Tommi Talks is back with this week’s Fringe Spotlight Artist Series issue featuring Steve Schneider, founder and producer of Carpenter Aunt Productions. (I’m always impressed by the clever and punny company names!)
Did you make the 2017 festival lottery? I didn’t make the standard lottery, but I will be at the official BYOV St. Matthew’s Tavern with my new show, Ominous George.
Can you tell us a little bit about your show? Ominous George is an original rock and roll cabaret show. A concept album come to life. A concert that thinks it’s a play. An hour’s worth of catchy tunes delivered with a punch to the gut by some top-shelf musical talent. And all of it linked with the same bracing, take-no-prisoners humor that marked my previous shows, Escape from Baldwin Park, The Wait List Murders and Peg O’Keef Fixes the World.
Please tell me about why you chose to apply for the Orlando Fringe festival. What about Orlando Fringe appeals to you as an artist? The Orlando Fringe is the most affordable venue in town for original independent works. It has a built-in audience that is predisposed to be interested in that kind of theater, and the festival itself is more of a promotional partner than you enjoy when you simply rent space from a standard venue. You get a built-in audience that merely expects you to capture their attention and make yourself stand out among the other options via your ideas and your outreach.
Has Orlando Fringe enabled/enhanced your artistic career in any way? If so, how? Honestly, the Orlando Fringe created my career as a playwright. In late 2009 or early 2010, I was having brunch with an old friend, veteran Fringe producer, director and writer John DiDonna. I made a passing mention of an idea for a play that had occurred to me years before: Peg O’Keef Fixes the World. He immediately said that if I wrote it as a full-length script, he would produce it at Fringe.
The show ended up being one of most popular offerings at the 2010 festival, selling out five out of six shows. After that, I was hooked. On heroin, I mean. But I also discovered I enjoyed writing plays.
How long and in what ways have you been involved with Orlando Fringe? For many years, I reviewed shows and reported on festival doings for Orlando Weekly. I retired myself gradually from that gig as I got more deeply involved in the artistic side, and realized that a great many of the people I would be reviewing were people I had cast in my own productions, or was interested in casting in my own productions, or whatever. Last year, 2016, was the first time in about two decades that I had no responsibilities at the Fringe other than being an audience member. It was strangely calming, though I wouldn’t want to do it every year.
What piece of advice would you give to a first-time Fringe artist and/or patron? Artist: Watch your budgeting and be realistic about the size of the audience you can potentially attract. But don’t be so cowed by the bottom line that you forget the point is to follow your muse.
Patron: Leave yourself room to indulge your own interests and tastes. Reviews and word-of-mouth are valuable resources, but at the end of the day, only you can decide what’s worth gambling your money and your time on. That said, keep your ears open whenever you’re near the beer tent, because learning which Fringe artists are sleeping with which other Fringe artists is an important part of the fun that you shouldn’t miss out on.
Have you performed/produced at any other Fringes? Nope, no participation in other festivals so far. Up to this point, my shows have all been so locally oriented that I don’t know how they would play outside of this environment. But that’s not a direction I’m going to be pursuing forever. This year’s show, Ominous George, for example, is almost totally devoid of insider, Orlando-centric humor.
Besides your show for the May festival, what other projects are you involved in? Thanks to my work at the Fringe, I have been in the past invited to contribute playlets to various Beth Marshall Presents undertakings, like The Trayvon Martin Project and Play in a Day. I’ve enjoyed those experiences very much, so I’m putting it out there that I’m ready, willing and able to contribute more. (Tip to new and emerging artists: This is called the passive-aggressive approach to finding work. You should try it!)
What’s next for your production company (or you, as an independent artist)? Anything top-secret you can hint about? As Charlie Brown once said, I try to only dread one day at a time. So when I’m doing a show, I’m generally not looking down the road to the next one. This is especially true in the case of Ominous George, which incorporates songs I’ve had lying around in various stages of completion for as long as 25 years. I’d like to see where else I can take them after this year’s Fringe is over. I’m already pursuing some contacts that might be interested in a touring version. We’ll see.
Any last words? I honestly thought that looking directly into a blow dryer would be perfectly safe.
If you couldn’t tell by his interview responses, Steve is delightfully clever and I’ve no doubt his rock and roll cabaret will have you head banging and laughing simultaneously.
EDIT: Ominous George now has a Facebook Page!
Don’t forget to follow Orlando Fringe on Facebook and check back next week for the next issue of Fringe Spotlight Artist Series featuring local performer Jon Jimenez.