After The Party's Over, Fantasy Fest Concerns Continue

Nov 12, 2014

Many Key Westers are concerned that Fantasy Fest is becoming more of a gathering for exhibitionists and voyeurs, and less of a creative costume party.
Credit Mark Hedden

Weeks after the "Fat Lady Sings" tea dance that marks the official end of Fantasy Fest, Key Westers are meeting to talk about how to change the annual event to limit raunchy behavior and increase creative costuming.

"We don't want to stop Fantasy Fest. We don't want to quit it," said Kathryn Watkins, a social media consultant who organized a group called Key West Fest Friends that drew 40 people to a meeting this week. "We love it. We want to be in it."

The group's aim is to "bring back the artistic and creative reputation to the town," said another organizer, Joe Weed Clements, who was a candidate for Fantasy Fest King this year.

Even those in the tourism industry are concerned, like hotelier Kate Miano, herself a former Fantasy Fest Queen. The title is an annual fundraiser for the nonprofit AIDS Help; the candidates compete to raise money.

Key West's biggest event is becoming "a festival for voyeurs and exhibitionists," she said. "That needs to change because that is the public image we are developing for our town."

Suggestions at the meeting included increasing signage to clearly mark the "fantasy zones" on Duval Street where usual rules are relaxed, increasing private security and making the event's annual theme simpler. In the 1990s, Fantasy Fest had themes like "Hollywood" and "Call of the Wild" that allowed participants to come up with creative costumes, said local hairdresser and comedian Pony Charvet.

Next year's theme: "All Hallows Intergalactic Freak Show."

"If you keep things simple, people want to be creative," Charvet said. "If the concept is complicated, people will say, 'Well, I want to get naked.'"

Former City Commissioner Harry Bethel brought his collection of 8-by-10 color photos from Fantasy Fest showing "pure genital nudity" to the meeting. He's organizer of another group concerned about the festival, which is meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 17, at Old City Hall, 510 Greene St.

"Nudity is not needed to make money in this town," Bethel said. "We want something that's good for this town. It's been a long time coming for new ideas, fresh ideas."

Linda O'Brien from the Market Share Co. that produces Fantasy Fest did not return a call for comment.