Rochester, NY – Rather than taking over more than 25 downtown Rochester venues this year, the ninth annual KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival (Sept. 15-26) connected artists and audiences from all over the world in the safety of their own homes.
“Our mission as a non-profit is to provide a platform for artists and to make the arts accessible to audiences, and we’re grateful that we were able to succeed in doing that – especially during this very difficult time for performing artists,” states Rochester Fringe Festival Board Chairperson Justin L. Vigdor.
Organizers have already chosen dates for next year’s tenth annual Fringe: Tuesday, September 14 – Saturday, September 25, 2021.
“We will certainly be consulting with state and local health officials as we plan, but we’re looking forward to including in-person performances next year,” says Festival Producer Erica Fee, who has necessarily become somewhat of an expert herself on safely reopening the performing arts.
This year’s totally Virtual Fringe included approximately 170 online productions – both live-streamed and on-demand – more than 70 of which were free of charge. They covered all the festival’s usual wide range of genres: Comedy, Dance, Kids Fringe, Multidisciplinary, Music, Spoken Word, Theatre, and Visual Arts & Film. All but a few Fringe-curated productions were submitted by artists themselves and all proceeds went directly to those open-access shows.
“From the Fringe staff, to the performers, to the audience members, we persevered and went on with the show – we should all be proud of that,” reports Ted Baumhauer of Comedy Acts of Derring Do! “For me personally, that meant keeping my streak of performing in all the Rochester Fringe Festivals, which is always the highlight of my year. While performing a pre-recorded show isn’t even close to the fun of being in front of a live audience, it was rewarding to know that there was an audience out there. I also received a booking to do another show!”
“I've performed at the Rochester Fringe the last two years, and I assumed it would be canceled this year like so many of my other events. When I heard it was online, I jumped at the chance to join in,” says Jonathan Burns of SHOW OFF School with Jonathan Burns. “I missed hearing the laughs in the room, seeing friends, and eating a "garbage plate" late at night, but it was still great to connect with Rochester's amazing arts community again. AND the no garbage plate thing is probably better for my well-being.”
That’s not to say that this year’s online festival didn’t pose challenges, however.
“The learning curve was steep for pretty much everyone,” admits Fee, who adds that putting on this year’s Virtual Fringe was more difficult than any of the past “normal” Fringes due to that unfamiliarity.
Still, necessity bred invention, as in a new, Fringe-curated, artist conversation series called FringeTalk. Each of the four, live-streamed installments featured nationally recognized guest artists plus a moderator: “Black Lives Matter & the Performing Arts,” “…Too soon? Comedy in 2020,” “Using Storytelling to Communicate Science,” and “Predicting the Future? Performing Arts in 2021.”
While rising to the challenge of creating virtual shows wasn’t easy, most participating artists felt rewarded for their struggles.
“We’re grateful to the Fringe for making digital shows possible this year,” say Yoshiko Arahata and Jessica Ann Best of The Contemporary Musicians’ Guide to Modern Love. “Creating music together during the pandemic has been extra special, challenging, and meaningful all at the same time. We enjoyed learning how to communicate classical music in a new way through a new medium to us. It has been a joy to bring new work to life!”
“Virtual Fringe was a very welcome respite for me, and I say this not only as a performing artist, but as a human who, like so many, is just trying to navigate these choppy, uncharted waters we find ourselves in as a global community,” relates third-time Fringe performer Melissa Cole of Mo-to-the-oncle. “And, because Fringe was online, I gained fans in cities I haven’t performed in physically.”
“It was an unusual and collaborative experience that allowed us to work with people we wouldn't ordinarily have been able to, which was an unexpected gift,” add Matt and Heidi Morgan of Cirque du Fringe: Quarantini and Shotspeare Presents: The Complete Works of Shakespeare…sort of. “We are grateful to the festival for not just skipping this year because we all needed to be reminded that we're still here, still laughing, and still living.”
Audiences too were thankful for access to the performing arts via the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival @ Home while theatres and other venues remain closed.
“I realize that nothing can replace a live festival, but Fringe's pivot to a virtual platform totally hit the mark,” remarks School of the Arts’ Art Center Director Adele Fico, who also acts as Fringe Venue Manager for SOTA in “normal” years. “It showcased what Fringe is best known for – delivering world-class performances to an appreciative and savvy Rochester audience. It was a different festival, but still joyous, entertaining, and engaging.”
“We at KeyBank are proud to support this unique and inclusive celebration of art and imagination that was able to persevere during this pandemic and still provide shared experiences and provoke thought and conversation,” says KeyBank Rochester Market Executive Phil Muscato. “Like Fringe, we value the connections that bring us together, and we look forward to the 2021 KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival.”
The 12-day, 2019 KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival featured more than 650 performances and events – over 200 of them free – and broke all previous attendance records with more than 100,000 visitors. From its five-day debut in 2012, the has become one of the fastest-growing and most-attended fringe festivals in the U.S. It is also the largest multidisciplinary performing arts festival in New York State. As a bifurcated festival, it allows for a combination of headline entertainment curated by the non-profit Rochester Fringe Festival as well as an open-access portion.
Rochester Fringe Festival connects and empowers artists, audiences, venues, educational institutions, and the community to celebrate, explore, and inspire creativity via an annual, multi-genre arts festival. It was pioneered by several of Rochester’s esteemed cultural institutions including Geva Theatre Center, the George Eastman House and Garth Fagan Dance; up-and-coming arts groups like PUSH Physical Theatre and Method Machine; and higher-education partners such as the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology. The organization’s overarching mission is to provide a platform for artists to share their ideas and develop their skills, while being as diverse and inclusive as possible.
2020 sponsors included: KeyBank; New York State Council on the Arts; University of Rochester; Rochester Area Community Foundation; Ames Amzalak Memorial Trust; Waldron Rise; RIT; Nocon & Associates; Estate of Marianne Rohack; National Endowment for the Arts; Daisy Marquis Jones Foundation; Konar Enterprises; Elaine & Richard Wilson Foundation, Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation; ESL Foundation; JM McDonald Foundation; The Pike Company; Louis S. & Molly B. Wolk Foundation; Big Slide Creative; Cheshire Audio Visual;13WHAM TV; CITY Newspaper, D&C Digital; Nazareth College; SUNY Brockport; St. John Fisher College; Hamilton A/V; City Blue; WXXI; The Rubens Family Foundation, Mary Cariola Children’s Center; Bond Schoeneck & King; Boylan Code; and Canandaigua National Bank.
About KeyBank: KeyBank’s roots trace back 190 years to Albany, New York. Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, KeyCorp is one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies, with assets of approximately $171.2 billion at June 30, 2020. Key provides deposit, lending, cash management, and investment services to individuals and businesses in 15 states under the name KeyBank National Association through a network of over 1,000 branches and more than 1,400 ATMs. Key also provides a broad range of sophisticated corporate and investment banking products, such as merger and acquisition advice, public and private debt and equity, syndications and derivatives to middle market companies in selected industries throughout the United States under the KeyBanc Capital Markets trade name. For more information, visit https://www.key.com/. KeyBank is Member FDIC.
Media please note: High-resolution images and other press assets for this year’s Fringe (as well as those of previous years) can be found at rochesterfringe.com/press.