Pity poor Thanksgiving, the forgotten holiday. This festival of gratitude has been flung aside in our sprint from Halloween straight into Christmas. Even OW is propagating the under-promotion of our brave (i.e., genocidal) Pilgrim forebears’ Wampanoag potluck by publishing this wish-list-filled holiday guide on a day when we should be thinking gratitude instead of gifts. I’m bucking this trend with a first for me: a 99.44 percent snark-free column devoted to the things in Orlando’s art and culture that I’m genuinely thankful for.
For starters, I’m grateful to Orlando Weekly for carrying my regular ramblings during the last four years, which is at least three and a half years longer than I originally anticipated before running out of things to say.
Second, I’m thankful for all of the artists and performers in Orlando whose work I experienced in the past year. Researching this column, I’m constantly reminded that Orlando has inhabitants every bit as talented and as creative as you would find in New York or L.A. And even if I didn’t write about your work, or if I wrote something less than complimentary, I’m still grateful you’re out there making Orlando more than just a one-mouse town.
On the flip side, I’m also grateful to the theme parks(even though it’s anti-progressive to anthropomorphize corporations these days) for drawing me, and a lot of other creative people, into town. I would never have moved here if it weren’t for Mickey; I’ve built my writing career on Universal’s back; I’ve even made a buck or two off Shamu. But don’t worry, I’ve given most of it back. For about $2 a day, my annual passes allow me to travel from my couch to Everest, Hogwarts or Tatooine in 30 minutes or less. The parks aren’t exactly a bargain, but I’d call that a better value than my Bright House bill.
This year, I’m thankful for Orlando’s ever-burgeoning food culture. The number of food trucks has exploded in the area, garnering national television attention. We finally have enough rolling restaurants around to sprout pod politics and rivalries, just like in a “real” city! I’m also thankful for the many food-centric festivals I’ve attended, from Veg Fest to last Sunday’s Winter Park Harvest Festival. And a final edible arigato for my latest restaurant obsession, the new Koy Wan Hibachi Buffet in Altamonte Springs; if unlimited unagi isn’t cause for giving thanks, I don’t know what is.
Speaking of festivals, I’m grateful to all the people who work hard to produce the cultural festivals that brighten up Orlando’s calendar. Established events like the Florida Film Festival and Orlando Cabaret Festival and emerging events like the Orlando Improv Festival and Orlando Comedy Festival demolish the argument that there’s never anything to do in this town. I’m particularly thankful that the board of the Orlando International Fringe Festival (Fringe is far and away my favorite annual Orlando event) selected Michael Marinaccio as the festival’s new producer. It’s a crucial job, but I’m confident Fringe is in good hands. Their new hire, who has collaborated on several Fringe shows with me, is a first-rate choice and the second-best person who applied – after myself, of course.
On a more serious note, I’m thankful I had a chance to know some of the amazing people who left our arts community in the past year. Some, like United Arts CEO Margot Knight and radio reporter Katie Ball, moved away to follow their bliss. Others, like actress Kate Singleton and journalist Kelly Fitzpatrick, were taken far too soon, leaving me sad but reminding me to be grateful for this little time we are given.
Finally, I give thanks that, no matter how big Orlando grows, there’s still some space for the little guy. Last Friday night I was among a dozen patrons at Orlando Shakes for Five People Saying No, One Person Saying Yes, the debut of a production from the Roark Faction (theroarkfaction.org). The seven loosely connected segments in this multidisciplinary sampler were a bit scattershot and beset by technical stumbles. But you have to love the passion (or at least chutzpah) of young founders Samuel Butcher and Stephanie McMahon, who promise in their program notes to be “leading while others follow and screaming while others whisper.” As long as Orlando has ambitious youth with artistic urges – and accessible venues (including Urban ReThink, Stardust and Dandelion) where they can exercise them – I’ll remain thankful to be a citizen of the City Beautiful.