Filk 'em if they can't take a joke

The passion for out-of-this-world fantasy will again run deep when the Orlando Area Science Fiction Society holds its OASIS 14 convention this Friday-Sunday, May 25-27, at the Radisson Plaza Orlando hotel. Genre authors will discuss their work, fans will show off their home-made costumes, and table-bound competitors will test their mettle in role-playing card games. But the real excitement will occur Friday night and Saturday afternoon.

That's when all the filking will take place.

What is filking? According to Terry Dahl, the society's president, it's a form of folk singing that pays lyrical homage to science-fiction characters and themes. About 50 percent of it is funny, she says; the other half is serious.

Seriousness, of course, is wholly contextual. So let's avoid a messy semantic debate by instead considering the case of Tom Smith, the "rather famous filker" who is this year's Special Filk Guest.

A native of Ann Arbor, Mich., Smith is lauded as the World's Fastest Filker for his ability to improvise rib-tickling tunes on the spot. His original ditties -- like "Twelve Days of Star Worz" and "Lust Theme From Drek Trek Forager" -- have been played on Dr. Demento's radio program and are available for download. In his official bio, he admits to spending vast amounts of his free time on the Internet.

If you're not duly impressed by Smith's reputation as one mother of a filker, you're probably thinking that this is a form of entertainment whose highs and lows could only be properly assessed by "The Simpsons'" Comic Book Guy. ("Worst filk session ever.") And yeah, it's difficult to keep your eyebrows perfectly horizontal when you hear that someone else has updated a traditional Irish drinking song with references to Saurian brandy, the libation of choice on the original "Star Trek." Then again, I knew what Saurian brandy was without having to look it up. So let he who is without sin cast the first photon torpedo.

But what about that name? Why filk?

"Legend has it that once -- many, many years ago -- at one of the first science-fiction conventions, there was a typo on the program book," Dahl explains. "Instead of putting ‘folk singing,' they had misprinted and put ‘filk singing.' And it has stuck ever since."

The activity's continued popularity provides plenty of opportunity for communal activities, like the campfire-style sing-along that will follow Smith's Friday-night concert. No advance sign-up process will be necessary to attract and/or corral the expected herd of balladeers, Dahl says: "They just kind of show up."

Filk it for all it's worth, I say.

Questions and Anders

There's a satisfying continuity to the booking of director Allison Anders ("Gas Food Lodging") as a special guest at the June 8-17 Florida Film Festival at Maitland's Enzian Theater. Anders will be on hand to introduce the June 14 screening of her latest film, "Things Behind the Sun," and to answer questions posed by the Enzian audience. Shot in Florida, Things is the film actress Rosanna Arquette was working on when she visited the festival last year.

Other guests confirmed for FFF 2001: actor Campbell Scott, who will appear June 15 to show off the made-for-TV version of "Hamlet" in which he recently starred (he also co-directed); and June 16 visitor Leelee Sobieski, who played the nubile teen being pimped by her sleazy dad in Eyes Wide Shut. The film Sobieski will be bringing with her to the festival was still undetermined at press time. Hopes are high that it'll be "My First Mister," a romantic comedy that isn't set for release until August. The first feature to be directed by actress Christine Lahti, Mister has a few other things going for it -- like a cast that also features Albert Brooks, Carol Kane, Michael McKean and John Goodman. Even better: It's not "Eyes Wide Shut."

Second time's the charm

Last Thursday's grand opening of the finally completed OVAL on Orange gallery handily outdid its first grand opening last November. For one thing, the artists' studios were actually built this time, the former drug store now looking like a colorful, viable visual-arts mall and not the lumber department at Home Depot. Attendance was strong, pieces were sold and an upbeat mood hung in the atmosphere.

Even better, I was able to stop by twice in the course of a three-hour period without ever running into the mayor. Is one her limit on public unveilings at the same address? Not according to the official story that she was out of town at the time. ... Ford Kiene is seeking the city's approval to transform the second floor of his Gallery at Avalon Island into a full-time black-box theater. Capacity would be 70-75 seats. Watch for the heretofore-temporary Avalon Island stage to soon welcome Pickett & Spiller Productions, who presented "Blood Lake" at the 2000 Orlando International Fringe Festival. ... For the second year in a row, Sleuth's Mystery Dinner Shows will offer a homocentric version of its usual meat-and-murder menu during the upcoming GayDays. "Ken & Scott Tie the Knot" will be performed one time only June 2. A same-sex rewrite of Sleuth's standing show, "Kim & Scott Tie the Knot," the one-off is described as "an evening of dining, drinking, mayhem and gay humor." Sounds like an episode of "Frasier," if you ask me.

Riot, you'll like it

If you were at Fringe Central on the final Sunday of this year's Fringe Festival, you'll remember that precious few performers dared mount the outdoor stage while the very loud "WJRR's Earthday Birthday" street concert was doing its best impression of a cement mixer just a few feet away. One act that fearlessly met the challenge (read: ignored all advice to the contrary) was Call to Riot, the tongue-in-cheek rock outfit formed by a handful of local actors, comedians and other marginally employable types.

The Riot boys -- who advertise their hilarious presentation as 80 percent show and 20 percent music, though some may call the estimate generous -- have their second public gig this Saturday, May 26, at Midtown Tavern. Get there early, as 'da Riot are the opening act (read: proud cannon fodder) for two other bands.

Come June 4, Call to Riot will tread the boards at Sapphire -- this time sharing the bill with the slightly more serious Stem, whose lineup includes iMPACTE! Productions' Tod Kimbro and Kimbro's longstanding musical partner, Jeff Forte.

"We just think we're going to bring Sapphire down," says Call to Riot singer/guitarist Trey Stafford. The lesson in there: Always phrase your self-promotion in a manner that leaves the door open to interpretation.

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