Live Active Cultures 

Seth encounters four old-made-new cultural experiences

January is when we open the credit card bills from Christmas, weep softly and start looking around for things we can reuse or refurbish, so as to avoid buying anything new. A similar phenomena seemed to penetrate local culture this week as I encountered four familiar experiences that have been brushed off and given a fresh coat of paint. While it’s always great to see an old favorite brought back to life, some of said resurrections were more successful than others.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus: Dragons

Ringling returned to the Amway Center last Thursday with their slickest new circus in several seasons. Dragons used the mythological creature’s reputed virtues as hooks on which to hang some of the most impressive human performers I’ve seen under a big top: Shaolin kung fu masters smashed wooden sticks and steel bars on their heads, a record-setting eight motorcyclists simultaneously spun inside a steel globe, the Medeiros Troupe swung in midair by their own hair, and a sextet of girls performed an aerial act inside see-through spheres.

While I’ve previously been unpersuaded (though not unmoved) by the animal-rights protesters who always accompany the circus, I was given pause this year. First, by the $270,000 fine from the USDA that Ringling recently agreed to pay over alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Second, by the extraordinarily uncooperative animals performing on opening night. The elephants made their brief appearance on cue with minimal prodding, but one of the Cossack trick riders kicked a horse in the head, and tamer Alexander Lacey’s lion Masa only wanted to schmooze with the lionesses, not leap. Even my favorite act of the night, the Panfilov Troupe of acrobatic housecats, experienced an escaped feline mid-performance, triggering a comical flock of scrambling stagehands. Maybe it’s time to consider allowing only two-legged animals to endure the stress of center ring.

Titanic: The Experience

The Titanic exhibit on I-Drive has been through more changes than most local attractions, relocating from the now-demolished Mercado to Orlando Science Center to its current home near Wet ’n Wild. Now it’s been upgraded in time for the tragedy’s 100th anniversary and the 3-D rerelease of the money-minting movie. Titanic’s latest transformation, marked by an official relaunch last Friday, was prompted by the property’s recent purchase by Premier Exhibitions and its subsidiary RMS Titanic Inc., “the only company permitted by law to recover objects from the wreck of Titanic.” It turns out that, although former owner G. Michael Harris had made dives down to the wreck, none of the artifacts previously on display were actually salvaged there.

Titanic’s new owners have rectified that with more than 100 new, authentic items recovered from the ocean floor, including bottles, playing cards and a fragment from the famed Grand Staircase. The centerpiece is a 10-foot-long, 3,000-pound section of the ship’s hull, recovered in 1998 and displayed here dangling in midair. If you’ve never been before, Titanic makes a great rainy-day distraction for visiting relatives and history buffs; just try to ignore the endless James Horner soundtrack.

Otronicon

Orlando Science Center’s popular gaming and simulation festival returned last weekend with a few novel tweaks to accompany their “made in Orlando, played in Orlando” motto. My favorite was the daily presentation from new sponsor Walt Disney World on the science behind their parks. I was thrilled to play with the virtual Space Mountain and hear WDW’s Steven “Mouse” Silverstein lecture on programming audio animatronics. Other highlights included a timeline of Electronic Arts’ Madden Football franchise (featuring playable SEGAs circa 1990) and a nifty video projection mapping demo by local startup Ninjaneer Studios. Oh, and after a couple years of watching others flail, I finally tried the Virtusphere human hamster ball.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

I loved this cult rock musical at NYC’s Jane Street in 1999, and really liked David Lee’s later Orlando interpretations, so I’m excited that producer Jeremy Seghers brought the East German transsexual back to downtown’s Abbey as the space’s first (hopefully of many) independent local production. Stars Josh Eads-Brown and Janine Klein deliver deliciously on the driving punk score, backed by musical director Spencer Crosswell’s ass-kicking quartet. But rookie director Bruce Ryan Costella pushes the tone too far into camp burlesque, with interminable tantrums and awkward pauses sapping momentum. And though the costumes are admirably original, the stage’s cutting-edge lighting rig was ill-used, often leaving actors unseen. Overall, I enjoyed my nostalgia trip; the yet-to-be converted should rent the movie before attending.

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