For most people, the 28th annual Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival starts on May 14 with the purchase of a button. For the actors, writers, producers and others taking part in the performances, it really began with a lottery drawing on December 3, 2018.
“I was watching it on Facebook Live,” says Luke Balagia, who will be in the Fringe for the first time. “When they said my name, the whole world just kind of melted away. I was just kind of stunned. I had a few seconds of just pure happiness, and then the panic set in.”
With the popularity of the Orlando Fringe, organizers implemented the live lottery system to keep the Festival unjuried. Whether participants are first timers, like Balagia and his show “How to Eat a Bear,” or have been in Fringe for years, all applicants have the same chance of their number being drawn.
“I’ve been in 20 festivals,” said Eric Pinder, who applied with “Driving Miss Cherry Blossom,” a show he wrote and premiered at the 2004 Orlando Fringe. “This will be my 21st. I never go to the lottery drawing because of my pathetic luck. I’ve been denied by the lottery something like six times. This time I was second to last to be picked. Thanks, universe!”
According to Michael Marinaccio, the Orlando Fringe Festival’s producer, 350 local, national and international applications are vying for just 100 venue spots at the 2019 Fringe. Including the Bring Your Own Venue and site-specific shows, that translates to 140 ticketed shows in 2019.
Even with these odds stacked against them, not all of the performers have a completed show when they apply.
“When we applied, the show was a really well planned out opening number, and that was about it,” says Toni Chandler, producer of “The Night Circus.” “Everything else was a bunch of sketches and Post-it notes with ideas that didn’t necessarily make any sense all together.”
David Lee, who received the Orlando
Fringe Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016, was selected in the lottery for the 2019 Festival. A veteran of festivals in New York and Edinburgh as well as Orlando, Lee still waited for the lottery before pursuing an essential part of his show.
“My piece this year is three Ray Bradbury short stories,” says Lee, whose play is entitled “H2O.” “They were already written and published of course. I didn’t seek permission from the agency that represents Bradbury’s work until I was securely in the festival.”
The thought of the lottery didn’t stop Ana Cuellar from starting on her 2019 show, “Hombre,” before being selected. She was artistic director and choreographer for “LUNA,” the 2018 Fringe Patron’s Pick.
“Last year’s experience was so rewarding that I actually conceived my new project before I applied,” says Cuellar. “Once I found out I was picked for Fringe, I continued with the creation of the show.”
Like Cuellar, Lily Garnett was inspired to create a show after participating in a festival.
“I went to Edmonton Fringe Festival in August with a touring show,” says Garnett. “I’ve always loved Orlando Fringe, and I loved the concept of getting new works going. When I went up to Edmonton, I saw all these solo artists who were touring and were writing their own stuff. I thought, ‘Okay, well, I want to do that.’”
Two weeks later, she had a first draft of her one-woman show “War Paint.” Soon after, she applied and was selected in the lottery for this year’s Orlando Fringe.
For artists like Garnett, the Fringe is a part of a bigger strategy. Her plan is to apply to other festivals so she can tour with the show, and she’s already been accepted to perform at the Kansas City Fringe in July.
Similarly, Balagia has aspirations beyond this Fringe. He’s also learning that winning the festival lottery is just the first step.
“I’m doing everything,” he says. “I just got a bunch of gauze bandages for a costume. I have to make all the props. I have to make a head-to-toe cast. I have to make boxing gloves with bear traps attached to them. I have to make a baseball bat with knives coming out of it. When you kill a bear, you have to go all in.”
Tickets for individual Fringe shows go on sale April 15. Teaser shows for local participants are also being held that day. Opening night for the 28th annual Fringe Festival is May 14.