Fringe elements 

The Orlando International Fringe Festival, which has struggled to lure performance groups that reflect the area's diverse nonwhite and ethnic communities, recently created for itself a new challenge: By adding a seventh downtown stage to its 10-day run next spring, the Fringe has upped the ratio of slots set aside for ethnic/minority and international acts, and now must set out to fill them.

To begin, applications for the first-come, first-served theater festival will be published in four tongues, "so that we can get it out to people in their native language, which should help, although reading them when they get back to me won't be that easy," says Fringe producer Matt Wohl. Performers can pick up applications starting Monday, Sept. 27, at the downtown Fringe office, 398 W. Amelia St.; completed forms will be accepted starting Oct. 1. The 2000 Fringe runs April 28-May 7.

Patrons bought a record 14,800 tickets to 66 Fringe shows last year. Locals dominate the stages, as does comedy and musical review. But set-asides attempt to balance the familiar; this year the Fringe will hold open 10 slots for performers from other countries, 10 for ethnic/minority groups, and 10 for U.S. acts that originate outside of a 30-mile radius of Orlando. Another 15 slots are saved for locals. But set-asides are secure only until Dec. 1; after that, any openings are filled, and it's mostly local acts that fill them. (New this year will be a spot for visual artists to exhibit, and a planned showcase of acts stuck on the waiting list.)

Wohl says the burden of attracting distant artists who might lend new voices is compounded by Orlando's location; the local Fringe is the most geographically isolated on the North American circuit, discouraging acts that otherwise bounce among fringe festivals across Canada and elsewhere. That could change with plans to start festivals in places such as Atlanta and Miami, which could benefit Orlando by adding closer links in the chain. "The one thing we do have," says Wohl, "is good word-of-mouth."

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