Year after year, Orlando’s Fringe Festival keeps it fresh 

click to enlarge Kaleigh Baker as Janis Joplin in "Janis Joplin, Little Girl Blue"

Kaleigh Baker as Janis Joplin in "Janis Joplin, Little Girl Blue"

After two dozen years, it's difficult finding fresh ways of saying that the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival is the coolest cultural carnival on our annual calendar. Thankfully, the Fringe is always finding fresh ways to expand and improve, and this year's 24th edition (running Wednesday, May 13, through Monday, May 25) is no exception. While we all have our favorite long-standing Fringe traditions – deep-fried frog legs, anyone? – here are five things we're especially excited to see added to this year's Orlando Fringe.

New venues at OMA
For years, Fringe patrons have looked across the Loch Haven parking lot and wondered why the Orlando Museum of Art wasn't more integrated into the Festival. Well, wonder no more, as OMA's SunTrust Auditorium has become Fringe's Gold venue, and a room off the lobby houses the Bronze. You'll also find a box office, bar and patrons' lounge at the museum.

Outdoor entertainment expands
Jessica Pawli, producer of the entertainment on Fringe's outdoor stage, is attracting music fans with a "festival within the festival" of free concert evenings. The Swamp Sistas LaLa (featuring Beth McKee, Kaleigh Baker, Laney Jones and many more) takes over on Saturday, May 16; our own Bao Le-Huu curates a night of music Thursday, May 21; Jambando joins the party Saturday, May 23; and Southern Fried Sundays comes to Loch Haven on Sunday, May 24.

Bigger BYOV
The Fringe's Bring Your Own Venue program has expanded this year's Fringe Festival well beyond the boundaries of Loch Haven Park. If you enjoy alcohol with your entertainment, St. Matthew's Tavern on Mills Avenue is the scene of three shows, and the Thirsty Topher on Alden Drive hosts one as well – just down the block from the warehouse where The Republic interactive game is play-testing as part of the fest.

Orlando Museum of Art now hosts two Fringe venues. - PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER KEITH GARCIA
  • photo by Christopher Keith Garcia
  • Orlando Museum of Art now hosts two Fringe venues.

More, better beer
Drinkers, rejoice! The beer tent is back and better than ever this year, with new premium brews and Woodchuck's brand-new Gumption hard apple cider on tap alongside the usual suds. And last call doesn't arrive until 1 a.m. this year, thanks to a new later curfew, so party on!

Student Thespian Showcase
High-school students have staged Fringe shows before, but 2015 sees the first Student Thespian Showcase. Eight of the top-scoring Orange and Seminole county competitors at last November's District Thespian Festival have been invited to reprise their lauded one-acts on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and to participate in exclusive acting workshops at the Orlando Science Center. Tickets are only $5 (plus service fee), and proceeds go back to the schools.

Memorial Day programming
Traditionally, Memorial Day at the Fringe is a drearily elegiac affair, with little to do but attend the single Patrons' Pick performance in each venue. This year should be much more upbeat, with a "retro beach party" headlined by Rocket 88 on the lawn and two Patrons' Pick winners per stage. Best of all, for the first time the food and beverage vendors will stick around until the bitter end.

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