How now, Mad Cow ... and where? 

The drive to create a downtown performing-arts district is becoming increasingly complicated ... and bizarre. The issue now at hand: the effects of booty music on cows.

At press time, the respected-but-homeless Mad Cow Theatre Company was awaiting word that it would be able to stage its long-awaited October production of Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" in the vacant storefront at Pine Street and Orange Avenue. According to co-artistic director Alan Bruun, the space -- one of two secured by the city's Downtown Arts District Board and the Central Florida Theatre Alliance as performance sites for area theater troupes -- has a lot going for it.

"It's very flexible," Bruun says. "There's enough room [and] the acoustics are good." Perhaps too good: Upstairs lays the BAR Orlando nightclub, whose loud revelries may make performances of "The Cherry Orchard" impossible if an arrangement isn't worked out with the club's owners to keep their music at a manageable level (i.e. off) during show times.

That compromise is currently being explored by BAR and Brenda Robinson, the city's executive director of arts and cultural affairs. In the hoped-for scenario, the club would allow its sound system to remain dormant until 10:30 p.m. on performance nights, and perhaps be rewarded with an extended license that would permit its staffers to sell alcohol to the theatergoers downstairs.

Establishing common ground between tabletop dancers and lovers of Chekhov may seem a long-shot fix, but it's easier to implement than the advice Robinson received from the pair of "world-renowned acousticians from New York" she enlisted to help correct the sound problem. Their recommendations -- that a concrete floor be laid down in BAR and a support column be erected downstairs to handle the extra weight -- weren't "financially feasible," Robinson says.

The other makeshift theater space being shopped by the city and the CFTA -- the Don Asher building at Magnolia Avenue and South Street, used as a temporary venue during last April's Orlando International Fringe Festival -- "isn't on the table" for Mad Cow, Bruun says.

Terry Olson, executive director of the CFTA, is helping the Cows search for a fallback venue if the Pine Street discussions fall through. But they've also been beating the bushes on their own. ("They certainly knew better than to put all their eggs in one basket," Robinson says, mixing her animal metaphors.) In a Sept. 12 mass e-mail, Mad Cow called for help in locating a space that should be 4,000 square feet in size, boast a ceiling height of 14 feet or more and include air conditioning. (Some of those requirements, Bruun admits, may have to be flexed as crunch time approaches.) E-mail suggestions directly to Mad Cow.

After a full year of rehearsal and development, "We feel that we could almost perform the play anywhere, under any circumstances," Bruun states with confidence. Wherever he and his comrades find themselves, they vow to leave their temporary digs in better condition than they find them. And how often can livestock make that promise?

Now hear this

Remember last April's preview party at Cairo for the 10th Orlando International Fringe Festival? Remember how most of the 18 sneak-peek scenes that were performed were either partially or wholly inaudible? That shouldn't be the case April 1, 2001, when the annual event moves back to Sak Comedy Lab. Control of the faders reverts to Sak's technical director, John Valines, who mixed the Fringe preview when his venue played host in 1999 -- and whose facility with lightning-quick audio changes is honed throughout Sak's weekly schedule of off-the-cuff improv skits.

There's only one downside to the move: Unlike Cairo, Sak serves no alcohol, just soft drinks and snacks. If you get caught smuggling in a 40-ounce of malt liquor, remember that it was your idea.

Shooting from the hip

Social satire is alive and at least semiwell on the TV dial. Airing at 12:30 am every Saturday night/Sunday morning on the independent WRDQ-TV (Action 27) is the comedy-and-music omnibus "Guerilla TV," whose September episode raised my eyebrows via its ad for the fictitious Florida Sheriff's Shooting School.

"Our deputies will train you to shoot fleeing suspects, plug unarmed ne'er-do-wells and fell innocent hostages, just like the pros do!" the ad runs. "And if you sign up now ... we'll enroll you in our racial-harassment and election-opponent-elimination seminars, absolutely free!"

Though the show is more brash than funny (and misspells its own name -- it's "guerrilla"), producer/writer/host Jon Rohrer deserves an award for sheer cojones, especially when one considers that his program was yanked from its previous home on WNTO-TV (Channel 26) for objectionable content. (A segment titled "Hookers Direct," he says, irked the Appliance Direct retail superstore, whose infomercials were a WNTO staple.)

According to Rohrer, a successful small-claims suit against the station for canceling his program without the required 30 days' notice has helped to keep "Guerilla TV" in production. He's relieved that the four-month-old WRDQ has raised no objections to the show's sensibilities. But doesn't he worry that the next lawman who pulls him over on I-4 might have seen the "Shooting School" bit while channel-surfing during the doldrums of "Saturday Night Live"?

"The 'I Support the Sheriff's Youth Ranch' sticker is always polished on the back of my truck," Rohrer assures.

One bullet left

And for proof that pistols are still being drawn outside the Sunshine State, consider the case of Scott Beibin, the Philadelphia minimogul who brought his Lost Film Fest Road Trip Tour to the Kit Kat Club last June for a fun night of underground screenings.

When his festival's national tour found its way to Los Angeles last month, Beibin decided to spend one of his days off helping cable TV's BurlyBear network cover the street protests outside the Democratic National Convention. Police, he says, opened fire on a crowd of reporters, hitting him in the stomach with a rubber bullet that left a black-and-blue mark but no internal injuries -- at least none that the "activist peacekeeper medics" on the scene could discern. ("I guess I actually should have gone to a 'doctor' doctor," he considers in hindsight.) Still, he's joining in a class-action lawsuit brought against the LAPD by the American Civil Liberties Union.

In contrast, Beibin's visit to our area was notably trouble-free. (OK, he did get arrested for swimming in an apartment complex's pool without permission. But that happened in Gainesville, a full day before his arrival in Orlando, so the demerit point doesn't go in our column.)

"Orlando was great," Beibin says. "I had a great time there" -- by default, one might snicker. He's mulling a return to our neck of the woods in 2001, as part of a Lost Film Fest world tour. Good idea, Scott; we never thought we'd say this to a tourist, but you're much safer here.

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