To anyone who insists that the Orlando area’s arts have no breadth, I’m officially calling bullshit again, because last Friday I experienced the full spectrum, from the avant garde to the old guard, and all barely 15 miles apart.
Most of us look at leap year as a simple quirk of the calendar, at best a quadrennial opportunity to have an extra day before the March mortgage is due. But to performance artist Brian Feldman, Feb. 29, 2008, was the perfect excuse to let his imagination – and body – fly. Best known for the Feldman Dynamic, a real-life reality series starring his disarmingly dysfunctional family, Brian’s latest brainchild brought his penchant for the bizarre to nearly breathtaking new heights. Every four minutes, for 24 hours, Feldman flung himself from the top of a 12-foot ladder into an awaiting airbag – 366 leaps – for a total of 4,392 vertical feet, all broadcast live over the Internet. Who says there are no new ideas left in art?
Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of this artsy endeavor was its location: smack dab in front of Orlando’s City Hall, thanks to Brian’s influential supporters like Orange County Arts & Cultural Affairs director Terry Olson. When I arrived on the scene, Brian was approaching the three-quarters mark, with 18 hours down and just over 100 leaps to go.
Far from being a one-man show, Brian had production manager Curtiss Lee Mitchell and a small army of volunteers attending to him, including his sister Adrienne and local actor Christian Kelty. As Kelty carnival-barked the seconds remaining, Feldman teetered at the apex, arms akimbo, while Jason Kupfer’s electronic soundscape burbled in the background like a luxury car commercial. With each countdown’s conclusion, Brian catapulted himself skyward, leaping with graceless abandon into the embrace of the “Sans Gear Krush KushioNZ” safety cushion.
Between plummets, Brian changed into a variety of costumes – stuntman overalls, military fatigues, a silver space blanket – to the accompanying clicks of numerous cameras and iPhones. Brian offered me the opportunity to take a flying leap; initially, I demurred. But when he told me that the Sentinel’s Betsy Maupin had served as a test dummy, I figured what the hell. Twelve feet looks taller when you’re looking down, but I managed to twist midair into a backward landing, as instructed, without breaking anything.
Feldman’s “fourfold Artist Statement” talks about considering how we spend time and what risks we choose to take, but as a fellow Jew my concerns were less philosophical: Was he eating enough? Did he need a nosh? He assured me that PowerBars were seeing him through, and as the setting sun signaled Shabbat I skedaddled before we had a Halachic debate over whether leaping is prohibited
WEST SIDE STORY
Just 20 minutes west of downtown (assuming you can navigate the daily improvements to the I-4/408 interchange) sits the newest jewel of Orange County’s arts facilities. The Garden Theatre’s rebirth, 55 years after the storied screen palace’s shuttering, was celebrated Friday night with a spectacular gala of the sort that Winter Garden seldom sees. I admit snickering when general manager Alauna McMillen strongly suggested black tie, but I’m glad I grabbed a tux – this crowd was out of my league. In addition to politicos like Sen. Bill Nelson and commissioner Bill Segal, Harriett Lake was there in pink fur-trimmed fabulousness to bestow her blessing.
After a cocktail hour catered by some of Walt Disney World’s most creative chefs (popcorn-crusted scallop, anyone?), everyone descended into the starlight-ceilinged former cinema for the onstage celebration. Following a charming video documenting the restoration, the curtain rose on Curtains Up!, an original assemblage of musical standards celebrating the theater’s history through “yellow dress moments,” vintage memories of the venerated venue. The concept easily could have gone Guffman, but the professionalism of the leads (Catherine Harrover, France Neil, John Cavazos, Daniel Trujillo) buoyed it above the Blainian – with strong assists from the Garden Community Choir, Bay Street Church of God in Christ Choir and Hands in Art Puppets.
Act Two starred Orlando native and Broadway star Davis Gaines, accompanied by Wicked pianist Carol Anderson. Their set of Great White Way golden oldies, encored with “Music of the Night” from Gaines’ longtime Phantom role, was rapturously received. The distraction, aside from a few understandable acoustic adjustments, was the distribution of cellophane-wrapped flowers at intermission; the crinkling could drive you crazy.
The best part of the evening (other than the free wine and chocolate-covered strawberries) was the palpable enthusiasm exhibited by the Winter Garden community. Alauna shared with me stories of the remarkable generosity local businesses have shown in their support. As I walked back to my car, which I had conveniently parked for free along the beautifully maintained, pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why can’t we have this in Orlando?” Twenty minutes isn’t far at all ….