Orlando: 80 hours, five cultural events, one city

Pompeii Partner Project announcement 
at Orlando Science Center
Pompeii Partner Project announcement at Orlando Science Center Photo by Seth Kubersky

I've spent most of the past month immersed in themed attractions, so this week I'm making up for lost time and showcasing Orlando's artistic diversity with short takes on five cultural events that I managed to squeeze into a recent 80-odd-hour span.

Wednesday morning:
Pompeii Partner Launch

Toga-clad deities, living statues and a platter of prosciutto awaited the press as Orlando Science Center president JoAnn Newman unveiled the names of local arts groups awarded funding for projects inspired by Pompeii: The Immortal City, the "blockbuster" touring exhibit coming to OSC next summer. Recipients, which include Enzian Theater, the Downtown Arts District, UCF and Mad Cow, will split $97,000 – increased from an originally planned $75,000 – of Orange County tourism development tax dollars. I'm most excited to see the simulated volcano at Immerse 2019 (which Creative City's Cole Nesmith says will shoot real flames) and playwright Joseph Hayes' pop-up dinners delving into the origins of Italian cuisine; he hopes to resurrect ancient Roman recipes recorded by Pliny the Elder, although I'm assuming lark's tongues are unlikely to be on the menu.

Thursday evening:
Gatorland's Crawl premiere

Grindhouse gore is my guilty pleasure, and there's no better place in Orlando for a horror movie debut than the zombie-ready Fashion Square Mall, which explains how I found myself cradling an infant alligator in the lobby of the Premiere Cinema 14. Jeff Kaufman of Kaufman & Lynd rented out a screen so Gatorland could host a screening of the new killer gator flick set in south Florida (though filmed in Serbia). Crawl, which was directed by Alexandre Aja (Haute Tension) with production design by Wizarding World of Harry Potter art director Alan Gilmore, is a brutally effective nail-biter, providing you accept that Florida homes have substantial basements filled with CGI saurians. The highlight of the evening was the preshow premiere of It Came From The Swamp, a satirical short starring longtime Real Radio 104.1 personality-turned-alligator ambassador Savannah Boan. The six-minute flick by writer-director Dan Carro and cinematographer Ken Guzzetti cleverly mocks Hollywood myths regarding gators using monster movie tropes; check it out for yourself on YouTube.

Friday afternoon:
Awesome Foundation Anniversary

It's been six years since Orlando's chapter of the international Awesome Foundation was established to provide monthly $1,000 micro-grants to area artists, and since then they've given away $72,000 in no-strings-attached funding for a vast range of local projects. Chapter dean Terry Olson and his fellow Awesome Foundation trustees welcomed past recipients at Thornton Park's Menagerie Eatery & Bar for a reunion over happy hour cocktails. Attendees included Cindy Murray, who curated the "Art Tour" at the last Fringe Festival; Page 15 founder Julia Young; Deviant Dollz crafter Linda Janssen; Vicki O'Grady, originator of the "You Matter" cards; and my wife Genevieve Bernard, whose Voci Dance company received a grant last year to create a water ballet. Apply with your own Awesome idea at awesomefoundation.org.

Friday evening:
PRT Summer Shorts

After missing a couple of editions, I was happy to catch Playwrights' Round Table's annual Summer Shorts showcase, which continues through this weekend at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center. Though there's no official theme, shared issues of gender, race, and technology tie the eight 10-minute scripts together. The big name on the program this time is Emmy-winning writer Ken Levine, who penned Dating Through the Decades, a clichéd but amusing look at evolving mating rituals starring Ian Gray and Logan Turner. My personal picks from the program are David Strauss' Pre-Manstrual Syndrome, which puts a modern twist on Gloria Steinem's Swiftian essay "If Men Could Menstruate"; Ken Preuss' The Elusive Pursuit of Maximum Bliss, a sweet sci-fi romance featuring Troy Cox and Jessica Fernando; and Tracey Jane's Build-a-Bob, with Jessica Fernando and Carrie Lauren in a raunchy feminist comedy about artificial affection.

Saturday evening:
Unusual Frida Exhibit

If you noticed a sizable uptick on Saturday in the number of people wearing flowers tucked into their hair, thank the downtown Orlando library's free Unusual Frida Art Exhibit. This was the Alive Artists Group's second annual tribute to the iconic unibrowed artist, and a remarkable rainbow of demographics filled the library's first floor to admire several dozen colorful canvases inspired by Kahlo's creativity. Many participants presented portraits of the painter, but I was especially struck by some more abstract interpretations, such as Vickie Wilson's bold graffiti-esque depiction of "Frida and Diego." If you missed out on the party, which also included a costume contest and screenings of Kahlo's home movies, you can still see the artwork on display through August.


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