Notes from the Fringe 2016: The Spiegeltent

The cast of the Cabinet of Wonders, from Fringe Fest 2015.

The cast of the Cabinet of Wonders, from Fringe Fest 2015.

The centerpiece of the ten-day long Rochester Fringe Festival is the beautiful Spiegeltent, located in the Spiegelgarden at the corner of Main and Gibbs Streets in downtown.

Don’t let the word “tent” mislead you; this isn’t any regular canvas event tent. This is an actual structure with walls and a wooden floor that, as I write, is being constructed from the ground up by a crew that travels with the tent from city to city, assembling and then dismantling the tent of wonders. Today, they’re toiling away in Rochester’s hot and humid weather.

The Spiegeltent, the centerpiece of the downtown headquarters for Rochester Fringe Festival, is being assembled today.

The Spiegeltent, the centerpiece of the downtown headquarters for Rochester Fringe Festival, is being assembled today.

The Cristal Palace, from Fringe Fest 2015, is currently being assembled for this year's festival.

The Cristal Palace, from Fringe Fest 2015.

Last year, I was awed by the Spiegeltent. It’s magical and beautiful, and it houses the festival’s headlining acts. This year it’s “Cirque du Fringe: Miracle Cures and Other Wonders From the Vagabond Caravan”, hosted by Matt Morgan and Mark Gindick, and complete with a cast of characters that include acrobats, musicians, comedians, and more.

It’s all quite spectacular to behold. Continue reading

Notes from the Fringe 2016: the countdown begins

miracle-cure

Cirque du Fringe: MIRACLE CURE & Other Wonders from the Vagabond Caravan

Rochester’s arts and entertainment community is in the final stages of preparation for the 2016 First Niagara Fringe Festival, which takes place Thursday, September 15 to Saturday, September 24, all across Rochester. There will be more than 500 performances at more than 25 venues in and around the city. And 170 of those performances are totally free!

Last year, I had the chance to cover Fringe for Rochester Subway, and I also blogged about it on my own blog (read the posts here). Not only did I enjoy the festival, I got to explore Rochester in a way I never had before. It also helped dispel some myths I’ve held onto about safety and parking and meandering around the city at night.

This year, I’ll be reporting on Fringe from inside the festival: I’ve got a role in the wildly popular Dashboard Dramas! Set inside cars parked in the Spiegelgarden, there are four ten-minute plays happening simultaneously, with two spectators in each car. When each play is over, the audience rotates, until they’ve seen all four plays in about 50 minutes.

A scene from Dashboard Drama II, in 2015

A scene from Dashboard Drama II, in 2015

This is a whole new experience for me. (Fringe seems to really take me out of my comfort zone). I’ve done a few small acting things, but I would hardly say I’m experienced in theater. Not by a long shot. But I do improv, and I love it, and a lot of the people I’m working with in this are people I know from the improv community, and I’m grateful for the chance to try something new.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that, unlike last year, when I spent countless hours wandering around downtown, talking to people and taking photos and finding odd stories – including riding in the bucket up the outside of the Powers Building with artist Scott Grove to inspect the facade – I won’t be able to do that this year. But I’ll file some reports from backstage and on the streets whenever possible. I’m hoping to do daily updates and photos here, and then wrap ups at Rochester Subway.

In fact, make sure you follow me on Facebook for pics and updates!

And I’m still hoping to catch some shows. On my long and growing list?  Jeffery Sweet’s “You Only Shoot The Ones You Love”; Alison Arngrim’s “Confessions of a Prairie B;+@h”; “Eulogy”; “Planchette”; “Sneeze”; and “OneYmoon”. And I’ll try and see as many of the improv and comedy shows as possible.

Argh!! Too many amazing shows!! Too little time!! What a great problem to have!

Anyway, time is ticking towards opening night, and tickets are selling out for some of the more popular shows (Dashboard Dramas was sold out before the Fringe guide was even printed). Here are a few things you won’t want to miss: Continue reading

Confessions of an office (and school) supply addict

photo courtesy of pixabay

photo courtesy of pixabay

(Note: This post is cross posted at Patheos.com)

I spent a half hour today sharpening pencils. I enjoy the act of standing at an old-fashioned sharpener and turning the crank, hearing the blade grind the wood and graphite to a fine point and watching the shavings build into a pile at my feet. It helps me clear my head when I’m stressed, on a column deadline, or stumped by the Sunday crossword.

