Even with the support of great organizations like United Arts who gave away $33,579 in grants to individual artists last year, there is not enough money flowing into our local arts community. There is also little appreciation or recognition for those who risk their financial security for passions that include creating art or curating cultural events in Orlando. These facts are no secret. Still, there are people like Mark Baratelli that are hell bent on bringing cultural goodies to our city. Thank goodness.
Without people like Mark (and many others already interviewed on this blog), Orlando would continue to be defined by its theme parks. Instead, there’s something much more authentic bubbling in the city besides the new, illuminate million-dollar Lake Eola Fountain. There are a group of passionate art lovers and contributors who genuinely love the arts and art shows they promote, who only participate in these events for self-fulfillment or educating others. This makes Orlando one of the greatest places to live. We are a city that houses a lot of talent that likes challenges and doesn’t give up. Here’s what I mean:
I was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Now… is this one of your gigantic interviews where it’s, like, the whole human being?
[Laughs] The whole human being?
Yeah, well some interviews are just about an event.
No, this is about you and your life story.
Oh my God. I’m nervous now. I’m neeeerrrrvvvous. Okay, go.
How did you make your way down to Orlando?
I auditioned in Atlanta, Georgia for a show called, The Legend of The Lion King. I had no idea that it was basically for an African American cast or vocalist. I had never heard of the show before. So I auditioned. Sang. They called me back and hired me for a comedy show [The Anacomical Players] and brought me down here in like ’98.
What’s made you stay?
I didn’t. As soon as my contract ended, I did not want to stay at Disney World as an actor. So I went to study graphic design in Atlanta for about a year and half. I came back to Orlando, because it was kind of like my home base in my brain. I ended up going back to the theme parks as an actor because I couldn’t get work in graphic design. Then in 2003, Disney Cruise Line hired me for two contracts.
During the second cruise contract, I made friends that were like, “You should move to New York and audition for New York stuff.” So I went to New York and got a lot of job offers. I turned them all down because I was scared. At the very end, in the fall of 2004, I was offered a role on the national tour of Oliver. I took it.
I did Oliver and then did another cruise line gig with Royal Caribbean. After that, I had the choice of going back to Orlando or New York. I had given up my apartment in New York. On the ticket they gave me, it said Orlando. I could have fought it because technically they had flown me to Puerto Rico from New York, and that’s where they should have flown me back. But I didn’t care. So I was like, “Let’s go back to Orlando.”
When I got back to Orlando, I sat on my ass for a few months. Then I applied for a graphic design job for a company here and they ended up making up this position for me called Viral Marketing Specialist. Basically, it was my job to come up with ‘out of the box’ crazy ideas to sell to their clients. I did that for about a year and then left.
Then I did my show Improv Cabaret at Fringe. I spent a year or two taking that to different cities—to San Francisco, and New York and Miami and Charleston. I thought that was going to be my thing. My background is in Musical Theater and it was the perfect mix of theater and improv. I was like, “Who else is doing this? No one.” I thought it was my ticket, but eventually it went nowhere.
I did go on one more tour, and an off broadway producer in New York told me to call him when I got back off tour. I had met him once before. I called him right when I got back. He never returned the call. I was so scared… sometimes I get scared of success and moving forward. I never gave him a second phone call. That ended Improv Cabaret for me.
What’s your favorite part of performing or being on the stage?
It’s a job. There are some fun aspects to it, but it’s what I went to school for. It’s what I have the most experience in. It’s just like if you study math or banking… that’s the job you end up doing.
I’m shy… and awkward off stage. On stage, with the right piece and the right settings I can be completely different.
What’s your favorite show that you performed in?
My resume is so tiny… I guess my favorite was Jesus Christ Super Star. The character I played was King Herod. Usually he’s a large, rotund, slightly feminine character who is being sassy to Jesus. I went in I gave them what I thought he should be… and committed to it. And they hired me.
I’m not rotund. I am feminine, but I did it in a different way. And I did my version of the song. I hadn’t re-written it, but I had made choices. I’d say they kept 99% of them. I changed a line or two. I added a big, huge high note at the end of the song. My research had only consisted of going on You Tube and watching other performances of King Herod. That’s what I liked about it. I had come in with new ideas for musical theater and people had liked what I brought. That performance was one I had a hand in. It was fun.
What’s been your favorite live performance to watch?
Oh… that’s a good question. I love The Early Show, as far as improv goes. That’s here, and they’ll be at the upcoming Orlando Improv Festival. I like the Broadway Series that comes through because of the level of quality is extremely high. And at some point I’m going to go see The Orlando Ballet. I love ballet.
Where did the idea for thedailycity.com come from?
It started as an arts blog, but after touring the country and seeing hundreds of cities and downtowns and tiny towns and big skyscrapers and bridges and dead factories and old malls and new malls and new urbanism… and then coming back to Orlando, I couldn’t help but look at the city with different eyes. The arts are one part of a city’s culture, just as much as urban planning and community gardens. So I started paying attention to the whole picture and not just one sliver of it.
On tour, there’s also a lot of down time and you’re in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of actors. There’s just nothing to do. It took my mind off the hotel I was in and put me in Orlando. I was like, “Who is this person? What is this person writing about? What stories are going on?” It was fun. It was like writing a little newspaper that no one was reading.
Why did you choose to blog about Orlando, and not a theatrical, artsy city like New York that is known for its arts?
Why are you attacking me? [Laughs] I’m kidding. I had no interest in that. It would have never even occurred to me because that market is so saturated.
