What’s Next for the Rockford Fringe?

Trailer featuring Michael Bassett, Meg Elliot, Robbie Ellis, Jennifer Estlin, Joshua Fardon, Patricia Fardon, Gail Gallagher, Kerri Killeen, Carl Maronich, Micah Mabey, LaurA Force! Scruggs, Darren Stephens and Nate Woogen.

Q: What’s the next free outdoor event for the Rockford Fringe?

A: Winter Solstice Poetry Caroling!

Q: What’s that?

A: A celebration of the year’s longest night with poetry caroling, snow dancing and a gigantic puppet named Chugro.

Q: What is “poetry caroling?”

A: Poetry caroling is like Christmas caroling; instead of singing, we share solstice-themed poetry with an emphasis on rhythm and rhyme.

Walker Park in the winter.

Tuesdays@9 Chicago actors, writers and musicians answer the question, “How do you express your art outside in the winter?” With Meg Elliot, Matthew Jordan Keeley, Kerri Killeen, Joshua Fardon, Patricia Fardon, LaurA Force! Scruggs and Darren Stephens.

Q: Who is invited to go poetry caroling?

A: Anyone who can read out loud and show up on time.

Q: What can you tell me about the poetry carols?

A: The “carols” will be arrangements from “Dreams” by Langston Hughes, “Appalachian Elegy” by bell hooks, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost, “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas and more.

Q: Would I have to memorize anything?

A: No. Just show up at 3:00 dressed for cold weather and fun. We’ll provide scripts, have a quick rehearsal and go poetry caroling in the neighborhood with Chugro and her Acolytes.

Q: Who are Chugro and her Acolytes?

A: Chugro is the sky spirit that lulls us to sleep every night with movement and poetry. She’s going to lead the procession of poetry carolers.

Q: And her Acolytes?

A: The Acolytes will light the way as they dance and frolic in the snow.

Q: I’ve never seen Chugro or her so-called Acolytes…

A: Chugro and her Acolytes are very secretive and only appear once a year on the night of the solstice.

One of Chugro’s Acolytes

Q: Is it legal to dance and frolic in the snow?

A: Yes. It’s called snow dancing.

Q: What is “snow dancing?”

A: Snow dancing is a form of community dancing led by Chugro and her Acolytes.

Q: Wait. If I show up, do I have to dance?

A: The audience is invited to dance, but it’s not required. But dancing will help you stay warm…

Q: This is so weird. Have you done this before?

A: Yes. This is our second year poetry caroling but the event’s organizers have been weird for more than 50 years.

Q: What kind of feedback did you receive after last year’s event?

A: We received the following feedback on social media:

"We loved it. Thank you!"

"Wonderful project."

"We loved  it! It was a surprise for my family and our guests and everyone was enthused and excited about it."

"I certainly thought that a live poetry delivery in the dark of the longest night was a gift all in itself!"

"It was lovely—thank you so much for the visit."

"Amazing! So loving. So in the spirit."

"Awesome!"

"LOVED IT!!! THANK YOU!!!"

A: OK, I’m in. How do I prepare for poetry caroling?

A: Make sure you are hydrated and that your voice is warmed up. Bundle up because it will be cold.

Q: Do I need to bring anything?

A: No, but if you have an acoustic instrument such as a hand drum or rain stick or jingle bells or tambourine, you’re welcome to bring that with you. We’ll provide the scripts and musical direction.

Q: Anything else I should know about Winter Solstice Poetry Caroling?

2021 Winter Solstice Poetry Caroling

A: Winter Solstice Poetry Caroling is a Rockford Fringe event made possible by a $500 Action Grant from Rockford Area Arts Council, Rockford Art Deli and the Rockford Area Visual Artist of the Year. This is a free event.

Q: Got it. What’s the date and time again?

A: It starts at Walker Park, 1500 Myott Avenue in Rockford, Illinois. Festivities begin promptly at 3:00 p.m. in the park with live performances. We’ll also hand out poetry caroling scripts and have a quick rehearsal. Then Chugro will rise from the snow and lead the audience in poetry caroling through the Churchill’s Grove neighborhood.

WHO IS BEHIND THE ROCKFORD FRINGE?

Connie and Jesse at Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis

The Rockford Fringe is led by Connie and Jesse Kuntz. They met in Minneapolis 20 years ago at Bedlam Theatre where Jesse performed in a play Connie wrote. After they got married and started their family, they moved to Rockford (where Connie was raised) and had two more children.

What started as “quirky family projects” in their front yard led to a myriad of public performance-based events with Rockford Writers’ Guild, Rockford Area Arts Council, Now What Pop-Ups and the inaugural Rockford Fringe Festival. Since 2008, the Kuntzes have staged hundreds of free events including new plays; art marches and parades; writing, sketching, hiking, painting and dancing pop-ups; 5K fun runs; poetry and performance art.

