With Michael Marinaccio and George Wallace
Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, Purple Venue, Red Venue, Silver Venue, Blue Venue, Brown Venue, Orange Venue, Yellow Venue, Green Venue (*)</strong>
This year’s Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival “Pre-Show Announcement” (voiced by Michael Marinaccio and George Wallace) takes a bold, linear approach to the normally dreary bookkeeping of the audience warnings. True, none of the people it’s aimed at will pay it any attention, yet it fits into the narrative flow of the Festival like used car ads in the evening news. But this pair takes a bold approach, beginning with an attention grabbing opener, exploding with the ceremonial “Thanking of the Corporate Sponsors” before majestically exhorting the crowd on the do’s and don’ts of theater etiquette like a modern twin of Marc Antony. Then, a sudden turn to explore and highlight bonus events like the Beer Tent and the Kid’s Fringe leads to a quick audio sight gag to set the tone for anything from a gay musical to a political rant, and at long last a truly stunning denouement.
The sponsorship element of this production is the most important aspect and in many ways the most problematic. A combination of Festival-wide and Venue-specific funding sources need, nay demand, their names be spoken publicaly. These are, of course, the “Names That Must Be Named,” and they are truly the life-blood of this event, even if few of the names resonate outside of our august group. The issue lies with the Venue specific names, they naturally shift venue by venue and the artistic choice of using an audio edit to insert them has implications. If “Preshow Announce” occurred only once per viewer, even an expert might not catch the edit on a first hearing: it’s not accompanied by clicks or pops or changes in noise level, but in a slight, nearly imperceptible break in the flow, the rhythm, the ambience of the announcement. Even occasional attendees might not object, and certainly they would not be troubled by it, but those of us who live by this little slice of audio joy will detect it, focus on it, allow it to become a burr under the saddle. And to those of us who plan extensively to experience each and every “Preshow Announcement,” it begins as a minor irritant, then as an annoyance, and finally a stumbling block to any enjoyment of the announcement at all. It is, if you will, as if Da Vinci painted a fly on the nose of the Mona Lisa.
But rather than dwelling on weakness, let’s explore its real strength, the reason audiences will return to this “Preshow Announcement” over and over. That’s the “Audience Warning,” that critical check list of must-do’s and don’ts for the paying audience. You would not send your child off to first grade without a pep talk, expect a jet pilot to proceed without making sure all was correct, or admit a football coach would fail to rally his players. This is normal, this is right, this is good. And this is where the power of George Wallace shines brightest. We begin by covering “Cell Phone Deactivation,” consider it as instructions to a good defense determined to deactivate a tough offense. Then we progress to “All Shows Start And End on Fringe Time,” promptly just like grade school. Following on quickly we hear: “There Is No Reentry Once The Show Starts!” This is true here as on any commercial airline flight. But the pinnacle, the ne plus ultra, the orgasmic finish to this earthshaking performance arrives enforced with a majestic reverberation: “NO LOUD CANDY WRAPPERS!” Praise the Lord! We have not had a decent candy wrapper speech since the departure of Alan Bruun at Mad Cow Theatre, bless his stentorian voice. This is a breakthrough for Orlando Theater, we’ve suffered under a plague of ill mannered candy un-wrappers for years now, and it’s time to give all a good rousing “what for.” I think we may have broken through to a better, brighter day. That day is today.
After this emotional high, we are on auto pilot with the recitation of “The Other Events.” He helps us contemplate the blessings of Kid’s Fringe, the Beer Tent, the Green Lawn of Grassiness, even the Visual Fringe packed with art for sale to those with free cash and free wall space. These events are the lagniappe of the Festival, the things to fill time when you’re between shows, to feed you when you fear to give up a premium parking spot to eat food with utensils, to amuse your children while you indulge your darker fantasies. These items are certainly visible to the general public and familiar to the intimates, but they bear repeating, and repeated they are. Out there somewhere is a wide selection of beers, a fully functional Gay Bar, and ethnic foods from all continents save one. Now it’s true the Green Lawn of Grassiness can easily become the Brown Lawn of Muddiness, but bear in mind a drier day will follow. Be steadfast; do not let the tempest disturb you. It didn’t bother Lear, so what are you complaining about?
