"Let’s mock the midnight bell,’’ Mark Antony urges in Antony and Cleopatra. Ah, even Shakespeare knew that some of the more exciting nightlife doesn’t begin until long after sundown. That’s certainly the case in O-town, where we’ve gone in search of some of the lesser-known slices of life that are out of the ordinary, thanks in part, to the odd hours they occupy. We were not surprised to find out that the later the hour the odder the experience.
Live From Orlando, It’s Saturday Night!
TV execs know that comedy and the late-night hours go together. That’s why David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, the Saturday Night Live gang and their wacky ilk have long ruled the airwaves after primetime.
Comedy also rules in downtown Orlando on Saturdays at midnight, when SAK Comedy Lab presents The Early Show—an improv performance that can be a bit more out there than the ones SAK offers at decent hours.
“What is something that is inspiring to you?” asks one of the half-dozen casually dressed performers, as a recent Early Show begins. Bringing traditional Second City techniques to The City Beautiful, SAK puts on a truly interactive show in which the audience shouts out suggestions as the performers try to spontaneously craft comic scenarios around them.
“Barack Obama!” shouts one of the 100 or so people in the audience. Seeming to find that specific topic slightly daunting, the comedians smoothly broaden the suggestion to encompass the presidency in general. That allows them to spin a fanciful tale about Millard Fillmore that somehow includes a reference to chickens being released.
Even though these performers sometimes improvise themselves into corners, the atmosphere is relaxed, with audience members drifting into the theater during the first 20 minutes of the hourlong show and drifting out during the last 20.
The audience laughs easily and so do the comedians; they are definitely in this together.
The show ends with an extended farcical fantasy, set in an emergency room, that includes such characters as a man with a severed hand, a desperate woman in labor and a befuddled transsexual.
Whether on TV or in person, that’s pretty much the essence of late-night comedy.
In the Dead of Night
It’s Friday night at Greenwood Cemetery and, as usual, Don Price is knocking ’em dead.
“I went to morgue school. I got a C. So I’ve only got a 70 percent chance of finding any artery in your body,” Price tells an audience that’s standing among the gravestones.
He pauses, barely visible in the light of the full moon, then delivers the punch line.
“That’s why I run a cemetery.’’
The crowd—it’s alive, by the way—chuckles. Except for the little boy squalling in the stroller.
He’s had quite enough of Price’s routine.
And why the heck is a toddler out here at 10 p.m., anyway, among the dearly departed
Well, first of all, this isn’t a scary ghost tour. It’s a family-friendly history lesson that Price, Greenwood’s colorful sexton (that’s “manager’’ to you), offers one Friday night a month at the city’s 129-year-old cemetery.
The free two-hour excursion takes in the resting places of dozens of notable Orlandoans of the late 19th and early 20th century, with names that many of us see on street signs or high schools every day—Bumby, Holden, Parramore, Boone, Evans. Price has stories about them all.
For example, there’s Jessie J. Branch, who in 1908 won a contest to replace Orlando’s rather bland nickname, The Phenomenal City. Her winning entry, The City Beautiful, was a keeper. Coming in second, somewhat ahead of its time: The Magic City.
Now that’s spooky.
Greenwood Cemetery is at 1603 Greenwood St. off South Mills Avenue. The Moonlight History Stroll is held during the full moon Friday of each month from 9 to 11 p.m. and is limited to 50 people. Reservations are required; call 407-246-2616. Parking is along Greenwood Street. Local history expert Steve Rajtar will be filling in for Price on the October tour.
Again With That Time Warp
Half past midnight on a recent Friday night, and the audience at AMC’s Universal Cineplex 20 is watching a 34-year-old movie.
Well, “watching” doesn’t quite say it.
Everyone at the CityWalk theater is up on their feet, jumping to the left, stepping to the right, putting their hands on their hips and bringing their knees in tight. Next comes the “pelvic thrust” that, as the lyrics in the film explain, “really drives you insane.”
Yes, the movie is The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the crowd is doing the “Time Warp”—again.
For many of these people, anyway, it’s far from the first time they’ve seen the film.
“I’ve seen it enough to sit at home and recite it,” says Alicia Chaney, an 18-year-old audience member from Clermont. “There aren’t a lot of movies like it.”
A campy, song-filled spoof of sci-fi flicks and monster movies, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is based on a British stage musical. The film, released in 1975, immediately flopped but soon found improbable cult success as a midnight movie.
The CityWalk showings have been going strong for seven years.
While the movie is playing, a volunteer cast of about 30 performers in outlandish costumes and makeup re-enacts each scene. (In true “transsexual Transylvanian” tradition, the actors appear to have been cast without regard to physical type or even gender.)
