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Rochester Fringe Fest 2020: The show will go on(line)


The 2020 KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival is a virtual reality. Producer Erica Fee confirmed Friday that the ninth annual event, scheduled for September 15 through September 26, will largely be held online, rather than live in venues in and around Rochester.

"It’s a model that many fringe festivals worldwide have switched to," Fee said.

The decision is not only a matter of the coronavirus pandemic and the potential of large crowds contributing to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Many acts that would normally be a part of the festival have canceled their summer tours.

Yet Fee is confident that there are enough theatrical performances, idle musicians, puppeteers, and drag queens available to fill the 12 days of the festival.

"We don’t think that it’s going to be difficult because, what we’ve learned from other fringe festivals, is that switching to this virtual idea really opens up the realm of possibilities of shows," she said. "So many fringe festivals through the United States have been reporting to us that they’ve been pleasantly surprised by the depth and breadth of shows that have been applying, that the festivals have really been able to become international, and that by having a platform that was online, they’ve been able to attract audiences now from around the world.

"So we do think that this is actually going to create some exciting new art for not just for Rochesterians, but for others who can view it from anywhere in the world."

Some events will still be planned for outdoors, around recommended social-distancing guidelines. And some events will be presented as drive-in events, with the audience safely tucked away in their cars.

"Six feet is not a magical number" Fee says, "and we’re not willing to put anyone at risk."

The Rochester Fringe Festival will take applications from performers from June 18 through July 31 at Shows that have previously applied for the 2020 in-person festival and are interested in virtual participation can log into their current applications and answer additional questions.

The virtual lineup will be announced in August. Tickets for each event will be made available online.

Last year’s featured more than 650 performances and events and drew a record 100,000 visitors.

Jeff Spevak is WXXI’s arts & life editor and reporter. He can be reached at