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Arts & Culture


Stage in a suitcase

Four Fringe favorites who got their start in Orlando describe life on the Fringe Festival circuit

Photo: , License: N/A

Photo: , License: N/A

TJ Dawe

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Romance aside, fellow Fringe performers “become family in a very, very special way,” according to Padgett. “Everyone is riding a similar wave of experiences. … In the trenches, fighting the good fight, everyone is unified by such a unique experience. You form really special bonds and friendships.” Strickland agrees, saying “a huge part of the Fringe for me is just the sense of community that I sometimes find in stand-up, but quite frankly not nearly as often as I do at a Fringe.”

But that camaraderie can have dangers, Dockery warns: “As great as festivals are, they can be a bit disorienting, especially as they come one after the other, back to back for months on end. Each festival is that particular city’s big party, and so you’re always at a big party. Luckily, I’m very social and love big parties, but goodness, it’s quite something to be at what can feel like one long party for six months a year, every single year.” Padgett coaches those tackling the tour that “doing this two-week cycle for four months straight – eating on the road, traveling – can really take a toll on your body. You have to make a concerted effort to take care of yourself, to have downtime and eat healthy food, and – god help me – go to a gym. If you don’t, by the time you get to Vancouver in September, the end of the circuit, you’re toast.”

Though they offer some constructive nitpicks (Padgett wishes the outdoor stage was “a more legitimate Fringe venue, rather than just something people walk by on their way to fried PB&Js”), these artists repeatedly return to Orlando with praise for our participants and patrons. “Orlando Fringe is a gem. It really is,” asserts Padgett. “A lot of the touring guys who did not start in that town go back to it, because it’s a good place to be.”

One thing all these veterans would appreciate is more support for artists less established than themselves. “I would encourage the audiences in Orlando to see more shows by artists they’ve never heard of,” Dockery recommends. “If someone’s taken the trouble to bring a piece of theater from a thousand miles away, they’ve got to be on to something. Or they’re crazy, but that could be a wild experience, too.”

Strickland shares similar sentiments, saying, “I’ve seen lots of bad shows, but I’ve never been disappointed by my willingness to take a risk at a festival. Because there’s always one show that you throw your hands up in the air and say ‘I have no idea what I’m going to see,’ and often it’s one of the top five shows of the Fringe.”

Padgett speaks for many Fringe performers when he says, “There are a lot of people who have dreams of pursuing their passions, and they don’t for various reasons. The Fringe Festival circuit really offers a chance for people who have something in their heart that may be a little off the beaten path, to go and do it … and even make a living at it. No matter what happens I get to stand in front of audiences and do the show that I care most about for a professional living.

“The best thing about it all is focusing on a sense of gratitude, never losing sight of the fact that I get to do this.”

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