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Critics' Picks

ADAM LUBITOW

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"Frogpig"

I'm so very much in for this subversive show following the exploits of Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy's down-on-his-luck, fame-seeking offspring. While Jim Henson's creations aren't explicitly mentioned by name (in what I can only assume is some lawyer-mandated vagueness), it's not too hard to decipher that parental lineage. It sounds amazing, so I've got my fingers crossed for a muppetational evening of entertainment. (Thursday, September 19 and Friday, September 20, 9 p.m. School of the Arts: Ensemble Theatre. $12. Appropriate for ages 13 and older.)

"You Know the Old Slaying"

The suspicious death of a theater company's cast member kicks off this interactive play from local company Mooreland Productions. Solving the mystery apparently requires a bit of crowd interaction, so I'll have to get over my paralyzing fear of getting picked for audience participation. But I'm a sucker for a good murder mystery, so maybe I'll just be hitting the bar beforehand. Plus, I'm curious to see how the show utilizes the new Fringe venue space, Nox Cocktail Lounge. (Wednesday, September 11 and Monday September 16, 8:30 p.m.; Tuesday, September 17, 6:30 p.m.; Saturday, September 21, 6 p.m. Nox. $10. Mature Audiences.)

"Brave Space"

The description for this production from all-female acrobatic troupe Aloft Circus Acts — mentioning blanket forts and puddles of fabric on the floor — reminds me of playing with those big parachutes in elementary school gym class. Man I miss those things. With a promise of "awe-inspiring feats of balance, strength, and ultimate trust between artist and audience," this sounds like a playfully good time. (Thursday, September 19 and Friday, September 20, 7 p.m. & 9 p.m.; Saturday, September 21, 1 p.m., 4 p.m., & 7 p.m. School of the Arts: Gym. $22. All ages.)

"Which Bitch Did It?"

I've already mentioned how much I love a good murder mystery. But a drag-themed murder mystery? You are most definitely speaking my language, my friend. A series of deaths at Stately Manor requires some slinky sleuthing in this production, promising the irresistible combination of "Clue" meets "RuPaul's Drag Race." (Sunday, September 15 and Friday, September 20, 8 p.m. Lyric Theatre: Main Stage. $18. Ages 18 and older.)

"Bushwhacked British Bake Off"

The ladies of Bushwhacked are back for another year of high concept improv comedy. This year, the duo put their own delirious spin on the world's most beloved amateur baking reality show competition. Even better, there are designated "boozy" performances, which add alcohol to the delicious mix. Bring on the sweet stuff! (Tuesday, September 10 through Thursday, September 12, 7 p.m.; Saturday, September 15, 12:15 p.m. & 2 p.m.; Sunday, September 14, 1 & 3 p.m.; Monday, September 16, 7 p.m.; Tuesday, September 17, 7 p.m.; Thursday, September 17, 7 p.m.; Saturday, September 21, 2 p.m. Spiegelgarden. $26. Appropriate for ages 13 and older. "Boozy" performances Friday, September 13, 6 p.m.; Saturday, September 14, 5 p.m.; Friday, September 20, 7 p.m. Spiegelgarden. $38. 21 and over.)

"'33 (a kabarett)"

Inspired by the fate of the Eldorado Club in Berlin, which was taken over by the Nazis in 1933 and converted into one of their local headquarters, this one-man show finds the last remaining performer defiantly recreating the acts of his missing company. It's an intriguing premise likely to deliver some disturbingly timely political parallels. (Friday, September 13 and Saturday, September 14, 9 p.m.; Sunday, September 15, 5:30 p.m. School of the Arts: Ensemble Theatre. $15. Appropriate for ages 13 and older.)

"Colma!"

Colma, California is a small town just south of San Francisco where, thanks to an absurd number of cemeteries, the dead outnumber the living by a whopping 1,000 to 1. That's the kind of fact that sets the imagination spinning, and this ghoulishly comedic show imagines what happens when the town's mayor tries to exploit the town's macabre reputation to increase tourism. What follows is "a tale of love, magic, and the undead." (Thursday, September 12, 9 p.m. and Saturday, September 14, 5 p.m. School of the Arts: Black Box Theatre. $13. Appropriate for ages 13 and older.)

