The ninth KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival comes to a provisional close after Saturday's shows. All of the performances have been virtual, as we’ve been reminding people throughout the festival's 12 days. Yet while the scheduled events will be gone, the on-demand shows — which are actually the bulk of the festival — will linger a while in the cloud. By purchasing a ticket before the end of Rochester Fringe on Saturday, you can watch that show through Oct. 10. The schedule, and tickets, are at rochesterfringe.com.
As producer Erica Fee, and her guests this week on "FringeTalk" noted, we'll have to get used to a hybrid presentation of the arts. And as the following reviews of "Worlds Collide" and "Pop Go the Bells" demonstrate, that approach may work.
'FringeTalk' explores 'multi-layered insanity'
With one official day, Saturday, remaining for Rochester Fringe, "I think the question is, 'What didn’t we learn?'" Fee says.
Throughout the summer, fringe festivals worldwide compared notes as they advanced, virtually, through the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. "Everyone was actually in the foxhole together," Fee said Friday afternoon. She'd been hearing from fringe festivals that had already gone through the experience that, even without the crowds, food trucks, and weather of a traditional festival, putting on a virtual festival was tougher.
"How could it be?" Fee said she thought.
"They were 100 percent right."
Setting aside a handful of cancellations, the ninth annual Rochester Fringe was 170 productions. "We're just so pleased we are able to provide a platform for artists," Fee said, "because they literally have nothing."
It is a commitment that she has seen in other arts organizations throughout Rochester. Placing the emphasis on "people, over making money."
And there is a positive to events such as Rochester Fringe going virtual, she said. It will be found in "the amount of people we could reach that we could never reach before."
Even as there are technical and social stumbles as, "The audience is learning how to experience these virtual events," she said.
Virtual arts can still be social, Fee said, pointing to an outdoor, socially-distanced gathering she heard of that was planned for Saturday night, with Fringe shows projected on screens.
A return to public arts will be a heavy lift, Fee said. "When we re-open, it's just not going to be the same, we're not turning the clock back to 2019."
Surprisingly, Dr. Stuart Weiss — an event medical expert and CEO of Intelligent Crowd Solutions — said that outdoor events, with proper social distancing, appear safe. Even now, as we're all shopping for snow shovels. Weiss was a part of Thursday night's "FringeTalk," a session called "Predicting the Future? The Performing Arts in 2021."
What's not going to happen soon, Weiss predicted, are in-person, indoor events. Not next summer, and maybe not even into the fall.
"We're definitely at a crisis point," said Lisa Richards Toney, the CEO of the Association of Performing Arts Professionals. Also a member of the "FringeTalk" panel, she said, "Our industry is suffering, there's no doubt about that. Many people are not working, they don't know when they will be able to work, and it's quite scary."
Live-streaming arts, Toney said, will become a part of the new hybrid model of entertainment: Live and virtual.
Steven Adelman of Event Safety Alliance was significantly more agitated as he noted what has been said by many people, that the arts was the first industry to close with the arrival of COVID-19, and it will be the last to re-open. He cited the "multi-layered insanity" of state and federal guidelines.
"I don't understand why outdoor festivals can't open," he said, "but, I don't know, Halloween hayrides can."
'Worlds Collide' is, indeed, 'most unusual'
I'm sorry this review is three years late. Something came up.
"Worlds Collide" is a magnificent fusion played out on the Eastman School of Music's Kilbourn Hall stage. The worlds in collision that creators Dave Rivello and Shawn Drogan have in mind is the analog of brass, reeds, strings, and percussion, and the digital of synthesizers, sound samples, effects pedals, and the coils of cables, lying like snakes at the feet of the musicians.
But the collision, one of many Rochester Fringe shows that will remain on demand until Oct. 10, also involves the worlds of jazz, rock, classical, and New-Age ambience. If I told you "Worlds Collide" is a long-lost '70s fusion collaboration between Chick Corea and Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman, you would believe me.
Rivello is assistant professor of Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media at Eastman School of Music. He's also a composer and arranger of complex pieces, including co-producing the Gil Evans Project's "Lines of Color" in 2015, which received a Grammy nomination for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album.
Drogan is a Rochester drummer, producer, and electronic musician who has played in a few local bands, including his duo "The Manhattan Project."
The 45-minute "Worlds Collide," performed by an 11-piece group, is virtually seamless. Shot by multiple cameras, the backdrop of the video is bathed in blues and purples, presented beneath Buffalo visual artist Armageddon Party's projected geometric and psychedelic images — and giant bees — on screens and the Kilbourn proscenium.
Propelled by shimmering, metronomic beats, the music never stays in one place for long. Multi-chromatic layers of swooping synths twitter like locusts over Anna Dunlap’s meditative harp; pensive droplets of sound and wind chime-like crystalline notes are the anticipatory calm before an approaching storm. The trumpets of Mike Kaupa and Charlie Carr emerge like Miles Davis for a solo before giving way to electric piano. Brief snatches of dialogue are overheard, from what seems like a sci-fi film — "very strange... most unusual..."
The lack of social distancing among the musicians on stage, and audience applause during the show, is your clue that this performance occurred prior to the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, it is a recording from the 2017 Rochester Fringe, presented just a day or two before I was laid off by the local daily newspaper.
Which explains why this review is three years late.
"Worlds Collide" is available for free, streaming on demand at rochesterfringe.com. All ages.
Sandy Gianniny's "Pop Go the Bells" is an example of how virtual arts can work. A harp musician and teacher, she has also been playing the chimes at Third Presbyterian Church on East Avenue for two decades.
The 14 bells are stuck by hammers, attached by cables, attached to levers, shoved by Gianniny as she stands on a platform halfway up the brick bell tower. For this show, yet another on-demand one available through Oct. 10, Giannini forgoes the religious tunes in favor of familiar pop songs. "Summertime," "Over the Rainbow" and five tunes associated with the Beatles, including "Imagine" and "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da."
But without a camera, and the virtual presentation, the audience would never get a glimpse of Gianniny in the tower, working those levers, producing the ringing of those bells, a sound peeling up and down East Avenue.
"Pop Go the Bells" is available for free and on demand via rochesterfringe.com. All ages.
Jeff Spevak is WXXI's Arts & Life editor and reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.