ORLANDO – The Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival kicks off at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 18 at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, and this year the nearly three-week long festival will feature the largest line-up of shows in its history.
This year, two of Orlando’s veteran writers and comedic talents, Jeff Jones and Michael Wanzie, are uniting for a new comedy show centered on the lives of four theme park animatronic characters. It seems the characters are living together in a home off property from the parks.
Jones has billed the show, called “The Animatronicans,” as “a sitcom style show that follows the adventures of theme park animatronic characters from current and closed attractions. See what happens when the parks close and everyone, living and mechanical, goes home for the night.”
Characters include Abraham Lincoln (played by Josh Siniscalco), Journey in to Imagination’s Dreamfinder (Jones), now closed Maelstrom’s Polar Bear (James Keaton) and Carousel of Progress’s John (Doug Ba’aser) as they share a private home in Windermere. No one knows their identities …. until a journalist from the human world (Janine Klein) knocks on their door. It was written by Fringe veteran Jones and directed by fellow Fringe veteran Wanzie. Jeff talked with Freeline Media about his production.
FM: This show sounds like pure Central Florida, with our theme parks like Disney World and LEGOLAND. Did they help serve as inspiration?
Jeff: I am a total theme park junkie. I go a few times a month. This is definitely a spoof and a love letter to those theme parks and some of the long forgotten attractions.
FM: Tell us about how “The Animatronicans” came about and was developed.
Jeff: I just have an incredibly warped sense of humor. I wondered what it was if the animatronic figured from the rides and show actually went home after work.
FM: Is this along the lines of a “Toy Story”-type show, or perhaps more adult oriented?
Jeff: It is definitely more an adult oriented show. Imagine taking a sit-com and all of the gags that go along with that, but combining it with a theme park show and all of the gags that those entail. I think I’ve assembled a cast of some of the funniest performers in Orlando to bring these characters to “life.”
FM: What are the pleasures — and challenges — of writing fantasy shows?
Jeff: One of the great pleasures is that you don’t really need to worry about reality and reason. The “Well, that doesn’t make sense” or “That’s not possible” thoughts don’t really matter when it’s a show about mechanical figures that live in a home in Windermere. On this, one might be the other theme park geeks that are going to be looking at all of the details. Hopefully I’ll make them proud.
FM: How is your collaboration going with Michael Wanzie, who remains one of the region’s most inspiring talents?
Jeff: Wanzie and I have been in the cast of each other’s shows before but this is our first creative collaboration. I knew was the right person to direct this piece because of his love of all things theme parks and Disney.
“The Animatronicans” is being performed at the Yellow Venue at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center. Tickets are $11 with Fringe button, and show times are:
* Wednesday, May 18 at 10:30 p.m.
* Saturday, May 21 at 7:30 p.m.
* Monday, May 23 at 8:15 p.m.
* Thursday, May 26 at 10:15 p.m.
* Friday, May 27 at 11 p.m.
* Saturday, May 28 at 10:15 p.m.
* Sunday, May 29 at 10:30 p.m.
Tickets available at orlandofringe.org.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..