Rochester Fringe Festival producer: ‘When the pandemic is over, we may not have performing arts anymore’

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The performing arts industry is still in limbo under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s coronavirus guidelines.

According to the guidance from the governor’s office, outdoor shows of all types can happen, as long as they meet the 50-person non-essential gathering limit. From the end of the second paragraph in this outdoor guidance:

“Finally, this guidance also does not address higher-risk outdoor arts and entertainment activities including, but not limited to, places of public amusement (e.g., amusement parks, water parks, carnivals), concerts, or performing arts in excess of the non-essential gathering limit in effect for the particular region, which remain closed at the time of publication.”

However, the governor’s office have made the distinctions that music at bars and restaurant’s is “incidental.” Meaning that they view live music in a restaurant or bar as part of the background. But the state views other kinds of live music as “live entertainment,” which they view as problematic.

leaders of performing arts centers — which range from dance and music — also need urgent help from the state to reform some of those guidelines, before the clock runs out on outdoor performances.

“There are ways to do it, and there ways that are being done both in other countries, and in other parts of the united states,” said Rochester Fringe Festival producer Erica Fee. “Unfortunately we haven’t gotten there in New York.”

The KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival went to an all-virtual format following the pandemic.

Fee was brought on from her production company in London to create the Fringe Festival in 2009, and she has held the job ever since. She says it’s the largest multi-disciplinary festival in New York. The 12-day festival has many kinds of show, and uses many different venues in Rochester.

Fee says it’s not only guidelines that need to change, but the state needs to provide funding before permanent damage is done to this industry.

“We do need to recognize though that if we aren’t going to supplement performing arts with funding from the state, that when the pandemic is over, we may not have performing arts anymore,” she said.

“We certainly won’t have all the venue we’ve been used to enjoying here in Rochester,” she continued. “So if this is something that is important as part of our culture, we need to find a way to operate safely.”

Empire State Development provided this statement:

“Live music is allowable only at bars and restaurants for seated guests who are ordering food if it is a part of their liquor license.  An exception to this is for drive in concerts, which are allowable only if patrons remain in their vehicles at all times unless they are using the restrooms.  All social distancing and cleaning and disinfecting protocols must be adhered to while patrons are using restrooms.

“Live entertainment, whether indoor or outdoor, is not permitted at this time. Shows of this type are high-risk gatherings that create exactly the type of environment we are trying to avoid, as individuals mingle and create congestion at ingress and egress.  Reports show that infections are rising in more than 35 states and that officials in those states have been forced to reclose businesses and other parts of the economy that were opened too early. Additionally, Every public opinion survey has shown an overwhelming majority of New Yorkers support our re-opening approach, and protecting the health and safety of New Yorkers remains our number one priority.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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