Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it's also what makes us continue to learn and grow, even after we've passed our quarter-century mark. That's the message behind "Stay curious: If you don't go, you'll never know," the new slogan for the Orlando Fringe Festival's 26th season.
"What we're trying to do is engage those people who have been to Fringe before about the excitement and the mystery that is the Fringe, because until it opens you never really know what the big hit show is going to be," explains returning Festival producer Michael Marinaccio. "But [we're] also reaching out to a broader audience and letting them know how much there is to uncover at the Fringe."
The biggest and longest-running such performing arts festival in America, Orlando Fringe returned May 16 for 14 days of uncensored entertainment from around the world. With more than 150 ticketed shows and additional off-campus venues, Fringe has expanded far beyond the four corners of Loch Haven Park. The festival wraps up May 29 with a day full of Patron's Pick performances, winding down into the closing ceremonies and awards at 9:30 p.m.
Expectations are that 2017 Fringe attendance will approach or exceed last year's record-setting 52,000-plus ticketed patrons. That's not even factoring in the 20,000-plus who attended a show on the free outdoor stage, or the 10,000-plus visitors at Kids Fringe, which has been moved from the Mennello Museum to beside the Orlando Fire Museum.
Coming off last year's silver anniversary, the Fringe faces a season of transition. Former executive director George Wallace has left to help run Indianapolis's Fringe, but his successor Alauna Friskics won't be fully installed until August. In the meantime, local producer Fred Berning Jr. and Fringe board member Doug Davis are serving as interim executive directors.
"George left us in a really good place," Marinaccio says, adding that Friskics will be on hand "learning, observing, talking with high-level sponsors and donors, and meeting regularly to talk about the challenges."
"There's not a lot of big changes this year," assures Marinaccio, aside from a new ticketing system behind the scenes. "We're trying to keep things as consistent as possible from last year, with George leaving."
That hasn't stopped them from implementing a few new ideas, such as a "soapbox" on the lawn where anyone – artists or patrons – can sign up for five to 30 minutes of stage time, whether to promote a show, perform a site-specific work or simply speak their mind. The soapbox was inspired by Speaker's Corner in London's Hyde Park and by street entertainers Marinaccio experienced at the Edinburgh and Edmonton fringe festivals.
"In a lot of other festivals, busking is much more of an element. In Orlando it's illegal to busk ... but inside our fenced-in area, we control what happens in there. So people can busk; we wanted to give an opportunity for that to happen."
Also new this year are special performances of select shows for adults with developmental disabilities. The exclusive shows will all be opened by Cody Clark, a Kentucky illusionist on the autism spectrum who is presenting his magic show A Different Way of Thinking at Loch Haven's Junior Achievement Center (which has officially become the White Venue).
The year's Fringe logo features a large question mark with a circle of strange characters – a flying cat, a puppet astronaut, a chicken with sunglasses – exploding out from behind it. That's an apt impression of what the Fringe lawn will look like (or what patrons' heads feel like) by the end of the Festival. So if that image arouses your interest, there's no better place to satisfy your curiosity.