"Oz and Effect"

Who doesn't love the fanciful world of "The Wizard of Oz"? Well, get ready to set down a more disturbing path with MCC's On the Edge Drama Troupe in this dark fantasy offering an alternative look at the creations of L. Frank Baum. In this tale, we return to the magical Land of Oz after Dorothy has left, picking up with the Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Man as they attempt to decide where their respective journeys will next take them. (Saturday, September 14, 2 p.m. and Sunday September 15, 4 p.m. School of the Arts: Black Box Theatre. $10. Appropriate for ages 13 and older.)


DAVID RAYMOND

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"Scheherazade.2"

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in a Fringe Festival concert? It makes sense when music director Ward Stare devotes a program to contemporary American music by Cindy McTee, Mason Bates, Steve Reich (it's about time), and John Adams, whose violin concerto-sequel to Rimsky-Korsakov's classic gives this concert its name. Violinist Leila Josefewicz, for whom Adams wrote "Scheherazade.2," is the featured soloist. (Thursday, September 19, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, September 21, 8 p.m. Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. $24. Appropriate for ages 18 and older.)

The Geriactors Present!

I love the Geriactors, the ensemble of actors-of-a-certain-age and a Fringe Festival fixture. I love them even more for devoting their 2019 Fringe show to several short comic plays by Byron Wilmot, a talented local dramatist with a whimsical sense of humor, who died much too soon in 2014. (Tuesday, September 17, 7 p.m.; Wednesday, September 18, 2 p.m.; Thursday, September 19, 2 p.m. Writers & Books. $15. Appropriate for ages 13 and older.)

"The Telephone"

Gian Carlo Menotti's operatic two-hander from 1947 — about the trials of a couple who would get married if only she'd get off the damn phone — dates from the days of operators and party lines, but it lends itself better than most operas to improvements in technology. This time Ben and Lucy have iPhones, and audience members can tweet Lucy during the performance. Do it quickly; "The Telephone" is only 30 minutes long. (Friday, September 20, 10 p.m. MuCCC. $15. Appropriate for ages 13 and older.)

"Dogfight"

Before they wrote "Dear Evan Hanson," "La La Land," and "The Greatest Showman," songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote this intriguing, ambitious, and unexpectedly powerful Off-Broadway musical, about three Army buddies whose cruel bet concerning a young waitress results in an unexpected lesson in compassion and love. (Friday, September 13, 7 p.m.; Sunday, September 15, 7 p.m.; Friday, September 20, 7 p.m. Lyric Theatre: Cabaret Hall. $13. Appropriate for ages 13 and older. )

"Within the Quota"

You knew that Cole Porter wrote "Anything Goes" and "Kiss Me, Kate," but did you know he also wrote a ballet score in 1920s Paris? The original "Within the Quota" satirized the hoopla and excess of Roaring 20's America; in this reimagining, Table Top Opera explores America's past century of xenophobia and immigration through historical and contemporary images and film clips. (Thursday, September 19, 7 p.m. Eastman School of Music: Hatch Recital Hall. $10. Appropriate for ages 13 and older.)

NEXUS and Friends

Toronto-based NEXUS ensemble has been the "high priests of the percussion world" (according to the New York Times) for decades. For this year's Fringe Festival they're bringing an hour-long improvised concert to Kilbourn Hall with some equally distinguished guests, including Michael Burritt and recent Rochester Music Hall of Fame inductee John Beck. (Saturday, September 14, 7 p.m. Eastman School of Music: Kilbourn Hall. $10. Appropriate for all ages.)


DECLAN RYAN

"Residente"

The first time I heard Residente's solo record, I had just handed off the aux cord in a fast car with a loud sound system on an empty highway in South Florida. I highly recommend the experience. If you can't make that particular trip this fall, the next best thing is the Rochester Fringe's Pedestrian Drive-in screening of his eponymous documentary film. For 90 minutes, the critically-acclaimed Puerto Rican vocalist follows the results of a DNA test around the world to explore his musical heritage. Along the way we get to watch him collaborate with musicians from Siberia to Burkina Faso in a narrative that unites his artistic pursuits with a critical history of global colonialism.

