ORLANDO – Being a producer means the potential for a lot of things to go wrong, and the annoyance of having to quickly fix it before it starts intruding on the enjoyment of the patrons.
On Wednesday, Michael Marinaccio, the producer of the 21 annual Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, said one problem had come to his attention that night: a whole bunch of Fringe shows were selling out, with a growing number of people arriving at the ticket booth, suddenly unable to get into those shows.
And Marinaccio is the first to admit, ”It’s a good problem to have.’’
Exactly one week after the Fringe Festival had its ribbon cutting ceremony and opened its doors to the general public, attendance at this two week event has clearly been on the upswing. There were long lines waiting to see some of the most popular shows, parking was a challenge for anyone who arrived after 5 p.m., and the beer tent and outside food court at Loch Haven Park was crowded as well. It seems, Marinaccio noted, that quite a lot of Orlando was headed to Fringe.
”It’s a lot busier than it usually is on a Wednesday,’’ Marinaccio said, as he noted that the past weekend had been extremely busy, and the final run of shows over the Memorial Day weekend was expected to be even more crowded.
”It will be crazy on Saturday,’’ he said. “I think we’re going to see the biggest day in Fringe history on Saturday.’’
Crazy, though, is good, because crazy means a shrinking number of the theaters have empty seats, and it means plenty of business for the Fringe artists who signed up this year to perform at the event, which offers everything from 90 minute productions like ”Slipping’’ to a one man show like Bernie O’Brien’s ”Jitters,’’ to musical revenues, comedy, drama and a whole lot more.
”We’re breaking records,’’ Marinaccio said. ”We’re at 34 or 35 shows now that have sold out. Last year we had 32 shows for the entire Fringe that sold out ticket sales. We’re so far up on advanced ticket sales that we’re actually looking at selling out everything on Saturday.’’
Last October, Marinaccio – a veteran performer at Fringe who has done 17 shows there over the past 15 years – was chosen by the festival’s board of directors as its new executive director.
Marinaccio replaced Beth Marshall, who is now the producing artistic director of Beth Marshall Presents. To find her replacement, the Orlando Fringe Board of Directors set up an advisory panel that included volunteers, staff, artists and audience members who were recruited to help develop the role of the next producer. A search committee comprised of six community arts leaders and two members of the board of directors then had the task of interviewing candidates.
Marinaccio decided to apply for the job because he’s been a part of Central Florida’s theater community, and the Fringe, for so very long.
On Wednesday, May 16, he stood on the stage at the Lowndes Shakespeare Theatre to cut the ribbon that officially marked the start of this, the 21st annual Fringe, and his first as the executive producer. The fact that attendance, and box office sales, have been so strong has been a great start for him, he said.
”You look at a venue like Pink, where four shows have sold out at least one performance,’’ he said.
Why is Fringe experiencing such a solid upswing after coming through three years of recession, where Florida was left one of the nation’s hardest hit states, and until earlier this year had a double-digit unemployment rate?
”I think it’s a perfect storm,’’ Marinaccio said. ”We have a great billboard campaign, thanks to Kevin Banks, one of our board members. We have a little uptick in the economy that is helping out a lot.’’
Not everything has worked out smoothly. With attendance up, parking has been a problem, and with so many plays to pick from – more than 70 altogether – some of the shows have struggled to bring in audiences, and a few even had to be cancelled when no one purchased tickets.
”I’m ready to work my a** off to ensure this festival succeeds,’’ Marinaccio said. ‘I want this festival to be a huge success for the artists. It breaks my heart when you have two people in the audience.’’
One performer, he noted, was struggling to get the word out about his one man show, Marinaccio said, so he grabbed a bunch of the artist’s flyers and then headed into the crowd himself to hand them out and spread the word.
”I went out and flyered for him,’’ he said.
Marinaccio expects more challenges before Fringe wraps up on Monday, May 28. But he’s ready for them by now.
”I need more staff, I need more volunteers, and I need more parking,’’ he said, but added, ‘’Beth took this festival for eight years. After doing it for less than a year, I understand the toll this takes.’’
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