Fall’s Artistic Center: The Fringe Festival
by Nick Bovee | published Sep. 28th, 2013
Behind the main theater of the Little, the Little Café is a warmly painted hideaway. The inside is colorfully painted in red yellow and orange, with a sky blue ceiling. Moderately lit, the walls carry art and slogans saying "Need an outlet for all the anti-Hollywood aggression? Join us.” While an advertisement for the Little Theatre itself, these posters sum up Rochester’s Fringe Festival perfectly: an escape from all the canned media we see and a celebration of the homegrown art.
Rochester’s Fringe Festival is an arts festival, where the programming is decided by the local artists while the event organizers focus on putting together the guidebook and scheduling. Only in its second year, the Rochester Fringe Festival has grown significantly, as has RIT's involvement.
The 1947, the Fringe Festival movement began as a protest of the newly formed Edinburgh International Festival when artists, dissatisfied with how they’d been excluded from the organization, performed anyway. The movement was dubbed the Fringe Festival because of its non-curated programming. Originally, these groups organized their own venues, avoiding the censorship and unifying control board that other arts festivals commonly had. Eventually, the movement spread and now, the Rochester Fringe Festival is one of 20 in North America, the majority being European events.
Fringe festivals gradually evolved into the kind of organized production we see here in Rochester; communities organize the structure of the festival, but don’t set artistic or thematic restrictions. It becomes a mash-up of the arts, instead of a streamlined experience. Local artists of all kinds apply for their productions to be hosted. Everything is generated by the artists themselves, and is entirely their own vision. Events are hosted in theatres and cafés, off Gibbs Street, East Ave, or Main Street. Most venues are close to the Manhattan Square Park, or just a short way down the road. Places like the Little Cafe are hidden away, but hold exactly the charm expected for the festival.
The original Rochester Fringe Festival was held September 19-23 of 2012, and was considered a massive success for the sponsors and the city. Over 33,000 people were estimated to have attended, and around 180 performances were booked in 20 locations. Places like the Geva Theatre and RAPA’s East End Theatre were swarmed with applications to have events hosted and other venues like the Blackfriar’s weren’t far behind. The biggest fear of the organizers was that attendee’s wouldn’t ‘get’ the point of a fringe festival, and by the growth, it’s clear that those fears were unwarranted.
The first Fringe Festival lasted slightly over single weekend. This year’s has grown up to 10 days, with equally radical growth in shows and venues. This time, over 360 events scheduled, in even more venues than last year.
Of these events, more than 20 are hosted solely by RIT students and groups. RIT hopes that this will help get students downtown to performing arts venues, and also raise the Institute’s visibility. “We want to draw in the Rochester community, as well as encourage our own students to come,” explains Lynn Rowoth, RIT’s director of special events and conferences. RIT has put significant effort into getting students to Fringe Festival both to perform and to attend. They even scheduled shuttles, ensuring that students have the opportunity get downtown. As a founding higher education partner along with University of Rochester, RIT also provides financial support to the festival as a whole.
RIT began involvement at the beginning, due to the campus’s performing arts initiative. Its goal is to prove that RIT’s students are talented in all ways, not just the technical “left brained” activities. Many of the a cappella groups are presenting, along with dance groups, poets, film students, multiple theater productions, bands, emerging artists and student clubs. All student performances are free, except for Kinect the Dots dance, to encourage audience attendance. “We’re filling the theatres; we’re filling the café with all kinds of audiences,” Rowoth emphasized. Part of this is because of the efforts made to include interpreted events. “We wanted to make sure we provided not only the RIT and faculty and staff with interpreted performances, but also the Rochester community,” Rowoth continued, “There’s such a wide spectrum, I’d be remiss to focus on any one group.”
There are additional shows hosted by others outside of RIT as well. Like the variety in RIT’s shows, there are dance troupes, theater productions, upcoming musicians, comedians, and even sit-in movies. Last year’s standout performance, Bandaloop, returned to kick off the festival this year, with their signature high wire dancing on the side of buildings. A Spiegeltent, Dutch for mirror tent, has been brought in to host some of the larger events for this festival. The tent will serve as the venue for the Silent Disco, a disco party with headphones, and the Cirque du Fringe, a circus act specially commissioned for the Rochester festival. Other local colleges are also holding their own events. The night of the 27th hosts a Dave Barry comedy show, and these events are just the tip of the iceberg.