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Franklin LaVoie reads 'Incident at Deer Lick'

This afternoon, I caught Franklin LaVoie's performance of his story "Incident at Deer Lick" at the year-old West Side Stories used book store on Grant Street. He was kind enough to let me record it in full:

--Colin Dabkowski

Better Know an Infringer: Babushka!

Meet the improv comedy duo Babushka!, made up of Eclectic Improv members Todd Benzin and Don Gervasi. The duo has two more performances at this year's Infringement Festival, tonight at 6 p.m. in El Buen Amigo and Friday at 8:30 p.m. in Burning Books.

--Colin Dabkowski

Infringement Daily Planner: Day 8

It's the eighth day of the 2012 Buffalo Infringement Festival, and things are heating up in Allentown. Check out my suggestions below, or wade through the official schedule. Either way, today's a good day to get out there and Infringe:

Franklin LaVoie, the gifted artist and storyteller behind "Incident at Deer Lick" has also been giving a performance of three Celtic stories. You can check that out today at noon in Westside Stories. LaVoie will also present "Incident at Deer Lick" in the same venue at 5 p.m.

• Sticking with the storytelling theme, the five-minute short story open mic "Buffalore" is slated for 5 p.m. at Sp@ce 224.

• At 6 p.m., Montreal-based singer-songwriter Elgin Skye performs at Night House. Here's the description of her work from the Infringement website: "Elgin-Skye McLaren lives in Montreal where she writes poems, songs and lonely love letters. Armed with an electric guitar and a looping pedal, she plays lo-fi indie-pop with a style reminiscent of artists such as Regina Spektor, Bjork, and Braids. Elgin-Skye’s politeness and humble disposition betray her booming, buoyant voice. Her songs are thoughtful reflections on love, loss, and woodland creatures. Her sets may include, but are not limited to: clapping, whistling, cooing, singing, stomping."

• From 7 to 8 p.m., the Montrealers from Optative Theatre Laboratories presents "Car Stories," the Infringement show that started it all, near The Melting Point on Allen Street. If you haven't experienced this unorthodox style of theater -- in which the back set of the car is the theater and the front seat is the stage -- you can catch the show today, Friday or Saturday.

• For you night owls, head over to Roxy's at midnight to catch a performance of Buffalo burlesque group The Stripteasers performing their show "Thank God for Lesbians."

--Colin Dabkowski

Day 7: An Infringement Diary

I'm just back from a busy night at the 2012 Buffalo Infringement Festival, which has left me -- as is typical after a long bout of Infringing -- in a state of insane optimism about the artistic direction of this city.

It's not that the art I saw tonight was particularly mind-blowing (though such art does appear at Infringement from time to time). But all the swirling and sprawling activity, all the strange territories into which Infringement artists are daring to take audiences, the sheer gestalt of the whole affair -- on a mere Wednesday night, no less -- adds up to a great deal more than the sum of its bits and pieces.

Here's a quick accounting of the afternoon and evening with a few images and videos tossed in for good measure:

After a brief trip to Burning Books to catch the tail-end of PUSH Buffalo's performance of "Activist Theatre" (about which more in another blog entry), I went down to Allentown to catch up with the founder of the original Infringement Festival in Montreal. Donovan King, who is here for the entirety of Buffalo Infringement, took 20 mintues out of his busy Infringement day to talk about the birth of the counter-cultural festival and the surprising hold it's taken in Buffalo. Here's our conversation:

After that, I ambled over to Rust Belt Books, where I happened upon local artist J. Tim Raymond doing one of his many mandala chalk drawings -- no doubt coming soon to a sidewalk near you:

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Inside Rust Belt, modern-day beatnicks Bourbon and Coffee were just setting up for their performance. The group --with an oboe, clarinet, bass guitar, trumpet and percussion/poetry by leader Ian Be -- works in a musical genre it has dubbed "freakjazz poetry." The performance struck me as a politically inflected throwback to a different kind of poetry reading -- the kind that lives on the in popular imagination largely in the form of such send-ups as the beloved "Animaniancs" bit "Dot's Poetry Corner." For that reason and others, it's worth peeking into one of its two final performances -- Friday at 7 p.m. in Burning Books and Saturday at 6:45 p.m. in the College Street Gallery. Here's an excerpt:

 

Walking down Allen Street -- in a not-at-all rare moment of "Twilight Zone"-esque Infringement bewilderment -- I ran across this dude dressed as a hot dog, holding forth on the virtues of ketchup before a hushed crowd assembled on the sidewalk as if the man were delivering the Gettysburg Address:

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Hot dog dude turned out to be one Velvet Al, delivering a performance of his (previously plugged) "Yes, I Am Staring At Your..." I only saw a snippet, so I can't vouch for the quality of the show, but I do think the visual speaks for itself.

I also briefly popped my head into the Tudor Lounge's Zombie Social, where I hoped to encounter a ravenous group of the undead. I was not disappointed to find several meticulously made-up zombie creatures -- all members of the charity group known as Terror Techologies -- staggering about the donation table as the first band of the night started playing. And a fine looking bunch they were:

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The group's motto bears repeating: "We play dead so others may live."

