Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A geriatric vaudevillian and a performance artist walk into a fundraiser …. Like the unnatural lovechild of Jerry Lewis’ telethon and The Carol Burnett Show, March 3’s Fab Fringe Fundraiser was, well, fabulous. Thanks go in large part to the new Korman and Conway of Orlando hosting gigs: Wayburn Sassy and BabyBlue, who introduced the half-dozen acts who donated their talents in support of the annual theater festival, coming May 15. Beth Marshall, Fringe producing artistic director, usually co-hosts this sort of event herself (often with Michael Wanzie), so it was a change of pace to see new MCs breaking each other up between acts.

Said performances by Fringe favorites started with songs from Tod Kimbro and included a reunion of Hedwig stars David Lee and Becky Fisher on “The Origin of Love,” followed by Fisher’s fearsome delivery of Pink’s “Dear Mr. President.” Act Two featured a modern dance sampling from Voci’s upcoming Fringe offering, Perfectly Broken, and a taste of VarieTease: Nightclubbing (currently performed Saturdays through March 15 at the Parliament House). The entertainment closed with a number from Kimbro’s new sci-fi musical, My Illustrious Wasteland, a John DiDonna–directed production premiering July 11 at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center.

The highlight of the night (financially, at least) was the live auction. Marshall couldn’t resist getting into the act, and succeeded in driving up the bids more than once by calling people out (she seemed to take particular pleasure in making me squirm). Some of the fiercest bidding broke out over the Dexter DVD box set signed by series co-star C.S. Lee, with whom a conversation over cheap wine was extemporaneously promised (no word if the winner took Lee up on it). I personally went head-to-head with United Arts’ Margot Knight over a hotel package; she came out on top, then graciously ceded the prize to me. Thanks, Margot, I’ll think of you during my massage! (Um, wait, that didn’t come out right ….)

All together, the evening netted $6,320 for the Fringe, a healthy bump above their four-grand goal. I wish I could end the story there and move on to MegaCon, but sadly, I can’t. Last year I sang the Fringe’s praises for finally getting the infrastructure right; the balanced use of the Lowndes Shakespeare Center and the Orlando Rep made Loch Haven’s lawn a comfortable beer garden. Unfortunately, the 2008 festival will take a step backward at the Rep facility, which is run in partnership with UCF and rents space to the Fringe.

As Fringe producer Beth Marshall wrote to me: “The Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival will have a lesser presence at the Orlando Rep for the 2008 festival, due to the Rep opting to have their season finale show during the course of the festival. To the best of my understanding the choice to have this show during our festival was a result of Orange County Public Schools extending their school year and the Rep accommodating that extension for their school field-trip shows. As a result of this, the Orlando Fringe has lost two Rep venues – the Universal Theatre (our old Purple venue) and the Rehearsal Hall space. … Other loss of Fringe presence at the Rep includes: loss of all Visual Fringe presence, Kids Fringe presence and usage of the main lobby at Rep (which affects our ability to have centralized ticketing at the Rep facility at all).”

In short, the Fringe will still use the Busch and Tupperware theaters at the Rep, and the Lowndes Shakespeare Center is helping to compensate with use of the Darden Courtyard outdoor stage and additional Visual Fringe wall space.

Jeff Revels, artistic director of the Rep, did not return requests for comment by press deadline. But off-the-record sources suggest the Rep is worried about how the Fringe’s uncensored ideology meshes with their kid-friendly mission. The Rep’s concern about conflict sounds reasonable but doesn’t fully explain the pullback. Fringe shows don’t get started in the Rep until 6 p.m. on school days, and shows there are restricted to “general audience” ratings, with mature material sent across the lawn. In the Rep’s mission statement, it reads: “To challenge our audiences with culturally diverse, intergenerational programming” and “To offer assistance to smaller theatrical organizations” – goals that would seem to be fulfilled by a collaboration with the Fringe.

I can’t claim to be objective: I have close relationships with several people who work with the Fringe (TMI alert: I feed the associate producer’s cats), and I’m producing a Fringe show in one of the affected venues. In 2005 I produced a Fringe show under similar circumstances, and I remember the frustrating experience afforded patrons forced to crisscross the giant green for tickets. I just wish everyone involved could band together behind the one cultural event that comes closest to putting Orlando on the international map.

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