Connie and Jesse are both educated and professionally trained in theatre. Connie has a B.A. in theatre from Cornell College and worked in theatre and film for 16 years in Minneapolis. Jesse has a B.A. in theatre and mass communications from Pepperdine University and worked in theatre, film and commercials in Los Angeles and Minneapolis.

Connie is a former reporter and host of the arts series State of the Artist for 89.5 WNIJ, the NPR station for northern Illinois. Prior to that, she was the editor of The Rockford Review and president for Rockford Writers’ Guild. Now she works as the music and comedy director for Naked Angels Tuesdays@9 Chicago where she is also a contributing playwright. She also works at Chicago Dramatists either teaching Radio Play & Podcast Production, moderating First Draft or creating special podcasts like this:

Connie interviews Carson Grace Becker, Jean Gottlieb, Omar Fernandez, Siena Marilyn Ledger, Hayley Procacci, Peter Wilde, Clare Wols, Heather Minges Wols.

Jesse is an actor, lighting designer, director and audio / video specialist. He regularly attends Naked Angels Tuesdays@9 as an actor and recently appeared in Chicago Dramatists Scene Shop classes and St. Patrick’s Day 48-Hour Play Festival.

Now that their kids are older (one in middle school and three in high school), the family works together on Rockford Fringe because it’s (mostly) fun and they want to give back to the community that has given so much to them.

WHAT EXACTLY IS THE ROCKFORD FRINGE?

Evan Rusmisal, Max Saladar, Devon McIntyre, Nathan Sill and Benjamin Sill at the Rockford Fringe

After meeting with a lawyer and a community advocate; consulting with friends and colleagues; observing other fringe festivals and theatrical productions; speaking at Rockford’s City Council; reading two books about starting nonprofit corporations; and conducting online research, Connie and Jesse have officially established the Rockford Fringe as an unincorporated nonprofit association. In its simplest terms, that’s when two or more people gather to provide a service to the public for a reason other than making a profit.

The Kuntzes have been “gathering to provide a service to the public for a reason other than making a profit” for more than 15 years. But in March of 2022, the City of Rockford sponsored a “Forward for Fun” initiative. Members of the public were invited to apply for a grant and use the money to create a fun event in their neighborhood. Connie applied and won a $3,000 grant and the Rockford Fringe was borne.

The money allowed the Kuntzes to:

  • rent two portable toilets and a hand-washing station
  • build a safe, sturdy stage
  • rent a generator and microphones
  • purchase two shade tents
  • pay for marketing, advertisement and a mailing

Connie and Jesse donated the rest, along with their time and talent. They launched a strong social media campaign and the Rockford Fringe Podcast. The Rockford Park District contributed picnic tables and garbage cans and Rockford Writers’ Guild was the official sponsor. All of that dedication, support and collaboration — along with a stellar lineup of talent — drew more than 100 people to a park that is usually empty.

Most members of the audience were from the Rockford region and Chicago, but visitors also drove in from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan. One long-distance couple who had been meeting online said they chose to meet in person for the first time at the Rockford Fringe.

Spoken word artist and author Aubs.

Rockford’s 3rd Ward alderman, Chad Tuneberg, usually seen in a suit and tie, surprised us all when he rode up on his motorcycle wearing a t-shirt, jeans, shades and a smile. Moments later, he delivered spontaneous, uniting remarks to the audience.

Third Ward Alderman Chad Tuneberg

A couple months later, Alderman Tuneberg gave the Rockford Fringe a lovely shout out in the Churchill’s Grove newsletter. We appreciate the support because it helps us build trust with the public!

The Rockford Fringe provides a safe space to perform or see original performances. Just as every performer brought something inspiring and exciting to the Rockford Fringe, so did every audience member!

Sam Kuntz, Nathan Sill and Max Saladar of SigFreed Parkour, Jocelyn Kuntz

Onstage, there was an eclectic mix of performances of theatre, radio plays, comedy songs, spoken word, dance, stretch and parkour. Artists came from Rockford, Rock Island, Beloit, Freeport, Chicago and Minneapolis.

Dancer Emily Klonicki and her e-bike after an early morning rehearsal

We are grateful for the media who covered the Rockford Fringe, especially Jake from Rockford Buzz, WTVO and Yvonne Boose with 89.5 WNIJ, the NPR station for northern Illinois.

The success and positive feedback from the community informed and inspired Connie and Jesse to create more events under the umbrella of Rockford Fringe. It is their hope that this simple name will help more people embrace the fully human outdoor experience that is the Rockford Fringe.

Fringe Festival Gallery

SigFreed Parkour — Photo by LaurA Force! Scruggs

Thank you for taking the time to read about the #RockfordFringe. We hope you join us at an event soon, either onstage or in the audience. Until then, stay up to date by following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or listen to Rockford Fringe Podcast on Apple, Anchor or Spotify Podcasts.

Video trailer for Winter Solstice Poetry Caroling.