FRONT-ROW SEAT: Fringe in 2021: New features, same vibe as arts festival goes live again –

Posted By on September 14, 2021

What began with five days of performances in 2012 has grown into a 12-dayshowcase of the arts of all sorts, one of the topfestivals of its sort nationwide. This years KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival, which opens Tuesday, Sept. 14, includes more than 425 performances from throughout the gamut of the creative impulse dance, theater, music, comedy,film, visual arts, spoken-word, circus arts, and many that cut across genres.

Erica Fee, festival producer and executive director and president of the board of directors, said the Fringe founders had knownconditions were great in Rochester for a festival of this sort a vibrantperforming arts community, several higher educational institutions and, perhaps most important, an appreciative audience.

Rochester audiences are known nationwide for being very hungry for new work, and for being very accepting, Fee said, adding, ... We of course didnt know exactly what it would turn into we didnt have a specific plan (but) we did think we were set up for success. It had been an 'overnight success' four years in the making; it had been worked on solidly since 2008.

The past nine years haveseen hundreds of acts and installations ranging from the deadly serious to the delightfully whimsical audiences will remember the giantinflatable puppets filling the Rochester skies, thanks to French street theatre companyPlasticiensVolantsin years past. But they havent come without challenges, the most notableand obviousbeing the one thats faced the entire global populace. COVID-19 forced festival organizers and venues to pivot to an all-virtual festival in 2020.

Arts/entertainment and festival planning are two industries hardest hit by COVID, in terms of the duration of shutdown and the slow process of getting back on track amid a still-active pandemic. Theyve probably been the worst industries to be involved in -- and were involved in each of them!" Fee said. It was kind of a bad combination of factors for us, but at the same time we knew there were a number of artists who were desperate to get back on stage.

And now this year, Fringe has pivoted again, to offer a mostly live, in-person festival once more, albeit with plans and policies in place aimed at helping reduce the COVID risk. Proof of vaccination isrequired for all attendees (as well as performers, volunteers and other participants) 12 and older at indoor performances, and masks are required at all indoor shows (and outdoors for unvaccinated people). In the months since Fringedecided on that policy, Fee noted, Broadway has adopted a similar vaccination rule and organizers have learned that many touring performers agents will not consider venues without a vaccination mandate. Its confirmation that Fringe was on the righttrack, Fee noted.

Dark clouds have silver linings, so the cliche goes, and pandemic-birthed necessity has resulted in some new features for the fest this year. Replacing the Cristal Palace Spiegeltent (whose owners didn't obtain the necessary work visas) is an Italian Circus Tent to be set up at Main and Gibbs streets, its construction allowing for better ventilation and air circulation. It will be the site of the interactive comedic "Cirque du Fringe: AfterParty" each night, with a wacky wedding reception theme featuring a comedy team of circus performers. It will also be the site of four nights of "Silent Disco."

Were thrilled with this venue, because we can roll up the sides, Fee said. People will feel so much safer.

Several other new venues are hosting shows this year, as many of the customary locations School of the Arts, Blackfriars, Geva NextStage are unavailable. Fee said organizers hope to see those venues return in 2022, but noted they're thrilled with the new ones.

Made on State, at 510 State St., for instance, will feature a number of shows, including the Airigami productions, plus catered "Experiential Seated Dinners" paired with artisanal brewery beverages. The International Plaza at 828 N. Clinton Ave. will host three special events during Fringe as part of the Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration, including a concert by Latin jazz ensemble Mambo Kings. Fringe extends out to Brighton as the Centerstage Theatre at the JCC hosts multiple shows in its Hart Theatre and its new outdoor Dawn Lipson Canalside Stage at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Rochester. Other new venues for 2021 include the University of Rochester's new Sloan Performing Arts Center; Theatre at Innovation Square (the newly renovated Xerox auditorium; and State Street tavern The Spirit Room.

This years festival is customarily diverse, with performances and projects by local giantseight performances by Garth Fagan Dance, for instance, andballoon artistsAirigamicreating an immersive balloon installation to serve as set pieces for performances and small troupes alike.

