A big year for the Fringe in 2002, as we continue our look back at 20 years of the festival: A new producer, new dates and a shocking start to the season.
Before the 11th Orlando Fringe Festival got underway, it was a season of fire and ice. the “ice” was fun: A “Frosted Fringe” ice-skating party and fund-raiser took place in October 2001 at the RDV Sportsplex to raise money for the upcoming festival.
It turned out the money would be needed more than organizers knew, because the “fire” was a disaster: when the old Bryan Hotel burned on Church Street, many of the Fringe’s belongings went up in flames.
“it was junky, but it was ours,” said new Fringe producer Chris Gibson, who took over from Brook Hanemann.
Among the destroyed: the Fringe master schedule board, podiums, cash registers and tills, banners, ladders, extension cords, fencing, air tubes and blowers, “a ton of paint” and all of the Fringe’s archival material such as old programs and reviews.
But the Fringe spirit went on: With the help of countless volunteers, Gibson and financial manager/associate producer Alauna McMillen built on the work Hanemann began — creating and keeping financial records, slashing the budget and enlisting the help of a newly committed board of directors.
McMillen, a new staffer with a master’s degree in arts management, cut expenses by close to 30 percent.
She consulted with Harris Cotherman O’Keefe and Associates, a Winter Park accounting firm that donated its services. and McMillen found numerous places the budget could be cut — cutting back on bank charges, eliminating a fax line in an office that hadn’t been used in years, thinking ahead to avoid overnight shipping.
Helping out: A group of Rollins College students and faculty put together a computerized scheduling system that should save the producers countless hours.
Within weeks of the fire, though, Fringe supporters offered cash and were planning fund-raisers.
“is the festival going to happen?” Gibson asked rhetorically. “Come hell or high water, it will.”
Perhaps most important, developer Robert Kling of F. F. South & co., which owned Church Street Station, offered to let the festival put five of its indoor venues in the vacant Church Street Exchange building at Pine Street and Garland Avenue, behind Church Street Station.
With two other indoor venues in the Theatre Garage on Amelia Street, the festival had all seven of its indoor venues sewn up weeks earlier than usual.
There was a little extra time to get things ready: 2002 marked the year the festival moved from April to may, in hopes of attracting more college students. that wasn’t the case that year — but a different crowd was helped by the date change.
Gibson said scheduling the festival for may made it easier for the many theme-park employees who put on shows at the Fringe. may is traditionally a much slower time than April at the parks.
Lively crowds delighted the performers. British actresses Joanne Haydock and Sadie Maddocks, who had performed from South Africa to Canada, told the Sentinel the Fringe had one of the most enthusiastic audiences they’ve encountered.
Onstage, T.J. Dawe’s “the Slip-Knot” wowed patrons and Sentinel critic Elizabeth Maupin: “If you could listen to a juggler, and if that juggler were the most accomplished juggler in the world, the experience would be something like listening to T.J. Dawe in the Slip-Knot,” she wrote. “the Slip-Knot is the Fringe at its best.”
And, amazingly, despite the lousy start to the festival season, all the bills were paid for the second year in a row.
“We’re clear,” Gibson reported to the Sentinel. “as soon as the fund-raisers start and our grants start coming in, we’re golden for next year.”
The festival sold nearly 19,000 tickets to more than 6,100 theatergoers, compared with about 17,800 tickets to just under 6,000 theatergoers in 2001.
Those figures had been edging up consistently since the festival started in 1992, when about 2,500 audience members bought about 5,400 tickets.
Those at the 1992 festival had the chance to see 28 shows on four indoor stages. in 2002, there were 63 shows on seven indoor stages, plus a separate schedule for Kids Fringe.
The only person who had a complaint was the Sentinel’s Commander Coconut — who made a funny observation on the lines at festival shows:
“I had to pare back my Fringe Festival-going the final weekend because the actoriness was driving me crazy — not on stage but in line,” he wrote. “every line I was in was full of actory actors talking actory talk about the acting they’d seen by other actors.”
I think we’ve all been in those lines!