Rochester Fringe Festival returns with ethereal trees and a flying piano 

The Rochester Fringe Festival is turning over a new leaf. Amidst comedians, musicians, acrobats and drag queens, debuting this year at the festival is Craig Walsh’s “Monuments.” The project places the spotlight — literally — on trees in downtown Rochester.

Three trees, anyway. “There aren’t that many,” Festival Producer Erica Fee pointed out, referring to the number of trees downtown. Walsh, an Australian tree-illumination pro (there is at least one out there), is seeking three trees tall enough, and full enough, onto which will be projected videos of three “unsung heroes” of Rochester. The videos, and any evening breeze, will move the faces in a ghostly manner.
click to enlarge Craig Walsh's 'Monuments.' - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Craig Walsh's 'Monuments.'
“There’s a mathematical equation,” Fee said, “based on how the projector throws light.”

But math is hard. Beyond the nomination aspect of the selection process, it is where the trees are located, in relation to city sidewalks and streets, that is also a consideration for public viewing purposes. “Obviously, we don’t want anyone to get hit by a car,” Fee said.

Apart from “Monuments,” about 30 venues will play host to more than 500 shows during the 12th annual Rochester Fringe Festival, which runs from Sept. 12-23.

The Fringe concept, a whirlwind of high-concept and low-concept artistry, originated in 1947 in Edinburgh. The 12-day festival is the largest multidisciplinary arts events in New York state, and one of 300 official Fringes in the world. Since its 2012 debut, Rochester Fringe calculates nearly 670,000 people have attended more than 4,500 performances.

Among this year’s new performances is “Corazón,” presented by the Colombian group Circolombia. It comes to Rochester “fresh from the oven,” said the group’s founder, Felicity Simpson. Circolombia is the centerpiece of the festival, playing all 12 days in the Spiegeltent, which will be the centerpiece of One Fringe Place, located at the parking lot at East Main and Gibbs streets. The show is a conglomeration of what Simpson called “high risk contemporary circus” skills. She also described it as “a concert circus,” because of the emphasis on the Latin music that will fill the tent.

“People feel alive when they come out of a Circolombia show,” Simpson said.
click to enlarge Cirque Inextremiste. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Cirque Inextremiste.
“Cirque Inextremiste: Exit” is another free show during the festival’s first weekend at Parcel 5. The French-made spectacle, debuting in the United States at Rochester Fringe, is a blend of hot-air balloon, a flying piano, and airborne humans. “Hot air balloon tricks,” said Artistic Director Yann Ecauvre, “never seen in ballooning.”

“It’s a story about freedom,” said Ecauvre. “It’s a group of people who are trying to escape, by air, with a balloon.” He compares it to a scene from the film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” in which Jack Nicholson takes a handful of residents from a mental institution on a fishing expedition. In “Cirque Inextremiste: Exit,” high-flying hilarity ensues. For how long? That depends on the wind, due to the unpredictability of a hot air balloon (even one tethered to the ground).
click to enlarge The cast of Shotspeare. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • The cast of Shotspeare.
For attendees hoping to get their yearly glimpse of Matt Morgan prancing around stage in his underwear, that opportunity may arise. The Las Vegas-based fixture at Rochester Fringe will once again be a significant presence, this time with three shows. The booze-infused Shotspeare returns to the Spiegeltent for five 9 p.m. performances from September 19 through 23, this time ravaging The Bard’s “Othello.” Morgan is also directing “A Nerdy Gay Juggling Show” September 15 through 17 at School of the Arts; and part of a Spiegeltent variety show, “The Comedy Trio Happy Hour in The Meaning of Life” with comedy partners-in-crime Mark Gindick and Ambrose Martos.

click to enlarge The Fanzinis. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • The Fanzinis.
Dance duo The Fanzinis come to Rochester Fringe through an exchange program with a festival in Monroe County’s sister County Cavan in Ireland. The show is “Ballet Poulet,” which roughly translates to ‘chicken dance,’ and will be performed at both Parcel 5 and the Spiegeltent from September 15 through 17. The other side of the exchange happened in July, when Rochester Fringe Festival sent comedic troupe Bushwhacked to County Cavan for arts festival Cavan Calling.

Bushwhacked, comprised of local duo Kerry Young and Abby DeVuyst, has been a Rochester Fringe staple for years. This time around, they’ll have two shows: “Bushwhacked Backyard Bonfire” returns to the Spiegelgarden with a limit of four audience members (which means it’s sold out by the time you read this); “Camp Bushwhacked” is an interactive camping experience at the Spiegelgarden, also limited with 12 tickets each performance (but all four of a special “boozy version” are sold out, of course).

click to enlarge Bushwhacked. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Bushwhacked.
The Spiegelgarden, at One Fringe Place, also offers nightly outdoor films (opening September 12 with the dog-driven comedy classic “Best in Show”), and 10-minute plays in which actors and their audience are trapped in cars, “Dashboard Dramas IX.” The latter’s companion piece is “Dashboard Dramas After Dark,” described as ‘a slightly racier version’ — and that’s not a reference to race cars.

  • Tig Notaro.
Tig Notaro will be the comedy headliner at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre on Saturday, September 16 at 8 p.m. The Emmy- and Grammy-nominated comedian has a wide-ranging career as a writer and actor, including 14 episodes of the TV series “Star Trek: Discovery.” She has also been a powerful spokesperson in her battle with breast cancer, sometimes working it into stand-up routines. Tickets for “Tig Notaro: Hello Again” range in price from $29 to $97.

All ticketed Fringe shows are available at or by calling 585-957-9837 (an additional phone-processing fee applies). During the festival, tickets are available online, at the venues, and at the Fringe ticket booth at the corner of East Main and Gibbs streets.

Jeff Spevak is senior arts writer for WXXI/CITY Magazine. He can be reached at  [email protected].
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