Most theater productions ensconce their patrons in comfy chairs, allowing them to observe the action at a safe remove, but an increasing number of site-specific shows in unconventional venues shattered Orlando’s fourth wall in 2014. The experimental art-music experience Caress of Progress at the Space, director Scott Browning’s environmental take on Shakespeare’s Tempest at the Acre, and Fight Theatre’s interactive automobile adventure Ride Along at Orlando Fringe all showed how exciting it can be when performances burst from the stage and surround an audience.
No longer relegated to opening for touring comedians at clubs like the Improv or networks like Bonkerz, Orlando comedians have harnessed their punk-rock DIY spirit and created their own vibrant scene. Tying it all together are the showcases put on at local bars. Whether at Spacebar’s weekly Wednesday night, Bull and Bush’s bi-weekly Saturday Shit Sandwich or the Peacock Room’s Dead Parrot Comedy Showcase, there’s hardly a night that goes by that you can’t see some quality stand-up comedy in this town for free.
Conceived as a “visual syllabus” by its donors, Barbara and Ted Alfond, the art at Rollins College’s new on-site hotel continues the school’s mission of education. Works by established masters such as Mel Bochner and Philip-Lorca diCorcia join edgier pieces by Tracey Emin, Juan Travieso and Lalla Essaydi on walls throughout the Alfond Inn – more than 100 pieces in all, offering a free class in modern art history to anyone who takes the time to look.
After many delays, the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts finally announced its opening date: Nov. 6, 2014. “They’ve thrown down the gauntlet,” Mayor Buddy Dyer said, rather ominously. “That date is set in stone,” Dr. Phillips Center president Kathy Ramsberger assured us, her jaw set resolutely. The Aloft Hotel XYZ bar hosting the presser duly echoed with the sound of reporters double- and triple-underlining the date “Nov. 6, 2014” (actually, we’re kidding – reporters started fumbling with their phones as they tried to switch over from voice recorder to jab that date into their calendars). The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts has finally buckled down to finish building the buildings in which Orlando will be treated to such offerings as Newsies, Book of Mormon (again, yay!), trumpeter Chris Botti and Orlando Ballet’s Vampire’s Ball. “This November, we’re on!” promised Ramsberger. We’re ready!
For MineCon addicts, steampunks and hackers of all types, FamiLab is the unofficial local meeting space. It’s in a crappy old warehouse near Lyman High, full of strange, buzzing machines and guys muttering over a tangle of wires and parts from Skycraft. But it is getting national attention for its not-for-profit collaborative atmosphere, and has already earned Orlando a spot in the worldwide maker movement. (Proof: This year Orlando hosts one of just 15 official Maker Faires in the world.) If you happen to have a chip implant with your credit card number, you need only gesture at the vending machine for a bag of Doritos.
Brandon Geurts’ work is part Ralph Bakshi scenic art and part hand-biting Necronomicon – ripe with cow skulls and bloody-kneed virgin sacrifices, floating in subterranean caverns full of whispered secrets. Which is probably why his art was chosen to grace the cover of one copy of Black Sabbath’s limited-edition “Age of Reason” single, released on Record Store Day 2014. (Like we said, limited edition.) With dark, moody ink washes emphasized by delicate line work, Geurts has developed a hauntingly surreal style that makes his work memorable and instantly recognizable. He’s moving to Tampa this fall to get his MFA, but no matter where he goes, he’ll still be one of Orlando’s best.
The Orlando Ballet, our area’s leading professional classical dance company, navigated some tricky choreography over the past year. First they were evicted from their Orange Avenue home, the 113-year-old OUC power plant that had been their base of operations since 1992. Then interim executive director Ron Legler departed for Baltimore. But the Ballet bounced back and stuck their landing by appointing new executive director Jim Mitchell, finding a new home for the Orlando Ballet School at the corner of Princeton and McRae, and, best of all, securing the Loch Haven Community Center for the OBC’s future multimillion-dollar facility. To top it off, a financial grant will allow the Ballet to grace the big stage next season at downtown’s new Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Bravo!
Jaime Margary is a local multimedia artist whose pop-culture-focused work is gaining attention outside our city limits. His video game sculptures (“Pakku Rotundus, aka Realistic Pac-Man,” “Piranha Plant” and “Super Mario Mushroom”) blazed through Kotaku.com a couple of years ago; since then, he’s kept busy making an animated music video for Roadkill Ghost Choir’s “Bird in My Window,” designing the cover of the Plush Monsters’ new album, creating a couple of our favorite Nyan Cat videos (“Schrödinger’s Nyan Cat” and “Nyan Cat – Punk”), self-publishing a web comic at Margary.net and printing T-shirts with portraits of characters from Netflix political melodrama House of Cards and HBO bloodbath Game of Thrones. (Don’t worry, no spoilers.)
America doesn’t know her face yet, but after this season of FX’s Archer, they know her big voice. Local songbird Jessy Lynn Martens was the mighty wind that powered the country-star persona of Cheryl Tunt on the animated show. And under the direction of Drivin’ N Cryin’s Kevn Kinney, an entire album was made that – despite the show’s famous lack of seriousness – surprised the music world with its quality and garnered lots of positive reviews.
Your boy Eddie Huang? This is his year. Yeah, we’ve said it before, but for real – the Rollins grad/restaurateur/sneaker pimp/memoirist/based FOB has finally cracked the big big time by breaking into the wide-beam, lowest-common-denominator bastion of mediocrity that is network TV. The trailer for ABC’s series based on Fresh off the Boat, Huang’s tale of growing up Asian and hip-hop-mad in Windermere, dropped in May, whetting appetites with excerpts from the pilot starring Randall Park (Veep) and Constance Wu (Torchwood), but the premiere remains to be scheduled. Huang’s also got a cooking-battle show on MTV called Snack-off and a news talk show on Pivot with Meghan McCain (Take Part), but neither of those offers the same full-blast megaphone to America that the ABC show does. From the get, Huang has been trying to get the Asian-American experience into the mainstream, and there’s no better way than a half-hour network comedy. (Hey, it’s been 20 years since Margaret Cho tried … maybe we’re finally ready.)
One of Central Florida’s most confusing development conundrums over the past few years has revolved around the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and the local arts groups that the center was originally intended to house. In the ensuing seven years since the ink dried on the venues deal, some of those groups (including the Orlando Opera) have closed down under recessionary financial pressure. Meanwhile, the arts center had to break up its development into phases; those phases left both the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orlando Ballet in a headquartering lurch. Fortunately for the Phil (and not so much for the struggling ballet), budget figures remained in the black throughout. Last August, the orchestra purchased the old Plaza Live on Bumby Avenue for $3.4 million, creating its own small performance space and expanded headquarters. The show will go on.