, you can make money,” says Wanzie, whose critically acclaimed productions Two Men Trapped in Women’s Bodies, Trailer Trash Tabloid and Ladies of Eola Heights have all been revived at the Parliament House. His 2014 production, There’s No Place Like Home, is a 75-minute collection of three one-act plays mixing dark comedy and drama—Wanzie’s signature. In one of them, Wanzie plays a priest who is confronted with accusations by a former altar boy. “I work with very serious themes, but infuse them with comedy,” he says. “People come to the Fringe expecting fun, frivolity, weirdness and craziness. They’ve come to know that I will be pretty unrestrained with lots of OMG factor to it.”


Jekyll N’ Hyde—A Rap Musical

It’s hard to say what Robert Louis Stevenson would think of Lindsay Taylor’s rap musical rendition of his 1886 novel, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but it’s expected to be a crowd favorite at this year’s Fringe Festival. Much like Taylor’s 2012 hip hop production of Little Women, which took the new producer award and later traveled to the Chicago Fringe, Jekyll N’ Hyde will be set in the novel’s Victorian time period with appropriate costuming, but the 10-person cast will burst into rap music for the show’s musical numbers. “I wanted to do something darker after Little Women, which was very family-friendly,” says Taylor, who is the show’s producer and co-writer alongside Jordan Keyes. “To me, Fringe is a chance to experiment and dream, to be excited about a project and know that it will be embraced.”



Categories: Features, Performing Arts