Live Active Cultures 

Sailing into January with optimistic expectations for Orlando's coming cultural year

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From where I stand, 2012 ended with the saddest, scariest holiday season in memory. From Superstorm Sandy's early Halloween trick straight through to the Sandy Hook school shooting, the past quarter has been an emotional roller coaster on the verge of derailing. Even up to the midnight hour of the new year, I was wrestling with fearful questions, like: Will Congress avoid the "fiscal cliff" before our economy does a Thelma-and-Louise? (answer: kinda-sorta, in a kick-the-can way), and: What is my Mayan apocalypse Spam stockpile now worth on eBay? (Answer: even less than my collection of Matrix Reloaded action figures.)

And then, a ray of hope appeared from the most unlikely of places: CNN. Bored by Ryan Seacrest's seven-hour Dick Clark eulogy, I flipped channels and found a major cable news network had turned their New Year's Eve coverage into an orgy of awkwardness. It commenced with kamikaze comedian Kathy Griffin tickling giggling co-host Anderson Cooper's cojones, and climaxed as she attempted to give him an on-air blow job while simultaneously plugging her upcoming Letterman appearance. Thanks to them, I entered 2013 laughing harder than I have in months. Perhaps the world did end and we all failed to notice, because if CNN can get away with that, then truly anything is possible.

In that spirit, I'm sailing into January with an optimistic and open mind about Orlando's coming cultural year. Last year was a mixed bag in our theaters and theme parks, but I'm banking on the following new trends to make 2013 look even brighter.

New voices

As much as I enjoy being entertained by old friends and all that auld lang syne, I'm looking forward to seeing new faces injecting fresh material into Orlando's artistic arteries. Or at least seeing familiar faces stepping into new roles.

For example, I've known Jacquelyn Bell for a few years as a puppeteer and arts administrator with Ibex, but before last weekend I'd never experienced her work as an executive producer and director. Theatre Downtown hosted Bell's Stages Theatre Co. for three performances of Summertime, a "musical tribute to Black American influence on performance art." This revue of memorable Broadway songs – including the titular tune taken from Porgy and Bess as well as smart selections from The Wiz, The Color Purple, The Lion King and Ragtime – proved a showcase for talented African-American singers like Jamal K. Solomon and Kendra Lynn Lucas. Yow Dance also collaborated on a couple of pieces, featuring a sinuous solo from Alex Jones. Despite some mid-show slide shows that slowed the pace, passionate performances made Summertime a solid start to my theatrical year.

New venues

Although 2012 ended with the Orlando openings of a couple of important new theater venues – Mad Cow's beautiful new stages above Church Street and Baby BlueStar's Venue on Virginia – I'm anticipating even more exciting new arts outlets opening in the coming year, and I don't mean DPAC.

To start, I stopped by the "soft opening" of the Faith Arts Village Orlando established by Park Lake Presbyterian Church in a derelict Colonial Drive motel. FAVO has been hosting monthly "First Friday" food truck events for more than a year, but the facility's grand opening will finally arrive on Feb. 1. Despite a drizzling rain and the chain-link fence across the main entrance, when I finally made my way to the rear of the property I was impressed by what I found. The two floors of mod glass-fronted rooms make welcoming studio spaces, and it will be interesting to see the space once more artists-in-residence move in beyond the two living there currently. And though the project has a religious outreach mission, I didn't observe any overt proselytizing in the artwork.

Next up on the new venue calendar: February's premiere of Rocking Horse Theater Factory, the new West Washington Street home of Renegade and Howlers.

New thrills & chills

Not forgetting our local theme parks, I've abandoned the idea of Disney opening anything truly inspiring until at least 2014. Universal has an expanded Simpsons area and a clone of their terrific Transformers ride on tap for this summer, but new Potter attractions are more than a year away. Instead, it's SeaWorld's turn to take center stage with their enormous Antarctica expansion. Innovative track-free ride tech plus painfully cute penguins: What could go wrong?

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