Theres everything fromactress Alison Arngrim presenting tales of her days as toxic little Nellie Oleson on LittleHouse on the Prairie to singer Daniel Henry re-creatingFrank Sinatras 1993 War Memorial concert; everythingfrom a cabaret play about iconic entertainer and activist Josephine Baker (and a musical about her friendship withGrace Kelly) to a dance battle for the title of Fringe Street Beat. There are performances exploring issues of race, sexuality, gender identity, and disability; of loss and love and denial and acceptance. Theres music ranging from raga to jazz to classic soul, from Brazilian stylings to indie rockto gospel to operatic arias and, on the final night, there's a free mini music festival headlined by local-band-made-good Joywave, in the "Parcel 5" lot that was once part of Midtown Plaza. (Some 120 shows are free this year, and the rest are designed to be affordable part of the nonprofit Fringe's mission to provide access to the arts, Fee noted.)

Fringe is a homecoming forRochester native and Brockport grad Mina Liccione, whos presenting the one-woman comedy/spoken-word/interactive show Growing Up Ringside in The Theatre at Innovation Square on Sept. 24 and 25. The show is partly about her youth immersed in her boxing promoter father Tony Licciones life, partly about her relationship with her father, and partly about her development as an artist and a person in a trajectory thats seen her through performances in STOMP and the stand-up stage and, eventually,to a move to Dubai where she pioneered a comedy school and all-female stand-up troupe.This is two very different worlds and they meet in the middle, she said.

Shed been thinking about doing this show for some time especially as she and her parents shared stories on video calls during the pandemic, and she decided to go for it. Andsostepping into theTheatre at Innovation Square will be totake a multimediastep back into that time and world when Tony Liccione was interacting with the likes of Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, withboxingphotos andvideo footageand music fromItalian-American artists likeFrank Sinatra and Louis Prima.As soon as people enter, I really wanted them to feel like theyre in a different world, she said doubly so when she presented it in Dubai.

She will present her story in seven rounds"each round has a very specific time period, and a very specific life eventthat was very important at the time and led me to what I am now, she said. Its really the relationship between my dad and I, which has changed and evolvedand in some waysflipped.

Local acting troupe Theatre Apparatus returns to Fringe this year with "Stories for the End of the World." Written and directed by company founder Jeremy Sarachan, the play to be performed Sept. 18 and 21 at the Multi-use Community Cultural Center (MuCCC) on Atlantic Avenue is a series of related scenes exploring the various implications of that phrase, "end of the world," from global cataclysm to the deeply personal, the death of one's hopes and expectations.

Birthed during the height of quarantine in 2020, the play is an exploration of the angst that many feel, but that manifests differently: People are going through difficult times; what does that mean for each person?Sarachansaid. And its presented differently: One piece early in the show is very old-fashioned science fiction, with a father trying to get his daughter on aspace-boundcraft to escape an oncoming asteroid, and thescenes slowly morph into more contemporary settings, including a man dealing with his grandsons COVID-19 death written before childrens vulnerability to the virus was well established.The scenes explore politics, labor issues, marriage and two gods discussing what they have to do to teach errant humanity a lesson.

The common theme,Sarachannoted: What can happen to an individual that is life-changing in various ways.

With such serious world-altering issues in the wind in an era of pandemic, political strife and ecological woeescape can often be necessary as a soul restorer, but escapismcarries its own dangers. Thats the dilemma faced by comedy musician Tim Biemer, who performs as the golden accordion playing superhero Captain Ambivalent,known for nerdy fare like If I Were a Pirate Ninja Zombie and MiskatonicUniversity Fight Song. (Horror fans will recognizeMiskatonicU from assorted H.P. Lovecraft stories.)

Biemerbrings his new show, Captain Ambivalent is in Denial, to Fringe this year as a virtual performance with multimedia aspects; it can be viewed on demand by ticket buyers any time from Sept. 14 through Oct. 9.

I made it last year, when it seemed like there were so, so many serious problems going on all of whichwere being made worse by denial. How can I make a little comedy show without adding to the denial? he said. SoI addressed it head-on by making Captain Ambivalent is in Denial the themeof the entire show.

The whole thing is set within the confines of my house, and it gets more and more fantastical and inward as we go along, he added. ... The overall feel Im going for is, its definitely a comedy and youre aware there are bad things around the edges that are trying to creep in.

For a complete list of shows, performance times, venue sites and ticket information, go to

FRONT-ROW SEAT is a column that showcases the areas art, music, theater, film, literature and general all-around creative scene. If youre a musician with an upcoming live online performance or album release; or if you have any information in the arts/entertainment sphere to report, please send your information to L. David Wheeler

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FRONT-ROW SEAT: Fringe in 2021: New features, same vibe as arts festival goes live again -

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