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Fringe Fest 2013 Reviews: "Heart and Soul," "Sun Boxes," Fringe Fingers, "Spirits Within" 

For me the final day of Fringe 2013 started at Writers & Books for “Heart and Soul: Medicine and Life.” This spoken-word program featured poetry and short stories written by five health professionals: family physician Pebble M. Kranz, family medicine resident Natercia Rodrigues, family therapist Tziporah Rosenberg, resident family physician Francesca Decker, and family physician Colleen T. Fogarty.

This was an interesting window into the minds of modern-day healers, specifically those who use writing to work through the joys and challenges of their work. Think of the stresses that come with your job. Now imagine if people’s lives literally depended on you. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a human, and some of that came out through the writings shared by these women.

All of the writing was evocative and several pieces were quite powerful. Some dealt with celebrating their patients’ successes. Some dealt with their losses. Some were about what it’s like to be a doctor. Some regarded the healthcare system in general. A surprising number relayed the doctors’ own personal medical issues.

The piece that really defined the performance for me was “Textbook” by Decker. This was beautifully written, and while you could see where the narrative was going, it was no less gutting when she inevitably got there.

The question-and-answer period that followed the reading brought up several interesting issues, most of them relating to the therapeutic nature of writing. The consensus in general was that sharing stories helps us to gain perspective and compassion for others. “Heart and Soul” gave me a better understanding of what doctors deal with on a daily basis.

I headed to the East End for the rest of Fringe, and even on the fourth floor of the Scio Street parking garage I could hear an odd noise. As I got to the sidewalk it got louder. It was a harmonic humming, and I finally realized that it was the “Sun Boxes” exhibit, which was originally supposed to be in the park next to Rochester Contemporary Arts Center, but which didn’t work due to the buildings shading the courtyard. Craig Colorusso’s exhibit combines 20 speakers with solar panels, so that when the sun hits them they emit a tone that I found to be both calming and eerie. After the original site proved to be a bust, they were moved over to the lawn in front of Easy on East, where on Saturday they were picking up plenty of rays and drawing a nice-sized crowd. I couldn’t help but think that this type of an installation would be a lovely addition to the Memorial Art Gallery’s new sculpture garden.

click to enlarge "Fringe Fingers" performers. - PHOTO BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
  • PHOTO BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
  • "Fringe Fingers" performers.

Next up was Fringe Fingers at Kilbourn Hall. Ten current and former piano/keyboard students of Eastman School of Music's Tony Caramia took to six keyboards and two massive pianos for a variety of works. There was jazz, a playful folk-song mash-up, and a fantastic world premiere of a new-music piece by one of the students that combined atmospheric keyboards with driving, intense piano solos.

Throughout it all I was blown away by the ability of these young musicians, as well as their obvious enthusiasm. Fringe is a great opportunity for the Eastman crew to show off the work going on at the school to Rochester at large, and Fringe Fingers totally did that. It was very clear what a jewel we have here, and the unbelievable talent that it is helping to mold.

The performance closed out with Caramia taking turns dueting with five or so of the students on a 10-plus-minute fantasy on “Porgy and Bess” in which none of the pianists -- including Caramia, who played non-stop the entire time -- had any scores in front of them. All from memory. Absolutely astonishing.

I wrapped things up with “Spirits Within” at Christ Church. This event mixes music (ESM instructor Stephen Kennedy improvising on the church’s Craighead-Saunders Pipe Organ) with projected 3D visuals (created by RIT Professor Marla Schweppe and her students). I suspect there may have been technical difficulties going on at the showing I attended. The organ sounded amazing, of course, as Kennedy’s improvisations were creepy and monstrous and made me think the church could do brisk business with some kind of a Halloween show. (Because that’s exactly what a church should be doing, Eric; playing into the corny horror stuff with Halloween…) But the projections were kind of a mess. Words kept popping up that I’m fairly sure were not supposed to be there. The images would start, slow down to a crawl, then restart again. It was incredibly choppy.

There were portions where the projections worked great, and it made for a cool audio-visual experience. But there were others were it looked pretty amateurish. This was a fan-favorite event at the inaugural Fringe Festival last year. I didn’t see it then, but I’m curious if the projections remained unchanged. If so, while it may have passed muster last year, I’ve seen some truly inspiring digital-projection work this year (see: “Anomaly,” put on at the RMSC Planetarium). The bar has been raised. If “Spirits Within” comes back -- and I hope it does -- I hope the digital aspect meets the challenge.

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