ORLANDO – The Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival kicks off at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 16 at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, and runs through May 29. This year the nearly three-week long festival will feature the largest line-up of shows in its history.
One of the shows this year is writer/performer TJ Dawe’s solo show “Roller Coaster,” a four-part monologue about numerous subjects, including how Harry Potter and other pop culture stories function as mythology, some thoughts on why societies go to war (courtesy of author Barbara Ehrenreich) and even some musings on President Trump.
As TJ put it, “Roller Coaster’s inception happened in the line-up to the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, last May.”
He also plans to have a few things to say about his history with the city of Orlando, and how he’s been a Fringe veteran since 2001.
Freeline Media reached out to TJ to learn more about his show.
Freeline Media: So was Harry Potter the key inspiration here? Does Universal Studios deserve some co-credits?
TJ Dawe: It’s hard to nail down what combinations of inner and outer influences result in an aha moment, but in this case I can definitely say that standing in line at the Harry Potter ride was a big factor for the genesis of this show. so yes, Universal definitely deserves some credits. As do the friends I was there with. As does the friend who provided us with the free passes to get in.
FM: How did the Harry Potter theme park manage to inspire a Fringe play?
TJ: While standing in the line, I had the thought – what will all of this look like to archeologists of the future, who’ll excavate this once our civilization has collapsed. What will they make of these relics? What will they think this building was? And what this theme park was? The answer sprung into my mind as soon as I formulated the questions. They’ll conclude that these were temples. These were places of religious worship. And they’ll be right. After having that thought I had a flash where I could imagine this seed could grow into an entire show. I couldn’t exactly see what other elements it would include, but I had a sense there was something there.
FM: You go from Harry Potter to War. That’s heavy.
TJ: Over the next few days of theme park going, I kept turning this idea over, seeing what else it might connect to. One of those things was the books of author Barbara Ehrenreich. She wrote a book called “Dancing in the Streets: a History of Collective Celebration,” and it’s one of my favorite books I’ve read in the last ten years. She writes about how festivals, feasts, and carnivals all function to facilitate group cohesion, and this has been instrumental to our survival as a species. I could see how going to theme parks fit into this theory. She has another book, “Blood Rites,” about why populations go to war. When I eventually wrote the script, the thoughts about war and her theory in “Blood Rites” made the final cut, the stuff from “Dancing in the Streets” didn’t.
FM: Then you go from War to Donald Trump. Even heavier?
TJ: My girlfriend and I had two friends over on election night. Like many, I was certain Trump would get his ass handed to him, and this would be the first domino that would topple the Republican Party and the forces of xenophobia, science-denial, etc. for good. And then at a certain point it became clear he might have a chance. And then it became sickeningly clear he was going to win. I hadn’t spent any mental energy imagining what a Trump presidency would look like. As this sense of doom descended on me and my friends, as we watched his victory unfold, I was seized with the thought, I need to write about this. My mind shot off in a bunch of different directions about how the next year or four might proceed. I still hadn’t written anything about my experiences at the theme park, about Barbara Ehrenreich – I hadn’t even jotted down any notes. I’d played with a few ideas in my mind over the preceding months. So I started gathering those thoughts and these new speculations and writing. And before you know it, the Trump stuff connected to the other stuff.
FM: Does this show cry out “Fringe!”? And if so, why?
TJ: Yes, this show cries out Fringe, because it doesn’t cleanly fit in a given genre. It isn’t storytelling, although there’s some personal narrative in there. It isn’t stand-up comedy, although there are some laughs. It isn’t a lecture, although there’s plenty of information being delivered. This show wouldn’t work at a storytelling event, or a TED conference, or in a stand-up club or comedy festival. But at the Fringe there’s room for weird mutants and hybrids like this. Anything goes, as long as you engage the audience.
“Roller Coaster” will be performed at the Orlando Fringe Festival in the Brown Venue on the following dates:
* Thursday, May 18 at 7 p.m.
* Saturday, May 20 at 2:45 p.m.
* Sunday, May 21 at 2:45 p.m.
* Tuesday, May 23 at 7:15 p.m.
* Wednesday, May 24 at 5:30 p.m.
For tickets, log on to Orlando Fringe.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Koby’s New Home”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.