It was a sweaty, stinky mess lingering beneath swaying light bulbs and an odd sense (scent?) of danger – bathrooms not necessarily included. At least that was the hurry-up-and-wait feeling that I got upon my arrival via tarnished spaceship in Orlando in 1997, plopped down in the middle of theater festival without a theater or air conditioning. The Orlando Fringe never existed on pretense, though, so postscript stands second only the euphoria of the moment, right next to that strange guy looking at you like you’re a strange guy, then laughing and the barriers being broken on stage. Orlando and Fringe were a match made in heaven. In the late ‘90s, the Fringe stood in stark contrast to the Lou Pearlman boy-band brigade seeking to whiten the city’s teeth. It was Haight-Ashbury more than hating ass-berries, and as such, it was the de facto cultural clutch the city needed.
Make no mistake, the Orlando Fringe is this town’s matted underdog made good. For every quizzical glance into maladroit disorders and kinky extroversion, there have always been bright eyes staring toward trails of glitter lighting up the path to the colors of its venues, the talent of its participants, the magic of theater on a shoestring. It’s a messy affair, but most good things are. It’s also the place where performance comes from: within not without. And as such, Orlando’s Fringe festival, the longest winding road in this country (if you don’t count actual roads but only the histrionic ones), it’s earned its place in Central Florida’s kaleidoscopic pantheon.