I picked up the yellow No. 2 pencils while I was out running errands. I limited myself to just one box because the truth is that if I didn’t, I would have skipped the milk and bread and spent the grocery money on school supplies.

Never mind that I don’t have kids in school anymore or that I’m not in school myself. It’s “Back to School” time, which means supplies are on sale, and that’s a dangerous time of the year for me.

Because I’m an office supply addict.

I have an abnormal addiction to pens, paper, pencils, notepads, journals—you name it. I rarely walk out of a store without purchasing some sort of stationery item—paper clips, file folders or a snazzy new pen.

I have a notebook in every room in my house, one in my car and one in my purse, so when I have an idea I can write it down quickly, before I forget it. I keep a supply of pocket folders in a range of colors to suit my every mood. I have a panic attack if I can’t find my stapler.

I think my addiction is rooted in my childhood. As a kid, I loved getting ready for the new school year, the smell of autumn and new possibilities in the air, my book bag filled with folders, freshly sharpened pencils and clean, white notebook paper just begging to be filled with stories, notes and essays.

Every fall, I would vow that this would be the year I would stay organized. This year, I would put the science notes in the science folder and the English notes in the English folder. This year, I would save all of the quizzes so I could study for the cumulative final. This year, I would record every homework assignment in my pocket calendar and never again be scrambling at the last minute to complete a project.

But it always ended the same. In less than a month, I had geometry theorems mixed in with grammar notes. I would show up to science class with my Spanish textbook (“Wait,” I’d ask. “Que hora es?”) and had taken to writing homework assignments on my hands (I had the first Palm Pilot). My locker always looked like a tornado had blown through a paper factory.

It’s more than 30 years later and I’m still not organized. I’m continually digging through a towering pile of folders on my kitchen table to hunt for research notes, paper clips and pens. I have three calendars within arm’s reach, but I never know what day it is.

I know what you’re thinking: there’s an app for that. Calendars on your phone, e-books, virtual folders and documents. But I’m not interested.

It’s not just the fact that I can’t keep up with the latest technology on a writer’s budget. The truth is that I like doing things the old-fashioned way. I like putting a real pencil to actual paper and scribbling away, crossing out words, rewriting sentences, and doodling in the margins when I’m mentally blocked. I think better that way.

And science backs me up on this. Study after study has found that students who take notes longhand actually comprehend and retain information better and longer than students who take notes on a laptop. Researchers think it has to do with the cognitive process necessary to listen to someone speaking, digest the meaning in their words, and then succinctly condense the information into notes. Our brains process that differently then when we’re typing the words verbatim on a laptop.

In other words, a valid rationalization for me to buy more office supplies. Thank you, science! Pencils and notebooks are still on sale! Who needs groceries, anyway?

(A slightly different version of this appears in my book “What The Dog Said,” a collection of humor columns penned over the years. It also appeared in the October 2015 issue of Refreshed Magazine.)

Banners, business, and God Bless America

Five Mile Cafe in Penfield, NY

Five Mile Cafe in Penfield, NY

NOTE: This post can be read in its entirety at my blog at Patheos.com; at the end of this excerpt you can click to continue reading there. For the record, I don’t care one way or the other if the banner hangs or not. What I care about is that the truth of this story is told.

* * * * * *

Banners, business, and God Bless America
by Joanne Brokaw

I was a little surprised yesterday when I noticed that a story about a local cafe owner and her kerfuffle over a banner that reads “God Bless America” was trending on Facebook.

Jennifer Aquino is at odds with the Town of Penfield over a banner she hung on her Five Mile Cafe back in June. And if you believe everything you read on social media, the town was unpatriotic in its insistence that she remove the banner just as we readied to celebrate Independence Day. In fact, a Fox News story reported that Aquino asked for permission to hang the banner and was denied, so she hung it anyway.

Not true. She had permission to hang the banner. She just overstepped the parameters.

On purpose.

But let’s go back a bit and take a closer look. Why? Because I used to own a small business in a town that had seriously tight rules about signs and banners, and I suspected when I saw this story a couple of weeks ago that the back and forth between business and board was all about permits and regulations, and not about squashing patriotism.

And if there’s one thing I hate it’s when people cry about their rights being violated when, in fact, they’re just mad that they didn’t get their way.

CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING AT PATHEOS

One Bad Mother

Me and my fabulous mom.

Me and my fabulous mom.

My mother loves to tell the story about how, when I was a newborn, she left the house and went shopping, and when she got to the store realized she’d forgotten to take me with her.

