ORLANDO — There’s a full day of shows to be found today at The Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, running from 11 a.m. straight through to 11 p.m., and then there will be an all-day party on Monday, featuring the 20 Patron’s Picks repeat performances (shows that had the strongest ticket sales in their venue), and finally concluding with the Orlando Fringe Closing Ceremonies and Awards at 9:30 p.m. on the outdoor stage at Loch Haven Park.
And what a festival it was this year.
I was there almost daily, as an artist (my play Hammered Dog was performed in the Red Venue), a critic for Freeline Media, and, of course, as a patron, finding myself a regular at not only the shows but in the Beer Tent and Food Court.
As Orlando Fringe 2019 wraps up this Memorial Day weekend, I have some final thoughts on what stuck out the most for me in these past 13 days.
Drama and Horror
Fringe is known for over the top comedies, and I caught some very funny shows this year, like Infestation and Black Wood. And that had me a bit nervous, since my own play, Hammered Dog, was a dark and disturbing drama about a painful subject, domestic violence. I was worried that audiences wouldn’t be showing up at an event like Fringe looking for something serious and dramatic.
And yet … I was impressed at how many dramatic shows there were this year — and in how powerful these productions were. In particular, I was stunned to see the artistic creativity that went into Beth Marshall’s drama Girl, which touched on subjects ranging from drug abuse and self-mutilation to rape, in an emotionally gripping way; and in writer/director Joseph Lark-Riley’s production Geography And Plays, which found ingenious ways of staging the non-linear, steam-of-conscious writings of Gertrude Stein. The comedies were fun, but the dramatic pieces were a laboratory of often brilliant theatrical innovation.
Something else impressed me this year: the Theatre of Horror, or the revival of a very old tradition. Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol opened its doors in 1897 in a small theater in Paris and for half a century offered gruesomely violent short horror plays. Theater eventually shifted to drama, comedy, surrealism, Theatre of the Absurd, musicals … but horror, not so much. And as a horror fan, I was quite pleasantly surprised to find two productions that revive the Theatre Of Horror: Church of Saint Bearer, about a community overcome by a plague, and Eusha, about an intensive care nurse with a dark secret. Both shows were so effectively scary that I hope they start a trend and encourage other artists to explore horror theatre.
Dining at Fringe
One of the things that helps make Orlando Fringe such a great party is the Food Court and Beer Tent, and this year was certainly no letdown in that respect. While there were plenty of tasty culinary delights this year, I have a particular fondness for Wood Fired Pizza of Clermont, where you can watch them cook up your pizza in their wood stove as you wait.
Thank You, Mother Nature
In May 2018, it seemed like it was constantly raining. I can remember sitting under one of the tents in Loch Haven Park as a massive downpour drenched the entire area, and I sat there nervously hoping the rain would stop before I had to rush off to my next show — or get soaked on the way.
This year, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky or a single drop of rain. It made for a great week to be out at Fringe.
Thank You, Michael Marinaccio
Everybody who enjoyed Fringe this year needs to stand up and offer a hearty applause to the festival’s tirelessly hard working producer, Michael Marinaccio. While chatting with him one afternoon last weekend, Michael told me about his late nights (often there until 2 a.m.) shutting down the festival, only to be back the next morning at 10. Didn’t he do a fantastic job this year bringing it all together? We all owe him a big thanks for everything he does to make Fringe the success that it is.
Being an Artist Once Again
Hammered Dog was my first Fringe show since Murder Sleep in 2016, and what a joy it was to be back. Last December, on the night of the Fringe Lottery, my director Laurel Clark sent me a text, letting me know my show was one of the first one’s chosen. By January, Laurel and co-director Jim Cundiff had lined up a stellar cast: Sarah Lockard, Steven Johnson and Todd Alan Long, who were sensational. What have I learned this year? Good question. Despite my initial anxieties about bringing such a dramatic piece to a festival that excels at comedies, we had two nearly sold-out performances, and the show seemed to touch an emotional cord with women in the audience.
The manipulative, emotionally and physically abusive character of Ted seemed haunting to many of them. After the press preview, one woman told me, “My first husband was Ted.” “Another said, “We’ve all dated a Ted in our lives.” And a third woman told me after Saturday’s show, “Ted reminded me of some guys I’ve dated.” Those are the best reviews I could have gotten.
So enjoy today and tomorrow, Fringe fans. Every indication from this year suggests Orlando Fringe is just getting better and better.
Tickets for today’s Fringe shows and Monday’s Patron’s Picks can be purchased at the Festival box office and at Orlando Fringe.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Of Cats And Wolves.” Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.