Notes from the Fringe: Coffee, Gospel and Left For Dead

Java's on Gibbs Street.

Java’s on Gibbs Street.

It was Sunday at the First Niagara Fringe Festival and I started out the day on Gibbs Street, having coffee and a scone at Java’s. The city is beautiful in the morning, with the sun streaming through the trees and people milling about outside the coffee shop. I really should come down here more often.

My friend and improv partner Laura met me again. We had breakfast with a sparrow and met a dog named Bam Bam.

I shared my oatmeal scone with a sparrow.

I shared my oatmeal scone with a sparrow. Laura scared the sparrow. Repeatedly. And not always accidentally.

This is Bam Bam. I met him in Java's with his mom, Middle.

This is Bam Bam. I met him in Java’s with his mom, Middle. He shared Laura’s scone.

We also ran into our other improv partner, Don Beechner, and fellow improviser Peg DeBaise. Don’s one busy guy this week, doing readings and sketch and theater; you can catch him in a few shows this weekend, including Polite Ink: Sketch & Improv Presents: 9 More Minutes on Tuesday and Murder by MacGuffin this Friday and Saturday. Peg will be appearing in Triple Entendre on Tuesday at MuCCC. (Non-Fringe plug: Don and Peg are both part of the Photo City Players, the new house team at Photo City Improv on Atlantic Avenue, behind Sticky Lips.)

Don Beechner and Peg DeBiase, improvisors, actors and all around very funny people.

Don Beechner and Peg DeBiase, improvisers, actors and all around very funny people.

At the end of the street, kids from the Carlson MetroCenter YMCA, along with their mentors, were decorating the streets with chalk, filling an already beautiful corner of the city with more color. Continue reading

Notes from the Fringe: Improv, groundhogs and other wonders

The Spiedelgarden at night is a gorgeous place to just hang out. This is

The Spiedelgarden at night is a gorgeous place to just hang out. This is “What if” by local artist Scott Grove. Watch for my piece at, where I share more about him.

As you know, I’m covering the Fringe for, my favorite local website. Saturday, however, was designated for me as “no work day.” Instead, my friend and improv partner Laura and I had tickets for several shows and we were going to spend the day just hanging out. It was raining, so I left the camera in the car and didn’t take the notebook out once.

The good news is that we had a blast – I mean, a really rip roaring good time.  The bad news is that I have no photos to show you of the shows we saw. So you’ll have to just close your eyes and imagine … Continue reading

Notes from The Fringe: Alexander Morgan and the music from the Cabinet of Wonders

Music from Alexander Morgan provided the soundtrack to the Cabinet of Wonders show at this year's First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival. It was spellbinding.

Music from Alexander Morgan provided the soundtrack to the Cabinet of Wonders show at this year’s First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival. It was spellbinding. (photo Joanne Brokaw)

Just a quick update: I spent the evening on Thursday at the opening night of the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival, checking out the art, shows and activities in the Spiegelgarden, the heart of the festival. I’m doing a long post for Rochester Subway, but since it won’t run until Monday I wanted to quickly share something amazing from a show called the Cabinet of Wonders.

It’s this really funky, classy, smart and sassy variety show with comedy, acrobatics, juggling and more. It was really, really entertaining. (There’s more in this post.) But I walked away really moved by the music from Alexander Morgan, which offered the musical backdrop to the aerial dancer and acrobatics.

The show was amazing, but the music really tied it all together. It was spellbinding. And since there wasn’t much of a plug for him specifically – the performers were mentioned by name at the end of the show but that’s it –  I wanted to make sure that if you saw the show, you knew how to get his music. He’s just released his debut album, “For The King”, available on iTunes.

For The King is the debut album from alternative rocker Alexander Morgan, who also does the music for the Cabinet of Wonders show at this year's First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival.

For The King is the debut album from alternative rocker Alexander Morgan, who also provides the music for the Cabinet of Wonders show at this year’s First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival.

Many of you know that for a long time I used to cover entertainment for Christian and community publications, so naturally I was intrigued by the album and a few of the song titles. You get sensitive to certain words and phrases  (“The Flood”, “Thoughts Upon A Hill”, stuff like that) , and I wondered if there was a spiritual inspiration to his songwriting. So I asked, and he answered:

“Though most of [the songs] don’t speak literally to a particular faith or belief, I absolutely draw upon my relationship with religion and spirituality. Many of the questions I ask in these songs involve a philosophical challenge to even my own beliefs. So the fact that you pick up on that is certainly no coincidence. The title of the album refers to a sort of fictional antagonist in the loose ‘story’ of the album, but really represents people who put it upon themselves to abuse power and act as (very dramatically put mind you) Demi-gods. People in politics, war lords, religious heads, or even those who govern our hearts. It’s a broad metaphor, but they certainly all relate in my mind. “

It’s beautiful music with thought provoking themes. You can learn more on his website,

You can find my posts about the Fringe on, including my review of Remote Rochester, one of the many fascinating events taking place this week.

You can find links to all of my posts from the Fringe here.

Covering the Rochester Fringe

It’s been a few years since I’ve covered entertainment – and really, very little I covered was local – so I was surprised and thrilled to be offered a press pass to cover the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival for my favorite local website,

I’ve never been to the Fringe, and to be honest, given my dislike of crowds and traffic I probably wouldn’t have gone had it not been for the pass. But the list of events is mind boggling. So I got together with a friend and we bought tickets to a bunch of comedy and impro shows (before I knew I had a pass), and then I made a list of other stuff I want to see (that I wouldn’t see otherwise).