We near the end.
As mentioned before; Praise the Lord.
Can I Have an “Amen!”? Amen, brethren. Amen.
We’ve covered a vast ground so far, ranging from the physical dimensions of the Festival space to the temporal dimension of show constraints to the financial dimensions that fuel the artistic fires burning. It’s now time for a brief moment of levity. It’s time for “The Joke”.
“The Joke” is a fleeting yet common element of any preshow, its appearance lets the audience know with a wink and nudge that “Preshow Announcement” realizes that all of his or her previous words may have had a depressing, suppressing effect on what ought to be a positive experience. The patron has bought a ticket, committed an hour or so of their lives, and all freely and voluntarily. Who is “Preshow Announcement” to curtail their options for self-enjoyment? But society imposes rules and the inconvenience of missing a move in “Words with Friends” needs sublimation to the convenience of a greater group. We have, after all, come together to share common experience outside of the mundane but inside the social contract, and what violates that contract more than a cell phone call or a noxious fart? Nothing I say. And thus the need for “The Joke”: It re-balances the universe, it allows the audience member to re-realize that they ARE here to be entertained despite their fellows. It would be unfair of me to telegraph the punch line, but I feel free to say this: “Dan Castellaneta – your employment is secure.”
We are now over the hump. We are now through the valley of the shadow of bad reviews, and ready to take this show on the road and see how it plays in Peoria. The train is leaving the station, and we are all on it. All that’s left in “Preshow Announcement” a point of local pride for the Marinaccio / Wallace team: This Fringe Is Unjuried, which means it has less quality control then a Chinese milk factory. But you knew that going in; it makes for a rawer, more visceral theatre experience. If you’ve never read script submissions, this is as close as you will get to the Artistic Director’s job. Going on little more than a cluttered poster, a catchy title, and word of mouth from a drunk you tripped over getting a vegan shish kebab you’ll dive into the wonderland of “The Awkward Musical, “ “The Theater of Therapy,” “The One Woman 23 Hats” shows, and “The Musicals Based on Long Forgotten TV Shows.” You are set up, and ready to shout: “Knock me down! NOW!”
So what are we to take away? What is the director’s intent, his artistic statement? We should ask the triad of pointed questions: Why this show? Why this venue? Why this festival? That’s where we can finally take the 60,000-foot view of the whole preshow tradition. So often this part of the theatrical art is overlooked both by the educational system, and the producing companies. But here’s the heart of the process: Entering a theater is a special place, just like the grade school or the jet liner or the football stadium. We are in all cases entering that place cut apart from the ordinary world. Rooted in the Greek word Temenos, it means a cutting and dates back to at least the Linear B script of the Mycenaean era. It persists today in such disparate words as atom or temple, and we still see it physicaly in so many public buildings. The columns of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian orders relate back to the ancient Ash Groves of Greek worship, they carry throughvvin the arches of a medieval cathedral, and into the vomitoria of the modern era sports arena. In all of these actions: theater, sports, education, and worship we all follow a similar path. As supplicants, we prepare by dressing in special clothes, apply specialized ointments to our bodies, perform cleansing rituals, dye our hair, and put on special clothing. We then journey to the special place, enter though smaller and smaller passages, and finally enter the Special Place itself, now huge beyond imagination. The journey has a cost in time and material. We might pay to park or get better views, accumulate souvenirs, donate additional funds to ease our minds, attach our names to building, rooms and even mundane articles such as chairs or even urinals.
This “Preshow Announce” resides at the boundary of the “Temenos.” It forms the interface between “I’m going to the theatre” and “I am experiencing the theatre.” It’s the final finishing touch on the approach of the supplicant, and it its grip is not released until the bows fall and the lights rise. We may think less of it than a good set, a name actor, or a hot script. That is the dynamic the Marinaccio / Wallace team aims for, and that’s the target that hits the nailhead. And just like two-name vaudeville acts of a generation ago they are a bit loud, a bit repetitive and bit of a tradition. A tradition we should all relish every time we hear them speak.
(*) Black Venue has an independent announcement which has not been reviewed at this time.
This production is part of the 2014 Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival. Information on tickets and show times may be found at http://OrlandoFringe.org/</em>