Designated Debaters at Orlando Fringe

Editor’s Note: The 32nd Annual International Fringe Theatre Festival  will be held May 16-29, 2023 at different venues in and around Loch Haven Park and downtown Orlando. Freeline Media will be previewing the shows right up to the festival date.

ORLANDO — It’s probably a genuine truism that what every Fringe Festival needs is superheroes, and hard drinking ones at that! That’s why Sam Hammersley is so certain Fringe audiences will be raving about his upcoming show Designated Debaters.

This interactive debate show, which is returning from a sold-out run at Orlando Fringe ’21, will once again feature popular superheroes debating topics provided by the audience, with the catch that the loser has to drink (and no, not unsweetened tea). Once the audience selects their topics, Batman and Superman and other characters will slug it out — well, verbally, anyway.

Billed as a “silly slugfest” by producer Hammersley, he noted “We had a mini-run that sold out at Fringe ’21, and we’re bringing it back to the Gold venue this year with new bells and whistles.  It’s unlike anything else at Fringe in my experience of going to the festival the last 10 years or so.”

The production has its origins at Orlando’s popular SAK Comedy Lab, since it will be three veteran improvisers becoming those superhero characters.

“And it’s madness,” he added. “I think you’ll enjoy it!” 

What’s the Background Story to this Play?

Freeline Media reached out to Sam Hammersley to debate the merits of his show..

Freeline Media: What was the creative process behind Designated Debaters that first brought the concept together?

Sam Hammersley: Who doesn’t love a few beers with your friends?  We’re all veteran improvisers from SAK Comedy Lab who were looking for additional ways to stretch our creative muscles.  One of our actors was asked to create a show for a circuit of Comic Cons around the country, and pitched the show idea of superheroes debating the topics given by the audience.  It mixes cosplay, comedy, and nerdy themes – and it quickly set fire at the cons!  The positive feedback started rolling in — and now it’s one of the more popular panels out there.  We are very lucky to have tapped into such a fun niche.

FM: Superhero characters sound like the ideal Fringe show. Tell us some more about that.

SH: At it’s core, it’s a comedy debate show — where the audience provides the topics and the loser has to drink — but adding the layer of familiar fictional foes has made it extra special for folks to watch.  Batman arguing with Superman on the merits of tacos vs. burgers, while Wonder Woman cracks her lasso to keep us in line … it’s a treat to behold.  Whether it’s Wolverine vs. Cyclops, Dracula vs. Wolfman, or any other character combo — we get lost in the characters and forget who we are until the debate is over.  And the audience gets to forget about the world outside of the theater and just enjoy the absurdity for an hour.  We’re also debuting a new character set at this year’s Fringe … check out our posters or social media to learn more.

FM: What do you think audiences find intriguing about a good old-fashioned debate?

SH: It’s human nature to be competitive!  And it’s all the more fun to see where your superheroes land — they might be thinking “I believe that Universal is better than Disney … but does Wolverine agree with me?” and they get to watch that battle unfold, with jokes and (playful) jabs/insults flying along the way.  Add in the fact that the loser has to drink, and suddenly the arguments become … slightly less coherent as the show goes on.  The audience shifts from laughing -with- to slightly laughing -at- our lightweight actors trying to make sense through their buzz. 

FM: Comedy is a popular medium at Fringe. What’s unique about your show?

SH: It’s improvised, it’s audience-interactive, it’s very fast-paced, and it’s a perfect storm of comedians and nerdiness.  No other show is as ‘light on its feet,’  no other show could address something that just happened in the news that very morning.  No other show has their actors chugging beers on stage and trying to explain why a hot dog is or isn’t a sandwich. The vibe is nerdy insanity, and that’s what makes it special!

FM: Will any superheroes be debating, say, Trump or Biden during the show?

SH: Debate topics are provided by the audience, so we never know what we’ll be debating beforehand!  Nothing is off the table — but when we get ‘stereotypical’ debate topics, we usually find a way to spin from the boring/mundane into something more entertaining/exciting to listen to.  Clark Kent called Bruce Wayne a “1 percenter” at Fringe ’21, and it opened a hot debate on the socioeconomics of Gotham that had the audience in tears! 

Where Can I See these Superheroes debate and drink?

Designated Debaters is being performed at the Orlando Fringe Festival in the Gold Venue. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased here.

Shows will be on the following dates:

  • Thursday, May 18 at 6 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 20 at 2:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, May 21 at 9 p.m.
  • Monday, May 22 at 10:15 p.m.
  • Thursday, May 25 at 6:30 p.m.
  • Friday, May 26 at 8:15 p.m.
  • Sunday, May 28 at 3:15 p.m.

Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book A Christmas Eve Story. Contact him at

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