I was first introduced to fringe in 2004, through Tim Mooney, who’s show, Moliere Than Thou, I had stage managed at the university. I thought Tim’s show was awesome, and the acting workshop he had conducted earlier in the day was fantastic. I subscribed to Tim’s blog and found out he had written another one-man show called “Criteria” and was performing it at this thing called the Orlando Fringe Festival that summer. I wanted to see this new show, I wanted to see Tim again (as we had formed the beginnings of a friendship over beer and karaoke the night of his show), and I wanted to find out what this thing called “fringe festival” was all about. It intrigued me.
But picking up and going to Orlando on a whim isn’t entirely practical, and I needed a stronger reason to spend the money than just “I want to.” So I made a deal with myself. If I sat down and actually wrote the children’s story that I’d been carrying around in my head for four years — words on paper, start to finish — then I would reward myself with a trip to the Orlando Fringe.
And, I did.
(I’ve shown it to an agent, btw, who liked it but wants it shorter. Maybe I should make a deal with myself that I can’t get on the plane to Prague unless I’ve sat down and done the edits. Maybe I can make going to fringe festivals dependent on writing, and then I’ll actually build a body of work.)
So I flew to Orlando, checked into my hotel, and went off in search of this thing called Fringe. It was a little bit hard to find. I guess I’d been expecting something like a downtown street blocked off or something, with crowds of people and music and beer and bright colors and a lot of energy, but really this festival was just a bunch of theatre spaces spread out around the city, with only a newspaper insert for a guide. It was more like a scavenger hunt, to be honest. I studied the insert, the descriptions of the shows, the times, the venues, the map, and picked out a 2:00 show that I thought I might want to see. It seemed like a crapshoot; all I really had to go by to choose each show was a two-inch column containing the show title, a picture, and a very, very short description of the play, half of which consisted of the names of the people involved in the performance. And many of the shows sounded downright weird.
But I gamely hopped a bus and found the venue. I got there early, in fact, expecting to find a long line of people waiting to get in. I was wrong. For a long time it was just me, standing in the dimly lit back hallway of some sort of secluded, quiet arts complex, alone. Not even a box office, or an usher to talk to. A horrible feeling settled over me. I worried I had flown all the way to Orlando for some lame, bizarre little half-assed theatre festival filled with amateur clowns and kooky performers and bad shows and even worse audiences. I was lonely. I felt weird and out of place. Orlando was beginning to feel like Mars.
But then another woman joined me in line, and I started asking her questions about the fringe. We discussed shows that she wanted to see, and I learned more about what to expect as the day progressed. More people joined us, the doors opened, we took our seats and the show started. And with that, I was hooked.
I saw a lot of shows in Orlando. Some were rather awful, most were quite good. A few were awesome. I’ve heard that one of the shows I saw, “The Nutty Professor” by Michael Andrew, has actually been picked up by Jerry Lewis and is finally headed to Broadway (after a few bumps in the road). Patrick Combs with his show called Man 1 Bank 0 was absolutely hilarious. I remember a show about a clown in a wedding dress on a park bench. There was a game show. A serious drama. A show about a woman with a disorder that made her unable to recognize faces, effectively making her own mother a complete stranger. There were so many shows of such variety to choose from that, even if I didn’t like a particular show, I couldn’t possibly be bored (for more than an hour). It was like being at a buffet table. If I didn’t like one thing I’d chosen, I could always look forward to tasting the next.
I met Tim after a day or so there, and we had lunch. I met a friend and her husband later in the day, and we all had a blast at the beer tent that night. I filled my days exploring downtown Orlando. I filled my nights with theatre. It was hot. I was free. Art surrounded me. I was happy.
And that’s how I came to love fringe.