Tag Archives: Rochester Fringe Festival

Big Knockers, Fringe Festival, and Local Characters

When my friends Abby DeVuyst and Kerry Young first told me about their show “Big Knockers: Debunking The Fox Sisters”, which would be performed at the 2017 Rochester Fringe Festival, I did a little dance of joy.

The show is a spoof on the Fox Sisters, often credited with founding the American Spiritualist movement thanks to their claims that they could communicate with the spirit world via a system of rappings or knockings.

If you read my blog or follow me on social media, you know that for the last couple of years I’ve been researching and writing a book about…well, it started as a book about Mt. Hope Cemetery, but it’s now rabbit trailed all over the place as I’ve encountered fascinating stories about Rochester’s history and the unknown residents who lay buried, often in unmarked graves, not only in Mt. Hope but other local cemeteries.

I’ve got piles of research notes, chapter drafts, and half-written blog posts on everyone from Wild West showman Buffalo Bill Cody to American aviatrix Blanche Stuart Scott, from clairvoyant physician Mrs. Dr. Jennie C Dutton to murder victim Emma Moore.

So when I offered to provide Kerry and Abby with some research that might help them put the Fox sisters in context with local history, they told me to send along anything I wanted. I went through my files and then inundated them with stories about local inventors, mediums, and clairvoyant physicians. I sent newspaper clippings and wrote rambling paragraphs outlining crazy stories that have fascinated me for years. I spouted facts and dates. I sent links to stories I’d already written.

And then I apologized a hundred times for overloading them with information.

And then they thanked me, and told me that they used what I’d sent them to help form the characters and stories in the show.

By that time, I’d already auditioned for and gotten a part in “Big Knockers”, so I was over the moon that these people who have lived for years in my head and in file folders would have their stories heard. But even better? I got to bring one of my favorite women to life: I play a notorious local madam named Matilda Dean.

While the “Big Knockers” writers obviously had to take liberties with dates and story lines in order to make it all work for the show (and add the humor), the characters actually are based on real people, and much of details they share about themselves are true. [update: here’s the review in City Newspaper] So for those of you want to know more, here is the “Big Knockers” backstory. Keep in mind that these are just small snippets of information; much more lies in folders piled up on my desk, waiting to find a home in blog posts and book chapters. Or who knows? Maybe on another stage?

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Notes from the Fringe 2016: Dashboard Dramas

The cast of Dashboard Dramas III, in the rain

The cast of Dashboard Dramas III, opening weekend, in the rain

The first weekend of Fringe Festival is behind us, and unlike last year, when I got to roam around and see show after show and write about everything, this year I was in “Dashboard Dramas III”, the wildly popular and hilariously unconventional show that takes place in cars parked inside the Spiegelgarden.

Less writing time, but way more fun.

It works like this: there are four cars, and each car is the “stage” for a ten minute play. All four plays are happening simultaneously. Two audience members are inside each car, and they rotate from car to car until they’ve seen all four plays in about 50 minutes.

These cars are the stage for four ten-minute plays.

These cars will be the stage for four ten-minute plays.

That means that for every show, the cast performs their plays four times. Two shows a day = eight performances. Three shows a day = twelve performances. The show kicked off last Thursday with two shows. Two more on Friday, three each on Saturday and Sunday. When opening weekend was over, we’d all performed our ten minute plays 30 times. Continue reading

Notes from the Fringe 2016: A sneak peek at Cirque du Fringe

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A sneak peek at one of the acts in this year’s “Cirque du Fringe”.

The Fringe Festival opens tomorrow, and today I got a sneak peek at the main event in the Spiegeltent, the “Cirque du Fringe: Miracle Cure”.

I was spellbound last year by “Cabinet of Wonders”, and Matt Morgan and company are back again with acrobats, a high wire walker, crossbow archers, jugglers, and more. It’s music and comedy and another dose of the magic that made last year’s show a sell out.

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No circus is complete without a tightrope walker.

