Fringe Festival returns to Rochester with wide range of multimedia performances

On Sept. 18, the third annual First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival began in downtown Rochester. This ten-day, multi-venue arts festival features both popular entertainers and emerging artists from Rochester and beyond. The festival is headlined by Saturday Night Live cast member and stand-up comedian Jay Pharaoh, a free walk-through reading of Edgar Lee Masters' poetry project Spoon River Anthology called Spoon River Rochester and performances by Circus Orange as well as the lively Cirque du Fringe.

These headliners' performances represent just a few of the more than 360 shows that will take place before the festival is over. Other acts have included dance performances, art gallery openings, movie premieres and a wide range of musical performances. Geneseo Bhangra performed for free on Sept. 19 in the Manhattan Square Park Amphitheatre.

One of the biggest performances, “Mardi Gras!” by Cirque du Fringe, gave audience members and festivalgoers alike a taste of New Orleans with its Caribbean carnival-themed performances. The show took place in the festival's Magic Crystal Spiegeltent.

Acrobatic troupe 20 Penny Circus formed the fairly small group. Still, its energy level was incredibly high, and the gravity-defying acrobatics easily made up for the troupe’s limited cast size and the ordinary objects used as props. The show opened with a pair of creepy looking, but humorous clowns introducing the first act: a man with chairs. He immediately silenced the audience as he began stacking about six to seven chairs on top of one another until they reached top.

Before a new chair was added each time, the svelte performer would balance in a variety of ways, including with one hand on the last, tallest chair. Shortly after, he returned to the stage once again, but this time as a contortionist. As he bent his body and limbs in unbelievable ways, the audience members were left in awe as they applauded him.

The following act was just as suspenseful, but a little more interactive. A group of about five dancers greeted the audience with colorful beads and dancing that had both kids and adults moving. Later, they started a game of fire limbo, which looked as dangerous as it sounds. The group members then proceeded to shock the audience with some fire eating.

Also happening that same day was “Dashboard Dramas,” an unconventional series of 10-minute, one-act plays written by Abby DeVuyst and Kerry Young, each of which take place within one of four cars parked in a cluster outside the Spiegeltent. During the performance, each stationary car carries four passengers: two actors and two spectators. When each play is over, the two spectators get out of one car and into the next. The result is an entertainment experience that is equally unique and claustrophobic.

One of the plays performed during the mini-series of plays was about a man and his pregnant wife getting into a colorful argument. At one point, the actress gets out of the car and begins to get up on the hood in distress, shouting, “We are parked. Stuck. I am stuck here with you!” This level of intimacy may be startling to spectators—even unsettling—but the experience is worth having.

Each of the “Dashboard Drama” plays is performed 38 times over the course of the festival. Audience members are encouraged to pay close attention to the first and last lines of the play, in order to figure out how they come together to connect. Although there are more shows coming up, the extremely limited car seats have already sold out.

Upcoming acts include two of Geneseo's own a capella groups, co-ed group Exit 8 as well as all-female group Hips N Harmony, who will both be performing on Saturday Sept. 27 at 4 p.m. for free on the Gibbs Street Main Stage. Geneseo's improv group No Laugh Track Required will be hosting the show. The Fringe Festival will be in Rochester through Saturday Sept. 27.