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Wylie, Random House settle e-books dispute, but Godin goes his own way

Earlier this month, we wrote about Odyssey Editions, the new venture by literary super-agent Andrew Wylie and Amazon's Kindle e-books division to bypass the traditional big six "legacy" publishing houses and make the digital rights to 20 "modern classics" available exclusively from Amazon.

The move prompted a strong response from the publishing houses, most notably Random House -- the world's largest English-language general trade book publisher -- which announced that it would cease to negotiate new business with all authors represented by the Wylie Agency until disputed claims concerning digital rights to the Random House titles in question and the exclusivity of Wylie's agreement with Amazon could be resolved. Thirteen of the 20 titles in Wylie's Odyssey Editions were originally Random House books.

On Tuesday, Random House's Chairman and CEO Markus Dohle and Andrew Wylie, president of the Wylie Agency, released a joint statement that read as follows:

"We are pleased to announce that The Wylie Agency and Random House have resolved our differences over the disputed Random House titles which have been included in the Odyssey Editions e-book publishing program. These titles are being removed from that program and taken off-sale. We have agreed that Random House shall be the exclusive e-book publisher of these titles for those territories in which Random House U.S. controls their rights. The titles soon will be available for sale on a non-exclusive basis through all of Random House's current e-book customers. Random House is resuming normal business relations with the Wylie Agency for English-language manuscript submissions and potential acquisitions, and we both are glad to be able to put this matter behind us."

Continue reading "Wylie, Random House settle e-books dispute, but Godin goes his own way" »

Thursday Theatre Roundup

All's quiet on the Western New York theater front, as companies across town make their frenzied, behind-the-scene preparations for the season opening celebration known as Curtain Up! But fear not, oh theater-hungry patrons of the 716, for the Shaw Festival rages on in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. To wit:

Arousal_0221_DC
The cast of "Age of Arousal" at the Shaw Festival.

"Age of Arousal," through Oct. 30 in the Court House Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. in a Shaw Festival production. From the review: "It is a marvelous ensemble, but the performances of [Kelli] Fox and [Sharry] Flett are most delightful: masterpieces of comic timing, mild slapstick and pointed comment... In this production, desperation can be wonderfully entertaining." --Melinda Miller

"The Doctor's Dilemma," through Oct. 30 in the Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. in a Shaw Festival production. From the review: "...audiences might not agree with Shaw’s opinion. But it’s difficult not to be sucked in by the inherent drama, the wonderfully idiosyncratic characters and the overall charm of this show, which dives headlong into the challenges of the medical establishment in a stratified society." --Colin Dabkowski

"John Bull's Other Island," through Oct. 9 in the Court House Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. in a Shaw Festival production. From the review: "[The production] uses an intelligently and heavily abridged script that, together with Christopher Newton’s sure-handed control of stage action, provides a performance that rolls along purposefully and compellingly, leading the audience by the ear and eye even through the most pontificating of Shaw’s soap-box orations." --Herman Trotter

"Half an Hour," through Oct. 9 in the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. in a Shaw Festival production. From the review: "Barrie has packed a surprising amount of humor, hope and tragedy into such a compact package that you may walk out of the theater thinking you’ve seen a full-blown production.... It’s not Shaw, it’s not Shakespeare and it’s perhaps too sentimental for some tastes, but “Half an Hour” may be the most effective piece of drama from concentrate I’ve seen. It is, at the very least, well worth the time." --Colin Dabkowski


Venus

The cast of "One Touch of Venus at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

"One Touch of Venus" through Oct. 10 in the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. in a Shaw Festival production. From the review: "With Weill’s music enhanced by S. J. Perelman’s book, and lyrics by the one-and-only Ogden Nash, the prospect is for top-level music and laughs. And to a large degree that’s what we get. But it doesn’t take long to discover that the joy of Ogden Nash’s lyrics can sometimes be diluted in the transfer from printed page to song... Directed by Eda Holmes, the large cast was given a lot of latitude to exploit the show’s louder, more boisterous possibilities." --Herman Trotter

