Fringe 2017: What we want to see again 

The KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival, which wrapped its sixth year on Saturday, was a 10-day rush of arts overload. With around 500 performances, tens of thousands of people came through downtown Rochester for dance, theater, music, visual arts, and multi-disciplinary performances — and some shows that just can't be easily classified.

But the Fringe isn't contained to a few days in September. Some shows had their premiere at Fringe and were tested out in front of an audience; there's a strong possibility that you'll see familiar titles and companies pop up in Rochester again in the future. And there are other performances that, while they might not be brand new, offer a glimpse at the unique works Rochester's arts community can support.

CITY's writers saw nearly 60 shows during the 2017 Rochester Fringe Festival, and we had a few favorites that we hope to see again, either on a random Saturday during the year, or back at the Fringe. Is there something you'd like to see again? Leave a comment below this article online at

3D Sound Experience in the Immersive Igloo

The most unique experience I had at Fringe this year came in the form of an Immersive Igloo — the 40-foot wide, 20-foot tall inflatable structure housed inside the Spiegelgarden — where for 50 minutes, I let the soothing colored lights and ambient electronic musical soundscapes of sound artist (and Rochester native) Tom Montagliano wash over me. I came out the other side feeling relaxed, refreshed, and with a mind that felt significantly less cluttered. The $16 ticket seemed a small price to pay for that sensation, especially after a long day of festival-going. Plus, talking afterward with Montagliano about what went into the creation of the show, and the ways he hopes to expand and evolve his work with spacial sound design only enhanced the experience. I don't just want to see this show again, I kind of wish that igloo was a permanent downtown fixture all year long.


"Anatomy of a Black Man"

I'm looking forward to my next opportunity to check out More Than Rebel Noise, a duo of poets who presented the original piece "Anatomy of a Black Man" at MuCCC. The audience for the Fringe show was mostly black, and I'd like to see that expand, because white people need to hear the experiences of black men in America from black men themselves — and specifically from black men who are their neighbors.

The show blended skits and spoken word poetry, with philosophy spat at a rapid clip by Anderson Allen (Poetically Undefined) and Shaquille Payne (AOR). They began writing the material for this show after experiencing Rochester's disappointing reaction to the Black Lives Matter march of July 2016. Despite the righteous anger, the pain that is often endured alone, and the hardships that so many people refuse to acknowledge, the men promote an overall message of finding an undefeated capacity to love.


"Come As You Are"

One of the many reasons that I love the Fringe is that it provides a forum for artists to perform works that may not be embraced by the mainstream art community, and it brings in an audience for stories to be shared with. For this reason, "Come As You Are," at the Lyric Theatre, was my favorite performance. The stories these women told about identity issues were incredibly personal and vulnerable, and it created a sense of intimacy and camaraderie within the crowd — especially at the end when audience members who had nothing to do with the show came up on stage and shared one of their own stories. We read stories on a Twitter feed or Facebook timeline, or we listen to them on a podcast, but "Come As You Are" gave an opportunity to look someone in the eye and actually hear them. That's what made this so special.


Murder Mystery at the Central Library

New to this year's Fringe was the fully interactive Murder Mystery at the Central Library. Judging by the crowd of about 100 people, I'm not the only one in town who watches an episode of "Law and Order" or plays Clue and is dying to figure out whodunit before it's all over.

The event was well organized, but not without its flaws: I think those behind it may have underestimated its popularity, and the sleuthing might have been easier if there were several sets of each station. But the organizers were able to get people to think without making it feel like work. And for many, that's a refreshing change of pace from the fast-paced goofiness that is the rest of the Fringe.


Pinch and Squeal

Cleveland slapstick and musical duo Pinch and Squeal embody the sort of Tin Pan Alley, lo-brow hi-jinx I love. They were clearly one of my favorites. Not only would I like to see their non-PC, onstage, whoopee-in-a-party-dress again, but let's corral others that embrace that forgotten age of vaudeville, which took social mores and troubled times and twisted them with laughter. Puddles the Clown comes to mind, and so does Baby Gramps. Or for a darker slant, how about someone like noir storyteller Lee Harvey Osmond? Let's see a sword-swallower with the hiccups; let's see a man wrestle a bear or a genuine snake charmer. Let's sprinkle in some oddities. And who says it's gotta happen exclusively at the Fringe? There are plenty of venues and performers in Rochester with their freak flag flying year-round.


Plasticiens Volants' "Big Bang"

Plasticiens Volants' two performances of "Big Bang" at Parcel 5 were successful for reasons well beyond just being a fantastic spectacle. The best shows at the Rochester Fringe Festival have been the ones that created their own reality around the audience — Circus Orange's fire-y, surrealist stroll around Martin Luther King Jr. Park in 2014 is another grand example. And for 45 minutes each day of Friday and Saturday on the Fringe, Plasticiens Volants made thousands of people forget they were standing in the middle of downtown Rochester.

With massive inflatables of strange planets, giant eyeballs, squirming spermatozoa, and transforming monsters moving above the crowd — and sometimes coming close enough for kids to reach up and touch — the French street theater company transported us into the void and made us gaping witnesses to the creation happening all around. Audiences can get so accustomed to watching a performance on stage, or looking at works with "Do not touch" signs pasted on the wall, that we forget that great art should sometimes be directly engaged with. By bringing in shows like "Big Bang," the Fringe gives us that reminder.


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