It was no big deal, she’s always assured me. As soon as she remembered, she went home and got me. I was fine. No harm done. She was sure I hadn’t even realized she’d been gone. I was an infant, so she’s probably right. But I always wondered how a mother could do that. I mean, doesn’t a mother’s world revolve around her children? How could she forget me?

Then I had a kid.

For what it’s worth, I’ve never gone shopping and forgotten my daughter at home. Well, not that I remember anyway. There was that one time when I was at the mall, and I was looking at some shoes that were on sale, and when I turned around realized my daughter had disappeared. In a panic, I started calling her name and searching among the racks. Finally, I ran out into the mall and spotted her a few stores away, calming walking along with a young couple, chatting nonstop and regaling them with tales of her imaginary friends.

She was three years old.

My failures as a mother weren’t limited to losing my child while bargain hunting. One time, I was dressing her while getting myself ready for work. We were late, and I was trying to do ten things at the same time. I didn’t realize that her little jacket had gotten caught on her shirt, and that the zipper was now lying against her bare skin. As I rushed around trying to get myself dressed and get her dressed and then get us both out the door, I quickly zipped the jacket, taking a strip of her soft belly flesh with it.

She cried. I cried harder. She had a scab for weeks. I’m still scarred. Continue reading

Musings on life, death, and wildlife (and Prince)

Exploring a ravine at Mt. Hope Cemetery.

Exploring a ravine at Mt. Hope Cemetery.

When I heard the news that Prince had died, I was in the cemetery. I’d been there for hours with my sister Jackie and my friend Linsay, exploring the hills and dales, and mostly tracking critters . We spotted groundhogs, remarked on the number of chipmunks, stumbled (literally) upon a Prehistoric looking amphibian, and investigated critter dens.

A most unusual amphibian.

A most unusual amphibian.

Can you find the critter in this photo?

Can you find the critter in this photo?

We made some unusual discoveries. I learned, for example, that in Scotland, where Linsay is from, there are no critters like groundhogs or chipmunks; in fact, other than Pepe LePew, she’s never seen a skunk. Or smelled one. That led to a discussion about removing skunk smell with tomato juice, which sounds really weird to someone who’s never smelled a skunk.

We also found parts of old caskets that critters had dragged to the surface, handles of varying shapes and sizes scattered here and there in the cemetery, and we imagined what life underground must be like for a groundhog.

Casket hardware outside another groundhog hole, in a different section of the cemetery.

Casket hardware outside another groundhog hole, in a different section of the cemetery.

I’d met a groundhog a few days earlier, sitting for 45 minutes next to his den to see if he’d emerge. He did, slowly. When he was fully exposed, we considered each other. Then he retreated down the hole and I went home. I’ve been thinking ever since about what it must be like underground, among the caskets and remains, what the groundhogs and chipmunks disturb, and if anyone minds. Continue reading

Holy s*@#!

Our sewer line had a colonoscopy today.

Our sewer line had a colonoscopy today.

When I went into the basement this morning, I noticed a puddle of water on the floor, and another closer to the wall, and another near the sink, and another near the toilet, and another…

Uh oh. Water leak.

My first thought was that the neighbors had been draining their pool cover, and might have left the hose too close to our window well and sent water cascading into our basement. That happened once before, many years ago. But nope, that wasn’t it. I checked the washing machine. Nope. The toilet in the small bathroom did look full of water, and when I reached in to how deep it was (because it’s dark in there) I realized that the water was hot.

Hmmm. Curiouser and curiouser.

I called Darling Husband, who doesn’t have enough stress in his life, and told him what was going on. “Check the floor sewer drain cap,” he said. “Is there any water there?”

No, but there was dampness around it. His diagnosis: the sewer line was plugged, and because the cap was on tightly on the pipe the water backed up into the next closest outlet, the basement toilet. The laundry tub had a few inches of water in it, too. Why was the toilet water hot? “Did you just take a shower?” he asked. I had. “That’s the water that didn’t drain.”

What do I do? “Call the plumber,” he said. So I did.

Turns out I wasn’t the only one on my street to call Mr. Rooter this morning. “What’s going on over there?” the secretary asked, and told me my neighbor had just called with the same problem. She set up an appointment for me right after theirs. I called my neighbors – clearly something more was going on than just roots in our sewer line – and agreed that, yup, something more was going on that just roots on the sewer line. Continue reading