"An Ideal Husband" through Oct. 31 at the Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., in a Shaw Festival production. From the review"The intricacies of the plot — which, truth be told, is a little tiredly conceived and tends in spots toward the maudlin — all serve one over-arching and worthy point: We are all hopelessly imperfect creatures whose only hope for forgiveness comes through the redemptive power of love. It’s a beautifully simple, almost naive idea, and it’s what elevates the play beyond a chuckle-worthy society comedy. That it was written while Wilde was embroiled in a public scandal over his forbidden homosexuality, and from which he would never recover, lends the play’s storybook conclusion a gloss of wistful fantasy that makes it all the more compelling." --Colin Dabkowski

"Harvey" through Oct. 31 at the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., in a Shaw Festival production. From the review: "'Harvey' should be completely exempt from deep analysis. It is about happiness. Its simplicity and gimmicky humor are its chief strengths, a fact exploited by director Joseph Ziegler and carried on ably by his cast. This is the antidote to Chekhov, the perfect cure for world-weariness and a great affirmation of eccentricity that strives to bring out the dreamer in us all." --Colin Dabkowski


GUSTO The     Cherry Orchard

Severn Thompson as Varya and Laurie Paton as Lyubov Andreyevna Ranyevskaya in "The Cherry Orchard" at the Shaw Festival.

"The Cherry Orchard" through Oct. 2 in the Court House Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., in a Shaw Festival production. From the review: "This production, featuring Shaw veterans Benedict Campbell as Lopakhin and Laurie Paton as Lyubov among a great many other gifted actors, employs an excellent Irish-tinged adaptation by Tom Murphy. This imbues the script with subtle sense of modern urgency (“How’s tricks?” instead of “How are you?”) and expands it ever-so-slightly beyond the insularity of its rural Russian milieu." --Colin Dabkowski

Robbins' genius surfaces in "or, The Whale"

 
Perhaps the best kept secret of the Buffalo area literary scene over the past three decades has been the soft, beneficent voice of a singularly talented poet whose work was largely unheralded. 
 
It's not as if Sherry Robbins sought anonymity or lived her life as a recluse.  She published two highly regarded collections of poems--Snapshots of Paradise (Just Buffalo Literary Center, 1981) and The Accidental Poet (Palimage, 2005)--as well a chapbook of Herman Melville inspired poems with Mike Boughn's Shuffaloff Press in 1993 that seemed like a sonogram of a miracle in gestation.  She married and raised a daughter, did occasional public readings, owned and ran her own letterpress (Orchard Press), and took her turn at independent publishing as co-owner of Weird Sisters Press.
 
Professionally, she gained recognition as perhaps the most accomplished of the Buffalo area's extraordinarily deep roster of teaching artists and poets-in-the-schools, and was named New York State Teaching Artist of the Year in 2005. Still, Robbins was quietly spoken of in polite circles as the best poet in Buffalo who wasn't already famous.
 
Expect that murmur to change shortly into a full-throated roar, for with her long awaited new full length collection or, The Whale (BlazeVox Books), Robbins delivers a career defining work of epic scope and imagination. Based on her close reading of  the ideas and structure of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick--even borrowing quotes and chapter headings from that classic--Robbins offers a subtle feminist reading of what is perhaps the great American novel of obsession and pursuit of the unfathomable.

Continue reading "Robbins' genius surfaces in "or, The Whale"" »

The (Friday) Theater Roundup

As Curtain Up! approaches, the summer theater season continues unabated. This week's theater roundup (apologies for its day-lateness), certainly reflects that.

This weekend marks the final few performances of "All Shook Up!" at Artpark, a musical revue set to the music of Elvis which stars Sally Struthers and Western New York native Chris Critelli. Tonight, the ALT Theatre hosts the final performance of "Unburdened," an experimental theater piece by Toronto-based company Modest Productions, as part of CEPA Gallery's Art of War exhibition.

