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Everything but the Parks
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Sue Holland

Orlando International Fringe Festival

Friday, May 9, 2003
Text by Sue Holland, MousePlanet staff writer

While a vacation at Walt Disney World generally does not leave visitors with more time on their hands than there are things to do to fill that time, there are many entertainment options available outside those gates.

Those visiting for the first time will most likely want to spend all of their time getting the most out of the park passes they've purchased, but repeat visitors who have seen Illuminations, Fantasmic and Spectromagic may be ready to venture off the property to find new things to see and do. One possibility for people visiting in late May is the annual Orlando International Fringe Festival.

This festival is a 10-day celebration of performing arts, held in approximately 10 different venues in downtown Orlando. It was voted “Best Outdoor Event” and “Best Cultural Festival” by the readers of the Orlando Weekly and features more than 500 performances, temporary art galleries, and special performances for children from preschool to high school age.

In 2002 more than 20,000 people attended the Orlando International Fringe Festival, which is one of the first and largest Fringe festivals in the United States.

The Fringe dates back to 1947 in Edinburgh, Scotland when some performance companies were excluded from what was the most prominent theatrical arts festival in the world, the Edinburgh International Festival. These companies began to perform in smaller, makeshift theaters on the “fringe” of the established festival, and within a few years had become more popular than the traditional Edinburgh shows. Fringe was imported into Canada in the early 1980's, where now each year over a million people attend the Fringe Festival in Edmonton, Alberta.

In Orlando, Fringe began in 1992, and was the first of its kind in the United States. Fringe shows are unlike traditional theater in that each show is accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. Nobody decides a show is not good enough to participate, and there is no censorship, which leaves the audience to decide what they like from the many offerings.

Fringe shows can and do push the limits — many of these shows could never be performed on a Disney stage, as they are not geared towards families watching with children. Performers come to the Orlando International Fringe Festival from all over the world, including several who also happen to work as entertainers at Walt Disney World.

In 2002, the show that won “Best of Fringe” was Fairy Tales, a wonderful gay musical revue directed by Greg Triggs from the Comedy Warehouse, with three of the five performers also working for Disney. The Fringe Festival gave them an outlet to showcase their talent without the restrictions imposed by Disney. Fairy Tales was so popular it sold out each night, and then ran again for two weeks in another venue following the festival.

The 2003 festival will be held on May 16 to 25, with an Opening Night Gala held on Thursday, May 15.

As is the case every year, during the months leading up to this year's festival, a lot of work went on behind the scenes to make it happen, including a silent auction fundaiser, a party to preview the shows in late April, and in early April, “Fringe Fete,” an afternoon of fun during which the 2003 Patron Saints were elected.

This year, five brave men were nominated and brought their saints to life. Those in attendance will never be able to forget the likes of Saint Lush (Michael Wanzie), Saint Samuel (Sam Waters), Friar Franco Fernando (Joseph “Mike” O'Connor), Saint Ignoramus (Maurice Gioseffi), and Saint Marco (Bob Kodzis). In fact, the judging was so close all five are the Orlando Fringe Patron Saints, with Saint Lush being the Saint of Saints since he did garnish the highest number of votes.

The 2003 Patron Saints (left to right): Lush, Samuel, Friar Fernando, Ignoramus and Marco. Photo by Patricia Thompson.

The Saints can be found wandering around during the festival, and will share their life stories with anyone interested enough to ask.

The mission of the Orlando International Fringe Festival is to provide an accessible, affordable outlet that draws diverse elements of the community together and inspires creative experiences through the arts. In more simple terms, the festival is about fun.

The shows can be a bit extreme, but they are all well described so that persons who are easily offended can simply skip the shows with content they would rather not see or hear.

Many lucky people attended the annual Preview Party, which was held on April 28, 2003. With Layden Sadecky as the master of ceremonies, this party featured 21 different acts, all from shows in the 2003 festival. Even if your trip to the area next year does not include the festival dates, attending the Preview Party would still be a lot of fun.

Prior to each year's festival, artists are invited to enter the Orlando International Fringe Festival poster submission contest. This year, Lee Vandergrift's entry was selected from the 11 submitted. His design will be featured on the Orlando Fringe posters and T-shirts.

The 2003 festival poster features the artwork of Lee Vandergrift, winner of the Orlando International Fringe Festival poster submission contest. Festival-goers can also purchase festival T-shirts with this design. Photo by Patricia Thompson.

Attending a Fringe show is not as simple as walking up to the venue with money in hand. In addition to a ticket, a $5 Fringe Button is required to attend any show. Artists performing in the festival market their own production and receive 100 percent of the ticket revenue, so the buttons help defray the festival overhead.

The festival is put on each year largely through the efforts of an army of volunteers, which is an amazing feat. Ticket prices for the shows are very inexpensive, ranging from $3 to $8 for most shows.

Half of the tickets for any show are sold in advance, with the remaining 50 percent available at the venue an hour prior to show time. Shows do sell out, so if you are unable to get an advance ticket, do not risk showing up too late on the day of the show. Last year for Fairy Tales, we made a trip to downtown Orlando only to be told the advance tickets were long gone. We arrived over three hours prior to the show the next night and were able to get tickets, but saw many people turned away. The venues tend to be small, which makes for a more intimate experience, so plan ahead and act accordingly.

For the first time, the official Web site is selling advanced tickets online, although they will still sell 50 percent of the seats at each performance. Information is available on each show, and you can search for specific shows, dates or locations.

Chataqua, the producers of last year's very popular Fairy Tales, will produce a unique Talk Show, hosted by Layden Sadecky. This interview format show will feature provocative interviews with Orlando Fringe Artists and the occasional surprise guest — and prizes and surprises will no doubt keep audience members entertained.

There is also the triumphant return of The OOPS GUYS comedy troupe. This year the audience will be spellbound by their game show “Do I Make You Horny: The Search for the Fringe Sex Symbol.”

Back again from Chicago, Mission IMPROVable is sure to be popular. In addition, this year schedule is full of the most international artists ever in the 12-year history of the Orlando International Fringe Festival.

There's something for everyone, and each show will be performed several times during the 10 days. The easily offended will need to read the show descriptions before buying a ticket, and should steer clear of certain productions. But if you have an open mind and enjoy irreverent or unusual entertainment, then the Orlando International Fringe Festival is something you'll want to plan future trips around.

In past years, talent scouts from HBO and MTV came to the Orlando Fringe. This year, a scout from MAD-TV will be in the audience looking for new talent. Perhaps your favorite Fringe performer will get discovered!

For additional information on this year's festival check the Web site at www.orlandofringe.com or contact:

Orlando International Fringe Festival
398 West Amelia Street
Orlando, Florida 32801
office (407) 648-0077
Email us at: producer@orlandofringe.com

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Sue has been hooked on Walt Disney World since her first visit in 1972 with her parents and younger brother. She kept returning more frequently until she moved to Florida in 1986.

After joining the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) in 1997, she now visits almost monthly. She also spends time at the DVC's non-WDW locations, and is experienced with the Disney cruise ships.

She takes many of these trips on her own, but she's also toured WDW with large groups of people, including families, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

She works as the Administrative Services Division Head for a large residential facility administered by the Florida Department of Children and Families. She currently resides in Southwest Florida with her teenage son.

Sue is one of our most prolific trip report writers. Read her trip report archive here.

You can contact Sue here.

Get the latest info about the resort at “Park Update: Walt Disney World.”


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