The Wonderful World of Wanzie: Merry Fringemas!

By : Michael Wanzie
Comments: 0

Christmas used to be my favorite time of the year. That’s until the Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival got into my blood. Now Christmas has dropped to distant second as Orlando Fringe ranks number one among the things for which I am most grateful and for providing the most fun ever to be crammed into 12 days or so.

Seasoned Fringe-goers might think there is no need for a Fringe tutorial of sorts because to us Fringing is second nature. But as I share my passion for Orlando Fringe to strangers I encounter as part of my duties acting in the capacity of non-official, self-appointed Fringe Ambassador to the Uninitiated Masses, I never fail to encounter persons on a daily basis who somehow have never heard of Fringe and have no idea what it is.

I’m not going to bore my regular readers here with a Fringe 101 lesson in how to Fringe – first-timers can read the Official Fringe Program for that – but allow me a few sentences to simply say what Fringe is, and why I anticipate the festival each year like a child counting down the days till Christmas.

Orlando Fringe is over 150 productions being presented simultaneously in 15 different venues and a half dozen other odd locations by troupes and artists who sojourn to Orlando from literally across the country and around the globe, performing side by the side with hundreds upon hundreds of local artists. Fringe is tried and true works, but mostly new and unusual shows created specifically for Fringe. There’s theater, theater of the absurd, mime, dance, musicians, comedians, story tellers and magicians.

The festival isn’t juried nor is it censored, so the artists are free to do and say whatever they please. As such, there’s plenty of nudity, strong language, adult situations, LGBTQ content and a great deal of over-the-top, out-of-the-box, provocative thought-provoking (if not head scratch-inducing) material. There’s good stuff and there is shit. And very likely you and the person standing next to you in line for a beer will not agree on which is which. And then there is Fringe gold – performances so outstanding you almost can’t believe you were able to experience them for $12 (top ticket price) or less. It’s well over 800 individual performances being presented over the course of the festival with shows starting at various times between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. on weekdays, and from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. on the weekends.

It’s also THE social event of the season. It’s just plain fun to be on the festival grounds enjoying the camaraderie of like-minded people who are indulging their spirit of chance and adventure each and every time they take a seat for another show, risking 40-90 minutes of their life to experience something new. Will it be shit or might you strike Fringe gold? And between shit and gold there’s something to stroke everyone’s fancy to varying degrees of success. But no matter the shows, there is something downright infectious about being in the Orlando Fringe atmosphere. It’s like Disneyland or the Vegas Strip but for theater geeks and non-theatrical types who just want to drink and have fun opening themselves up to various new adventures in entertainment.

Out on the great lawn of green fabulousness there are vendors hawking crafts and crap as well as really cool jewelry and clothing. There are food trucks galore serving up everything from deep-fried heart attack grub to fresh salads, brick-oven pizza; foods from various ethnic regions as well as vegetarian and vegan crud. All of that is complimented by a full liquor bar and German- style Biergarten tent with draught on tap and a selection of wines. Half the fun of Fringing is meeting new people from all over the world out on the lawn or in the beer tent. Everyone has an opinion to share and they are certain their opinion matters more than that of the official critics of the press. Swapping notes about shows you have seen is part of the culture of Fringe and it can result in some very robust conversation.

Allow me to end by saying that many people who live here in Central Florida literally take their vacation time from work to stay in town and Fringe non-stop day in and day out, because that’s how much fun Orlando Fringe truly is. Others travel here from all over the South and take up lodging in hotels to attend this festival. And, as I said before, the performers are here from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Great Britain, Ireland, Scotland, Chicago, Seattle, New York City, Winter Garden, Kissimmee and Mt. Dora! If you don’t come to the festival, you are missing out on something quite special that over 40,000 people enjoyed last year. To reside in the Greater Orlando area and not take advantage of all the Orlando Fringe has to offer is to me akin to living in the United States and not exercising your right to vote. It’s like locking yourself in your house for the month of December and turning your back on Hanukkah, Kwanza, and Christmas. If you have not been before I urge you come out and enjoy this, the 26th Annual Orlando Fringe: the longest-running and largest Fringe festival in all of America. If you are already a Fringe advocate I urge you to commit to exposing two newbies to Orlando Fringe this year.

Happy Fringe, y’all!

Share this story: