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In its 10th year, Fringe Festival faces a COVID challenge

Sep 13, 2021

Credit Rochester Fringe Festival

The KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival opens Tuesday, with more than 425 live and virtual performances over the next 12 days. But after more than 18 months of COVID-19 caution, what will Rochester Fringe look like?

Will the pandemic blunt the rapid growth of this event, now in its 10th year?

“I am seeing overall, definitely, an awareness, a reaction to some of the social progress and social questions that have gone on, that recently have been raised,” says the event’s producer, Erica Fee. “But I’m also seeing a lot of joy here, and a happiness to being able to gather again.”

We will be reminded every day of what we have been through, and are going through. Masks will be required for all indoor events, with proof of vaccination for audience members 12 and over.

Worldwide, fringe festivals tend to reflect the social concerns of the day. And this year, besides COVID, Rochester Fringe shows will address recent, and longstanding concerns, such as Black Lives Matter. Me Too. The environment. Sexual identity. Immigration.

“We really didn’t find that our venues tend to shy away from taking on those shows,” Fee says.

Some aspects of the Rochester Fringe will be familiar from past years, following a 2020 festival that was presented entirely online. Silent Disco. Pedestrian Drive-In. Gospel Sunday. The intimate comedy of the women of Bushwhacked at the intersection of Gibbs and E. Main Street, dubbed “One Fringe Place” for Rochester Fringe.

The free movies of Pedestrian Drive-In at One Fringe Place return, with Tuesday’s 8 p.m. showing of “Drunk Bus.” The indie film was actually shot in Rochester, which posed as Kent, Ohio. Rochester landmarks scattered throughout the film: World Wide News on St. Paul Street is costumed up a bit to make it appear as if it is in Kent, renamed World Wide Food; Rochester Institute of Technology sits in for Kent State University. And, of course, most Rochesterians will recognize the piles of snow that build up in the city’s parking lots over the course of winter.

The Italian circus tent that will stand in for the Spiegeltent at this year's Rochester Fringe Festival.
Credit Rochester Fringe Festival

As some former East End District venues are not yet available, this year’s Rochester Fringe shows are spread farther afield. Out to Brighton and the new CenterStage Theater at the JCC. The glittering Spiegeltent, anchoring One Fringe Place, could not make it out of Belgium because of COVID-19 travel restrictions. In its place will be an Italian circus tent, with sides that open up, allowing in fresh air.

And there will be only one big, free event on “The Five,” the grassy lot off of E. Main Street, previously known — and probably still known to most Rochesterians — as Parcel 5. Rochester’s Joywave has curated and is headlining a special concert for the final day of Rochester Fringe, Sept. 25. Joywave will be joined by a couple of national acts, and some of the best that the city has to offer in then danceable rock band KOPPS, pop-harpist Mikaela Davis and ukulele charmer Cammy Enaharo.

The complete schedule is available at rochesterfringe.com. Go to “Find a Show,” create a list of events by date, venue and genres, then hit the “Filter” button.