The stretch of Semoran Boulevard that connects east Orlando to Winter Park is nobody's idea of a cultural corridor. Sure, it's a great place to shop for a new car or gorge yourself on heavily breaded meals. But live theater? Well, watching those sudden summer winds tear the shingles from the roof off High Tide Harry's restaurant must have been pretty dramatic. But that's about it.
Yet this is the burg in which playwright/director Tod Kimbro and his iMPACTE! Productions players have installed their eponymously named theater space, which opens this Friday, Sept. 15. Nestled in the corner of a strip mall at the intersection of Semoran and University boulevards (between the Waccamaw and Stein Mart stores), iMPACTE! Productions will provide a full-time outlet for the creative spark the group has displayed in the last four editions of the Orlando International Fringe Festival. All we have to do is find it.
"It's not too far away from downtown at night," Kimbro counters. "It's about 15 minutes. `And` I just have a really good feeling about being close to where we came from." He means the University of Central Florida, the troupe's alma mater.
College students, Kimbro says, are the target audience for Caffeine, the theater's debut offering. Starting Friday, the iMPACTE! cast will perform a continuing comedy -- their answer to a TV sitcom -- set in a coffee bar chock full of appropriately jittery employees. A new episode will be unveiled every month, with a "season finale" at next April's Fringe Festival.
Customers will be allowed to mill about the set before show times, treating themselves to unlimited java refills with the purchase of a $5 mug. And there's plenty of room to mingle. Spacious as far as black boxes go, iMPACTE! seats 88 customers within purple and blue walls that give way to satanic design elements and candelabras in the restrooms. Add word-of-mouth, and a hipster hangout is born.
A week after "Caffeine's" bow, performances will begin of Suckers: Your Guide on How to Fit In With Non-Conformists, a revival of Kimbro's satire of next-generation role-playing that was a hit at Fringe 1998. Instead of the regular iMPACTE! stable (they're busy with "Caffeine"), the new "Suckers" features on all-star roster of up-and-coming Orlando talent, including Trey Stafford, Sheila McIntosh and Blake Gardner of the Art's Sake Resident Ensemble. Fringe Festival producer/artistic director Brook Hanemann will join the cast for the first and third weekends.
Fellow companies are banking on iMPACTE! as an adopted home. Augmenting the fall schedule are the Cerulean Group's production of Patrick Marber's "Closer," improv comedy from the THEM team and Sunday artists' workshops led by the Invisible Arts Project.
Don't expect this ambitious venture to close up shop if ticket sales are slow. A two-year lease has been signed, reflecting the contributions of private investors who aren't demanding instant profit.
"I'm one of those people who never had a fallback plan," Kimbro says, sounding relieved at his freedom. "I've never really had an option to do anything else."
Sak drops the soap
"Caffeine" won't be the only faux TV show gracing our stages this autumn. Wednesday, Sept. 20, marks the premiere of "Foolish Hearts," an "improvised soap opera" to be performed every Wednesday at Sak Comedy Lab.
Set inside a movie studio, the self-generating comedy will be populated by a cadre of "Hollywood stereotypes" -- some played by Sak regulars and students, others by professional fools from Disney and Universal. (Members of THEM and Discount Comedy Outlet will be in there, too.)
The show isn't totally new ground for the Sak squad: Their experiments with the "improv soap opera" format began five years ago and continued through "Soapfully Yours," a late-night favorite at this year's Fringe. But "Foolish Hearts" is certainly the most extensive, with new episodes coming every week until Valentine's Day 2001 (except for a brief holiday hiatus Dec. 20 and 27).
Wanna bet that almost nothing on NBC's fall slate lasts that long?
Join the click
If Stephen King can do it, so can he. Gregory Patrick -- the confrontational performance artist whose arias of sex, recrimination and religion haven't been heard in Orlando for more than a year -- has resurfaced online with an e-book edition of his 1999 autobiography, "My Lovely Foe."
Expanded by 60 pages and rechristened Foe, the uncensored, often inflammatory text is available for download. For a charge of $5, readers can learn the details of Patrick's checkered personal journey, from the harrowing debauchery he claims to have engaged in at The Parliament House to the renewal he sought inside a Benedictine monastery. As with King's "The Plant," the honor system applies: Payment (via check or money order) is not required before reading.
Even if duplicitous web surfers stiff Patrick for the five bills, he says he'll consider the undertaking a success.
"We'll worry about making money off of it later," he states. Right now, his focus is "getting it into people's hands. I want to look at the hits and see if I've made some kind of impact." A twin goal: redefining the roles of publishers and distributors in the dissemination of written materials.
Also for sale on the website is "The Scribe," a limited-edition (only 20 copies) reprinting of Patrick's monastic journals. The cost? A whopping $200, a figure that remunerates the author for rewriting his original musings by hand with a quill pen and having the pages bound in leather.
Speaking of leather and bondage, what does old patron Patrick think of the new renovations to The Parliament House?
"They've done a tremendous job in restructuring the parking lot," he chuckles. "But we all know the back alley is still where it's at."
You fill up my census
If you're standing inside the Icon nightclub Saturday, Sept. 23, and a stranger asks you a highly inappropriate question, don't haul off and belt him one. He'll be an interviewer for "Sex I.Q.," a TV special about carnal mores that the Moonrock Entertainment production company is filming for broadcast Sept. 30 on WOFL-TV (Fox 35).
Director of photography Freddy Edwards says that the Icon crowd will be invited to answer a variety of probing queries, including "What's your sexual fantasy?" and "Does size really matter?" The results will be shared in a program that's intended to educate viewers ages 18 to 45 about sexual issues "in a nice way."
"We're keeping it low-tone," Edwards says. "This is not like an HBO special."
Respondents will have to stay up late to see their mugs on the air: The 30-minute "Sex I.Q." will air in the 1:30 a.m. time slot. According to a WOFL account executive, it's actually a paid program that "doesn't reflect the thoughts or feelings of the station." Size may not matter, but image, as they say, is everything.