The secret of the movie’s success has always been audience participation, as when the crowd rises for the “Time Warp” number along with the actors on the screen and those in the theater. In the years since I first saw the film at New York’s Waverly theater, where its midnight showings began, the audience response has become increasingly elaborate and so flamboyantly profane that little is quotable here.
One thing that hasn’t changed is Rocky Horror’s welcoming message of self-realization: “Don’t dream it, be it.”
“Anyone who comes to this can find a home,” says the director of the live CityWalk show, a man known simply as Ofir. “Regardless of who you are, what you are, who you love.”
Not a bad place to call home, really, especially at this hour.
AMC’s Universal Cineplex 20, Universal Citywalk, 1-888-262-4386. Performances of The Rocky Horror Picture Show are at midnight on the second and fourth Friday and Saturday of each month. Admission is $9.50. universalorlando.com
The Pursuit of Campiness
|Gidget Galore recruits a contestant for Camp Drag,
an amateur hour for drag queen wannabes
Spinning and jumping like a perky schoolgirl dancing at a ’50s sock hop, Gidget Galore blows air kisses and bats her mascara-caked lashes as she lip synchs to Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Galore works the room with twirls and bounces that lift her layered outfit of Technicolor petticoats while she daintily plucks dollar bills from outreached hands and stuffs them into her Spandex-clad bosom.
It’s Wednesday at 11 p.m. at The Parliament House, a landmark resort hotel and nightclub in gay America, and Camp Drag is officially under way with all eyes on Galore, who’s probably not your mother’s idea of the girl next door.
Galore recruits men in the audience, which is made up of gay and straight men and women, to be made over in-to drag queens. Those selected lip synch to a song in drag and try to win over the crowd. The audience favorite wins a $100 prize.
Galore snakes though the room and plucks five willing girly guys. Her picks include a two large men with ample facial hair who are to compete as a duo, and a cutie named Jeff (“Oh, that’s a very butch name,” Galore coos), who will perform an “oldie but goodie” number. Galore shoos them and the other contestants backstage. “You can bring your cocktails with you,” she says in a nurturing voice.
Soon, Jeff emerges as Lizzza (“Liza with three ‘z’s!”). Unsure in high-heels, Lizzza, hairy legs and all, stumbles down the steps of the main stage but gives it his, er, her all, red feathers from her dress trailing behind her. As the upbeat, but unfamiliar, song ends, Lizzza attempts a full split. She makes it most of the way down. The audience gives raucous approval.
The fleshy, hirsute “Tag Team Drag Queens” are next. One of the two, now Ivana Cheeseburger, is nearly bursting through her green gown. Her partner, Ivana Cocktail, steps forward and pretends to belt out Whitney Houston. “And Iiiii, eeeeiii, willll…” Cheeseburger grabs the mic tag-team style, and the tune changes. Cocktail, refusing to let go of her diva moment, pounces on Cheeseburger and resumes the song in midstream “…will always loooove yoouuooo!” The act ends with both of them wrestling on the ground for the mic as the audience howls.
Two other contestants give it a go, but no act can match the two beached whales on the floor, wigs falling off their bald heads. But they are really ringers, installed in Camp Drag to promote a new show, appropriately called “Fat Tuedays,” at the House. So the prize goes to the runner-up, Jeff, who gives a beauty contestant smile and acts all giddy.
Boy, these girls sure know how to have fun.
The Parliament House, located at 410 N. Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando, stages various drag and burlesque shows every week. 407-425-7571; parliamenthouse.com
Hunger on the Prowl
It’s quiet outside Jimmy John’s, a downtown sandwich shop poised like a corner umbrella salesman on a rainy night. “When the bars close,” I’m told by a kid behind the counter, “all anyone wants is pizza, pita or us.” Black-clad delivery kids in groups of three hustle boxes of subs out the door as I order a “Beach Club”: turkey, provolone and veggies. The 8-inch hoagie is bland and underwhelming, but when you’ve partied until 2 a.m. and that red “JJ” sign on Orange Avenue beckons, bland could be just the ticket.
Partiers in a startling variety of shapes and sizes hop noisily from bar to bar. The rule on this muggy night is short, slim, speedy. Women in miniature skirts strut by on laser-beam heels so high they make my feet hurt. They pause to watch two immaculately tailored men pass, shaved heads and pressed lapels gleaming in the streetlights, then continue on toward Church Street. A spaghetti-thin man chain-smokes down to The Social. I doubt that he eats at Jimmy John’s; the attempt would resemble an anaconda digesting a brick.