Yesterday, I went on what may be the coolest tour of Rochester that I’ll ever take, Remote Rochester. It’s an immersive street theater, thought provoking walking tour that has you traveling the streets of the city with 49 other people, all of you connected by a voice speaking to you via headphones. For two hours you contemplate life, death, nature, technology, yourself, and other people. It was brilliant. My review will be up at soon.

Watch here for links to reviews and other stuff I’ll be writing about Fringe. And thank you Fringe and Rochester Subway, for giving me a chance to go back to doing something I loved, but forgot I loved: experiencing cool stuff and then writing about it.

You can see the full line up of shows at this year’s fest on the Rochester Fringe website.

You can find links to all of my posts from the Fringe here.

“What The Dog Said” now available at Barnes & Noble in Pittsford, NY

my book at barnes and noble 009 my book at barnes and noble 005

Here’s something I never expected: to see: my book on the shelf at Barnes & Noble in Pittsford, NY! Big thanks to Ann-Marie at B&N in Pittsford for ordering the book for their store after I took part in the “To Kill A Mockingbird” read-a-thon. I’m so grateful! I stopped in yesterday and autographed them, so go on over and pick up a copy … you know, before the holiday rush. Don’t make her sorry she took a chance on my little collection of essays!

You can also pick up a copy of the book at Penfield Veterinary Hospital in Penfield, NY. The amazing staff takes care of Bandit, Bailey and Murphy, so if you’re looking for a veterinarian, we highly recommend them.

A musing on the To Kill A Mockingbird read-a-thon

BN To Kill A Mockingbird Readathon roster

Pittsford, NY Barnes & Noble roster for the “To Kill A Mockingbird” read-a-thon.

This will be a quick post, informal and to the point. I hope. Often I have great ideas and because I want to be profound I put off writing and then lose the idea and never write it down.

And I don’t want to do this with what’s running through my mind.

So if it feels like maybe I’m rambling or am not making my point, or if you see typos or mistakes or places where maybe you think I haven’t thought through an idea, keep in mind that I’ve got just a few minutes between places I need to be this afternoon, and I’m writing this in between where I just was and where I’m going.

I got to take part today in Barnes & Nobles “To Kill A Mockingbird” Read-a-thon, to celebrate the release tomorrow of Harper Lee’s “Go Set A Watchman”. The readings started at 9 am this morning and end at 9 pm tonight, with guest readers taking half hour time slots to read the entire book from cover to cover. It’s a nationwide event, and I was at the Pittsford Barnes & Noble.

“To Kill A Mockingbird” is one of my favorite movies, not only because it’s so brilliantly done, but because it so brilliantly follows Lee’s book. (It’s pure joy when a movie does justice to a book, isn’t it? And it so rarely happens.) We could talk all day about characters and setting and story, but for now it’s enough to say that when I got to B&N,  I got sit and listen to chapters 17, 18 and 19, read by Judy Shomper, chair of the theater department at Brighton High School and Beth Adams, morning show host on WXXI.

BN To Kill A Mockingbird Readathon Judy Shomper

Judy Shomper, chair of the theater department at Brighton High School, reading from “To Kill A Mockingbird”.

As I came into the store, I could hear the sound of the reader echoing throughout the entire store, although I wasn’t actually listening to the words. But after I’d checked in, said hello to Beth and chatted for a minute, I settled in to listen to Judy Shomper and then Beth Adams read from the famous courtroom scene. You know what I’m talking about: Atticus is questioning Mayella Ewell about her beating and the accusation that it was at the hands of Tom Robinson, a Negro.

The word “nigger” is used throughout the text. Continue reading

50 thoughts on turning 50: #30 – Protesting and Social Media

comedians in cars trevor noah

(Click image to go to website)

My social media news feeds have been filled lately with rants and lectures and quips and tirades on myriad hot button social and political topics.

I’m all for supporting causes we believe in, but I’m often left wondering how often we hit “share” or “like” on social media and feel like we’ve done some great service to social justice, when in reality all we’ve done is hit “share” or “like” on social media.

I’ve been trying to sort through my thoughts on this when I saw this week’s episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”, and was struck by something guest comedian Trevor Noah said:

“People are now able to protest in their underwear. And that almost defies what protesting should be about. The whole point of a protest is to get up out of your bed, put your clothes on, walk out in to the cold and say, ‘I stand for this. I march for this.’ And now you really don’t have to have that conviction, ‘cuz you’re on the couch, in your underwear, you’re going, ‘You know what? I don’t like it, either.’ Punch in a few characters, and you’re ‘Yeah, yeah, I fought for the cause.’ No. You didn’t.”

For years I’ve struggled with this topic when it comes to church. We talk a lot about loving our neighbor, and we give to charities, and we support missionaries. But until we stand in the streets and publicly speak our mind, or get our hands dirty doing actual work, or sit down face to face with people on the other side of issues and actually inhale each other’s words in conversation, we really can’t say we’ve taken a stand, or fought for a cause, or had a discussion.

It’s easy to hide behind 140 characters and a photoshopped profile photo, easy to take a stand and argue back online when you don’t have to look someone in the eye, hear the quiver in his voice, feel the tension in the air, and be accountable for the words leaving your lips.

The other thing that struck me about this episode was Noah talking about apartheid in South Africa, and what it means to be black, white and colored (yes, those three are all different in South Africa), and growing up with parents who were illegally married (yes, in the 1980s), and what it means to live in a country where free speech was outlawed until the mid 1990s.

Really, watch the entire episode. It’ll give you something to think about.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. Read more here.