On Memorial Day, Freeline Media Shares Its Memories

ORLANDO — On this Memorial Day, Freeline Media wishes you a safe, happy holiday, whether you’re paying tribute to our nation’s veterans, enjoying a barbeque with your family, or taking advantage of the holiday to simply relax at home, free of the crowds and the jam-packed highways. Enjoy!

Here at Freeline Media, we’re celebrating this Memorial Day for another reason: 2024 marks our 14th year of delivering news, reviews and opinion pieces to Central Florida (and beyond). It’s been quite the journey, particularly in our coverage of Greater Orlando’s theater scene.

Back in 2010, when this site was launched, Central Florida was already an actors paradise, not only for the plentiful community theaters but also the theme parks (Walt Disney World especially) that provided multiple acting roles in its live shows, and also the long list of dinner theaters.

Cut to 2024, and it’s amazing how much has changed.

How Has Orlando’s Theater Scene Changed?

In 2010, when the national was still trying to shake off the devastating impact of the Great Recession, Central Florida was considerable more affordable. Ranch homes were available to rent for $800 a month. Mobile home parks were still operating.

Today? The average home price in Orlando is $523,000, the average rent is $1,900, and the entire region feels drastically more expensive. The mobile home parks have been bought up and transformed into luxury complexes. And yet, people still flock here — by some estimates, up to 1,000+ newcomers move here a month, searching for paradise.

As the region has becoming more expensive, particularly for housing, and more crowded, the natural assumption would be that community theaters should do exceptionally because there are more patrons living here. But for some theaters, the exact opposite has been true.

mad cow theatre

In 2010, Orlando had a number of active community theaters that include Mad Cow Theatre and Theatre Downtown, which had strong followings. Both have since closed up shop.

Central Florida also lost some of its dinner theaters — the Starlight Dinner Theatre in College Park, and Arabian Nights Dinner Show in Kissimmee, for example. Others survived, including The Outta Control Magic Comedy at Wonderworks, Sleuth’s Mystery Dinner Shows and Pirates Dinner Adventure.

Greater Orlando still has some prominent theaters. Orlando Shakes remains one of the region’s most popular theaters for not just Shakespeare productions but comedy, musicals, holiday shows and also for its annual Playfest of original shows.

The Winter Park Playhouse is celebrating more than two decades of providing high quality musical productions to local audiences, and is the host of the annual Florida Festival Of New Musicals.

Orlando Fringe, which completes its annual Fringe International Theatre Festival of 2024 today, now performs shows year round from its new theater ArtSpace on Church Street in downtown Orlando.

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Garden Theater in downtown Winter Garden operates out of a historic and refurbished theater that hosts more than 200 events a year.

And Orlando Family Stage, previously know as the Orlando Repertory Theatre, continues to provide family-oriented productions that parents and kids alike can enjoy.

Not too shabby.

What Does The Future Hold for Orlando’s Theater Scene?

Who can predict what the future holds? Orlando’s skyrocketing cost of living has added pressure on local actors and artists who are struggling to afford to live here; the Orlando Shakes has been forced to shut down this summer to make much-needed repairs to its roof and air conditioning system, reopening only in late November; and The Winter Park Playhouse’s longtime building is up for sale, and the theater is working with the City Of Winter Park government to secure a federal grant to purchase the building. Red-hot expensive cities create as many challenges as they do opportunities.

What I find encouraging is the commitment so many artists have to getting their productions in front of local audiences, despite the hoops they have to jump through. The Playwrights Round Table continues to work with local playwrights’ to bring original shows to local audiences; Valencia College’s Performing Arts Center provides opportunities for theater students to act in local productions.

Yes, a lot has changed in 14 years. But there are still plenty of bright lights shining locally.

Have a great holiday!

Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the terrifying book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.

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