2010 Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival
May 20-May 31
Lowndes Shakespeare Center
and the Orlando Repertory Theatre
Loch Haven Park,
812 E. Rollins St.
Buttons $8; show tickets free-$10

Corral hundreds of divas and prima donnas, scene-stealers and show-stoppers into a park, then turn loose the rabid devotees, anxious familial units, overstimulated groupies and evil-eyed ex's, and there's a whole lot more going down at the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival than an exhausting and exhilarating "12 days of theater, art, music, dance and madness," as ringleader Beth Marshall calls it. The producing artistic director says it takes a village to put together the Fringe, now in its 19th year of enlightened corruption. And we all know what happens in small towns as far as people knowing your business — they talk.

What we know for sure is that everyone is a critic at the Fringe and intellectual cross-pollination blows particularly hard under the beer tent. That's where to hangout if you want to know who's talking about what, which shows are wowing and which stinkers are tanking — all the stuff that sets gossips atwitter with speculation.

On the fact side of Fringe, the official website is loaded with every last detail you need to know to partake, down to an instructional video and virtual ticket sales. So we turned our ears to the ground, instead, to hear the babble and add our own two-cents worth, including a few backstories from community old-timers new to the Fringe.

You didn't hear it from us.

Give her a horn and she'll toot it

To test her under pressure, Beth Marshall was asked to pretend that she was given a microphone and enough time to make five quick shoutouts about this year's Fringe. Here's what she roared back:

• This is our final year of being a teenager and we are gonna PARTAY! We are keeping the Rain Bar inside the Orlando Shakes as well as the infamous Beer Tent (just in case the rain gods are not kind to us again this year). And we plan to go out of our teens with a BANG!

• We have such a yummy international sampling with artists coming from as far away as Tel Aviv, Tokyo, the UK and Canada. Many are coming for their first time.

• The Kids Fringe lineup (10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday only) is completely full and flavored with so much fun for the young ones: Blue Man Group, the Outer Toons, the Improv Factory, IBEX Puppetry and a show written by Michael Wanzie and produced by D-Squared Productions, The Funksters.

• Bring Your Own Venue shows that stand out this year are the Voci Dance and Doug Rhodehamel collaboration, Lumineux, which takes place on the lawn; Brian Feldman's Fringe of Nature, a 17-hour camping-trip experience to Wekiwa Park; and Jeff Ferree's Capt. Discovery and "Escape to Planet O", a 10-minute sci-fi piece that two folks at a time can watch in what has been deemed "The Jamie Mykins Theatre" (a facility closet in Studio C at Orlando Shakes).

• It has been an incredibly rough year for me personally with the car crash `which landed her post-op in a wheelchair`, and I am so very, very, very grateful for my staff and particularly director of operations George Wallace for working triple time to make it all happen.


he dished it out, now can he take it?

The timing couldn't be more ripe in the local garden for the potential of tomato-throwing than at the opening of Peg O'Keef's self-starring Peg O'Keef Fixes the World. What with all the recent chatter, appropriate and not so much, about anonymous critics and educated critics and people critics (each opinion matched to a particular body spot), we think the marquis actress and local theater maven will know what we mean. And that's because she's put herself in the scandalous spot of having her Fringe debut penned by none other than Steve Schneider, aka former Dog Playing Poker columnist and erstwhile theater critic for this paper and current First Shot blogger (but not because he needs the money).

Furthermore, the absurdist O'Keef comedy has journeyed from page to stage under the direction of almighty theater ambassador John DiDonna. Every theatrical endeavor the man touches makes a dark sexual spin somewhere along the plot line. Do you remember DiDonna as Frank N. Furter in 2004's The Rocky Horror Show at Theatre Downtown? That's where DiDonna and Schneider first met onstage and Schneider wore a boa and rocked the guitar.

This occasion puts O'Keef front and center. But it was several years ago that the idea was hatched. When DiDonna followed up with Schneider, suggesting that a script be fleshed out based on one loose comment, and what was to become the title.

