My, how things have changed.
In 1992, when three guys got together to put on the first Fringe Festival in downtown Orlando, almost nobody knew what to expect. Talk of 28 performing companies from around the world putting on 160 shows seemed pretty mind-boggling. And when 14,000 people showed up downtown that spring to catch one or more of those shows or simply to take in the sights, everybody was pretty darn impressed. Fast forward 21 years later and the Orlando International Fringe Festival is an institution, the highlight of the theater year.
This year will also mark the festival’s new expansion into nearby Ivanhoe Village, increasing the number of shows it offers. The move follows a 23% increase in attendance at last year’s festival and will contribute to the organization’s strategy to boost visibility of the annual art celebration.
The new venues are within walking distance of the Fringe’s home base of Loch Haven Park. Theatre Downtown, at the corner of Princeton Street and Orange Avenue, is about a half-mile away; The Venue, opened by Blue Starr in 2012 at 511 Virginia Drive, is slightly less than a mile from the park.
However, a defining feature of the Fringe Festival, now in its 22nd year, is all the LGBT acts by local favorites as well as international fare. In fact, Fringe was listed as one of the reasons Advocate voted Orlando the fourth gayest city in the nation in 2011, calling the annual festival “one of the gayest in the country.”
“I am always excited about our LGBT offerings,” says Fringe General Manager George Wallace.
He says to be on the look out for returning Fringe favorites Michael Wanzie, Jeff Jones, Mitzi Morris and Blue and Tod.
Wallace simply states, “expect bigger and better.”
Next to only Orlando’s Come Out With Pride and GayDays, it’s safe to say Fringe is a feast for the gay senses. Here are some not-to-be missed LGBT performances.
In the Black-Blue and Tod (Orlando)
Winners of last years’ Patrons Pick, Orlando Fringe icons Baby Blue and Tod Kimbro reinvent cabaret once again. Blue will surely continue to push boundaries, mixing Tod Kimbro’s camp cabaret and Blue’s burlesque camp flawlessly.
Burnt at the Steak-Carol Ann Valentino
This critically acclaimed, award winning one-woman musical features 18 hilarious characters portrayed through song, dance, comedy and audience improv. Valentino’s true sizzling reenactments managing a multi million-dollar steakhouse in NYC will leave you inspired and hungry for more.
My Pussy is Purrin’ Again-D’Yan Forest (New York)
Forest returns to Orlando Fringe, this time to tell the tale of a vibrant, 78-year-old woman, discovering the purrin’ stirrin’s of sex at age 12 at Camp Takawalananakiki! The heroine admits to the many lies of her life and discovers no matter how the world has tried to stop her adventurous soul-her pussy’s purrin again! Comedy, song, dance, and a glockenspiel, too. “You can’t go wrong with D’Yan Forest, who is a 79 year old bi-sexual ukulele player from New York City,” says Wallace.
A Field Guide to the Gays-Logan Donahoo (Winter Park)
A One-Man Multimedia Safari Into The Gay Community! Loud, irreverent, and hilarious, Logan Donahoo lovingly guides you through this off-kilter world of slang, history, drag queens, bears and more! Like stealing hot-pink fire from Mt. Olympus, you too can now learn about all those things in the queer culture that you were too afraid to ask.
Little Miss Fringe Festival-Jeff Jones (Orlando)
Jeff Jones returns for the crowning of the 2nd Annual Little Miss Fringe Festival. No, “Little Miss Fringe Festival” is not a real pageant. The seven year old girls and their mothers will be played by a rotating cast of Orlando’s funniest performers. In the show, world-famous toddler pageant creator Lionel Del Frisco (Jones) hosts America’s most heavily prescreened and rehearsed “Little Miss” pageant in existence.
Pretending Things are a Cock -Jon Bennett (Australia)
Bennett brings his Just For Laughs, Best Comedy Award nominated show of over 200 pretend cocks to Orlando Fringe. A unique stand-up experience, PTAAC is part photographic display, part pot-holed journey into the idiosyncratic world of Jon Bennett.
Made for Each Other-John Fico (New York)
This is no preachy piece of theatre, but a frequently hilarious and thoroughly thoughtful analysis of a relationship centering around a gay wedding and Alzheimer’s.
Circle-John Montgomery Theatre Company (New York)
Sex. Power. Intimacy. Desire. Three time Canadian Comedy Award Nominee Christel Bartelse of last year’s Oneymoon and five time Best in Fest Winner Bob Brader Spitting In The Face Of The Devil play eight characters-gay, straight and bi-linked in a hilarious daisy-chain of sexual encounters from New York to L.A. and back in this award-winning comedy.
Celebrity Match Game the Musical and Game Show-Michael Wanzie (Orlando)
A hilarious musical expose into the fragile lives of Match Game panelists. Audience contestants vie for a $100 cash prize while the stars struggle to transform a game show into a theatrical extravaganza on the fly. Featuring an all fringe veterans cast: Doug Ba’aser, Mark Baratelli, Gidget Galore, Jeff Jones, Janine Klein, Carol Lee, Elizabeth Murff, Wanzie and Douglas White.
Escape Reality-Nick Comis (Orlando)
Escape Reality with Nick Comis, resident LGBT nightclub VJ and Las Vegas Illusionist. Nick has traveled the country performing large scale illusions, mind readings and his signature death defying chainsaw escape.
God is a Scottish Drag Queen-Mike Delamont (Canada)
“For those of you who want some international flavor, this looks to be interesting,” says Wallace. This Just For Laughs Best Comedy Award Nominee and 2012 Pick of the Fringe Victoria and Vancouver delivers “God,” dressed in a floral power-suit, skewers everything from Bieber to the Pope. The New York Times calls it “A Cross Between Dame Edna and Billy Connolly with a dollop of Eddie Izzard.”
If Looks Could Kill!-Mitzi Morris (New York)
Mitzi Morris, star of last year’s Fringe sensation “Dazzled to Death!” returns to Florida in this 1960s musical spy adventure with gadgets, gambling, and glamour. Smoother than James Bond and sexier than Emma Peel, super-spy Mitzi Morris goes undercover-and under the covers-to save the free world from nefarious evil-doers!
I U WE!-Molly Conole (Winter Park)
Females, fun, foibles, family-it’s Fringe-in’ hilarious! Three generations of women explore the kaleidoscope of life’s journey in this wacky, thoughtful and ultimately uplifting original musical revue by Molly Conole. For mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmas, those related to women, who’ve heard of women or desire to fathom their inner female fabulousness.
Pillow Talk-Peter Tolan (Orlando)
Doug and Aaron are on a road trip across America and stop for the night at Aaron’s grandmother’s home in an Arizona trailer park. So, what happens when you have two guys, one bed, and a night full of surprises? Find out in this mature comedy that will have you “up” all night talking about it! “[I think this] will be a big hit with the gay community,” says Wallace.
Stained Glass Windows-Steve Sherman (Orlando)
In this new work by playwright Sherman, he explores the experience of a young man coming out to the most difficult audience of all-his family. During the course of the play, the characters ask what it means to be “normal” and how a family can repair the feeling of not really knowing one another.
WHAT: Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival
WHEN: May 15-28
WHERE: Loch Haven Park
SCHEDULE AND TICKETS: OrlandoFringe.org