It seems likely that Orlando Fringe will take over the downtown space currently occupied by Mad Cow Theatre

click to enlarge It seems likely that Orlando Fringe will take over the downtown space currently occupied by Mad Cow Theatre
Image via Mad Cow Theatre
Mad Cow Theatre faces yet another challenge in what's been a challenging few years of scrutiny: the possible loss of their Church Street space after a decade of residency.

The Orlando Sentinel's Matt Palm broke the news yesterday that Mad Cow management had received a notice of default on their lease from assistant city attorney Wesley Powell. The city subleases the space from the 55 West development and charges Mad Cow only $1 per year in rent, but the theater is still responsible for common-area fees covering maintenance and security. According to Powell's letter, those fees have not been paid for five years.

The letter, dated Oct. 20, gave Mad Cow 10 days to pay the outstanding $121,742. This flows into the history of actors and show staff who've gone unpaid over the years, with various reasons given by the Mad Cow board and management. The Central Florida Entertainment Advocacy Forum has also cited Mad Cow for a lack of diversity in leadership.

“We continue to talk openly with the City as we have for the past decade,” wrote Mad Cow executive director Mitzi Maxwell in an email to Palm. (We have reached out to Maxwell for comment, and will update this story when she replies.)

City of Orlando public information officer Samantha Holsten said in a statement to Orlando Weekly, "While there is not a firm timeline, as the space is currently occupied, we recognize the importance of quickly reactivating the space if an agreement is not reached.

"The city has begun initial discussions with Orlando Fringe to enter into a new lease agreement in the theater that will allow them to program and operate the theater space, making it available to a diverse variety of artists and arts organizations."

Orlando Fringe executive director Alauna Friskics says, "For several years now, we've had the plans for an arts incubator, and have been laying the foundation for a year-round facility as our next step in our organizational growth. Having the city of Orlando approach us to explore this concept was not a surprise. It makes sense for advancing our nonprofit, and for fulfilling a need in the community."

As a non-producing arts entity, Orlando Fringe is in a unique position to maximize the number of organizations that can use the Church Street space. "Fringe would program the space year-round with independent art," Friskics says, "… activating the space with arts groups of varying experience levels along with a vision of building a business incubator for the arts."

click to enlarge It seems likely that Orlando Fringe will take over the downtown space currently occupied by Mad Cow Theatre
Mad Cow Theatre at 55 West in 2012

Whoever moves into the space — if Mad Cow does end up moving out — will also be responsible for those $2,000-plus monthly fees. "As conversations progress with the city we are exploring various sponsorship, grant and underwriting opportunities," Friskics says. "This entire project is reliant on securing funding not only for utilities and base facilities costs, but also raising funds to invest in artists. We are confident we can work through that."

Bungalower's Brendan O'Connor sprinkled a little salt on their coverage of the story, saying: "I’ve been advocating for Fringe to take over this space since back in 2016 and I stand by it," and embedding a "There, I said it" tweet. Fringe, of course, started downtown as a way not only to provide art to Orlando's citizens but also to activate downtown's empty storefronts.

Holsten says, "One of the highest priorities of the city’s shared vision for downtown Orlando is to have a strong presence of cultural and arts amenities within the urban core." With the Dr. Phillips Center almost completely finished, the Creative Village filling out, the annual Immerse festival well-established and the Orlando Museum of Art's announced move, Fringe coming home to roost downtown would be a fittingly closed loop.

As Friskics says, "Downtown has even more up its sleeve. Fringe would be honored to be in on the action."

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