Numbers, ticket sales & creativity all up

Rochester, NY –
Not only did attendance at the fourth annual First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival (September 17-26) top last year’s at more than 63,000 visitors, but ticket sales increased by over 20%, and organizers are thrilled that this year’s Fringe was the most inventive yet.

“’A great festival can show us a map of the world, a map of the city, and a map of ourselves,’” Fringe Producer Erica Fee quotes from world-renowned producer David Binder’s TED Talk entitled Arts Festival Revolution. “From the first, we were inspired by Binder’s ideas to bring a new kind of creative arts festival to Rochester.”

Berlin’s world-renowned Rimini Protokoll, which created Remote Rochester for Fringe this year, was one of Binder’s examples of site-specific, participatory, community-building theatre so essential to innovative arts festivals.

“The presentation of Remote Rochester raised us to a global level, and proved, once again, that the Fringe is on the cutting edge of the performing arts,” adds Fee. “People are still raving about it!”

The unique theatre piece – which was only the second U.S. Remote X production outside of New York City – sold out all but its first few performances. Joanne Brokaw of Rochester Subway said that it was “the most fascinating journey you’ll take through the streets of Rochester,” and City Newspaper’s Jake Clapp called it “the definition of ‘fringe.’”

The most obvious site-specific Fringe element has always been Friday on the Fringe in Martin Luther King, Jr. Park at Manhattan Square. This year, New York City’s Grounded Aerial performed on the side of the 21-story One HSBC Plaza while Rochester troupe BIODANCE took its turn on the park’s metal structure, A Tribute to Man. The entertaining spectacle with a story line about Rochester’s waterways was created especially for Fringe, and drew an estimated 13,000 people to the urban park (last year’s Circus Orange had 10,000 attendees).

“Each year, the Fringe attracts more and more people to our great City,” adds Suzanne Nasipak-Chapman, First Niagara Rochester Market Executive. “We salute the creative spirit that this festival inspires in all who participate, and we are proud to support an event that celebrates the innovation and energy that are essential to our City’s revitalization and growth.”

Two more world premieres created especially for Fringe in its most elegant venue, the Cristal Palace Spiegeltent, were also a huge hit, selling out the vast majority of their performances: Cabinet of Wonders (“…a night of magical performances by world class artists.” – The Rochesteriat), and Princess Wendy’s Late Nite Tease Room (“…classic burlesque at its rowdy best.” – Frank DeBlase, City Newspaper).

“We’re thrilled with the shows that Matt and Heidi Morgan created for us, and so were audiences,” says Fee. “They were the best Spiegeltent shows we’ve ever offered and the standing ovations were long and loud.”

Also at the Spiegeltent with sold-out performances and rave reviews were comedian Jamie Lissow, and the return of Silent Disco. Gospel Sunday, a free show in Kilbourn Hall on Sunday, Sept. 20, was an overflow success, and Upside Downton – Luke Kempner’s one-man parody of Downton Abbey – sold out both of its performances at Kilbourn.

Another indication that 2015’s Fringe was the most inventive yet was its increase in site-specific work overall, including Bushwacked: Internal Journey (in a pup tent), Dashboard Dramas II (in four parked cars), and Hot Tub the Musical (in and around a hot tub) – all in the Spiegelgarden and all complete sell-outs. The Museum of Johny took place on a bus, as did the showcase on the UR Arts Bus. Opera Under the Stars was to be held on the front steps of the Lyric Theatre (rain forced it indoors), while ShakesBLOOD took place on Abilene’s back patio (rain or shine).

With 500+ performances and events as compared with last year’s 380, both ticket sales and attendance at free venues shows were up more than 20%. University partner RIT’s always-creative free offerings numbered 37 this year, and SUNY Geneseo held its first free showcase day at the Lyric Theatre that involved more than 150 students and faculty.

“Audiences ranged from just under fifty to over 300, and I spoke with many festival goers with no Geneseo connection who really enjoyed the offering they had picked from the Guide then stayed for hours,” reported Professor Melanie Blood. “I hope to make this partnership between SUNY Geneseo and the Lyric Theatre at the Fringe a new tradition!”

Besides the Lyric Theatre with two stages, new Fringe venues this year also included The Strong National Museum of Play, one site-specific production (ShakesBLOOD) at Abilene, and the festival’s largest venue that hosted 80 shows: RAPA at School of the Arts.

“Three stages, well run, made this a prime location, reported D&C arts blogger and JCC Centerstage Artistic Director Ralph Meranto. “It was great to see this amazing facility put to use for the community.” 

Returning Fringe venues were: Bernunzio Uptown Music, Blackfriars Theatre, Eastman School of Music’s Kilbourn Hall, Eastman School of Music’s Sproull Atrium, Gallery r (RIT only), Garth Fagan Dance Studio, George Eastman House’s Dryden Theatre, Geva Theatre Center’s Fielding Stage, Java’s Café, The Little (with four RIT-only spaces: Theatre 1, Theatre 2, Theatre 2-5 Lobby, and Café), MuCCC, Rochester Contemporary Art Center (RoCo),The TheatreROCS Stage, and Writers & Books.

