Last Saturday evening (Aug. 27, 2011), the seeming entirety of Orlando's arts community – or at least those not busy performing across town – attended the 7th Annual Red Chair Affair at the Bob Carr. The event, ostensibly a revenue raiser for the Red Chair Project's cultural marketing efforts, has become a de facto season preview for area theater and dance companies' fall schedules.
I spent several years as the stage manager of the Red Chair Affair, but this was my first experience as a “civilian” in the audience. Arriving shortly into the pre-show hour, I caught a glimpse of Crealde School artists demonstrating in the lobby, then spent 20 minutes waiting at the busy bar. (I've never seen that much imbibing at the Bob Carr, even during the dullest Broadway tour.) The auditorium was equally crowded; from where I sat in the rear orchestra, more than 80 percent of the seats appeared to be filled.
The most impressive improvement to this year's mainstage entertainment was the addition of pre-recorded video vignettes between various performance, replacing live hosts introducing each groups. The segments (slickly produced by Henry Maldonado) featured insightful soundbites from many local arts leaders, and more importantly kept the event's momentum moving between acts. Shame that the theater gods weren't as generous with the lighting; I had trouble seeing anyone standing downstage of the curtain.
This year's Red Chair Affair main show spotlighted 15 of the area's performing arts groups, each presenting a five-minute sample of their work. Highlights of the evening included:
- Florida Opera Theater's hilarious “Complete History of Opera (Abridged),” written and narrated by a sardonic smoking-jacket-clad Eric Pinder.
- A spirited celebration of African rhythm from Julie Coleman's Orlando School of Cultural Dance.
- Musical snippets of future shows from Winter Park Playhouse (Anything Cole) and the Garden Theatre (Little Shop of Horrors)
- A deluge of dance demonstrations by Flamenco del Sol, Emotions Dance, Yow Dance, Voci Dance and the Orlando Ballet.
- An excerpt of Orlando Shakespeare Theater's upcoming production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, featuring the fabulous Philip Nolen in drag as Lady Bracknell.
- The finale and crowd favorite, a barn-burning rendition of “Proud Mary” by Orlando Repertory Theatre's Power Chords youth show choir.
But for me, the most unforgettable performance of the evening came from the group of drunken homophobic racists sitting directly behind me in the fourth-to-last row, who provided offensive off-color commentary throughout the entire presentation. Thanks guys, for proving that in Orlando culture truly is for everyone.