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.
But how’s this mix: country music and a big ol’ dose of the raunchies.
“Shirley Gnome: Real Mature” promises to give audiences “more than just another dirty country singer” in a show that promises to be both hilarious and X-rated.
Hailing from Vancouver, Canada, Shirley began her career with a surprise win of The People’s Champ of Comedy – a national contest with a $20,000 grand prize. Following a season at Edinburgh Fringe in 2013, she began 2016 with a tour of Australia, and is now coming to Fringe.
Freeline Media asked Shirley about her unique brand of X-rated country honesty.
FM: Country music, it seems to us, often sings more about God and love of country than anything of the X-rated variety. Is that a misconception?
Shirley: I would say so. I think that what you’re talking about is new country music. The kind of country music that is owned by the four major record labels, primarily aimed at a more conservative American audience.
However, the history of country music is far more heinous, tarnished, downright dark. Take most Johnny Cash songs, for example: “Early one morning while making the round/I took a shot of cocaine and I shot my woman down.” I mean, that’s how “Cocaine Blues” starts. Not a lot of God and love of country in that one.
Then you’ve got someone like Loretta Lynn, who wrote a song about the glory of birth control that got banned from the radio. It’s a great song.
FM: How did “Shirley Gnome: Real Mature” get developed as a show?
Shirley: I’m Shirley Gnome! I started writing songs about my life and my friend’s lives. I played them at parties, and people enjoyed them. I got a chance to play a burlesque fundraiser in 2008, and people went crazy for the songs. They were asking for a CD. I thought it would be a great way to make a little cash. I recorded my first album and released it in 2009 with my band. I kept going from there. I found the Fringe festival circuit was a great way to play my songs for people, because they could enjoy them however they wanted. They could laugh, cry, silently stare at me, and that all counts as good theatre. I like that.
FM: While there will be X-rated content in the show, it sounds like some of the themes — love and heartache — will be ones anyone can relate to.
Shirley: In my experience, it’s the X-rated content and the love and heartache that people relate to. Not everyone is as shameless about sex as I am, but I find the thoughts I have are very much shared thoughts. I just put them to three chords and the truth, and call it country music.
FM: Does the show balance humor with a more serious side?
Shirley: I think that’s up to the audience to decide. I know there are moments I think are serious and people laugh their asses off at them. Then I crack what I think is a joke or two and people are moved to tears. I can’t really tell the difference anymore, to be honest, but I sure know there is a big mixed bag of reactions to choose from at my shows.
FM: After Orlando Fringe, where does “Shirley Gnome: Real Mature” go from here?
Shirley: I’ll be heading back up to Canada for the London Fringe Festival. Then I’m going to Montreal to get loser pissed and make music with my friends. After that, it’s Edmonton Fringe, and then I’ll be recording a new album this fall. But really, who knows where I’ll go from Orlando? Maybe I’ll get lost in a theme park and forget what real life is.
“Shirley Gnome: Real Mature” is being performed in the Blue Venue at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center. The show is one hour long and the dates and times are:
* Wednesday, May 18 at 10:30 p.m.
* Friday, May 20 at 9 p.m.
* Saturday, May 21 at 8:45 p.m.
* Tuesday, May 24 at 10:30 p.m.
* Thursday, May 26 at 8:15 p.m.
* Friday, May 27 at 11 p.m.
* Saturday, May 28 at 8:45 p.m.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..