“Our venue had more than 300 people attend our free TheatreROCS Showcase,” reports TheatreROCS Stage Fringe Venue Manager Kerry Young.  “We also noticed an increase in solid, original works emerging from both local artists and folks from out of town who are finding the festival. It’s really exciting!”  

Venues reported the following sold-out shows: Don’t Go Drinking on an Empty Heart (Bernunzio Uptown Music); The 24 Hour Plays, Left for Dead Improv, Erik and the WolfHeart and Soul: Medicine and Life (Writers & Books); Shitty Lives, Stages of the Game Teen Improv, Triple Entendre (MuCCC); H | Histories (Eastman School of Music, Sproull Atrium); Merged III, Beautiful Dreamer (Stephen Foster Tells His Own Story) (Geva Theatre Center Fielding Stage); ShakesBLOOD (Abilene); Percentage (RAPA at SOTA); and Shenanigans with Shero (Blackfriars).

“Rochester’s Fringe Festival is our mirror,” summed up Democrat and Chronicle arts reporter, Jeff Spevak, who performed in the aforementioned Don’t Go Drinking on an Empty Heart.

The Spiegelgarden – the outdoor lounge at One Fringe Place – offered free entertainment including Pedestrian Drive-In, giant games, and First Niagara’s interactive 3D-art piece (in honor of Sam Patch’s tragic walk across High Falls on a tite rope). Gibbs Street – closed to traffic for two weekends this year (Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 19 & 20; and Friday and Saturday, Sept. 25 & 26) – hosted even more free events, including Street Chalk Art and 25 of the area’s most popular acts, including Teagan & the Tweeds, the Tommy Brunett Band, and Prime Time Funk

Rochester Fringe Festival, a non-profit organization, is run by a board of directors made up of representatives from local arts and cultural institutions, universities and businesses.

“The board is just as excited as everyone else by the way this festival is maturing,” remarks Board Chair Justin L. Vigdor. “As community support for Fringe continues to grow, we look forward to becoming even more inventive, inspiring and international.” 

*Attendance figures are based on modern crowd estimation techniques using a standardized formula (based on the work of Drs. Herbert Jacobs, Ray Watson and Paul Yip: area divided by crowd density) as well as by venue counts and ticket sales, and are deemed accurate within 10%, plus or minus.

Background: The 10-day, 2015 First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival took place from Thursday, Sept. 17 – Saturday, Sept. 26 with more than 500 shows and events at 25+ venues all over downtown Rochester’s East End, 120 of which were absolutely free. From 33,000 attendees at its debut in 2012 to more than 63,000 at this year’s Fringe, this multi-genre, multi-venue arts festival became one of the most-attended fringe festivals in the country in only its second year (2013) with 50,000 visitors.

Rochester Fringe Festival is a not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) corporation that exists as a means to connect venues, performers, artists, educational institutions and the audience. It was pioneered by several of Rochester’s esteemed cultural institutions, including Geva Theatre Center, the George Eastman House and Garth Fagan Dance, as well as up-and-coming groups like PUSH Physical Theatre and Method Machine. The Board of Directors includes representatives from the University of Rochester, Rochester Institute of Technology, Bond Schoeneck & King PLLC, Boylan Code LLC, the Eastman School of Music, Mengel, Metzger and Barr & Co. LLP, Method Machine, PUSH Physical Theatre, and Writers & Books. The Rochester Fringe Festival is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. This festival is also supported by a grant awarded to the Rochester Fringe Festival by New York State’s Empire State Development and the I LOVE NY  / NYS Division of Tourism under Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Council Initiative.

2015 Fringe Sponsors include: First Niagara, I LOVE NY , the New York State Council on the Arts, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, and the New York State Legislature, University of Rochester, RIT, Ames Amzalak Memorial Trust, Rochester Area Community Foundation, Waldron Rise Foundation, the Elaine U. & Richard P. Wilson Foundation, City of Rochester, Monroe County,

Bond, Schoeneck & King PLLC, Boylan Code LLC, Mengel Metzger Barr LLC,  Wegmans, Nocon & Associates, Mary Mulligan Trust, Ronald Fielding, SUNY Geneseo, The Pike Company, East Avenue Inn & Suites, CITY Newspaper, 10 NBC , Democrat & Chronicle, Broccolo Tree & Lawncare, McCarthy Tents & Events, Scott Grove, C.P. Ward, Buckingham Properties, Dundee, Heineken, Nazareth College, SUNY Brockport, Fred & Floy Willmott Foundation, Louis S. & Molly B. Wolk Foundation, Konar Enterprises, VisitRochester, House of Guitars, The Rubens Family Foundation, City Blue, Yelp!, WXXI, Gallina Development, G.H. Cretors Popped Corn, Benderson, Hamilton AV, Rural Metro, Kids Out and About – Kids’ Media Partner, ESL Foundation, Wilson Foundation, Midtown Athletic, YMCA, Gouvernet Fund at the Rochester Area Community Foundation and others.

First Niagara, through its wholly owned subsidiary, First Niagara Bank, N.A., is a multi-state community-oriented bank with approximately 410 branches, $39 billion in assets, $28 billion in deposits, and approximately 5,600 employees providing financial services to individuals, families and businesses across New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts. For additional information on First Niagara, visit us at, follow us on Twitter @FirstNiagara, or like us on Facebook at FirstNiagaraBank.