Coming off the most successful season in its 21-year history, the Orlando International Fringe Festival will expand into a nearby neighborhood and increase the number of shows it offers next spring.
The move follows a 23 percent increase in attendance at May's festival and will contribute to the organization's strategy to boost visibility of the annual celebration of the performing arts.
"We did so well, and we have such a momentum going, it's time to grow the festival," said George Wallace, the Fringe's general manager. This year more than 29,000 tickets were distributed.
The new venues are within walking distance of the Fringe's home base of Loch Haven Park. Theatre Downtown, at the corner of Princeton Street and Orange Avenue, is about a half-mile away; The Venue, a new hall at 511 Virginia Drive, is slightly less than a mile from the park.
The additional theaters mean producer Michael Marinaccio can schedule 90 shows at next year's 13-day festival — up from 80 this year.
The Fringe will move its headquarters to the Ivanhoe Village Main Street office, and that organization will sponsor the Theatre Downtown venue.
Working more closely with the nation's oldest Fringe Festival will be a boon to businesses in Ivanhoe Village, said Scottie Campbell, executive director of the nonprofit community-development organization.
"It's a big economic opportunity that people weren't tapping into," he said. "Hopefully, people will come a little early and take advantage of what's available."
Restaurants and bars dot the neighborhood, which is north of downtown Orlando roughly between Mills and Orange avenues, and stretching from Virginia Drive northward to Florida Hospital.
The foot traffic also could introduce more people to the Fringe, a constant struggle for festival organizers. Campbell was surprised to find some Ivanhoe business owners were unfamiliar with the event that has taken place in Loch Haven Park since 2004. Previously the festival had been scattered across downtown Orlando. The expansion could return some of the urban vibe lost when the Fringe set up home in essentially two buildings, the Lowndes Shakespeare Center and Orlando Repertory Theatre at Loch Haven Park.
Orlando resident Gale Pergande, who has attended eight Fringe Festivals, called news of the expansion "fantastic."
She said walking to the new locations wouldn't bother her because they are nearby. However, she said more shows may mean veteran Fringers have to plan better — and adjust their expectations to avoid frustration.
"With the 80 acts this year, I couldn't see everything I had wanted to see," she said. "I think it's going to be really hard to see as many shows as you would like."
The Fringe remains committed to Loch Haven Park, Marinaccio said. Last year the Kids' Fringe was moved to the Mennello Museum of American Art at the edge of the park, and attendance skyrocketed to almost 10,000 from 2011's attendance of about 1,750. Next year, the unpopular Red Venue — an outdoor tent that was hot and could be flooded during storms — will be moved to the McLaughlin Studio, a rehearsal hall on the Shakespeare Center's second floor.
The Fringe will treat expansion cautiously, he said, though he doesn't think the festival is done growing.
"We're trying not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but we turned away 40 [performing] groups last year," Marinaccio said. "As long as we have the demand, we want to give people a place to perform."
The expansion is a shrewd move for making the Fringe more of a community event, said Sean Perry, founder of aXis magazine and producer of Orlando's annual Florida Music Festival.
"People can get a drink and make it even more of an experience than just theater," Perry said.
The Florida Music Festival, which began in 2002, expanded steadily through the years but has pulled back after recent forays into film and art events shifted focus from the music.
"Sometimes expansion is great, but you have to do it strategically," Perry said. "You want to make sure it fits your mission. If you keep it cohesive, it's a perfect hit."
email@example.com or 407-420-5038Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times