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 — One thing everyone across the globe can relate to is the challenge they endured when the Covid-19 pandemic was first discovered, leading to the lockdowns, mask mandates and so much fear and anxiety. Janice Creneti, an award-winning actress and director, is bringing her recollections of the pandemic to the Orlando Fringe Festival with My Year of Saying No, a solo show she wrote and will perform in the Red Venue.
Directed by and developed with Jessica Lynn Johnson, My Year Of Saying No will chronicle Janice’s journey through the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The show will explore issues such as sexism, gender roles “and society’s rigid expectations on mental health,” notes Black Hat Theatre, the show’s production company.
“Through the use of multimedia and multiple characters such as Patriarchy, Perfection, Zoom, Janice’s Body and COVID herself, this serio-comedy solo show tracks one woman’s journey to confront all that isn’t working in the world, and in her life, to build a path back to herself,” the theater company notes.
This show had its debut at the 2021 Powerstories Theatre Voices of Women Theatre Festival and was featured as the 2023 Studio Project at Carrollwood Cultural Center. Janice, who has been performing in the Tampa Bay area for the past 18 years, is calling this show a labor of love.
What’s the Background Story to this Play?
Freeline Media reached out to Janice because we can’t say no to a show like this.
Freeline Media: What’s the genesis of your production?
JANICE CRENETI: Before the pandemic, I was, like a lot of people, moving at 90 miles an hour, just surviving day to day. When Covid shut everything down and things came to a grinding halt, I started to take a hard look at my life. Some serious health scares during that time amplified the message that life is short, tomorrow isn’t promised, and it’s up to me to create the life I wanted, one choice at a time. I’d been an actor for four decades. I’d thought for years about doing a one-woman show but had no real idea of what to say or how I would even make it happen. It was just after the first anniversary of Covid when I was talking to a friend and mentioned how year one of Covid had been my year of saying no. She commented that was a great title for a book. About a month after that, I received a notice that Powerstories Theatre in Tampa, where I had previously performed and directed and where I had learned the art of personal storytelling, was holding their first Voices of Women Theatre Festival and they were seeking original scripts for consideration. But I had another theater project scheduled for the same time, so I didn’t think about moving forward with it. Then, less than a week before the submission deadline, the other theater project fell through. The thought flickered through my mind that maybe My Year of Saying No was the title of a one-woman show that could explore what I had discovered during Covid, how it helped me take back my life and might hopefully inspire others to do the same. I dove into writing, found amazing support from Jessica Lynn Johnson with Soaring Solo Studios, and realized my dream of doing a one person show.
FM: The pandemic is something most people are eager to put in the past. Did you see it as a bit risky to base a Fringe show on Covid-19?
JC: No, and here’s why … Covid is now a part of our shared history. As with other major events, it’s something we need to process and integrate. To me, one of the roles of art is to help people do that. I was in college when the Challenger Shuttle exploded. About two weeks after this national tragedy, my cultural anthropology professor asked who had any Shuttle Explosion jokes. We all looked at each other sheepishly – no one willing to confess. Eventually one classmate after another shared jokes they had heard. My professor explained that this was an indication that we were moving on, that joke telling was a natural part of the healing process. I see my show as part of the collective healing process around Covid. Also, for many people including me, Covid was a significant turning point in their lives, causing deep self-examination that led to making new, often better, choices. My Year of Saying No celebrates the gifts that Covid brought.
FM: How does the play explore society’s expectations when it comes to our mental health?
JC: It looks at all the beliefs we often carry around what it is to be a productive or worthy person, how we allow these beliefs to define us, and how women in particular have been negatively impacted by these often unrealistic expectations. It explores the connection between these expectations and all the ways we deny our own needs in trying to meet them, how this can cost us mental and physical health, and how we can make choices and find support (like therapy) to live a more emotionally healthy, balanced life.
FM: As an artist in Tampa Bay, how do you feel Central Florida coped with the pandemic and its impact on the theater world?
JC: I think the arts community is to be commended for keeping theater alive. Artists here did what artists always do in times of tragedy, they turned their pain into creativity. While live theater went dormant, virtual creations popped up right and left. Actors and directors morphed shows for zoom. Theaters kicked off streaming festivals introducing audiences to theater from around the country and, in some cases, the world. Writers dove deep into their writing and many new works like mine were born. It is a testament to the power of art in human life.e.
FM: What are the biggest challenges of doing a solo show?
JC: From a production standpoint, a solo artist can find themselves wearing many hats – writer, performer, producer, marketer. Juggling these roles requires a lot of time and energy. Artisitcally, the big challenge of a solo show is that one actor has to bring a show to life so all the layers, colors, and flavors of the performance have to be generated by one person. This requires even deeper preparation and character work to offer the audience a rich, entertaining and meaningful experience.
Where Do I Say Yes to The Year Of Saying No?
The Year Of Saying No will be performed as part of the Orlando Fringe Festival in the Red Venue at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St. in Loch Haven Park. Tickets are $10. To purchase tickets, visit the Orlando Fringe website.
Show times are:
- Saturday, May 20 at 5:45 p.m.
- Sunday, May 21 at 8:15 p.m.
- Tuesday, May 23 at 8:30 p.m.
- Saturday, May 27 at 1:45 p.m.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book A Christmas Eve Story. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.