Arts & Culture » The Green Room

The year of living dangerously



In the gift business, the first-year milestone is designated as the "paper anniversary." So after 12 months in operation, how does iMPACTE! Productions look on paper?

It looks all right, says founder Tod Kimbro, the gifted playwright who opened the iMPACTE! theater one year ago this week as an outlet for his young company's creative vision. He's not denying, however, that the going has been rocky at the Winter Park black-box venue, where the attempt to translate his long-standing success as a contributor to the annual Orlando International Fringe Festival into a full-time theatrical concern has been beset by monetary uncertainty.

"We went through a very strenuous summer in which we had to scrape by very, very closely," Kimbro says. "We were really depending on show attendance -- but we weren't getting much. For a week or two, we thought the theater might have to be closed down."

That may surprise outsiders, given that the iMPACTE! space owes its existence to the deep pockets of some indulgent relatives. (Public knowledge of that familial lifeline has set the troupe apart from its peers in Orlando theater, some of whom have pointedly reminded me that their own efforts would be much easier if they had "rich parents to pay [their] way.") How can the company be worried about solvency, when its residency on East Semoran Boule-vard was supposedly guaranteed for two years?

"The reality is that the deep pockets suddenly became not so deep," Kimbro says. (Translation: A parent's love may know no limits, but his bank's patience is distinctly finite.) "So we were forced to look to ourselves. Some personal checks were issued. Some people donated money."

His backers against the wall, so to speak, Kimbro has turned to other bailout measures -- like selling ad space in a master program for iMPACTE!'s 2001-2002 season. That season begins this Friday, Sept. 14, with a revival of the group's 1999 Fringe hit, "Electra at the Wiener Stand." (An informal anniversary party follows Saturday's performance.) Program ad sales have been brisk, Kimbro says: "We're looking really good this month."

In the past year, Kimbro has realized that art and commerce are vastly different taskmasters; if he had to do it all over again, he admits, he would have brought more business people on board. But for now, his goal is to intensify the input of friends and other interested volunteers. Every duty he has to attend to personally, he frets, takes him away from his writing. During iMPACTE!'s first year, he churned out original scripts at a breakneck pace. Signs of fatigue lurk in the new season's schedule, which relies heavily on reprises of shows from the troupe's back catalog.

No production is as emblematic of iMPACTE!'s exciting but unpredictable future as the new "Electra," which features only one original cast member. Company regular Mike Marinaccio is busy performing in The Countess at Theatre Downtown; Meghan Drewett, who originated "Electra"'s lead role of Betty -- a sex-abuse survivor who passes her misery on to everyone who cares about her -- is tired and taking a break from acting in toto. Into her shoes steps Nikki Darden, an actress whose interesting work a few years ago at Performance Space Orlando moved me to write that she was bound for glory on at least the local level. She hasn't done a single play since. (Madame Cleo I ain't.)

Kimbro's most interesting new offering is January's "Jezebel's Laundromat," which joins "Electra" in his planned "white-trash disaster trilogy."

"It's a play I've been wanting to write for three years now," he says. "It's about a mother who tries to drown her baby in a washing machine. [It's] the comedic side of infanticide."

Welcome to Year II of iMPACTE! Productions, when everything comes out in the wash.

The best waylaid plans

Last weekend ended up a far different animal than it had appeared from a distance. Ryan Smith never made it to Orlando for his announced homecoming gig at Sak Comedy Lab; "callbacks in L.A." was the proffered excuse. (That means TV commercials, not police lineups.) And Thursday did not bring the debut of The Suburban Rhapsody, the late-night comedy series that was due to begin airing on WUPN-TV Channel 65. According to executive producer Greg Barris, the buyout of the station by Fox delayed the show until early October -- and shifted it to the 1:30 a.m. Monday time slot. Undaunted, Barris and crew threw a premiere party for themselves Sept. 9 at Elements, drawing a tight-knit group of friends and family to watch a 20-minute preview of the series.

Has its forced move to the Sunday slot -- a far more expensive market than Thursday's, Barris says -- put "Rhapsody" in a bit of a money crunch? (The preview package hinted at a creativity crunch, but maybe it was just a poorly chosen reel.) The show is seeking short films and musical performers to flesh out future episodes, with each applicant charged a $25 entry fee. The winner(s) receive a prize package that includes air time on the program and participation in some film-related events Barris hopes to present at Elements. What do the losers get? Bubkes. Barris isn't troubled by the ethical questions posed by this "contest" arrangement: He compares it to the entry fee charged by the Sundance Film Festival. But he has a lot of viewers to attract before he can justify that analogy.

Home is where the art is

Kudos to Rebecca Ellis, who opened her Maitland home to a healthy-sized crowd of art lovers for last Saturday's Pink: Stuckist Exhibition. The delightful evening of paintings, snacks and chatter renewed my faith that the city's slowness in offering up serviceable arts venues will be offset by the passion and industriousness of grass-roots types who will stop at nothing to keep culture in Orlando -- even if it means volunteering their own homes for the cause. Further, Ellis had the good taste and foresight to decorate her makeshift gallery space with balloon animals, a winning gambit that I urge the Orlando Museum of Art to emulate sooner rather than later.

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