At Must-See Festival Sept. 10-21, 1,600 Artists Flood Rochester

Across New York State, Fall is a time for discovery in the arts – electric with new seasons, fresh exhibitions, and opening nights. But for the ultimate creative adventure, Rochester is the place to be.

Starting September 10, at the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival, 1,600 artists will flood the city with theatre, comedy, visual arts, family entertainment, music, dance, opera and poetry.

“What's fantastic about the Fringe is that there is something for everyone,” says festival Producer Erica Fee.

Over 12 days and nearly 600 performances, the Fringe offers a one-of-a-kind of mix of well-established headliners – comedian Mike Birbiglia, French street troupe Les Plasticiens, known for giant inflatable art that soars overhead – and creators of all backgrounds and stages.

3.	KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival's annual, free Fringe Street Beat attracts dance crews from all over the Northeast.
KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival's annual, free Fringe Street Beat attracts dance crews from all over the Northeast. Photo by John Schlia.

Rochester’s thriving community of diverse arts organizations and homegrown talents will share the stage with artists from across the country and all over the world – many offering premieres or collaborations that can’t be seen anywhere else. Dozens of shows are free, and short runtimes make it easy to explore a variety of experiences in a single day.

“There’s not a ‘typical’ day in the life of a Fringe-goer. You can sample a large-scale outdoor spectacle, a dance piece, a stand-up comedy show, and a modern circus. This year, we're encouraging attendees to ‘leap a little’ and try attending a show that's a little different from what they might normally attend.”

A Fast-Growing Success

Officially launched in 2012, the Fringe began as a five-day event, with collaboration from local organizations and NYSCA grantees including the renowned Geva Theatre Center, Garth Fagan Dance, the George Eastman Museum and the University of Rochester plus newer, younger organizations like PUSH Physical Theatre.

In its first year, the festival drew 30,000 visitors. By 2018, it had more than doubled in scale, drawing 78,000 audience members over 11 days to more than 500 events.

Les Plasticiens Volants at the Rochester Fringe Festival
France's Plasticiens Volants attracted more than 20,000 people to the 2017 KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival with its U.S. premiere tour. Photo by Erich Camping.

NYSCA has supported the Fringe since 2013, when a $100,000 grant awarded through the Regional Economic Development Council initiative recognized its importance to the growth of Rochester.

“Without the early NYSCA grant, we would not be the festival we are today,” says Fee. 

“That grant enabled us to expand our free spectacle performances, which have become a signature piece of the festival. We are the only fringe festival in the world that puts on such massive, free, unique shows in public spaces”

A Cultural Destination

One of 250 such festivals worldwide, Rochester’s Fringe has become one of the largest events of its kind in the U.S. and a driver of tourism to its city. Travelers have come from all 50 states and 28 countries to check out the Fringe. As these audience members frequent local restaurants, shop, and stay in hotels – and get to know Rochester as a rich cultural destination worth returning to – the festival demonstrates how arts and culture can be core contributors to local economies.

Rochester Fringe Spiegeltent
The Cristal Palace Spiegeltent and its Cirque du Fringe show are annual audience favorites at the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival. Photo by Erich Camping.

NYSCA continues to support the festival through our Presenting Program, and, this year, the REDC initiative will support an interactive performance created especially for the city to honor its local history.

 “We aim to continue to provide a platform for artists for many years to come, while providing Rochesterians and visitors an experience unlike any other they’ll have the rest of the year round,” says Fee. “We also aim to energize the downtown community through the arts, drive people downtown, and therefore create an economic boost for the city.”

Header Photo:  The U.K.'s Massaoke rocked its U.S. premiere at the 2018 KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival and returns for the 2019 Fringe.  Photo by David Schiffhauer.