Meanwhile, two new productions ("The Age of Arousal" and "Serious Money") opened up at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Check out Melinda Miller's review of the former in this week's theater roundup:

All Shook Up lean resized credit Matt Buckley

Chris Critelli and Carey Anderson in Artpark's production of "All Shook Up!"

"All Shook Up!" through Sunday in Artpark's Mainstage Theatre in an Artpark production. From the review: "Struthers makes only occasional appearances in the first act, but every entrance is a gem. She roars at a kissing couple and shows impressive physical comedy ability... The other main actors show off some impressive pipes, with Betti O and Antalan especially hitting some big, clear notes and staying there. Loftin, as Natalie’s pal, and Markowitz, as Miss Sandra, have strong comic presences. Lynne Kurdziel-Formato’s choreography was crisp." --Anne Neville

At the Shaw Festival:

Arousal_0221_DC
The cast of "Age of Arousal" at the Shaw Festival.

"Age of Arousal," through Oct. 30 in the Court House Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. in a Shaw Festival production. From the review: "It is a marvelous ensemble, but the performances of [Kelli] Fox and [Sharry] Flett are most delightful: masterpieces of comic timing, mild slapstick and pointed comment... In this production, desperation can be wonderfully entertaining." --Melinda Miller

"The Doctor's Dilemma," through Oct. 30 in the Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. in a Shaw Festival production. From the review: "...audiences might not agree with Shaw’s opinion. But it’s difficult not to be sucked in by the inherent drama, the wonderfully idiosyncratic characters and the overall charm of this show, which dives headlong into the challenges of the medical establishment in a stratified society." --Colin Dabkowski

"John Bull's Other Island," through Oct. 9 in the Court House Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. in a Shaw Festival production. From the review: "[The production] uses an intelligently and heavily abridged script that, together with Christopher Newton’s sure-handed control of stage action, provides a performance that rolls along purposefully and compellingly, leading the audience by the ear and eye even through the most pontificating of Shaw’s soap-box orations." --Herman Trotter

"Half an Hour," through Oct. 9 in the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. in a Shaw Festival production. From the review: "Barrie has packed a surprising amount of humor, hope and tragedy into such a compact package that you may walk out of the theater thinking you’ve seen a full-blown production.... It’s not Shaw, it’s not Shakespeare and it’s perhaps too sentimental for some tastes, but “Half an Hour” may be the most effective piece of drama from concentrate I’ve seen. It is, at the very least, well worth the time." --Colin Dabkowski


Venus 

The cast of "One Touch of Venus at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

"One Touch of Venus" through Oct. 10 in the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. in a Shaw Festival production. From the review: "With Weill’s music enhanced by S. J. Perelman’s book, and lyrics by the one-and-only Ogden Nash, the prospect is for top-level music and laughs. And to a large degree that’s what we get. But it doesn’t take long to discover that the joy of Ogden Nash’s lyrics can sometimes be diluted in the transfer from printed page to song... Directed by Eda Holmes, the large cast was given a lot of latitude to exploit the show’s louder, more boisterous possibilities." --Herman Trotter

"An Ideal Husband" through Oct. 31 at the Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., in a Shaw Festival production. From the review"The intricacies of the plot — which, truth be told, is a little tiredly conceived and tends in spots toward the maudlin — all serve one over-arching and worthy point: We are all hopelessly imperfect creatures whose only hope for forgiveness comes through the redemptive power of love. It’s a beautifully simple, almost naive idea, and it’s what elevates the play beyond a chuckle-worthy society comedy. That it was written while Wilde was embroiled in a public scandal over his forbidden homosexuality, and from which he would never recover, lends the play’s storybook conclusion a gloss of wistful fantasy that makes it all the more compelling." --Colin Dabkowski

"Harvey" through Oct. 31 at the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., in a Shaw Festival production. From the review: "'Harvey' should be completely exempt from deep analysis. It is about happiness. Its simplicity and gimmicky humor are its chief strengths, a fact exploited by director Joseph Ziegler and carried on ably by his cast. This is the antidote to Chekhov, the perfect cure for world-weariness and a great affirmation of eccentricity that strives to bring out the dreamer in us all." --Colin Dabkowski


GUSTO The 

Cherry Orchard 

Severn Thompson as Varya and Laurie Paton as Lyubov Andreyevna Ranyevskaya in "The Cherry Orchard" at the Shaw Festival.

