Memorial Day weekend is upon us. For every other holiday, there are a variety of ways to celebrate. Sometimes I don’t know my Thanksgiving plans until two weeks before. As a student, I had a part-time job in which I always worked Easter. Sometimes, I’ve even celebrated the Fourth of July without fireworks.
But I’ll be damned if I celebrate Memorial Day in any other way except Fringe. The Orlando Fringe Festival, to be specific – the first in North America and one weekend in which I get to come back to my beloved hometown and celebrate in the kookiest way imaginable.
Three years ago, I graduated college after a long spell at UCF and moved down to South Florida to follow a teaching gig and a boy. That had not been the plan more than 6 months before the actual move took place. And the only reason you need to know this is so that you’ll understand how much I love, miss, and used to wish I’d never left my beloved hometown of Orlando. Down south, the gig is still surprisingly good, but the boy is long gone and I found a newer, much improved one, who I’m marrying next year. Thus, I have made a new home in South Florida, as much as it makes me cringe to say that, and I don’t intend on leaving for awhile.
And in my field, as the days get closer and closer to summer, you just start to go more and more crazy. Your head heats up in strange ways, and the days just drudge and drudge onward. There is little you can do to get yourself through those last, horrible weeks.
But each and every glorious and gloriouser Memorial Day weekend, I pack up my car, sleep on my mom’s and my friends’ couches, and prepare to bask in the glow of the best my hometown has to offer. It’s about the spirit of a town coming alive. I’ve read interviews with folks who say that Orlando desperately needed a festival like this to bring non-commercial interests to town, and to wipe away the plastic façade that so many people associate with the town. I don’t think that’s correct. I think Fringe instead awakens the otherwise less connected creative forces from all over the region.
Best of all, it’s when the freaks come out to play. Plenty of shows travel to get here, but the crowds they attract have always been here, and so many local troupes have so much to offer. In my real life, I have to act demure, dress well, and set a good example. At Fringe, far away from my work life, I can eat vegan soul food with people who enjoy such things, paint with my feet, hug bald guys in the name of scavenger hunts, sample absinthe, play guess-the-gender with pals while watching the Varietease crew, kiss camels, geek out about math & pianos, strike up conversations with old friends and new buddies, and watch weirdoes set off fire extinguishers indoors, for no apparent reason.
It’s divine. Just like in Happy Gilmore, when the title character imagines his “happy place”, complete with his love interest in sexy lingerie carrying pitchers of beer and smiling animals all about, and his dead friend reunited with his hand, singing a Carpenters song. That’s how I feel when I find a table in the middle of The Green in between the Shakespeare Center and the Orlando Rep.
Each year since I moved away, I have been a Fringe Evangelist, bringing a new person into the fold from South Florida up with me to experience the wonder. The friend who I had taken two years ago asked the other day if I loved Fringe so much because I felt invested in it, because I had friends involved in it and what not.
I told him yes, and no. I really believe that there are amazing sights to be seen there. I’ve seen really incredible performances every year that I’ve been, and it’s always enough to make me remember my Fringe experiences fondly.
But it is the community feel, the gathering of forces of awesomeness from all over the Central Florida community that keeps me obsessing over it. And it will keep me coming back, and spending every Memorial Day weekend for the foreseeable future bouncing between shows and sipping beer in Loch Haven Park.