"Residente" debuted shortly before Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. The film's final chapter discusses the island's embattled history, which gives important context for later stories about the tragedy, Washington's failed response, and the current political upheaval in San Juan. Presented by the Puerto Rican Festival in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. (Sunday, September 15, 8 p.m. Spiegelgarden. Free. Not rated.)

Live Coding Computer Music

When an artist uses a computer to assist with the composition of new material, the result is computer music. It's often invisible but also ubiquitous, from film scores to the GarageBand loops that came with your laptop. This music is best recognized on the cultural fringe, as pioneers like Iannis Xenakis produced intensely polarizing work. Beyond that, coding can scare off creatives, and programmers are often unaware of the transferability of their skills.

Steven Yi, Assistant Professor at RIT's School of Interactive Games and Media, will perform a show at Fringe to dispel the misgivings of both groups. Computer music is a fun and creative process that's accessible even as it challenges an artist to escape their comfort zone. Professor Yi is among the world's experts on the language Csound, which he will use to code music live on stage in a performance certain to both entertain and edify. (Saturday, September 21, 7:30 p.m., The Little: Theatre 5. Free. Appropriate for ages 13 and older.)

UR IPM Presents Yes: Fragile and More

University of Rochester's Institute for Popular Music is an unassuming underground hallway where scholars debate The Beatles' work as rigorously as Beethoven is discussed elsewhere. You may recognize IPM's director John Covach from national media stories about the history of rock and roll, for which he is often consulted for commentary. What you might not know is that he's also got some blistering guitar chops. Flanked by fellow UR instructors and formidable instrumentalists Chris Meeker and Jimmy Warlick, he's leading a team of student, faculty, and alumni musicians into the Fringe fray.

The group is set to play through Yes's 1971 album, "Fragile." Now, I personally don't care for prog rock. I'm not even a Yes fan. But this particular record absolutely rips. The musicians are top notch, and Kilbourn is among the best-sounding rooms in Rochester. You can't go wrong with this show. (Friday, September 13, 7 p.m., Eastman Music School, Kilbourn Hall. $15. Appropriate for all ages.)

Hidden Garden Concert with Wildflowers: A Tribute to Tom Petty

Tom Petty's "Wildflowers" turns 25 this fall; at the time of its release it was an unexpected classic from a songwriter already into his 40s. It lives on among the final cohort of multiplatinum rock albums to reach a universal audience before the internet blew up the music business. A dedicated group of Rochester musicians (hailing from Honey Smugglers, Maybird, Moho Collective, Vacation Daze, and more) assembled last year to memorialize the album, and they've reunited for this year's Fringe to do the record in one of the most beautiful spaces in the city: The George Eastman Museum's Hidden Garden.

I asked drummer Billy Martin what to expect. The group has been putting in some serious work, drilling four-part vocal harmonies and the sprawling Rick Rubin arrangements that span the album's hour-long runtime. A few Heartbreakers classics will round out the set. Get there early to pick out a good spot. (Friday, September 13, 6 p.m., George Eastman Museum: North Lawn. $12. All ages.)


FRANK DE BLASE

"Cirque du Fringe: D'illusion"

Even if there were no show inside, The Spiegeltent is a spectacular spectacle to speculate. It is the Fringe Festival's crowning jewel. And what a show it is inside. At the center of the annual gravity-defying chaos are Vegas-based phenoms Matt and Heidi Morgan and a cast of many from all over the globe. Plan to have your mind blown and breath taken away as the troupe perform feats of might and fright. Oh, and you're gonna laugh, too. This year's show, "D'illusion," sees Matt performing as illusionist Rod Raven accompanied by Heidi as his eccentric sidekick. (Tuesday, September 10 through Friday, September 13 at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, September 14 through Saturday, September 21, with evening performances at 7 p.m. Matinee performances on Saturday, September 14 and Saturday, September 21 at 2:30 p.m. Spiegeltent. Tickets start at $35. Evening performances are appropriate for ages 13 and older. Matinee performances are appropriate for ages 5 and older.)