"The Cherry Orchard" through Oct. 2 in the Court House Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., in a Shaw Festival production. From the review: "This production, featuring Shaw veterans Benedict Campbell as Lopakhin and Laurie Paton as Lyubov among a great many other gifted actors, employs an excellent Irish-tinged adaptation by Tom Murphy. This imbues the script with subtle sense of modern urgency (“How’s tricks?” instead of “How are you?”) and expands it ever-so-slightly beyond the insularity of its rural Russian milieu." --Colin Dabkowski

BABEL series author Abani's "Graceland" removed from high school reading list

Nigerian born author Chris Abani may not be the best-known name in Buffalo's 2010-11 BABEL lecture series lineup, but he's packed a lot of intrigue into his 43 years. He is also no stranger to censorship, book banning, and even incarceration for his lyrical and vividly imagined work depicting the influence of Western cultural idioms and archetypes on the abject poverty and violent juxtapositions of contemporary African urban life.
 
Between 1985 and '91, Abani -- who will visit Buffalo next April 15 to speak in Kleinhans Music Hall -- was arrested and imprisoned three times in his native country for the political content of his work, ultimately surviving over a year on death row in Nigeria's infamous Kalakuta Prison. 
 
That's why the news this past week that his Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award winning 2004 novel Graceland had been removed from 10th grade recommended summer reading list at Mandarin High School in Jacksonville, Fla., based on the objection of one parent to one seven-sentence passage on page 295 of the Farrar Straus Giroux soft cover edition of the book is particularly unfortunate. As many critics have pointed out, Abani is a path blazing second generation post-colonial writer, and his work speaks powerfully to the "cross-pollinations," mash-ups, and heartbreaking contradictions of a globalized economy and international pop culture.

Continue reading "BABEL series author Abani's "Graceland" removed from high school reading list" »

Wylie's Odyssey: Beginning of end for publishing houses?

The world of literary publishing used to be one of comfortable profit margins and three martini lunches.  But that was decades ago, before the advent of debt leveraged corporate mergers, ghostwritten celebrity bestsellers, "big box" chain booksellers, and while the internet was still a little known pet project of defense department research scientists. 
 
As July drew to a close last week, a flurry of publishing world headlines indicated the extent to which the book business is no longer specifically about books as we once knew them.  Like everything else in our culture, it's about the relentless pursuit of innovation and technological change, creating new products and new mobile platforms, and gaining market share. 
 
The first wave of stories concerned the second quarter of 2010 reports on the explosive sales growth of e-books--up from approximately 3% of total book sales revenue in 2009 to more than 8% in the second quarter of 2010 as reported by several sources from Amazon to the American Booksellers Association.  Amazon, which has a penchant for presenting sales figures out of context and with little substantiation in terms of hard numbers--reported that its numerical sales of e-books in the second quarter outnumbered sales of hard copy books by a ratio of 143 to 100.  
 
Coupled with this was a series of reports from all the major suppliers of e-reader devices--Amazon's Kindle, the Apple iPad, the Sony e-reader, Barnes & Noble's Nook, and even Border's late to the market Kobo reader--that indicated rapidly accelerating sales throughout the quarter.  The Sony e-reader, for example, tripled its sales figures over the second quarter of 2009 and recorded its ten millionth book download.  Using available market data In the absence of audited numbers, one industry analyst speculated that the number of iPads Apple has sold in just the three months since the product's introduction now exceeds the total number of Kindles Amazon has sold since 2007.   Amazon, for its part, reported that it had sold out of Kindle 2's (currently priced at $189), and would introduce the slimmer, more versatile Kindle 3 at the lower price of $139 beginning in late August.

