George Wallace kicks of the 21st Annual Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival. (Photo by Dave Raith).
ORLANDO — There was a long ribbon lying in front of Lauris Vidal, the singer and songwriter who entertained the crowd inside one of the theaters at the Lowndes Shakespeare Theatre.
”I’m living here in Orlando to play music,” Vidal told the audience as they continued mingling into the theater, just a few minutes past 6 p.m. on Wednesday. “It’s cool to play with y’all. I’m going to play one more song, then we’re going to cut ribbons. Then we’ll have a dance-a-thon. That’s what happens when you cut ribbons.”
A few moments later, Michael Marinacchio addressed the audience, and let them know there was someone quite special in the audience. Bernie O’Brien, he noted, was a 63 year old man from Boston who had decided, just five years ago, to write an original one-man play and submit it to a theater festival.
“It has always been a dream of his to get on stage and do a production,” Marinacchio said. “He charmed the hell out of all of us.”
Marinaccio is the producer of the 21st Annual Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, which had its official launch on Wednesday evening. Held at Loch Haven Park, in theater space available at the Lowndes Shakespeare Theatre and the Orlando Repertory Theatre, the festival is a collection of more than 70 plays, musicians and other performers, who range from Vidal strumming his guitar to O’Brien writing and acting in a one man show.
“He is living his dream at age 68,” Marinaccio said of O’Brien. “He got that through Fringe. That’s what it means. That’s what it does for you.”
The Fringe Festival runs now through the close of the Memorial Day Weekend on Monday, May 28, and in-between will be a laundry list of eclectic shows that got chosen through a lottery system last November, to be performed at Loch Haven Park this year.
”I welcome you to the 21st Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival,” said George Wallace, the general manager of Fringe, during the ribbon cutting ceremony that marked the official start of the two week event.
City Commissioner Patty Sheehan was on hand, to issue a proclamation from Mayor Buddy Dyer in recognition of this, the longest running theater festival in the country, and the contributions that it has made to the city’s cultural and arts scene.
“Orlando is honored to be hosting the longest running Fringe festival,” Sheehan said, and she joked about the fact that in earlier years, here in the Deep South, the mature content of some of the plays sometimes got the festival into some hot water. Those days, she added, are gone.
“The naked stuff isn’t a problem anymore, which is really cool,” Sheehan said.
She also proclaimed May 16-28 as Fringe Week in the city of Orlando, and praised this festival as “one of the most unique cultural experiences in Central Florida.”
Marinaccio noted that his own history with the Fringe dates back nearly to the beginning.
“Before becoming a producer, I was an artist here for 15 Fringe festivals, which is a record,” he said. The Fringe board of directors selected Marinacchio to be the new producer of the festival last year, replacing Beth Marshall.
“This whole experience has been amazing, but this last week has been incredible,” he said, adding that the opportunity to embark on a creative theatrical endeavor has changed the lives of so many aspiring artists, from Marinacchio himself to hundreds of others.
“This is a life-changing thing for a lot of people,” he said. ”It was for me in 1997 when I did my first Fringe show.”
Wallace pointed out that there was free food available from the Prickly Pear Steakhouse in Orlando, and complimentary glasses of red and white wine, so the speeches would be kept brief.
“I know you guys are eager to get out for your free wine,” he said. “Have a great Fringe.”
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