The First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival is now marking five years. You can't really say that the Fringe had "modest" beginnings — hosting a five-day festival in multiple venues around downtown Rochester is a feat of supreme coordination and good will. But I almost want to use the term in order to explain how quickly the event has grown. It's a way to contrast the scope of this year's Fringe, and a way to highlight its importance to Rochester's arts community.
More than 32,000 attendees came out for that initial Fringe. That success prompted the event to expand to 10 days the next year, which attracted more than 50,000 people. An estimated 60,000 attended the 2014 edition, and last year — the Fringe's largest with more than 500 performances at 25-plus venues — again set a record with 63,000 people.
This year, the Rochester Fringe Festival will again feature more than 500 performances and events, taking place Thursday, September 15, through Saturday, September 24, across more than 25 indoor and outdoor venues in and around downtown Rochester.
Still, not only has the Fringe roughly doubled in size, but the performances, events, and "experiments" that occur within the festival's 10 days have grown increasingly more adventurous and ambitious. It's no longer "weird" to watch a show unfold in parked cars, camping tents, or a Jacuzzi. Giant tricycles belching fireballs, acrobats dancing on the sides of buildings, and synthetic voices that lead you across the city on an adventure with your friends have become the expectation. And that's not mentioning the venues filled every day with stand-up and improv comedy, dance, theater, gospel choirs, drag performers, and musicians.
The effects of Fringe can be felt outside of September. Local artists have started to take advantage of the festival's format to workshop new theater productions, premiere new dance collaborations, experiment with music and technology, or just do something they never thought they could get away with. Those ideas come out the other side of Fringe stronger and ready to take on Rochester.
The Rochester Fringe Festival is put on by a nonprofit corporation spearheaded by some of the area's key cultural institutions, including Geva Theatre Center, the George Eastman House, Garth Fagan Dance, Eastman School of Music, and others. What makes Fringe stand out from other arts festivals is that participating venues curate their own shows. Acts applied earlier this year and the various theaters, galleries, cafes, and other venues picked the shows that fit them best.
Tickets for Fringe Festival shows vary per venue, typically ranging between $5 and $15 (and headlining acts typically have higher ticket prices). Still, there are around 170 completely free spectacles, including Friday and Saturday on the Fringe at Parcel 5 — with the headliner STREB — and performances on Gibbs Street during the second weekend. Tickets for individual shows are available online at rochesterfringe.com, by phone at 957-9837, and in person at each venue starting an hour before show time. There will also be a Spiegeltent box office open at One Fringe Place (the corner of East Main and Gibbs).
For a full schedule of the festival, a list of venues, maps, and other information, see the official Fringe Festival Guide, included in this issue or visit rochesterfringe.com.
City Newspaper will offer extensive coverage of the 2016 Rochester Fringe Festival. Look for daily blogs during the run of the festival, with photos, reviews, and our critics' picks for best of the fest. And make sure to pick up our Fringe Review in print in the September 21 issue.