Cut down to a Bob? 


Two appropriately "mega" guests top the bill at this year's MegaCon comic-book-and-fantasy convention, Feb. 22 through 24 at the Orange County Convention Center: filmmaker/actor Kevin "Silent Bob" Smith and his on-screen sidekick, Jason "Jay" Mewes. But before you inhale a celebratory hit of the chronic or mouth a triumphal cry of "Snoochie boochies," know that the plan has hit a slight snag. At press time, Mewes was even more sought-after within the criminal-justice system than he is on the convention circuit.

On Jan. 17, the Entertainment Weekly website (www.ew.com) reported that a New Jersey judge had issued a bench warrant for Mewes' arrest after the actor missed a December 2001 hearing called to address the no-shows he had pulled at several scheduled meetings with his probation officer. (Mewes is on probation following his February 2000 arrest for possession of heroin and a hypodermic needle.) The warrant, it was said, would remain active until Mewes turned himself in or was taken into custody.

According to MegaCon's assistant convention director, Tiffany Mocada, her organization has since tried to contact Mewes' people to see if Orlando still figures into his travel plans. No return message has been received. Mewes' name remains in the event's advertising materials, but staffers and attendees won't know if he's actually coming until he arrives -- or doesn't.

"If he shows up, that's fantastic," Mocada says. "If he doesn't, then that's a shame."

The tragedy of Mewes' situation notwithstanding, this should be the place for me to fit in a joke about leaving your convention speeches in the hands of a guy named Silent Bob. Smith, however, will not limit himself to his tight-lipped persona in his appearances before the MegaCon crowds. Instead, he'll talk up such current projects as the DC comics title "Green Arrow," which Smith writes. He also will sign autographs and conduct an auction, the proceeds of which are earmarked for retired comic-book creators who have fallen on hard times.

Speaking of the four-color medium's old guard, MegaCon's massive guest list features some important industry veterans, including pencillers John Romita Sr. ("Spider-Man") and Carmine Infantino ("Batman"). They and their contemporaries will take part in a panel discussion, sign autographs and doodle a few original illustrations. Many of these guys -- Infantino in particular -- are overdue for mainstream recognition as significant American artists. Meeting them is at least as compelling a reason to attend MegaCon as the morbid curiosity of following your Mewes.

Frugal Fringe

Florida's economic woes have not bypassed the offices of the Orlando International Fringe Festival. "We're hurtin'. Everybody's hurtin' this year," says Chris Gibson, executive producer of the 11th annual festival of theater and performing arts, which hits the downtown streets May 10-19.

To buttress the organization's monetary underpinnings -- which were shaky long before 9/11 -- Gibson and the festival's board have taken some clear, carefully considered steps. For the first time, a financial manager has been hired: She's Alauna McMillen, a temporary employee who may become a full-timer if her efforts at fiscal redress are successful. In addition, the Fringe is now charging a $250 fee to groups who wish to perform on the sought-after stage of SAK Comedy Lab. The money will fund the enhancement of other Fringe venues, from renting pianos to procuring appropriate flooring for dance troupes. But not all of the benefits may be felt right away.

"This year, we're just getting the damn thing up," Gibson allows. "[The money] may just go to make sure [the venues] have pipe and drape."

According to Gibson, performers have responded positively to the imposition of the SAK fee, which he considers highly reasonable: "If you can't scrape together $250, you don't belong in this venue."

I've heard rumblings that the competition for performance spaces was lighter this time, a charge that neither Gibson nor board president Ana Handshuh can answer. (Both are new to their respective positions.) What's important, they say, is that all available slots are now occupied.

As always, the Fringe is looking for volunteer staff and sponsorships. But not all of its current undertakings are self-help measures. The festival is extending its hand to the United Way and Ronald McDonald House to enhance the Fringe's community-service component and bolster its reputation as a "good corporate citizen," as Handshuh puts it. Despite the holding-our-own tone of Gibson's comments, Handshuh scoffs at the idea that a bum year could spell the end of the entire endeavor. I hope she's right.

Enter, stage right

Two full-time, theater-related venues are about to appear on Orlando's cultural map. An education and performance center named Creative Stages will open in early March in a 10,400-square-foot space at Fairbanks and Harold avenues in Winter Park. In addition to teaching adults and children the disciplines of theater, dance, film and TV, the facility will rent its three stages to local groups, says Jim Bruner, the former banker who directs Creative Stages' performing-arts division. (He's also the husband of Mad Cow Theatre's Trudy Bruner.)

Meanwhile, the Puppet Celebration company will open its new Pinocchio's Marionette Theater Feb. 22 in the Colonial Promenade shopping center at South Semoran and University boulevards. Yes, the stringed ones are to be neighbors of iMPACTE! Productions -- for a while, at least. I hear the latter theater will close when its lease runs out in late July.

"Sound" idea

On Feb. 26 at Maitland's Enzian Theater, nuns and Nazis alike will flap their yaps for a good cause when the sing-along "Sound of Music" craze that swept London and New York hits Orlando. The most popular interactive-cinema experience since "Rocky Horror" will come to Enzian as an all-singing, all-cloying benefit for the Florida Film Festival, offering fans the thrill of harmonizing with Julie Andrews. (Hey, it beats a live simulation of her vocal-cord operation.) Attendees will receive a "magic moments" fun pack and be invited to take part in a fancy-dress competition. Tickets are $40. The movie also will be screened March 1-7 at the theater.

For once, making noise in a movie house qualifies as an act of charity. But if you're tone-deaf like me, you might want do everyone a favor and keep your big Von Trapp shut instead.


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