Fringe Festival keeps Orlando theater weird
Veterans of The Orlando Fringe Festival describe it as a celebration of art in all its forms.
The festival, now in its 25th year, has something of a raunchy reputation — at Fringe, anything goes, whether that’s musical revues featuring all-nude casts, R-rated comedy performances or drag queen battle royales.
Fringe producer Michael Marinaccio, a 1998 UCF theatre alumnus and 15-year festival veteran, said the festival’s wide subject breadth and lack of censorship are two of the factors that have contributed to its growing success.
“We’re unjuried, so we don’t have a selection committee that decides what art is valid and what isn’t,” he said. “We just provide an equal opportunity for people to present their art, whether it’s a polished professional performer or a semi-retired electrician who decides he want to do a one man-show. It creates this environment of openness and risk-taking, on top of being more affordable.”
The affordability comes thanks to the festival’s wide reach; it rents dozens of performance venues around town, which allows the Fringe committee to negotiate price reductions on spaces that would normally cost upward of $20,000 per day, Marinaccio said. This year, the festival’s budget topped $1 million, largely raised through small, grassroots donations.
The venue size also factors into the show selection process. When artists submit their work to the lottery for random selection in September and November, the submissions are divided into tiers based on the size of the production; large-venue productions are drawn against other large-venue productions, medium venues against medium venues, and so on. This year, more than 250 applicants competed in the lottery for fewer than 100 available performance slots.
“We hold a public lottery — we invite the artists to come, and we broadcast it live,” Marinaccio said. “We reserve 50 percent of performance slots for local companies, 25 percent for national companies and 25 percent for international companies. It’s open, transparent and completely fair.”
Lottery winners must pay a nominal fee — between $400 and $1,500 — depending on the size of the venue and the length of the show, and the Fringe keeps a percentage of each show’s box-office sales.
Performances that aren’t chosen in the lottery have the opportunity to participate in the “Bring Your Own Venue” system. Artists who provide their own performance space — and pay a $200 fee to the festival — are added to the Fringe program, though without the benefit of technical support or venue management provided to lottery winners.
“This year we have a show in the living room of someone’s house; we have a show that picks up the audience in a bus and takes them to an undisclosed location; we have a show in a bathtub at a hotel, and we pack 10 people in a bathroom; we have a show in a utility closet … those are the BYOV shows at the Fringe,” Marinaccio said.
After more than 15 years of participating in the Fringe, Marinaccio said the key to a successful performance is passion.
“Fringe audiences want something new and exciting,” he said. “A lot of people think there’s a formula to it, but there isn’t. You’ve got to do work that you’re passionate about, that you can give 100 percent to, and get a team of performers and designers who are also equally passionate about it.”
That passion for theater attracted at least seven UCF students and recent graduates to participate in the Fringe by playwriting, producing, directing or acting.
Justin Hughes, a senior theatre studies major, debuted his original play Dino World: A Shave-O-Saurus Rex at the Fringe on Friday. The play is a satire inspired by the films Jurassic World and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He chose the Fringe because of its agnostic stance toward submissions — big names and small names alike have an equal chance to acquire a performance slot.
“The Fringe is kind of anyone’s festival. More money, a bigger name — it doesn’t matter,” Hughes said.
In addition to its inclusive submission policies, Hughes liked the Fringe because it helped surmount one of theater’s long-standing problems: getting people to watch a performance.
“The biggest problem about professional theater is finding an audience, getting people to come and see your show,” he said. “Fringe kind of has a set audience, an audience who’s just there to experience theater … The Fringe is a great experience because you’ve got people who just want to watch theater happen; they’re not going in with anything in particular in mind — they just want to go and drink, eat and watch shows.”
Josh Roth, a 2013 musical theatre alumnus, is performing in the musical revue Naked Boys Singing. The title is self-explanatory: The cast is entirely composed of naked men.
“I was hesitant [to perform] at first …” Roth said. “The joke that a lot of people make is that nudity is an actor’s worst nightmare. I think, at this point, having done the show now, I disagree. There’s a certain stigma attached to public nudity and nudity onstage.
People think you’re either a slut or a whore or you’re oversexualized — I think that, actually, if someone sees the show, they realize that none of those things are true. We’re all dudes, we all have penises — get over it.”
While the Fringe has developed a degree of infamy thanks to its welcoming stance toward titillating fare, Marinaccio said the festival has something for everyone. One of his objectives as festival producer — a position he acquired five years ago — was to emphasize the Fringe’s family-friendly fare.
“One of my main goals coming in [as producer] was not to change the festival, but to change the perception of the festival,” Marinaccio said. “We have been pigeonholed, in the past, as really risqué because we’re uncensored. To me, uncensored means that we don’t control any of the artists’ content, and it’s 100 percent their own creative expression.
We do have adult fare, and some amazing late-night shows, but that is not the only thing that we do. There’s something for everyone at the Fringe.”
What Marinaccio emphasized most about the festival was its sense of community.
After more than two-and-a-half decades of Orlando performances, the Fringe has become something of an annual meet-up for local, national and international artists — an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and revel in a shared love of theater.
“Even people that live in Orlando may not see each other the whole year, even if they all work in theater,” he said. “You have theater companies that are so focused on keeping the doors open at their venue and putting together their season and working on their own thing that we tend to, as a community, walk around with blinders on and just focus on our own work. At the Fringe, it’s an opportunity for everyone to be together, to share a beer at the beer tent and share in the common celebration of art.”
Orlando Fringe Festival
When: May 18 through May 30
Where: Orlando Loch Haven Park
777 E. Princeton St., Orlando
Contact: 407-648-0077 or orlandofringe.org
Bernard Wilchusky is the Editor-in-Chief of the Central Florida Future. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cameradudeman.