The 2017 KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival featured more than 500 performances and events. Attendance was estimated at 78,000 people, a 15 percent increase from 2016.
France’s Plasticiens Volants made its U.S. premiere tour with “Big Bang,” an immersive performance that featured giant inflatables at Parcel 5. A combined audience of more than 20,000 people attended its two performances.
“We are actually being called ‘the Rochester model’ by other fringe festivals across the U.S. and the world, because of these huge, free shows that we provide every year,” said Erica Fee, festival producer. “They aren’t easy to locate or afford — and we hope we can continue to find downtown, outdoor space for them in the future — but making the arts accessible to the public is a key part of our mission.”
Organizers announced the 2018 KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival will run Sept. 12-22, turning a traditionally 10-day festival into an 11-day event.
Fringe’s second weekend featured a wide variety of free entertainment on a closed-off Gibbs Street and Spiegelgarden, including 10 bands, Farm to Fringe, Kids Day and Fringe Street Beat, an all-styles dance battle that drew teams from all over the region. Montreal’s MTL Squad beat out Binghamton’s Seven Sessions in the final round to win the $1,500 prize. The first weekend’s free Gospel Sunday attracted its annual full-house at Kilbourn Hall.
Emmy Award-winning writer and comedian John Mulaney’s “Kid Gorgeous” tour was sold out for its run at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. Other sold-out events included Cristal Palace Spiegeltent’s “Cirque du Fringe: Eclectic Attraction,” “The Bicycle Men,” “Silent Disco,” “Disco Kids” and “Fringe Afternoon Tea.”
“This was the best Fringe ever for SOTA,” said Adele Fico, Arts Center director for School of the Arts, Fringe’s largest venue with 40 productions on four stages. “I think the shows we picked appealed to a variety of audiences, and I loved seeing young, old, kids, babies and teenagers in the building all at the same time. I saw many familiar faces, too — repeat customers from previous Fringes who literally spent the day with us.”
Based on the Edinburgh Fringe model from Scotland, majority of productions are submitted by artists and selected by Fringe’s 18 venues: Bernunzio Uptown Music, Blackfriars Theatre, Central Library, Eastman School of Music, Gallery r, Garth Fagan Dance Studio, George Eastman Museum, Geva Theatre Center, Java’s Cafe, The Little Theatre, Lyric Theatre, Makers Gallery & Studio, MuCCC, Rochester Contemporary Art Center, Rochester Museum & Science Center, School of the Arts, TheatreROCS Stage at Abilene and Writers & Books.
“Central Library had a great Fringe year,” said Rebecca Fuss, director of advancement for Friends & Foundation of the Rochester Public Library. “All of our ticketed events — “River to Roof Tours” and “Spooky Stories in the Stacks” — sold out, and the free shows were full. “The Murder Mystery” tripled our expectations, and librarians are already coming up with ideas for next year.”
Fringe’s other key mission is to make audiences accessible to artists, providing them with a platform to share their ideas and develop their skills.
“Fringe time in Rochester is the most exciting time of the year for performers,” said Dresden Engle, member of sketch comedy troupe EstroFest, which sold out four of its five Fringe shows at Geva Theatre Center. “The energy and the appreciation for the arts are through the roof. EstroFest has been bringing laughs to Rochester audiences for close to 20 years, and we’re thrilled to be embraced by Fringe audiences.”