What’s Next for the Rockford Fringe?

Video highlights from Winter Solstice Poetry Caroling.
Poetry Caroling Update: The Second Annual Winter Solstice Poetry Caroling event was a wonderful success! It was so much fun and we are already excited for next year's Winter Solstice Poetry Caroling on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023 from 3:00-5:00 p.m. Save the date!

Q: That’s great that the poetry caroling was a success. How did you do it?

A: The Rockford Fringe received a $500 Action Grant from Rockford Area Arts Council, Rockford Art Deli and the Rockford Area Visual Artist of the Year. We used the funds to build the puppet, print caroling books, produce the Rockford Fringe Podcast, send out a mailing, promote the event on social media and edit two videos. Whew!

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

A: The Second Annual Rockford Fringe Festival will take place on Saturday, July 8 from 12-5!

Q: What’s that?

A: An outdoor celebration of the performing arts featuring theatre, music, dance and poetry in the park.

Q: What park?

A: Walker Park, of course. That’s where all of our events take place. The address is 1500 Myott Ave., Rockford, IL 61103. Here’s a picture of the poetry carolers and Chugro rehearsing in Walker Park.

Q: That’s a good looking bunch! But are they friendly?

A: The Rockford Fringe is made up of the nicest people in the world.

Q: May I see more pictures of these “nice people?”

A: Sure!

Q: Those look like firefighters, not fringers!

A: The Rockford Fire Department Station No. 8 was the first “home” we caroled. As such, these heroes are honorary fringers! Here we are outside the station on Sherman Street!

Q: Great photos. I want in on the fun! How do I learn more about the next Rockford Fringe Festival — the one that will take place on July 8, 2023.

A: We’ll provide more details about the 2nd Annual Rockford Fringe Festival in March, but if you have any questions before then, feel free to reach out to us.

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 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.

Jesse is an actor, set and lighting designer, puppet builder, 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 whole 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, 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.

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Rockford Fringe Festival