Nobody will mistake Orlando’s art scene for New York City’s or even Miami’s, but marquee performing arts groups like the Orlando Opera, Orlando Ballet, Orlando Philharmonic, and a slew of smaller grassroots arts organizations maintain a cultural scene that’s growing and vibrant.
Arts-conscious travelers will want to avail themselves of the Orlando Arts Getaways (407/872-2382, www.redchairproject.com) put together by the city’s Arts & Cultural Alliance. These vacation packages provide discount rates on admission to cultural performances as well as hotel and restaurant bookings.
There is no central arts district in Orlando, and the closest you’ll come is the area near the intersection of Mills Avenue and Virginia Drive known colloquially as the ViMi district. There you can find a small handful of art spaces and galleries, including the superlative Comma Gallery (813 Virginia Dr., 407/376-1400, 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Tues.–Sat., free), which is frequently the site of some of the city’s most interesting contemporary art exhibitions.
Downtown, the City Arts Factory (29 S. Orange Ave., 407/648-7060, www.cityartsfactory.com, 11 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Sat., free) struggles to provide a dose of culture for an area of town that’s all business during the day and all partying at night. This multiroom facility has a bit of a rock-and-roll feel to it (amplified by a music space upstairs), and is quickly becoming one of the most prestigious places in Orlando for young, daring artists to exhibit their work.
Located downtown in a beautiful performance space, the Mad Cow Theatre Company (105 S. Magnolia Ave., 407/297-8788, www.madcowtheatre.com) can’t quite decide if it wants to be an edgy, urban theater or a crowd-pleasing night out for the blue-hair set. Production schedules have featured everything from Pinter and Chekhov to The Glass Menagerie and The Fantasticks.
Theatre Downtown (2113 N. Orange Ave., 407/841-0083, www.theatredowntown.net) isn’t actually downtown but a couple of miles north near Loch Haven Park. The fare here is usually just a step or two above community theater in terms of the repertory work performed, but the casts, sets, and direction are almost always top-notch.
Orlando Shakespeare Theater (812 E. Rollins St., 407/447-1700, www.orlandoshakes.org) is situated in beautiful Loch Haven Park, and in addition to the expected slate of works by the Bard, which are almost always produced in unexpected ways, the Shakes puts on small-scale Broadway musicals and family-friendly fare.
The best place in town to catch a flick is definitely the Enzian Theater (1300 S. Orlando Ave., Maitland, 407/629-0054, www.enzian.org). The Enzian serves up art house and international fare on screen and has comfortable chairs and table service from a top-notch and inventive kitchen: think mean roasted wild-mushroom salads or pizza Margherita instead of popcorn and nachos, and beer and wine instead of watered-down sodas. The Enzian’s chalet-like building and its tree-canopied grounds are thoroughly romantic, and its recently opened Eden Bar now allows film fans to grab a cocktail before the movie starts.
Considerably less fancy, and less centrally located, the Touchstar Cinemas — Southchase 7 (12441 S. Orange Blossom Tr., 407/888-2025, www.dattanientertainment.com) is little more than another budget-conscious multiplex in a strip mall. However, for fans of the splashy Indian cinema spectacle known as Bollywood, the Southchase is the only game in town. There’s almost always at least one first-run Indian film here, slotted in among current Hollywood blockbusters; if the Bollywood film has enough hype behind it, the theater even sells Samosas in the lobby.
© Jason Ferguson from Moon Florida, 1st Edition