Who runs this operation?
A lot of it is me. And then what I don’t know about, I look for help. And I’ve found some great help. A girl named Jennifer—she loves music—she just went to the Vans Warped Tour and did about fifteen interviews with a microphone and camera. I had no idea this was happening.
There’s another guy Samir who loves movies and music. He posts about movies or concerts that are coming up. I know nothing about music. Food wise—we don’t really have anyone blogging about food yet. I’ll post if a new restaurant opens or if there’s a Food Truck Bazaar, but I don’t talk about it. I give pictures and tell people where it is.
How do you receive most of your information?
I do a lot of my own research. I develop relationships with people who are doing interesting things and they send me information, tell me what they’re doing next.
What makes the cut?
I go by my gut. I write about things that I think no one knows about, small, interesting things, like an art opening at Pompom’s. But then I’ll get a press release from Macy’s about Karl Lagerfield’s new line and I’ll blog about that too, because I know some people might care about that. Like me, I care about that.
Often, I get invited to the same press events that TV and newspaper people get invited to. And there I am, with my iPhone camera in hand standing next to a row of thousand dollar professional video cameras… I’m not The Sentinel. I’m not The Weekly. So for me to go up to people and ask questions, it’s pretty scary. I’m not a gigantic newspaper and sometimes they’ve never even heard of the site. It’s a yo-yo experience running this site sometimes. To some people I’m nothing and to some, I have value.
Do you ever wake up in the morning and think, I don’t want to do this anymore?
What do you do on those days?
I don’t work on it that day. I mean, I don’t have a staff of fifteen that I need to pay so that they can feed their babies, so I can take some hours off. But in the back of my head, I know that if I don’t have a blog post going out, it hurts my business.
Where do you vacation?
I’m too poor to take vacations.
What’s going on in your love life?
Oh my God! What! How dare you. [Laughs] There is a person of interest right now. They’re lovely to be with and smart. Romantically, I prefer smart people over creative people. That yin and yang thing has had an appeal since college.
In your opinion, what’s trending in Orlando right now.
Obviously food trucks.
Do you want to talk about how they’ve evolved from your point of view?
It’s super exciting. I think we’re moving at such a fast speed. We just started getting the word out about food trucks in March. That’s when the first [thedailycity.com] Food Truck Bazaar was and everyone went ape shit. I think that’s what really kicked it off, at least in my opinion.
Even before then, in 2009 I was supporting food trucks, the taco trucks. I was doing taco truck taste tests, and inviting people to the truck, and having people translate the menu from Spanish to English. I was getting people out of the cars and eating in gas station parking lots, which was unheard of back then to mainstream audiences. Cut to just a month ago, when we had a national food truck TV show filming an episode in Orlando. From what I was told, they were going to come to Florida, but only to Miami. Somehow they heard about what’s happening here in Orlando. I don’t know how. They didn’t tell me and I didn’t ask. But they asked me, a writer from The [Orlando] Weekly, and a couple of food bloggers to speak about the food trucks they selected. So now Orlando’s food trucks are going to be on national TV. From March to July, we’ve moved so fast, and I just think that’s incredible.
What are your favorite food truck delights?
I love Crooked Spoon’s mac and cheese. I love sides. I love Big Wheel Provision’s grit cakes, four triangle cakes made of grits and deep fried. I love anything from Yum Yum cupcakes. Those are my three side snacky things.
Why do you care about what happens in Orlando?
I just see the possibility. I don’t know. It’s hard to not get excited when you can see opportunity for the city, for its citizens and for yourself.
Tell me about the Improv Festival you started.
I started doing a lot of Improv Festivals myself, as a performer. I liked what I saw. I came back to Orlando. Orlando did not have an Improv Festival. I went on Elizabeth Maupin’s blog, I wrote her an email that said, “Put this on your blog, please. I’d like to do an Improv Festival in Orlando within one year.” It was a personal challenge to myself. I had never done anything like it before. I’m an actor. I know how to wake up, put my head shots in a folder and go to auditions.
I almost wanted to get angry when I thought of Orlando not having an Improv Festival. I mean, why? It’s a giant city. We have the talent. We have the venues. We can bring people down. No one else is doing it. So I did it. It was a put up, or shut up moment and I used thedailycity.com blog to get the word out. I gave myself a year, and within a year and two months the first Improv Festival happened.
What are your goals for this year’s event?
Increase the audience attendance. Increase the number of shows. Have a dedicated after party location. And also generate more awareness, which will always be a constant battle.
Why do you think people don’t show up?
Because they never heard of it. Because no one knows the names of the people in the theater. There’s a lot against us, and you have to know that going into it. I’m figuring out how to combat that but sometimes it seems impossible.
Well, here’s your chance. Sell me. Sum up the Improv Festival in five words.
Well, you have to think…
Stop right there, that’s five words.
Canada, Chicago, Washington State, Atlanta and a ton of Central Florida teams coming together for three days of comedy improv shows. The selling point is we’re bringing people in from across the country.
Mark, this is the point when you’re suppose to tell me that’s it’s going to be soooo funny and that I shouldnt miss it because…
Oh! Yes, of course, it’s going to be funny! [Laughs] Every God-damned city needs to have an Improv Festival! If they don’t have one, they need to slap themselves upside the head and figure out how to get one. If they can’t afford one, they need to figure out how to make money to get one. Quote. Unquote. I like this… this is fun.
*Interview Date: August 11, 2011