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Rochester Fringe announces 2020 lineup


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 Tuesday, September 15 through Saturday, September 26, will feature more than 170 unique productions, some of which will be available to stream on-demand, and some performances will be live-streamed at specific times during the festival’s 12-day run. The full schedule of events and tickets are now online at

Organizers said that about 60 percent of this year’s participating artists are based in the Greater Rochester area, and about 40 percent 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.

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.”

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

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

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 madcap comedy show, on Saturday, September 19, and Wednesday, September 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, September 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.

CITY Newspaper will have a more detailed look at this year's Rochester Fringe Festival at in early September.

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