"That's kind of appropriate and such a strange idea, so insular and incestuous that it makes sense," Schneider says of DiDonna's concept.

Why the talk of tomatoes? Because the tight-knit theater community will have a thousand reasons to wag their tongues about this show. Above all, it illustrates changing customs within the theater community and the enduring love-hate relationship that permeates theater: actor against self, actor against actor, actor against the world.

Other than that, Schneider hopes you get a few laughs out of his story. Speaking from his Staten Island home and office, he says, "Statistically, and Terry Olson will be happy to point this out to you, that really in terms of theater in general, reviews are not what puts butts in seats, it's word of mouth. That's why we can do a show like this, because a large percentage of people who go to this stuff already and get the joke. We have a built-in audience."


Peg O'Keef Fixes the World
Brown Venue
7:10 pm 5/21, 7:30 pm 5/22, 4:50 pm 5/23, 10:30 pm 5/25, 1:40 pm 5/29, 7:10 pm 5/30

mad scientist Jeff Wirth steps out of his laboratory

What happens when society loses its ability to have fun, the just-let-your-hair-down-without-worrying-about-your-ass kind of silliness? Life gets boring. And there is no end to the tonics and self-help enticements proffered to prevent such a disaster. For example, arriving as a new intellectual property to this year's Fringe is , a performance piece developed at the hands of interactive theater specialist Jeff Wirth. The scholar primarily has kept to the confines of his curious University of Central Florida programs — at the moment he's tinkering on an interactive video piece for middle-schoolers about resisting the pressure to become sexually active.

Wirth explains his version of . "It is a make-believe experience for grownups. So, it is a one-man show in which there are sketches that I improvise with willing audience members. The critical part of that is ‘willing,'" he advises and follows up with an amusing imitation of an "unwilling" audience member, hinting at his chameleonic skills: "Oh my god, no, I'm going to be forced to go onstage!" he wails.

The professor continues. "And, philosophically, the reason for that is if somebody is waiting for an authority figure to tell you something, that is a bad principle to live by."

Pretty deep stuff.

"Well, the show is fun, although that is another interesting challenge — when people see the word improvise, they think it is all comedy," says Wirth, continuing to delve into the theory. "While there is funny stuff, there is some really serious stuff, so that the idea is not ‘Let's get onstage and see how wacky we can be.' It's let's play together and discover what truths come out — whether they are sad or funny or disturbing — what truths come out when we play in a ‘truthful' fashion."

Fear is the obstacle, he professes. "The art of the kind of interactive performance that I do is to create a context that is so safe that you can play easily in ways that otherwise would feel hugely risky." But don't call it therapy. "You can track the whole concept of catharsis back to the Greeks," says the theater veteran. "I never present the work as being therapeutic. I am not a therapist. I am an ‘InterActor' who facilitates play."

Wirth has made it his career to study the effects of creativity explored in safe and trusting environments. Results may be as momentary as a smile or as lingering as a change in perception. "Anything worth anything is a little dangerous," Wirth portends of his invitation to .


Blue Venue
8:55 pm 5/21, 11:30 pm 5/22, 6 pm 5/25, 5:15 pm 5/28, 12:35 pm 5/29, 1:35 pm 5/30

Wanzie doesn't give a blank then gets childish

The 2010 Fringe has seen its fair share of last-minute cancellations and show changes, but none has stirred as much commotion as the Orlando Youth Alliance's late-hour "reconceptualizing." At the April 12 Fringe Preview show, local theater impresario and godfather of the Fringe Michael Wanzie presented Let's Make a Gay Deal, featuring Barry Miller as a Monty Hall who flirts with the men. With veteran director Kenny Howard and hundreds of dollars in prizes as draws, it seemed a solid bet. But days later the show was abruptly re-announced as a musical review titled I ___ You. In his WANZeGram newsletter, he explained that longtime OYA volunteer John Sullivan was unjustly jettisoned from his position with the gay teen outreach center, causing the creative team of the original show to decamp in support.

