CEO. Festival Director. Mom. Superwoman.

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Nadene Grossman Orr reflects on Fantasy Fest

This year marked the 40th birthday of Fantasy Fest with Nadene Grossman Orr and her team having spearheaded the past three festivals. Arriving in Key West in ’91, one week before that year’s festival, she quickly started making a name for herself and was crowned Queen of Fantasy Fest in 2003 after raising the most money for AIDS Help Inc.

The community has taken notice of her successful efforts to bring the artistry and local involvement back to this beloved weeklong event. “I wanted it to feel like Fantasy Fest when people got to town,” she said, “for people to sit up and take notice that something was different.”

Since opening We’ve Got The Keys event planning business in 2004, Nadene has shown her clients and the community that she’s an unstoppable force, also coordinating Taste of Key West, Key West Songwriters Festival, and the upcoming POSH event in December. She balances her full word load with being mom to 5-year-old daughter Meredith and wife to husband Trevor.

Now (sort-of) able to come up for air, Nadene reflects on her time with the festival by answering some questions:

To me Fantasy fest is …  A work in progress! An awesome week of creative costumed theme parties and a time for Key West to celebrate and embrace our ‘All-welcome, zany, quirky awesomeness.’

One thing I would never change about Fantasy Fest is … All the things that are working.

The biggest compliment I’ve gotten is … locals who tell me they started participating again and that the parade was the best they’ve seen in years.

This year I loved seeing … that the crowd seemed younger. We are working so hard to target and market to the next generation of festival attendees … and this year it felt like it is working.

The addition I’m most proud of is … the art – working with Wonderdog Studios and Marky Pierson to bring our vision to life; the beautiful banners and the sculptures – like our Giant Fantasy Fest letters for photo ops and selfies, and all the wonderful promotion we make for print, social and video.

The average amount of sleep I get during festival week is … not a lot, maybe four or five hours if I’m lucky.

The week after the festival for me looks like …  I wish it were a week of spa days and relaxation. In reality it’s digging out from the piles of stuff we have brought back to my office and storage unit, getting feedback from sponsors, vendors and planning for next year while it’s all fresh in our heads.

The most ridiculous request I’ve received is …  to bring an axe-throwing attraction to the street fair. While I do think folks would probably love that, really?

The thing I still want to accomplish with it is …  to always to get more local involvement and to continue to find ways to make this week a success for everyone in Key West. It’s impossible to make everyone happy, but I keep trying.

My dream theme would be …  the one we keep bringing back is ‘Crazed Holidays.’ Themes are best (in my opinion) when they are broad and fun and offer many interpretations.

My favorite event would be …  the Masquerade March and Coronation Ball.

The year I’d most like to time travel to and experience Fantasy Fest is … 2003. I was Queen that year for AIDS Help Inc., which is now A.H. Monroe, and it was a great year, but it was all a blur. I’d love to go back and enjoy it again. Funny enough, the theme was Daze of Futures Past.

My FF elevator pitch would be … It’s a Bucket List kind of experience for folks. Open your mind, be inspired, participate.

The biggest difference between putting on Songwriter’s vs. FF is … less glitter, more guitars.

I’ll keep going … as long as I possibly can. And then I’ll pass the torch to another awesome human willing to take on the challenge.

What are three things that stick out in your mind from this year’s festival? I love the new Faces Of Fantasy Fest. We set up a studio for Tom Flip to photograph all the costumed folks for free. His images are on our Facebook page. I also loved the Top Hat Marching Orchestra that came from Canada, the participation by our locals and can I have a fourth thing? Fifer, the amazing woman behind the group at the start of our Bud Light Fantasy Fest Parade this year, Mozart’s Living Symphony! Fifth thing was the Papas. We had the Hemingway Look-A-Likes in the parade. Sixth was Coffee Butler being our grand marshal. … Sorry, did you say three?

You’ve completed your third year as director of FF; is the festival where you envisioned it would be at this point? Yes – I’m so proud of the changes we have made and grateful to the local community that participated and supported the changes.

When do you start working on 2020? We started in May 2019 collecting theme ideas, choosing the theme so we can announce it at the end of the parade.

Next year’s theme is the Roaring 2020s. What can we expect? Roaring 2020s and Future Fictions. I’m already seeing some great ideas in discussion groups online and from friends.

What’s one thing no one but you really understands or knows about the festival? I take it personally and I value everyone’s input and I want to hear it all, but please share it constructively. I hear you better when you are not yelling!

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