The Orlando Fringe Festival is celebrating its 30th edition and the city is celebrating the return of live theater. Art Stories & Interviews | Orlando
On March 19, 2020, the future of one of Central Florida’s premier cultural institutions was put into question when the 29th annual Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival was canceled in the face of the then accelerating COVID-19 pandemic. While the event nimbly focused on showcasing virtual productions, fans were concerned that the organization would survive to celebrate its 30th edition. What a difference 14 months – and three miraculous vaccines – can make. The 2021 Orlando Fringe is back at Lock Haven Park May 18-31, live and in person at Lock Haven Park.
For years I have threatened to take a year off my duties as the Orlando Weekly chief fringe reviewer and let Matt Palm of the Orlando Sentinel review all of the shows while I sit at home. After more or less completing my wish in 2020 (much to my dismay), I didn’t think anyone was more excited than I was for the return of the Fringe. That was until I spoke to Orlando Fringe general manager Alauna Friskics, whose anticipation nearly exploded from my phone.
“I’m excited and full of energy for this year’s festival,” enthused Friskics. “This has been a festival that has been pondered and talked to the death about how to make it safe. … We have put in as much security as possible and we are progressing in exciting ways. I’m ready to bring people together.”
Orlando Fringe was founded downtown in 1992 and “coined Orlando” [and] According to Friskics, this has had a major impact on the cultural fabric of ourselves in Central Florida. Amazing talent was born from Fringe and has either stayed and grown here or moved elsewhere. And our entire community should be really proud of that. ”
As one of the largest fringe festivals in North America and the longest running theater festival in the United States, the Orlando Fringe is not just important to locals, but has become a hub of the entire international fringe touring circuit. Yet even three decades of history were not enough to guarantee the Orlando Fringe’s survival in yet another pandemic-ridden season.
“Last year, as an organization, we suffered a financial loss of over 90 percent because we didn’t have a festival. It was a big blow for us,” says Friskics. “However, we stayed on course and looked to the future. We have created alternative events to stay afloat and we will be fine.”
For Friskics, however, bringing the festival back was less about Fringe’s finances than about the resources of the performers. “The real driver put the money back in the artist’s pockets,” says Friskics. “Last year there was a $ 500,000 hole for all artists and that was really devastating. [so] to bring them back on stage, to let the artists earn money again … that is our mission. ”
With cross-border travel around the globe still severely restricted, it was a particular challenge for second producer Lindsay Taylor to keep the “International” at the Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival 2021, the first year of which the event moved online. “We usually have around 25 nationals [artists from outside Florida] and 25 international, “says Taylor, but this year the only international act will be the Japanese theater group Gumbo, whose home prefecture Osaka (which also includes Universal Studios Japan) is currently closed again.
“They had to take a negative COVID test before getting to the airport,” Taylor told me on the eve of their arrival in Orlando, over a week before the festival, “and they have decided to have a week-long quarantine.” “” Another experienced fringe artist, the Swedish trumpet virtuoso Elias Faingersh, had less luck and had to get out because the Swedish consulate did not give him a travel permit.
Among the nearly 70 shows that will appear on the sidelines, Taylor notes recurring pop culture themes like superheroes and role-playing games, which she believes reflect a trend towards escapism this year: “I think a lot [producers and performers] are just happy to be at the festival, and [they] know that the audience wants to see something carefree. ”
The bottom line is that after a number of well-received, socially distant events over the winter, Friskics believes the Fringe audience is ready and willing to return to live events while continuing to adhere to CDC safety guidelines. “We saw an incredible willingness for the audience – and their hunger to sit in those seats and take up this art again.”