And then … In a never-say-die move, the beloved actor, playwright, director, producer and bacchanalian-beyond-belief rebounded with a last-minute announcement of his collaboration with D-Squared Productions for the The Funksters. How fun for us. Wanzie's kiddie script has fleshed out characters Doo and Wop, theme-park mascots who sing and play cool as they frolic to music directed by John deHaas and choreography by Doug White. The Funksters sounds like good, clean fun but with the bonus of dialogue with sparks and smarts. Also meet tomboy Pop (Salem Moore), rhyming Rap (David Nicoll), surfer dude Calpyso (Karl Atkins) and girly-girl Jazzy (Brittany Berkowitz).

—SK and LTS

lost diva waits … and then comes back to laugh at the broken pieces

Sunny Raskin was just out of her teens when she stepped under the stage lights of the local club scene and quickly found herself in the company of musical kings — the likes of Eugene Snowden, Anthony Cole, Dan Fadel and Matt Lapham — and grew into her DJ-backed electronica diva "SUNNY" persona. As Raskin tells it, her first public stand was at the after-party of the 1999 Orlando Music awards at the Social, joining onstage with Snowden and his then popular Afro-beat collective Umöja, before Legendary JC fame.

"We proceeded to play the song ‘Drink Me' … and it was a life-changing experience for me," recalls Raskin. Those in attendance can still remember the mysterious songstress and distinctive groove of all the performers that night. "I'm getting goose bumps thinking about it," she adds. That happy night kicked off five years of touring through the wringer
we call life.

Raskin savors the sweet back-when moment and then revs up to tell all about her Fringe debut, an electronic operetta titled Procrastination, which arrives with the launch of a soundtrack and record label of the same name. In short, Raskin shares, the show conveys where she has traveled — physically, emotionally, spiritually — since that night on stage and what she's learned. And she does it by way of dance and song in the original composition, starring her, of course.

After years on the road Raskin got to the point where she lost herself. She describes Procrastination as a "journey taken from my journey from falling apart and hurting about love and feeling numb and hiding in the house for two years, and what happened through my growth and how thankful I am that I made it back out."

She talks about how alone she felt. "I mad some bad mistakes and I kind of marked myself with an ‘X.' … I branded myself so no one could see it on me, so I felt it on myself, and I felt like they knew."

Months ago, Raskin warned of a depressing finale — so harsh, in fact, that she planned to issue an audience warning. But through the process of creating and composing and working with many of her former collaborators (Alexandrah, Jeff Patishall, JJ Pattishall, Jessey Dauman, Logan Castro) and teenage dance students (she teaches at the family conservatory in Kissimmee), she changed it.

"I had a very dark ending to my show, and I spent a lot of time thinking about it. I changed a particular song to have a different meaning; my life isn't dark anymore. … My sunshine's back again."


Procrastination: An Electronica Operetta
Orange Venue
1 pm 5/21, 2:20 pm 5/22, 10 pm 5/23, 7:55 pm 5/26, 11:55 pm 5/27, 3:35 pm 5/29, 3:35 pm 5/30

Disturbing new trend: jail bait?

We love that Fringe features offerings for the underage as well as for mature adults, but this year we've noticed those two worlds colliding — and not in a "chocolate in peanut butter" kind of way. BabyBLUESTAR Productions (VarieTEASE "Deconstruction") and William Marchante's Casting Shadows (Dreams, Schemes and Circus Crowds) dance troupes both won applause last year for intense imagery and in-your-face choreography. This year both groups are back with dancers who appear barely eligible for their bat mitzvahs, bravely stepping in the center of a scene that would make a Bratz doll blush. We're all about supporting the next generation of dance talent. But can we at least let them settle into puberty before teaching them the pelvic thrust?

— SK

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