Continue reading "Wylie's Odyssey: Beginning of end for publishing houses?" »

Castellani extends baseball show

Veterans Stadium 

"Veteran's Stadium," by Jim Dow.

The Castellani Art Museum is extending its popular summertime show of photographs of North American ballparks by Jim Dow. The show, which I previewed here, will now run through Aug. 22.

--Colin Dabkowski

Thursday Theater Roundup

The Thursday Theatre Roundup took a little hiatus last week, in the midst of the insane arts extravaganza that was the Buffalo Infringement Festival. But now that those breathless 11 days of artistic activity are over, it's time to survey the local (and quasi-local) stages once again. Off we go:

Macbeth
Josie DiVincenzo as Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare in Delaware Park's production of "Macbeth."

"Macbeth," through Aug. 15 in Delaware Park in a production of Shakespeare in Delaware Park. From the review: "In planning the current season, the company’s founder, Saul Elkin, gazed out across the broad landscape of acting talent in Western New York, saw a profusion of women who too seldom get shots at juicy Shakespearean roles and cast a huge swath [of] them. That smart and simple stroke not only results in a taut and entrancing production, but also provides a fine troupe of female actors a rare chance to show off." --Colin Dabkowski

At the Shaw Festival:

Untitled-1 

The cast of the Shaw Festival's "The Doctor's Dilemma" on the Festival Theatre stage.

"The Doctor's Dilemma," through Oct. 30 in the Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. in a production of the Shaw Festival. From the review: "...audiences might not agree with Shaw’s opinion. But it’s difficult not to be sucked in by the inherent drama, the wonderfully idiosyncratic characters and the overall charm of this show, which dives headlong into the challenges of the medical establishment in a stratified society." --Colin Dabkowski

"John Bull's Other Island," through Oct. 9 in the Court House Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. in a production of the Shaw Festival. From the review: "[The production] uses an intelligently and heavily abridged script that, together with Christopher Newton’s sure-handed control of stage action, provides a performance that rolls along purposefully and compellingly, leading the audience by the ear and eye even through the most pontificating of Shaw’s soap-box orations." --Herman Trotter

"Half an Hour," through Oct. 9 in the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. in a production of the Shaw Festival. From the review: "Barrie has packed a surprising amount of humor, hope and tragedy into such a compact package that you may walk out of the theater thinking you’ve seen a full-blown production.... It’s not Shaw, it’s not Shakespeare and it’s perhaps too sentimental for some tastes, but “Half an Hour” may be the most effective piece of drama from concentrate I’ve seen. It is, at the very least, well worth the time." --Colin Dabkowski


Venus 

The cast of "One Touch of Venus at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

"One Touch of Venus" through Oct. 10 in the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. in a production of the Shaw Festival. From the review: "With Weill’s music enhanced by S. J. Perelman’s book, and lyrics by the one-and-only Ogden Nash, the prospect is for top-level music and laughs. And to a large degree that’s what we get. But it doesn’t take long to discover that the joy of Ogden Nash’s lyrics can sometimes be diluted in the transfer from printed page to song... Directed by Eda Holmes, the large cast was given a lot of latitude to exploit the show’s louder, more boisterous possibilities." --Herman Trotter

"An Ideal Husband" through Oct. 31 at the Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., in a production of the Shaw Festival. From the review"The intricacies of the plot — which, truth be told, is a little tiredly conceived and tends in spots toward the maudlin — all serve one over-arching and worthy point: We are all hopelessly imperfect creatures whose only hope for forgiveness comes through the redemptive power of love. It’s a beautifully simple, almost naive idea, and it’s what elevates the play beyond a chuckle-worthy society comedy. That it was written while Wilde was embroiled in a public scandal over his forbidden homosexuality, and from which he would never recover, lends the play’s storybook conclusion a gloss of wistful fantasy that makes it all the more compelling." --Colin Dabkowski