Plasticiens Volants

The French company behind Plasticiens Volants sets out to drop your jaw in awe of its new, immersive project "Pearl: Secrets of the Sea." Mondo-huge, inflated creatures will dwarf you like plankton as the mobile installation makes its way down East Avenue from Chestnut Street to its final destination on Parcel 5. (Friday, September 13 and Saturday, September 14, at 8 p.m. Parcel 5. Free. Appropriate for all ages.)

Complimentary Heckling

Performance artist-comedian Crackerjack is back this year and will be roaming, or rather, prowling The Fringe looking to drag you into the show; that's right she's gonna heckle you, but with kind words. Do you dare heckle back? (Friday, September 13, and Saturday, September 14, 6:45 p.m. Parcel 5. Free. Appropriate for all ages.)

Spooky Stories in the Stacks

Part of a spooky story's allure is its venue, where it's delivered. For some time now, people have said the Rundel Building at Central Library is a host of paranormal activity, and now will host the telling of various bone-chilling tales being told among the stacks. Our insider intel states that the stories may include The Murder at Falls Field, the Legend of The Fox Sisters, and the unsolved death of Laura Young underneath what is now Central Library. (Sunday, September 15 at 1:15 p.m., 2:30 p.m. & 3:45 p.m. Central Library: meet in Harold Hecker Hall. $12. Appropriate for ages 13 and older.)

"The Theater World of John W Borek"

I like to call John Borek's take on performance anti-theatre, even though his contrarian delivery is just the kick in the pants that theater needs. The man is a genius, an iconoclastic icon who has breathed life into at-times troubling bits of theatre like "Moose Murders," which is considered by some to be the worst play ever produced. Borek also ran for Pope a few years back, so he's got that going for him. (Tuesday, September 10 at 7 p.m. MuCCC. $10. Appropriate for ages 18 and older.)

"Crazy for Dick Tricks: A Dirk Darrow Investigation"

It's Henny Youngman meets The Amazing Kreskin. It's Philip Marlowe for the wisenheimer set. Dirk Darrow — Australian comedian, storyteller, and mentalist played by Tim Motley — is a private eye, a shamus, a gumshoe, a dick who plugs his investigation full of rapid-fire hep chatter while performing feats of magic and illusion before your eyes, all beneath a fine fedora. It's a perfect show to bring the kids to if you wanna blue-up their sense of humor. (Wednesday, September 18 at 7 p.m.; Thursday, September 19 at 9 p.m.; Friday, September 20 at 6 p.m.; and Saturday, September 21 at 1 p.m. & 9 p.m. Geva Theatre Center: Fielding Stage. $15 ($10 for licensed detectives). Appropriate for ages 13 and older.)

"Josephine, a burlesque cabaret dream play"

This show is a beautiful celebration of Josephine Baker's contributions politically, morally, and sexually, set in a time and in a place where Baker had a serious impact on race and how it was perceived. I caught this one-woman play last year and thought actress Tymisha Harris' performance was slick, eloquent, and full of erotic class. (Wednesday, September 18 through Saturday, September 21, at 9 p.m. School of the Arts: Allen Main Stage Theatre. $20. Appropriate for ages 18 and older.)


KATHY LALUK

PUSH Physical Theatre

All it took was one performance to get me hooked. At last year's Fringe, PUSH Physical Theatre mastermind Darren Stevenson broke his toe, and still performed stunning feats of strength and artistry that made me crave more. The group of performers, who are coming off a national tour and collaborations with Grammy-winning composer Jeff Tyzik and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, use movement, acrobatics, dance, miming, theatrics and a whole lot of heart to tell stories that are exciting, funny, captivating and provocative — often all at the same time. I still haven't figured out how on Earth they do some of the things they do, so you can bet I'll be back again this year to see if I can figure it out. If not, I'll still have had a remarkably fun evening. (Saturday, September 14 at 8:30 p.m.; Friday, September 20 and Saturday, September 21 at 7 p.m. School of the Arts: Allen Main Stage Theatre. $18. Appropriate for all ages.)

