Perhaps no area organization exemplifies the dizzying pivots artists have been forced to perform since March better than the Orlando Fringe festival, which was among Orlando's earliest major arts events to go fully virtual back in May. Under the leadership of executive director Alauna McMillen and producer Lindsay Taylor, Orlando Fringe hosted nearly two solid weeks of daily streaming content, providing a financial lifeline for festival performers whose livelihoods were on lockdown.
Now, Fringe is here to help us shake off this hellish past year and welcome the new one with its fifth annual Winter Mini-Fest (ofwinterminifest.com), which kicks off Orlando's 2021 cultural calendar on Jan. 7-10. While "virtual" was the watchword for 2020, "hybrid" is now the name of the game, at least until vaccines are widely distributed. This year's Winter Mini-Fest is no exception, with a blend of socially distanced live performances at Loch Haven Park plus 25 virtual shows recorded by Fringe performers from around the world, including past Festival favorites Ryan Adam Wells, Savannah Pedersen, Fourth Wall Ensemble, DK Reinemer, BeeJay Aubertin-Clinton and Lily E. Garnett.
You can consume the online content on demand, either by paying $10 per program or buying a $75 access pass for four days of unlimited bingeing in your bathrobe. Or better yet, reserve a private pod or chair at the "socially responsible hangouts" held nightly at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center's courtyard and enjoy outdoor screenings of select virtual shows in the vague vicinity of fellow Fringe fanatics. The Mini-Fest's traditional beer tent, featuring food from Ace Cafe, will also be available; a $5 cover charge for the Lawn will apply to help control capacity. Safety precautions will include temperature checks before you enter the Festival and mandatory masks throughout the event.
Carrying the banner for in-person entertainment at the Winter Mini-Fest will be Unhappy Accident, an original site-specific satire of television's late "happy little trees" painter Bob Ross. The show comes from Bruce Ryan Costella, creator of 2018's award-winning Muttnik, who held socially distanced "Spooky & Gay" cabarets outside his house in October. His latest outdoor work, which will be performed nightly under a giant tree near the Orlando Museum of Art, is described as "a darkly comedic exploration of identity, art and obsession featuring on stage art and projection."
The remaining in-person performances at Winter Mini-Fest will actually be part of Kids Fringe, held only on Saturday, Jan. 9. WeFlip Entertainment will perform acrobatic circus acts; Brain Bros presents a Hamilton-inspired rap about Frederick Douglass; and Phoenix Tears returns with a Winter edition of their "Stardust Kingdom" audio drama series.
Producer Lindsay Taylor says the diversity of Winter Mini-Fest offerings "truly taps into all the branches of our festival that our most loyal patrons have come to love over the years." She also calls the weekend event "a perfect lead-in to our 30th anniversary in May" and hopes that it will help fans start the year off on a high note. As a longtime Fringe follower, I can't think of a better way to finally blow off 2020 and welcome in a brighter new year.