"Harvey" through Oct. 31 at the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., in a production of the Shaw Festival. From the review: "'Harvey' should be completely exempt from deep analysis. It is about happiness. Its simplicity and gimmicky humor are its chief strengths, a fact exploited by director Joseph Ziegler and carried on ably by his cast. This is the antidote to Chekhov, the perfect cure for world-weariness and a great affirmation of eccentricity that strives to bring out the dreamer in us all." --Colin Dabkowski


GUSTO The 

Cherry Orchard 

Severn Thompson as Varya and Laurie Paton as Lyubov Andreyevna Ranyevskaya in "The Cherry Orchard" at the Shaw Festival.

"The Cherry Orchard" through Oct. 2 in the Court House Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., in a production of the Shaw Festival. From the review: "This production, featuring Shaw veterans Benedict Campbell as Lopakhin and Laurie Paton as Lyubov among a great many other gifted actors, employs an excellent Irish-tinged adaptation by Tom Murphy. This imbues the script with subtle sense of modern urgency (“How’s tricks?” instead of “How are you?”) and expands it ever-so-slightly beyond the insularity of its rural Russian milieu." --Colin Dabkowski

The Infringement Fest draws to a close

Tonight, after an intense day of Infringing that took me from Ron Ehmke's interactive and semi-fictional tour through Allentown ("Show Me Your City, I'll Show You Mine"), which included Ehmke and Brian Milbrand's Fluxus-inspired "Self-Infringement" project, out to the roof of the Broadway Market where the jovial but sparsely attended fest-closing extravaganza was taking place, to Ella Joseph's whimsical, slightly unsettling and partially edible art installation "Cotton Candy Cawcawphobia," and finally to Nietzsche's popular Closing Ceremonies, I am exhausted and contented in equal measure.

For the above video, I asked several Infringers to recount their favorite moments of the festival's 11 days. The answers, as expected, range from strange to stranger. I've had a few favorite moments myself, one of which was watching Jack Topht perform a hilarious, 45-minute-long stream-of-consciousness storytelling session peppered with raps he'd written at SP@CE 224. Jack Topht does what's called "Awesome Rap," a not-very-widespread style of hip hop to which this graffiti scrawled on the wall of the Nietzsche's bathroom pays tribute:

IMG_0384
 

Another fave moment, which involved a naked performance artist and a Mark Twain impersonator, I wrote about here.

It's utterly stunning -- just in case I have not been enthusiastic enough about it yet -- that this city supplies so many daring, restless and productive creative minds, and that there exists here an infrastructure to let them do their thing for free and with zero rules. It's great for them, certainly, but it's an even sweeter deal for the ambitious consumer of the arts, who had an almost endless supply of projects and performances to choose from over the past 11 days. The festival proper, as of 1 a.m. Monday, is over. But it's important to stress that many of the acts Infringement has showcased -- along with the art and, to an unfortunately lesser extent, the wacky, one-off theatrical projects -- are going on all year long, often in the same venues that hosted festival performances.

(Side note: The letter below was my "Self-Infringement" project, drawn at random from a box in Rust Belt Books, something I plan to work on in the wake of the festival. I'll report on my progress here. I'm thinking my skill should be juggling, but I'm open to suggestions.)

Infringement
 

I've tried to get across a sense of just some of the acts and projects that caught my attention this year at the festival, but obviously what I've written about on this blog and in the newspaper hardly scratches the surface of what was on offer. Feel free to contribute your own favorite festival moment in the comments section of this blog. I'm sad it's over, but glad I had the chance to see a lot of intriguing new talents, some great stuff, and even some awful stuff. But ultimately, what I gained from the festival was a renewed faith in the creative potential of the city of Buffalo. And that faith was pretty strong in the first place.