Almost 1 a.m.
Lines are forming across the street at Pita Pit; JJ’s is quiet on the outside but bustling inside, a half-dozen sammichistas slicing meats in anticipation of the rush. Orange Avenue is closed to cars; the foot traffic spills off the sidewalk and forms one large crowd dressed in sequins and torn denim.
A queue of sandwich-craving late-nighters wraps around the corner. Jimmy John’s target audience—hungry bar evacuees, taste buds deadened by alcohol—waits to devour cold cuts between the hip-hop beats from cars cruising on Central Boulevard.
On the corner, a street preacher with a microphone froths that “we’re all going to hell.” A chunky kid in jeans and T-shirt enters the shop, commenting to no one: “I’m getting a sandwich first.”
At I-Drive Hotel Bar, Everyone’s on Stage
At the Backstage nightclub, hip, successful professionals gather to sip exotic concoctions and groove to a pulsating beat reflecting the vibrant I-Drive nightlife that—OH, JUST STOP IT!
What you really see at the Backstage, off the Rosen Plaza hotel lobby, are partying tourists, grinding conventioneers, celebrity impersonators, nonpoisonous lounge lizards, juggling bartenders, and tanked cougars hooking up with guys in their twenties. The action’s all happening on or near the dance floor, it’s loud, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Everybody can feel hip for a night at the Backstage, where the DJs spin everything from Lionel Richie to Jeremih, and the age range of the clientele is great enough that fans of one musician probably never heard of the other.
The show supposedly costs $5, but sometimes the Backstage doesn’t bother with the cover charge. The peak time to view the dance-floor participants at their uninhibited best is Saturday from about midnight to 1:30 a.m., and that’s also when the bartenders are in top form. (Whistle-blowing Mark Dalton, who tapes dollar bills to his bald pate, will gladly stop throwing cocktail napkins long enough to take your picture if you ask.)
The nightclub interactions are as diverse as the conventions being held on any particular weekend at the Rosen. For instance, on a recent Saturday, the groups included yo-yo champions, blind conventioneers and celebrity impersonators. Around midnight, Napoleon Dynamite was minding his own business on the dance floor when he caught the eye of Britney Spears. And then…
You had to be there.
The Backstage is open 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesday-Sunday. The Rosen Plaza hotel is at 9700 International Drive, Orlando.
They’ve Got Games
“It’s unavoidable that at some point you’re going to die,” says Chad Rippey. He’s speaking to no one in particular but referring to the half-dozen people seated in a barely lit storefront near UCF.
Rippey isn’t getting all philosophical about life. The computer gamer from Lakeland is just stating the obvious about the immediate futures of his fellow 20-somethings in the room. They will die hundreds of excruciating deaths over the ensuing hours, well into dawn. While most of Orlando sleeps, they will be locked in mortal combat with enemy soldiers, zombies, flying dragons and other creatures that defy description but not some video game designer’s imagination.
As if one cue, Kelly Holt, the only woman here, dies her final death, her “restoration druid” mortally wounded by a giant monster called a “boss.” At 1:13 on a Saturday morning Holt leaves the virtual world of Gigabits LAN Center for a long drive home to Clermont.
Gigabits, set in a sprawling strip mall between an Indian and a Vietnamese restaurant, is where serious gamers go for role-playing games, or RPGs, on 22 super-fast personal computers and several Xbox consoles. All the machines are hooked up to one another as well as the Internet (hence the name LAN, or a Local Access Network, Center) so that players can fight as teams or against each other, whether they’re sitting close to each other or gaming elsewhere via the Internet.
They play such popular commercial releases as World of Warcraft (teams of creatures battling evil bosses), Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (a conventional shooter game of virtual soldiers), Left 4 Dead (a few survivors armed with guns vs. thousands of zombies with appetites), and even unpublished games sent to Gigabits to be tested by the hard-core gaming geeks who pay to play here day and night.
Virtual war is fought painlessly in adjustable office chairs set in front of wide LCD monitors that provide nearly the only light in the room. The gamers talk into headsets, ordering teammates near and far to attack a common enemy. But there are times when their foes have the advantage, and the Gigabits gamers retreat into defensive modes, shouting obscenities as they fight for their lives.
Somewhere out there, possibly in a nearby apartment or in another country, sits an opposing player intent on making Rippey’s observation about dying come true for these gamers.
Gigsbits LAN Center is at 12243 University Blvd., Orlando, and is open noon to 4 a.m. Sunday-Thursday and noon to 6 a.m. Friday and Saturday. 407-281-0020; gigabitslan.com