Shotspeare

Taking on the cursed "Scottish Play" of "Macbeth" might scare some actors off, especially if the production is going to add copious amounts of alcohol. But not those behind Shotspeare. From the minds of Matt and Heidi Morgan (the same crew who brings new iterations of "Cirque du Fringe" to Rochester each year), this production takes classic Shakespeare, soaks him in beer and flips him on his head. I was equal parts amazed and doubled over in laughter last year, as the actors manage to recite the Bard's iambic pentameter (nearly) perfectly, all while pounding beers, getting pantsed or pummeled with socks, thanks to the Wheel of Soliloquy. It is as absurd as it is brilliant. And isn't that what Fringe is all about? (Tuesday, September 17 through Saturday, September 21 at 9:15 p.m. Spiegeltent. Single tickets are $21-$25; $123-$147 for 6-person booths. Appropriate for ages 21 and older.)

Drag Brunch

Grab your lipstick and bring your appetite, because Edibles Restaurant's popular "Drag Me to Brunch" series is taking a spin at the Fringe. The sparkly, over-the-top Spiegeltent seems to be the perfect atmosphere for four popular queens — Mrs. Kasha Davis, Darienne Lake, Keke Velasquez Lord and Wednesday Westwood — to strut their stuff, lip-sync their hearts out and of course, tease the audience members as they nibble on everything from honey baked ham to avocado toast and sip mimosas and Bloody Marys. Having seen the show at Edibles, I can easily see the glamour and camp translating perfectly to Fringe. Brunch will never be the same. (Sunday, September 15 at 12:15 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. Spiegeltent. $38. Appropriate for ages 18 and older.)

"ShMILF Life"

If you have met Penny Sterling (or in my case, follow her on Twitter), you know she is as honest as she is funny. I caught a glimpse of her humor when she was the opening act for "Good Joke/Bad Joke Bingo" last year, and since then I've been eager to see her in a show. "ShMILF Life" is her latest one-woman show that tackles the relatable topic of dating (who hasn't struggled with that before?). But how about when you're older? And transgender? If what I've seen from her so far holds true, her first-hand accounts of navigating these uncharted (and I suspect, at times, choppy) waters, is sure to be equal parts hilarious, self-reflective and thought-provoking. (Saturday, September 14 at 7:30 p.m. and Wednesday, September 18 at 7 p.m. MuCCC. $15. Appropriate for ages 18 and older.)

"21 Chump Street"

Lin Manuel-Miranda. Now that I've got your attention, perhaps I can pique your interest in "21 Chump Street," a 14-minute mini-musical from the creative tour de force behind "Hamilton" and "In the Heights." Based off a true story featured on the weekly public radio program "This American Life," it tells the unlikely love story at a high school in Florida, where young police officers had gone undercover in an attempt to make drug arrests. The show leans into themes of young love, acceptance, and wanting to be cool, and packs an emotional punch in the time span of a typical intermission. (Monday, September 16 at 6 and 6:45 p.m. The Avyarium. $10. Appropriate for ages 13 and older.)

"Flirting Like an American"

Just about everyone has misread a social cue on a date before (that's not just me, right?) Now imagine you're coming from another country, and find out the language of love is not quite as international as you thought. That's the premise behind "Flirting Like an American," stories about a professor whose proficiency in numbers and statistics doesn't help at all when it comes to courting an American woman. Sufian Zhemukhov shares his heart-breaking and hilarious experiences with dating as a first-generation immigrant, which includes stories that have been showcased on PBS and have won Story Slams at the National Storytelling Festival. (Friday, September 13 at 7 p.m., Saturday, September 14 at 5 p.m., and Sunday, September 15 at 3 p.m. & 7:30 p.m. Geva Theatre Center: Fielding Stage. $18. Appropriate for all ages.)

"Something from Nothing (Marfa)"

Usually productions discourage people from having their cell phones on during a performance. But not this one. "Something from Nothing (Marfa)" promises to be an interactive journey through memory that starts with the senses. The immersive experience will force the audience to think about how sight, hearing, and more play a role in our daily lives through visual, spoken and musical whimsy. Using themes of light coming out of darkness, the creative team (including CITY's own Leah Stacy) pulled the narrative from a wide swath of written texts, from missed connections on Craigslist to song lyrics and classic literature. I'm not sure what that all means (or what Marfa means for that matter), but I'm intrigued to find out. And since Fringe is encouraging people to 'leap a little' this year, I'm inclined to. (Tuesday, September 10 at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday, September 14 at 9 p.m. Geva Theatre Center: Fielding Stage. $7. Appropriate for ages 18 and older.)