Hope you all had a similarly gratifying experience, and until next year, Infringe on!

--Colin Dabkowski

A scavenger hunt of technological proportions

Yesterday, as the Buffalo Infringement Festival entered its second-final day a flurry of events at venues across the city, I decided to dedicate a large chunk of my time to a single, particularly intriguing project.

It's called Play/Share Beyond/In, and it turned the entire city of Buffalo into a sprawling, interactive board game. The Infringement version of the project was something of a test run for its actual launch in October, to coincide with massive, regional art exhibition known as Beyond/In Western New York.

Here's how it worked:

At 10 to noon on Saturday, players either showed up at Play/Share headquarters in Sugar City (Allentown's do-it-together art enclave) or signed up for an account at the project's website. They then registered for a team name and sent a text message to something called the PSBIbot. The tech-geniuses behind P/S, a project of the University at Buffalo's Intermedia Performance Studio, had programmed this virtual bot (the cardboard version of which is pictured below) to send players a series of missions and trivia questions that could only be discovered by following the bot's instructions. The players would text back an answer, and the bot would instantaneously process it and dispatch gamers on the next mission. (Here's an explanation of the texting process, which was a tad laborious, but in my experience, entirely functional.)

Psbibot

The idea behind the game was to give players a hand in discovering Buffalo's "fantastic, secret and sometimes entirely imaginary history." There were two levels, one for walkers and another for bikers and drivers. Having gotten a late start, my boyfriend and I chose the biker/driver tract, and soon were off to explore a series of Buffalo's monuments and strange, previously unknown (and sometimes fictional) facts about Buffalo's long and (and often sordid!) history.

Our first mission was to go to Our Lady of Black Rock School in, you guessed it, Buffalo's Black Rock neighborhood and identify a plant or animal along the creek that runs behind the school. (We found a willow tree and thought that would do.) For a bonus, we were instructed to bring back a piece of trash form the site, though it was unclear, aside from the obvious benefit of cleaning up the area, what historical purpose this served. Next, we were dispatched to the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, where we were tasked with figuring out what lake the statue of Abraham Lincoln was facing (we had no idea the name of that brackish lake in front of the Historical Society, but fortunately found it on a plaque.) For a bonus, we were supposed to "interview" Abe, which I did with my camera phone. I would post the results, but they were a tad one-sided. Let's just say Abe didn't turn out to be quite the raconteur I had been led to expect.

From there, we undertook similar missions at the Lincoln Park Bridge, Forest Lawn Cemetery, Arlington Park, Niagara Square and Symphony Circle. At the end of the game, at 4 p.m., we returned to Sugar City, where they tallied up the points and had a small awards ceremony. We wound up with a respectable 540 points -- right in the middle of the pack of 10 participants. Thanks to my boyfriend's capably delivered air-drum solo in front of the statue of Chopin near Kleinhans Music Hall (not excerpted here, in order to protect the innocent), he took home the trophy for "Best Media." 

This sort of mini test run for bodes well for October's Play/Share game. It was a constantly engaging way to discover parts of the city that even a couple of longtime residents hadn't seen (for instance, the underground canal that flows into Forest Lawn Cemetery!?) and it was the perfect palette for the creatively minded resident craving a deeper engagement with their surroundings.

This is just the thing people are talking about when they use that often tossed-about phrase, "sense of place." There is this wildly dynamic and almost endlessly intriguing place out there, this place called Buffalo, but many of us are so tied into our jobs or to Facebook or simply to the unspectacular routines of our daily lives that we don't have anything approaching a genuine sense of this place or its history. And a lot of us don't even desire it, because we assume that our woebegone city contains very little that's worth the effort to discover. This project, like the whole of the Infringement Festival, is a slap in the face to that philosophy. It gives us all a little push, lets us do the real exploring and succeeds by unlocking just a few of the the city's buried secrets and hidden pleasures.

--Colin Dabkowski

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