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 — Over the years, there have been plenty of unique themes for the shows at Orlando Fringe. This year, how about one devoted to trees?
Described as an immersive comedy with clowns, games and even some philosophical ruminations, Natasha Mercado is inviting the public to check out a show that got its inspiration from the Bobcat Fire that ravaged California in September 2020 during wildfire season.
Mercado, a Los Angeles-based comedy artist, said her solo show Tree “relies on the audience participation in hopes of exploring the duality of humanity through a super cartoonish lens.”
What is the Solo Show Tree?
Tree is “an immersive comedy experience that is part clown show, part game show and part philosophical discussion exploring the duality of humanity,” she noted.
Mercado added that during this hour-long show, the protagonist Tree will lead the audience — which naturallys become the forest — toward “what it means to be truly alive. And when you think you know the next thing coming, you don’t. It’s a lovable gaze into a spiraling staircase of existentialism with surprising, yet inevitable, turns. It’s a tree pretending to be human.
“We’ve all been there, right?”
Mercado created the show while under quarantine from the pandemic, and it premiered to a sold out audience in November 2021 at Junior High, a community arts space in Los Angeles. As Mercado noted, “Since then, the show has had sold out runs at the Hollywood and Victoria Fringe Festival, including Victoria’s Pick of Fringe and Stage Raw’s LA’s Top Ten Shows.”
Now Central Florida audiences get to experience Tree during its run at Fringe.
What’s the Background Story to this Play?
Freeline Media reached out to Natasha to learn more about what to expect at Tree.
Freeline Media: I’ve seen a lot of wild stuff at Fringe — but a tree show? How did you develop this one?
NATASHA MERCADO: I’ve always loved nature. And I had this super bootleg tree costume in my closet from some one-off bit I did at a show. I loved it so much. It looked very stupid. And then over quarantine, I experienced for the first time what really bad wildfires in California meant. So I start messing around in my tree costume thinking about the burning trees and what would happen if a tree could escape and pass as human and live amongst us and what this marathon of chaos means anyways. All of it came together in the form of devising a show over video chat as a way to stay motivated while the world seemed to be on fire. The show’s not about trees burning, but it is about a tree who wants to be a human.
FM: Comedy can be a pretty wide open term. How would you define your particular approach to comedy?
NM: A lot of the funniest people I know aren’t necessarily comedians nor ever had dreams of being one. And I think it’s because people are able to be their most funny when they’re not trying too hard. They’re just in the moment, being themselves. So I like to bring that sense of connection and earnestness to my comedy because those types of laughs from an audience feel the most worthwhile.
FM: The duality of humanity — heavy stuff! Should audiences be putting on their philosophical caps for this one?
NM: It’s experiential! No thinking needed. Until maybe after the show when you’re like, “What did we just experience?”
FM: I rarely think of comedy and existentialism in the same breath, so now you’ve got me intrigued. Enlighten us.
NM: If someone isn’t at least a little existential, they’re definitely taking themselves too seriously. I think things start to get funny when we embrace the absurdity of our existence and question why we do the things we do.
FM: What do you find most challenging — and rewarding — about doing a solo show?
NM: It feels wrapped up in the ability as an artist to stand behind whatever you’re doing 100%. And by performing “Tree, ” I definitely grew into that feeling. I’m at a point where it’s too fun to not not do the show. I didn’t know that I’d be able to say to people, “Hey, come watch me in a tree costume for 60-minutes. It’s worth it.”
Where Can I See Natasha Mercado’s Tree?
Tree will be performed at the Orlando Fringe Festival’s Blue Venue, which is the Santos Dantin Theatre at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center. Tickets are $15, while the price for the first performance on Wednesday, May 17 will be $6. To purchase tickets, visit https://orlandofringe.virtuallyfringe.com/show/210811/Tree
The show was directed by Deanna Fleysher, creator of the award-winning international hit show BUTT KAPSKINSKI and Drag King Comedy.
Show times are:
- Wednesday, May 17 at 8:30 p.m.
- Friday, May 19 at 10:35 p.m.
- Saturday, May 20 at 2:15 p.m.
- Wednesday, May 24 at 5:45 p.m.
- Thursday, May 25 at 8:30 p.m.
- Saturday, May 27 at 7:15 p.m.
- Sunday, May 28 at 8:20 p.m.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book A Christmas Eve Story. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.