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  • Writer's pictureChris Gibson

How it began...

In the early 2000’s I became involved with the Orlando International Fringe Festival (OIFF) - now the oldest and biggest Fringe in the US.


My first fringe experience was being cast in an innovative production of Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol. Before each performance my fellow cast members and I would get into prisoner’s costumes and be paraded around Fringe Central with our legs attached at the ankles by shackles and chains. Our costumed “guards” would berate us as we shuffled miserably along - to the shock and curiosity of innocent fringe patrons cooling off at the beer tent. This exercise in guerilla marketing was as fun as it was effective. Our Ballad was a hit and people lined up around the corner to see what these poor shuffling prisoners were all about.


I was hooked - the drama, the energy, the community, the BEER! I had finally found a place where I fit in - even though I was (and still am) VERY WEIRD.


As I got to know the Fringe, I found a place where experimentation was as encouraged as fraternization. Drag queens, naked guys, clowns, storytellers, musicians, visual artists and AUDIENCES would gather together, first in the venues and then immediately afterwards at the beer tent - the line between performer and patron instantly erased. We eavesdropped on and then joined in conversations about what shows were not to be missed and which ones really weren't worth giving up the chance at another beer. We were able to give the artists, who’s shows we loved, instant gratitude - and we learned that even though onstage they were transformative, offstage, they were just like us - and yet, so BEAUTIFULLY different.


It was exhausting - the festival then was 10 straight days of performances (nowadays OIFF is upwards of 14!). It was exhilarating - international performers played right along with local arts heroes and complete novices. It was inspiring - the tenets of the OIFF are “No Jury”, “No Censorship” and “Keep ALL the Money you Earn” so the idea of creating, producing and performing your own work was not only real, but attainable. Also, and importantly, it was Orlando - the festival represented the artists and audiences that make up a very specific community. Orlando is home to many famous theme parks that famously tend to employ many members of the LGBT+ community, and so OIFF has always been known as the “Gayest” Fringe - producing mainly works by and for the gloriously rainbow colored community of Orlando.

The next year I signed on to assist the Producer of the Festival and found out how much hard work went into creating such an amazing event. The year after that I was the Producer, and along with some of the most incredible people I have ever known, each year we created an arts festival for EVERYBODY that truly represented Orlando.

That was twenty years ago. I have long since moved on from Florida, toured the world as a performer, married the love of my life and eventually settled here - in Harrisburg PA. This is a very different town and a very different time from when I produced the Orlando Fringe. I am so thrilled to be a part of another incredible group of people who are striving to create an arts festival for EVERYBODY that truly represents Harrisburg, and the gloriously beautiful people that live here, in OUR community.


C’mon y’all - let’s do something WEIRD.

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