by: Mike Halterman
photography by: Kristen Wheeler
The Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, held for two weeks every May, is the oldest such theatre festival in the country, having begun in 1992. What’s unique about this festival is that proceeds earned from the festival go straight to the artists who put on such great shows for the appreciative crowds. Billed as “Orlando’s most unique cultural experience,” shows with gay themes are right at home at Fringe.
I got a chance to interview three people involved with one gay-themed show, “50 Shades of Gay: The Musical.” Sylvia Viles is the producer and director; Elizabeth Loftus plays the “inner goddess” representing the voice inside Anastasia; and Steven Johnson is the choreographer and a dancer in the production.
Tell us a little bit about the plot without giving too much away.
Sylvia: It’s a parody of the 50 Shades of Grey books, except with a gender bend: our dominant is a dominatrix.
What kinds of dance numbers does one choreograph for a unique musical such as this? Was it hard to think of ideas?
Steven: For the most part, I choreograph on the fly. The ladies were my main inspiration! The way they acted and sang the numbers gave me ideas almost instantly. As for the types [of dance numbers], since this is a parody, I wanted to go for cheesy musical theatre-type numbers.
How cheesy are we talking?
Steven: Not super cheesy. …Well, then again, maybe. There are a few fun gags thrown in for comedic effect. For example, there is a song called “I want to f–k your world” and it [is reminiscient] of a certain Little Mermaid song… use your imagination on that one.
Tell us about the “Inner Goddess.” What does she bring to the play?
Elizabeth: The character begins as the voice of the ingenue and speaks her inner emotions and thoughts. Halfway through, I realize that Anna really doesn’t have any character development, and [she’s] incredibly boring, so I start trying to convince her and then the audience that she needs to get away from Christine [Grey].
So there’s an element involved where you’re speaking what the audience might be thinking.
Elizabeth: Yes, absolutely! I’m the only character that really gets to break the fourth wall and relate to the audience.
What about this play made you want to be in it?
Sylvia: [Getting to work] with the cast. They’re a very talented group of individuals.
Elizabeth: It is super funny and campy, and there is a great group of people that are in it! We have become a family. [There’s] not only that, but there’s something incredible about being able to be a part of the creative experience from the ground floor up and turn some things that had never been performed before into a wonderful funny performance piece for a fantastic festival in Orlando.
Steven: I love performing. it was a no-brainer when someone asked me [and then said], “It’s for 50 Shades of Gay”! I came in a little later in the rehearsal process, and from day one I knew I was going to love it and everyone in it! It’s been an amazing experience!
Sylvia: He jumped in deep end and swam like an Olympic gold medalist.
Is this your first Fringe experience or have you been involved in other plays before? If so, how many years have you participated in Fringe?
Sylvia: This is my third Fringe as a participant, one on stage and two as director. I had the pleasure of working with Liz on my other Fringe show. I don’t know how many Fringes I’ve been to; I’m old and I lost count!
Steven: My first fringe show was in 2007. I have done many since then. Sometimes two shows in the same year. For two years I was the mascot for the festival [as well].
Sylvia: He’s writing a show too; he has a brilliant flair for comedy.
Elizabeth: This is my third Fringe show, but this one is definitely my favorite so far.
How did it feel to perform the show for the crowds on opening night?
Elizabeth: It’s exhilarating! There is nothing better than finally getting to show people what you’ve been working so hard on for so long.
Steven: At first the nerves were there. [It’s] a show no one has seen but us, with music that no one had heard. But as soon as we stepped out for the opening, that all went away. I’m at home on stage so it felt amazing! And an added bonus: it was even more amazing being on the same stage with such talented people!
Sylvia: From my perspective, it’s like watching your baby grow up. There is a pride in watching them through the whole process and seeing them perform for an audience. I’m fortunate that they made my job extremely easy and it was awesome to see them rock it out. They made momma proud.
Elizabeth: Can you tell we all love each other?
What would you say to people who haven’t seen the show yet, to ensure that they go?
Sylvia: My hope is that anyone who comes to see it is entertained by what they see. Laughter, talent and half-naked boys, what’s not to love?
Tell us a little more about the boys!
Steven: As for the boys, let’s just say that Justin, who hit the stage for the first time ever, already has stalkers.
Elizabeth: The boys are so pretty and such talented dancers. They really add a lot to the show.
If you’d like to see “50 Shades of Gay: The Musical,” showtimes are Tuesday, May 20 at 8:45 p.m.; Friday, May 23 at 11:15 p.m.; and Sunday, May 25 at 5:30 p.m. at the Orlando Repertory Theater’s Silver Venue (1001 E. Princeton Street). To buy tickets and a Fringe button, visit orlandofringe.org.