As Orlando Weekly's arts and culture columnist, I usually attempt to observe our town's entertainments with a critical – even, occasionally, jaundiced – eye. But there's one annual event around which my customary facade of journalistic objectivity completely collapses. I'm a Fringe Festival fanboy, and I'm not afraid to say it.
I confess that when I first moved here, in 1996, I had never heard of the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, and I didn't even attend until invited to see a friend's show a few years later. That first experience was far from glamorous – the venue was a derelict downtown storefront, and the play was atrocious – but I was helplessly hooked. In the dozen years since, I don't think I've missed more than one or two festivals, and since the mid-aughts it's been a religious obligation on my annual itinerary.
How do I love the Fringe? Let me count the ways:
n I love Fringe's accessibility. Though it has a reputation (not entirely unearned) as a haven for foul-mouthed freaks, the festival truly has something for every taste. Didn't like what you saw? You only lost an hour and $10, and something entirely different is starting down the hall.
n I love Fringe's intensity. When else in Orlando can you live and breathe art for 13 solid days? I'll probably see two dozen shows within the first week, which is more than I'll see all summer.
n I love Fringe's profitability. No one gets rich and famous as a result of Fringe, with the possible exception of Toxic Audio. But each of the five Fringe shows I've produced since 2005 has earned enough to put a few bucks in the participants' pockets. For independent impresarios, there's no easier place to at least break even.
n I love Fringe's edibility. Most of the year I subsist on salads and ramen, but the Fringe's food vendors make me say “eff it” and eat omnivorously. If there's a way to fry it – from PB&J to frog legs – you'll find it here. And there's always glorious beer to wash it down. Which leads me to …
n I love Fringe's sociability. I'm usually the last guy to go out and party and the first to head home. But something about the spirit of Fringe inspires me to hang out on the Loch Haven lawn, pull up a plastic chair and sip suds until long after I should be in bed.
n Finally, I love Fringe's compatibility. On a purely personal level, I met my wife on the Fringe lawn in 2007. I'm not implying the festival is a meat market for Orlando's creative class. But it is an excellent place to meet like-minded people, as long as your mind likes exploring undiscovered entertainment.
So if you see me around the Fringe, don't forget say hello – I'm not just a reviewer, I'm a fellow fan.