The preview wasn’t a dress rehearsal, so my photos don’t begin to speak how amazing the show will be when costumes, lights, and all of the props are in place. (In fact, I don’t even have all of the performer’s names yet; I’ll add them as I get them).

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This is Timo with his father, Jan Damm, one of the performers. Timo makes a brief appearance in the show.

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From the outside of the Spiegeltent, you’d never know there was room for an aerial dancer inside.

But today, media was invited to watch a run through of the show. Even without costumes, and with the stops and starts as the cast finalized show details, it was a wonderful way to spend two hours.

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A comedic musical interlude with a ukelele and belly bongo .

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This lovely pup belongs to one of the performers. She was content to nap amidst the circus preparation.

I liked being able to eavesdrop on discussions about moving apparatus and segueing between acts and synchronizing everything to music cues. They make it look so easy in the show. But in reality there’s a lot of coordination necessary to ensure each moving piece is where it should be, when it should be there.

Which is important when one of your acts is shooting arrows from crossbows. Across the audiences’ heads.

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You’ll be holding your breath during this act.

Music this year is from John and Caroline Shannon; he’s from TheSHIFT (you can learn more on his artist Facebook page). Just like last year, the music really pulls the show together, and you’ll want to check out their CD, which will be available in the Fringe merch tent.

If you haven’t gotten tickets to “Cirque du Fringe: Miracle Cure” yet, don’t wait. Opening night is already sold out, and once audiences see the full show, tickets will go fast. Even though I’ve already seen most of the show, I have a ticket to see it this week. I can’t wait.

For the complete Fringe Festival schedule, visit the festival website.

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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

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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

Notes from the Fringe: Pirates and Downton and Disco, oh my!

The cast of the Cabinet of Wonders.

The cast of the Cabinet of Wonders. Photo credit Erich Camping

As the festival winds down to the last days, just a quick recap of yesterday and a reminder of a few shows you’ll not want to miss.

The Steele Sisters

The Steele Sisters

Yesterday, my improv teammates Laura Fleming and Don Beechner joined me for the Steele Sisters at the Strong Museum of Play. We hit the 9 PM special pirate show. Well, actually, Don went to the earlier show and had so much fun he came back for more comedy, sword-fighting, and sisterly love.  The Steele Sisters’ run at the festival is done, so you’ll have to catch them on the Renaissance Festival circuit.
Continue reading

Notes from the Fringe: Ann Landers, Princess Wendy, and naked laughter

Sinda Nichols is Ann Landers/Eppie Lederer in "The Lady With All The Answers".

Sinda Nichols is Ann Landers/Eppie Lederer in “The Lady With All The Answers”.

It was Hump Day at the Fringe, and that phrase took on a whole new meaning with the two shows I saw last night.

“The Lady With All The Answers”, starring Sinda Nichols, is a one woman show based on the letters of Ann Landers. Written by David Rambo, it’s funny, classy and poignant, and a must see for anyone who ever read the “Dear Ann Landers” column – or had a column stuck on the fridge as a gentle suggestion that there’s a problem that needed to be discussed which no one was really sure how to bring up.

No topic was off limits to Ann Landers, from the appropriateness of doing housework in the nude to the proper way address sexual fantasies with a partner to the mundane dilemma of which way is the proper way to hang a roll of toilet paper (back to the wall, of course). She was the first to discuss homosexuality in a column and to talk about oral sex on television. Of course, less sexually charged topics came up just as frequently – settling family disputes, proper manners, dealing with difficult coworkers.

Sinda Nichols is Ann Landers in "The Lady With All The Answers".

Sinda Nichols is Ann Landers in “The Lady With All The Answers”.

The show takes place in 1975 on the eve of a deadline in which Ann – or in her real life Eppie Lederer – is writing the most difficult column in her (to that point) twenty year career. Through the monologue, as well as phone calls from her daughter, sister and husband, we learn more about her marriage, her relationship with her sister (who penned the Dear Abby column), and her trip to Vietnam to visit with the troops, something she didn’t write about in her column. Continue reading