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Arts & Life

Rochester Fringe Festival announces 2020 lineup of 170+ virtual productions

Aaron Winters file photo
Live performances will return to the Fringe Festival this year, but indoor shows will be only for those who are vaccinated against COVID-19.

Big changes are afoot for this year’s KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival, which will be presented as an entirely virtual festival due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Organizers of the 2020 “KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival @ Home” announced highlights and details about the ninth annual festival on Tuesday morning via a streamed version of its annual “Big Reveal” press conference.

The 12-day festival, which will take place from Sept. 15-26, will feature more than 170 unique productions. Some will be available to stream on demand, and others will be live-streamed at specific times during the festival’s 12-day run. The full schedule of events and tickets is now online at

Organizers said that about 60% of this year’s participating artists are based in the greater Rochester area, and about 40% of the artists hail from communities around the United States and the world. They’ll connect with Rochester’s audiences via different platforms, such as YouTube, Vimeo, Twitch, Zoom, and Facebook Live -- whichever best suits their productions.

The festival’s executive director, Erica Fee, noted that this year’s high level of participation in an all-virtual Fringe indicates the efficacy of artists connecting with audiences over these mediums. 

“The fact that we have just as many productions participating this year as in 2019’s live Fringe proves that there’s a real need for virtual platforms such as these, which allow for artists’ voices to be heard and communities to address difficult issues during these challenging times,” Fee said. 

A portion of this year’s programming will tackle historical and contemporary racial justice and social issues, including the Black Lives Matter movement, the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, and issues of equity exacerbated by the global pandemic. 

And new this year among the Fringe-curated shows is a series of four conversations with artists called “Fringe Talk,” which will present different current topics, ranging from the Black Lives Matter movement to the community impacts of COVID-19.

The Morgans will also present a new iteration of their bawdy, audience-interactive, Bard-based drinking game, Shotspeare.

Rochester audiences have come to expect fantastic spectacles from the lineup of Fringe-curated shows, from the annual new version of Cirque du Fringe presented in the Spiegeltent, to grand presentations in Parcel 5 that draw hundreds of spectators.

This year’s venue-less Fringe will feature a handful of Fringe-curated acts, including some familiar faces. Las Vegas’s Matt and Heidi Morgan will present the world premiere of “Cirque du Fringe: Quarantini,” featuring a diverse cast and live interviews with circus performers. The Morgans will also bring back a new production of their series of bawdy, audience-interactive, Bard-based drinking games, titled “Shotspeare Presents the Complete Works of William Shakespeare…sort of.”

Pulitzer Prize-nominated storyteller Nate DiMeo’s podcast The Memory Palace returns this year with a never-before-heard, Rochester-specific episode.

Also returning from last year is Pulitzer Prize-nominated storyteller Nate DiMeo’s podcast “The Memory Palace.” The Fringe will release a new Rochester-specific episode. Both last year’s “High Falls” episode and a never-before-heard story about Rochester’s Corinthian Hall, “From the Parking Lot,” will be available for free and on demand via various podcast platforms. 

The open-access portion of the festival usually curated by venues this year is composed of performer-submitted shows that range from amateur to professional works of comedy, dance, children’s entertainment, music, spoken word, theater, visual art, film, and multidisciplinary acts.

Other returning faves include a virtual program by the ladies behind the annual “Bushwhacked” comedy show. This year’s audience-interactive “Bushwhacked: House Arrest” moves from the Spiegelgarden to Zoom, but maintains its intimate format of only four tickets available per show.

More than 70 shows during this year's Fringe will be free, including:

  • “Edith Vs. Quarantine: 89 & One Tough Cookie,” a one-woman comedy show, on Sept. 19 and Sept. 23.
  • “It Can't Not Be Dance Music: New Music Inspired by the Art of James Welling,” a virtual program inspired by Eastman Museum’s exhibition “James Welling: Choreograph” created in collaboration between fivebyfive and Marc Webster, on Sunday, Sept. 20.
  • “Spooky Stories in the (virtual) Stacks,” true ghost stories told from the secret stacks of the Rundel Memorial Building of Central Library, on demand.
  • “COVID Zone,” a deaf theater piece set in a "horror movie" landscape like The Twilight Zone, performed with music, dance, humor, and poetry by RIT’s Dangerous Signs group, on demand.
  • RIT School of Film & Animation Honors Show 2020, a selection of both graduate and undergraduate films, videos, and animations, on demand.

Rebecca Rafferty is CITY's arts & entertainment editor. She can be reached at