Gardner sows seeds of 'Sarcasm' 


Hear now the philosophy of Blake Gardner: Failure is nothing to fear, but sarcasm goes a long way.

The comic actor/writer will tackle those twin themes this Saturday, Dec. 16, at iMPACTE! Productions, when he hosts a fund-raising party for his digital film short, "The Art of Sarcasm." He'll also perform a retooled version of "Failure: An Epic Adventure," the one-man show that was Gardner's contribution to last April's edition of the Orlando International Fringe Festival.

A theatrical presence who cut his teeth at Sak Comedy Lab, Winter Park's Art's Sake Studios and in the now-defunct Poster Child and Some Antics comedy troupes, Gardner has lately been channeling that experience into a sweetly self-deprecating artistic persona. "Failure" was a watershed in the process, a light-hearted self-help sermon that didn't succumb to smarminess as it preached the surmountability of life's inevitable obstacles.

Seeing the show revived and expanded is reason enough to attend the iMPACTE! party. But the main objective is to ensure the completion of "The Art of Sarcasm," a 20-minute short written by Gardner and directed by Full Sail graduate Brian Quain. Now in postproduction, the film sees a cast of five (Gardner among them) dramatizing the effects of cutting remarks on personal relationships -- the ways in which sarcasm can be used "by the forces of good or for evil," its author says with full "Star Wars" melodrama.

Gardner hopes to have a trailer ready for preview at Saturday's soiree. Other highlights are an acoustic set by alterna-rockers Where's Moo? (they're supplying the film's score) and a duet by iMPACTE's creative chieftain, Tod Kimbro, and Jeff Forte, his collaborator on the Fringe 2000 musical "Loud." Admission is $10.

Like many of his contemporaries in Orlando theater, Gardner is looking to move to Los Angeles -- in his case, sometime around February. "This fund-raiser could very well be his farewell performance to Orlando," the party's invitation teases. You could say he's setting himself up for failure, but that would just be giving in to sarcasm.

Help yourself

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The day after Gardner's gala, iMPACTE! will present another benefit throwdown, this time with itself as the recipient. A donation grants entry to a program of music, poetry, raffles and refreshments. Expect an appearance by the ubiquitous Amy Steinberg (who's been collaborating with Kimbro and crew on a "Loud" soundtrack recording).

The party is an insurance policy for the theater, where attendance has been hit-and-miss since September's grand opening. In hindsight, Kimbro feels that iMPACTE!'s business plan may have leaned too heavily on the support of University of Central Florida students. And he fears that folks who missed the initial episodes of the live sitcom, "Caffeine," may mistakenly believe that they can't come aboard in midstream.

"We're stronger as a group than we were when we set foot into this space," Kimbro says, "[but] we're worried about making our rent. We're digging into our own pockets."

If Sunday's take doesn't right the balance, ticket prices for iMPACTE! shows will have to be raised "significantly" in the new year, Kimbro warns. And that's a holiday hangover no one wants.

Strings attached

Looking for somewhere to take the kids this Yuletide? (And remember, you have to bring them back.) Consider Saturday's Puppet Celebration at Sak Comedy Lab. In two afternoon shows, puppeteers Pady Blackwood and David Eaton will lead their marionettes through a new musical adaptation of the Pinocchio story, one replete with show-stoppers "I Wish I Had a Little Boy" and "I Need Donkeys" -- both of which sound rather adult to me, but what the hey.

Eaton is a veteran of Jim Henson's Muppet operation, while Blackwood has guided the moves of TV's Howdy Doody. Those who attend will be greeted by Doody himself -- who was the world's most famous puppet before Katherine Harris came along.

Cow comes home:

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Though Rus Blackwell flew into town just in time for Thanksgiving, he's no mere snowbird. A co-founder of the Mad Cow Theatre Company, Blackwell has spent the past year and a half in Los Angeles, where he's worked with performance troupe The Mett, acted in a few independent films and appeared on a smattering of TV programs (including Fox weeper "Party of Five").

Through it all, Blackwell has remained a Mad Cow in good standing. But he'll spend his winter break in Orlando by collaborating with Theatre Downtown mainstay John DiDonna on a production of Brian Friel's drama "Faith Healer" that's to bow Jan. 11 at Maitland's Zo‘ & Company.

Under DiDonna's direction, Blackwell will play the title role of Irish healer Francis Hardy, whose gifts are best known to his wife, Gracie (Marty Stonerock, last seen in Mad Cow's "The Cherry Orchard"), and his business manager, Teddy (Tom Stearns, late of Trilemma Productions' "Sister Calling My Name").

As co-producers, Blackwell and DiDonna have adopted the moniker The SoulFire Traveling Medicine Show. That makes the second side project away from Theatre Downtown DiDonna will undertake next year: The other, the nomadic PassionVine company [The Green Room, Sept. 28], is still a go, Blackwell says.

"Faith Healer" is scheduled to close Feb. 10, whereupon Blackwell will return to L.A. for TV's pilot season, the time of year when actors vie for roles in new programs to be pitched to the networks. But if the SoulFire show is a hit, its run will be extended, and he'll stay here instead.

"We're running the show till it can't be run anymore," Blackwell says. Forget acting; with that attitude, he should be a television EXECUTIVE.


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