Fringe Free-for-all

Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival
May 14-26 at Loch Haven Park,
Lowndes Shakespeare Center
and the Orlando Rep
$8 mandatory button; free-$10 tickets for individual shows

Several nights before the official ribbon-cutting, the energy at Fringe zero feels like a tightly wound clock ready to uncoil. Collectives scattered around the lobby of the Shakespeare center are rehearsing and discussing. We're here to meet Anna McCambridge, the keeper of the Visual Fringe for the last seven years, and have a quick walk-through of the freshly installed exhibit.

Let us welcome you to the free side of the Fringe, where there's a lot to take advantage of during the 12-day festival of performing arts on a gratis basis — like the Visual Fringe, where the air-conditioning is as free as the no-button-needed entrance policy. And money from sales goes directly back to the artists. Other highlights are the Poetry Vending Machine, the outdoor stage and Kids Fringe.

Visual Fringe

Pretty much any artist who signed up has a place in the patchwork of paintings, photographs, you-name-it on the walls of the mini-rotunda in the lobby of the Shakespeare center. The 145 pieces were positioned by McCambridge and crew — even the naughty cartoon (male body parts) that she stationed up high and hopefully out of the line of sight of 4-year-olds.

"There is no censoring," says McCambridge, but that doesn't mean she doesn't use common sense. Anyone who's worked with McCambridge knows her passion and dedication, and despite her own volunteer hours, any dollars she receives from selling her own colored pencil "anti-portraits" of Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens) and Salman Rushdie are going back to the Fringe. Such is Fringe passion and loyalty, and there's plenty of it.

Because no artist was turned away, the Visual Fringe represents an odd lot of local artists, from complete unknowns to familiar locals to well-knowns in other areas of the arts. Take David Lee, actor, director and playwright in town, who wrote and stars in the Fringe show Pie Face! The Adventures of Anita Bryant; his dense black-and-white triptychs offer a more introspective side of the multifaceted artist. Fringe producer Beth Marshall created a personalized mixed-media Fringe assemblage that will be auctioned off. And associate producer Genevieve Bernard sewed up some cute handbags with jagged-toothed bubble-monster appliqués.

Poetry vending machine If you decide to purchase a piece of art, it comes with an added bonus: Take the receipt over to the Poetry Vending Machine table, where resident poets will write a full poem based on the title of the piece.* According to Tod Caviness, the overseer of the vending machines both this year and last, his gaggle can be persuaded to make other financial arrangements in lieu of the suggested donation of $5 per poem or one buck for haikus. All the money goes back to Fringe, says Caviness, echoing McCambridge's sense of one-for-all. If you don't want to trade in legal tender, think beer and gossip.

"We operate on the loosest donation basis," says Caviness. "Last year … it was totally feast or famine `as far as traffic goes`. So we just became a little gossip repository." This year, because the poetry table will be open during all Fringe hours, he's thinking the gossip quotient should be much higher. Which is something to look forward to, while you wait approximately 20 minutes for an original poet to be written.

"I am ruthless about `the quick turnaround`," says Caviness, the whip-cracker. "We've written anything from love poems to having businessmen who wanted a poem about their aluminum company. Seriously, we don't care about the subject matter."

*Note: A number of enterprises are offering Fringe deals and discounts; find all the details at

Outdoor Stage

The popular Saturday-night Poetry Smackdowns are still on the menu, this year hosted by J. Bradley of the Broken Speech Poetry Slam and taking place on the free Outdoor Stage. First and foremost, though, the Thursday, May 14, ribbon-cutting for the Fringe takes place on the outdoor stage, followed by a concert by Fringe faithful Amy Steinberg.

In general, more souls should be wandering around outside this year, because the Outdoor Stage is less of an afterthought and more of a spotlight. Two freaky sideshow acts are booked there for evening performances throughout the Fringe: Gunther Barnaby's Traveling Show, from the Phat Killerz (Orlando), and The Rotten Bros. Sideshow, from the Village Idiots (Davenport, Fla.).

Typhoid and Melaria, the bleached-blond twin daughters of Dr. Mayi from Gunther Barnaby, dressed in dominatrix boots and corsets, should get some attention for their magic elixir that "heals all that ailes. From Cataliptic Neuroplexy to Stoutness."

The Rotten Bros. perform under the conceit that they were orphans adopted by a circus that hawked them as conjoined twins, until the brothers realized otherwise. Honoring the traditions of the true sideshow, see these bad boys pierce "skin, muscle and bone" just to make you feel alive.

Other acts will show up on the Outdoor Stage, some scripted and some not. We've just heard a rumor about a possible scavenger hunt and other spontaneous activities.

Kids Fringe

During the day on Saturday and Sunday, keep an eye out for the little sprouts on "the Green," under the Kids Fringe Tent or near the Kids Fringe stage. The activities are not always predictable, but count on plenty of spillover talent from the main Fringe. Local musicians and puppeteers are booked, like guitar picker producer David Schweizer, who'll present Davey Rocker's Barnyard Jam with "his friend Fiddlin' Jessy."

Also blowing up the Kids Fringe are acclaimed puppeteers, including the City of Orlando Puppetroupe, Am-Jam Productions (Jamie Donmoyer and Amy Strickland) and Leslie Carrara Rudolph and Katie Adams of Tampa. But no one in the city should miss one of the seven free evening performances of Family Puppet Blast! Just keep your eye on the hopping bunny.

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