Fringe Festival opens, and a look at Day 2 from Jeff Spevak

Sep 13, 2018

Andrew Adams, who grew up in Scottsville and attended Wheatland-Chili High School, and his wife, Sasha Harrington, in the Spiegeltent, peforming with Cirque du Fringe.
Credit Jeff Spevak

The dancer has a broken toe, and the law shook down the karaoke band at the Detroit airport.

Otherwise, it was business as unusual: Ethiopian child juggling! – on opening night of the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival.

Cirque du Fringe debuted its new cabinet of human curios, Sideshow, Wednesday night at the Victorian-cozy Spiegeltent, in the carnival environs of the Spiegelgarden at the intersection of Gibbs and E. Main streets. Sideshow runs through the remaining 10 days of Rochester Fringe, which spreads throughout downtown over the coming days.

That includes the big free event at Parcel 5, Massaoke, despite the best efforts of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which on Wednesday stopped the British band as it entered the country on its flight from England, forcing it to miss its connecting flight to Rochester. The last flight of the day.

Fortunately, there is an airport in Elmira – not a lot of people know that – so the band was able to get here to keep its Thursday promotional obligations, before the shows Friday and Saturday. Massaoke: Mass karaoke, with thousands of people singing Queen and Beatles songs to live music.

Darren Stevenson’s toe is another matter. After surviving years of intense acrobatic storytelling around the world while leading Rochester’s acclaimed PUSH Physical Theatre, activities threatening all kinds of trauma to the body, Stevenson broke his toe after banging it on the edge of a door at home. With painkillers in hand, the show will go on; PUSH debuts some new work, and three new members, Saturday at School of the Arts Allen Main Stage, before embarking on a national tour.

But opening night belonged to Cirque du Fringe. This is the fourth year in the Spiegeltent for the troupe headed by Matt Morgan and Heidi Brucker Morgan, and as usual they have assembled a collection of sideshow collaborators.

Multi-cultural high jinks and jaw droppers. There is clown love. Feats of strength with burley, bearded men balancing on each others’ biceps. Throwing playing cards so they stick in a watermelon. Jugglers in kilts. A man levitating in a Cyr wheel. Beer floor exercises. Sword swallowing and sticking a drill bit up the nostril. From Ethiopia, a father, lying on his back, using his feet to spin his son at seemingly impossible speeds. And as seems to be the case every year, Morgan loses his pants, so we get to see him bounding around in his tighty-whities.

But the aerials are the highlight of Sideshow. Humans swooping around the Spiegeltent, including a woman with a harness attached to her long hair. And Andrew Adams, who grew up in Scottsville and attended Wheatland-Chili High School. He now lives in Las Vegas, where it’s easier for humans who dangle from cables to find work. He and his wife, Sasha Harrington, opened the second half of the show with a whirling routine that saw the two ascending to the Spiegeltent ceiling as they danced around an umbrella.  

The comedy is uneven, but intentionally so. Not every trick works the first time. Juggling pins hit the floor, playing cards don’t easily cut into a watermelon. Failure is possible. In fact, it only seems to re-enforce the success that follows.

Cirque du Fringe: Sideshow plays nightly throughout the festival, with two kid-friendly matinees as well. Check rochesterfringe.com for times and tickets.

Fringe Fest: Day Two

The pace picks up, as more venues get involved Thursday. Some shows to consider:              

Holding on Through Song: A Celebration of the African-American Spiritual, 8 p.m., Lyric Theatre: Main Stage. A contemporary and traditional exploration of spiritual music though choir and the audience as the spirit moves it. Local performers such as Kearstin Piper-Brown, Jason Holmes, Marcus Jefferson, Alan Jones and the words of former slaves, including Frederick Douglass, join the First Inversion choir. The show returns 8 p.m. Saturday.

Penny Sterling with Mike and Mel Muscarella, featured in Parents & Children, Husbands & Wives: It’s All Relatives.
Credit KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival

Parents & Children, Husbands & Wives: It’s All Relatives, 8:30 p.m., Geva Theatre Center, Fielding Stage. Penny Sterling’s spoken-word performance Spy in the House of Men, the story of her life as a trans person, was a previous Fringe hit. Now she’s back with Mike and Mel Muscarella, of the local band Violet Mary, presenting music and stories about families. The show continues with performances at 4 p.m. Sunday and 9 p.m. Sept. 19.     

Josephine, a Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play, 9 p.m., School of the Arts: Allen Main Stage. The story of Josephine Baker, the first worldwide African-American star who moved to Paris and became a sensation at the Folies Bergère, often appearing nearly nude or in a costume made of artificial bananas, and attracting the attention of Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and Jean Cocteau. Her fascinating life included aiding the French Resistance during World War II and working on behalf of the Civil Rights movement in the United States. The acclaimed off-Broadway musical, created by and starring Tymeshia Harris, continues 9 p.m. Friday, 9 p.m. Sept. 21 and 9 p.m. Sept. 22.

Jeff Spevak, a cultural arts contributor to WXXI and Rochester-based writer, is reporting on the Fringe Festival daily at wxxinews.org. His web site is jeffspevak.com.