"God is a Scottish Drag Queen"

This show is billed as part Dame Edna with a dollop of Eddie Izzard, and after seeing Izzard's stand-up comedy at last year's festival, I'll admit I'm excited to see this one. Comedian Mike Delamont takes center stage as God, decked out in a floral power suit, to skewer parts of the Bible, Star Wars, and even Justin Bieber. Nothing is off-limits in this one-man romp that has won "Best of the Fest" awards 18 times. With any luck, he'll be back with his second iteration of the show, "God is a Scottish Drag Queen: The Second Coming" for 2020's Fringe Festival. (Thursday, September 12 at 9 p.m.; Saturday, September, 14 and Sunday, September 15 at 6:30 p.m. School of the Arts: Allen Main Stage Theatre. $20. Appropriate for ages 13 and older. )


LEAH STACY

"BardBending: Fight Club Edition"

Wallbyrd Theatre Co. meets Chuck Palahniuk in a whirlwind re-imagination of Shakespeare's greatest plays, focusing specifically on fight scenes. In 60 minutes, Wallbyrd — led by artistic director Virginia Monte — will use its trademark blend of modern and classic interpretation to transport the audience through energetic scenes, choreographed to thrill and entertain. This is the second Wallbyrd Fringe show to remix Shakespeare; in 2018 the troupe performed a series of scenes with gender-neutral casting in "Same-Sex Shakespeare." (Tuesday, September 10 at 7 p.m.; Thursday, September 12 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, September 21 at 7:30 p.m. The Avyarium. $10. Appropriate for ages 13 and older.)

Between Silences

Eight actresses play 22 roles in this series of monologues about a "group of women of a certain age who have nothing and everything in common." The monologues, written as narrative poetry, were penned by published poet and playwright S.J. Henschel, while Alexa Scott-Flaherty directs (last year, she directed "Fielder's Choice," another original piece by local journalist and CITY's new editor, David Andreatta) and Barbara Lobb produces. The cast is comprised of local writers and performers Maria Scipione, Allison Roberts, Nancy Berg, Patricia Lewis Browne, Vicki Cassarett, Barbara Lobb, Linda Loy, and Erin Kate Howard. (Thursday, September 19 at 5:30 p.m. and Saturday, September 21 at 5 p.m. School of the Arts: Black Box Theatre. $15. Appropriate for ages 18 and older.)

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"The Fighting Girl's Guide to Politics"

In 1872, Victoria Woodhull became the first woman in United States history to run for president. Her campaign ignites a fight to remember: one between her and Rochester-native Susan B. Anthony, a suffragist who didn't agree with Woodhull's political leanings. This 50-minute comedic piece is the third Fringe show from School of the Arts creative writing teacher Brad Craddock, and local actor Shawnda Urie stars as Victoria Woodhill. (Saturday, September 14 and Sunday, September 15 at 4 p.m.; Wednesday, September 18 at 6 p.m.; Friday, September 20 at 9 p.m.; Saturday, September 21 at 4:30 p.m.; School of the Arts: Club SOTA. $12. Appropriate for ages 13 and older.)

In This Guide...

    Fringe Festival Guide 2019

    The eighth annual Rochester Fringe Festival kicks off Tuesday, September 10, and continuing its trend of expanding by a full day each year, has reached a stretch of 12 days. This year’s theme is “Leap A Little,” with organizers encouraging audiences to get out of their comfort zones, whether that be the kinds of art you show up to take in, or the new-to-you cultural venues around the city.

    Underwater City

    Parcel 5 will again host performances by French street theater troupe Plasticiens Volants for the 2019 Keybank Rochester Fringe Festival. The group, based in Graulhet, France, drew large crowds and favorable reviews for their 2017 Fringe appearances.

    Fringe Festival Info

    Everything you need to know to make this year's Fringe Festival a success

    Food on the Fringe

    Rochester Fringe 2019 is here, offering 12 days of spectacles — some of which you can participate in. Between scurrying from act to act and busting a move at the Silent Disco, you’re going to need to take in some calories between performances.

    Headliners

    The Fringe-curated headlining shows for 2019 Rochester Fringe.