This year, the world turns to the Orlando Fringe Festival

Among the guests at this year’s Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival are dozens of fans who have a vested interest in seeing how the annual event unfolds. As host of the biennial World Fringe Congress, the Orlando festival welcomes more than 70 representatives from as far away as Sweden, Japan and Fiji to watch plays, attend workshops and learn what ‘Orlando has to offer.

“We come together as a community,” said Alauna Friskics, executive director of Orlando Fringe. “We share best practices and stories.”

The goal of the Fringe World Congress is to strengthen Fringe festivals everywhere, she said, and with its track record of success, the Orlando organization is uniquely qualified to help. The Orlando Fringe, which was established in 1992, is the oldest continuously operating Fringe in the United States and attracts more than 50,000 visitors to Loch Haven Park each year in the second half of May.

“It solidifies us as a Fringe that has been around long enough to build a strong foundation,” Friskics said. “So younger Fringes can look to us to mentor them, and we’re very honored to do so.”

Such mentorship goes both ways: “We look to larger Fringes to help us grow,” Friskics said.

The fringe festival movement began in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1947. The “Fringe” refers to short, independent productions of theatre, music, dance, comedy and the like, often performed in non-traditional spaces. For years, Orlando’s Fringe took place in abandoned storefronts downtown. These days most shows take place in actual theaters or auditoriums at venues such as Orlando Shakes, Orlando Repertory Theater and the Renaissance Theater around Loch Haven Park.

There are many things that organizations can learn from each other.

“The North American definition of what Fringe is is very different from the European or Australian definition,” Friskics said. Among the differences: Outside of North America, Fringe festivals generally do not run their own venues. In addition, foreign festivals organize the shows presented; in North America, a non-jury lottery system is more common. Any randomly selected show can be part of the festival.

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Orlando Fringe officials have gleaned ideas from attending previous World Congresses, Friskics said. The 2020 convention was held in Adelaide, Australia, while leaders met in Edinburgh in 2018. Seeing how other festivals have made their outdoor spaces more welcoming directly led to changes in Orlando, Friskics said : Better signage, new chairs for the park lawn and private cabanas that are available for rent.

“We came back and created a comprehensive environmental strategy,” she said.

While in town, visiting Fringe officials attended panel discussions on topics such as how best to move forward after the COVID-19 pandemic and how to create stronger Fringe circuits to keep touring artists more regularly employed. They heard from speakers including Robert Hertenstein, senior director of entertainment production for Norwegian Cruise Lines, which has hired Fringe artists.

About 70 Fringe leaders who were unable to travel to Orlando in person were able to participate online, including officials from the Czech Republic and the United Arab Emirates, the first Arab country to host a Fringe festival.

As online communication has become increasingly important during the pandemic, Friskics said, nothing beats the power of face-to-face contact: Ideas can arise while watching shows together or even during a recreational outing. at Universal Orlando.

“We share a lot and I feel so connected to these people,” Friskics said. “There are a lot of positives that come out of this communication.”

Find me on Twitter @matt_on_arts, facebook.com/matthew.j.palm or write to me at mpalm@orlandosentinel.com. Find more arts news and reviews at OrlandoSentinel.com/arts and more about this year’s Orlando Fringe Festival at orlandofringe.org.

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