Next up was Nietzsche's for King and company's new event, "Occupy Theatre!", for which he invited members of Occupy Buffalo to share songs, stories, poems and performances. Many Occupiers signed up, including Pam Swarts (pictured below, left) who kicked off the event with a mournful song and earned big applause from the small crowd assembled in the bar's front performance space. (Another highlight of the evening was King and a fellow Infringer giving a dramatic reading of a series of emails between King and the organizers of the upcoming World Fringe Congress, an organization with which Infringement is inclined to disagree on many issues.)

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Finally, on my way back home at dusk, I caught a lovely outdoor performance by Clandestina y La Raza Cosmica, who played their fast-tempo version of "La Bamba" as the last light drained from the sky:

--Colin Dabkowski

Gore Vidal, 1925-2012

I was 18 when I first read Gore Vidal's novel "The City and the Pillar." It was the early '60s. I was reading a lot of Vidal and Mailer essays in the minor miracle that was Esquire Magazine at the time (it was, to many of us, the center of American literature).

The subject matter of "The City and the Pillar" was said to be verboten - always an attention-getter when you're 18 - and the book seemed a much more manageable length while at college than the late-'40s, early '50s novels of Norman Mailer or James Jones.

It was a shocking book for a straight teenager who'd spent the preceding six years at a private boys school where homosexuality would have been considered troublesome at the very least--if anyone had wanted to think about it at all (which they didn't, not publicly anyway).

What was shocking to me about the novel then was that it was about love, not sex. It was, in that regard, a very '40s book, despite subject matter which would remain radical for decades.

Nor was its tone the same as his magisterial essays, where the prevailing tone was increasingly becoming the impossible and wildly entertaining arrogance of a self-described "third generation celebrity." (Unlike the sneers of H.L. Mencken, said his near-contemporary John Updike, which "convince us that he has concretely, if squintingly, perceived objects in view, Mr. Vidal's seem in contrast quite abstract, rooted in nothing less airy than a belief that sneering becomes him").

"The City and the Pillar" was more radical than people knew at the time. We can see that now when, more than 60 years later, American society is just beginning to catch up to what Vidal treated as matter of fact.
If only we had the greatest Vidal - the one we knew in the '60s through '80s - back in action as America struggles to reconcile everything he always knew we'd have to figure out back in 1948.

In truth, we lost Vidal about a decade ago, when the man who was, for at least three decades, our greatest essayist (as well as an intermittently brilliant novelist - see "Myra Breckrenridge") had turned into more than a bit of a crank. But then Vidal lost his long-term life companion, Howard Austen, in 2003 and we are still, in America, unaccustomed to thinking about such losses the way we'd routinely think of loss of a partner in heterosexual marriage.

Though Vidal would no doubt sneer at such a maudlin notion, it has been my theory that Vidal's greatness declined sharply as he lost the life partner who may have been his first and best reader (along, of course, with a platoon of old friends too, including Paul Newman and Sue Mengers),

What an amazing act Vidal was in his prime, whether on paper or on a television talk show (you don't watch television, he sneered. You appear on it.) Let Mailer do John Garfield, said Vidal. He'd do George Arliss - a truly sublime wisecrack for those who know their Hollywood.

Grandeur was Vidal's merrily un-American business in his prime and no one did it better. He predicated much of his authority on his ancestry - his grandfather the senator, his father the aviator, his share of Jackie Kennedy's family tree. V. S. Pritchett said Vidal goes "romantically into action with one socialite tied behind his back."

But what Vidal, at his best, gave to his fellow writers was his joyous authority as a sovereignty of one, a lifelong conviction that one's greatest work could be done while safely ignoring the question we Americans are so trained to fear: "Just who the hell do you think you are, anyway?"

Vidal always knew who he was. He was as divinely arrogant a writer in his way as Vladimir Nabokov (Whom he lovingly called "the Black Swan of Lac Leman").

Nothing could have been more fitting for the man who may turn out to be the last of his breed.

--Jeff Simon

Critics' Corner chat with Simon, Miers

Better Know an Infringer: Janna Willoughby-Lohr

Meet inveterate Infringer Janna Wlloughby-Lohr (aka MC Vendetta), who has been performing at the festival since its very first year in 2005. Since then, she's become a crucial organizer for the festival, all while performing poetry, dance, theater and a whole lot more besides. I caught up with her just after her performance with Euphraxia American Tribal Style Bellydance earlier this week at El Museo:

 

--Colin Dabkowski

Infringement Daily Planner: Day 7

And on the seventh day... Infringement kept going. Here are five Infringey events slated for today:

• From 4 to 7 p.m., Hallwalls hosts an Infringement "Film Fiesta," with screenings of Deep in the Woods, Alice in Wonderland Tea Party Scene, Jangle's Corner and more.

• At 5 p.m., the Hutchinson Family Revival, which caught my ear during Infringement last year (watch them sing "Hard Times Come Again No More" in this video), perform in Rust Belt Books.

• There will be a bunch of zombies hanging out from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. in the Tudor Lounge for a so-called Zombie Social, featuring music by Autoverse, ZFX and Kari Jo's Nightmare. The event, brought to you by the fine folks at Terror Technologies (motto: "We play dead so others may live."), will also raise money for charity.

• At 8 p.m. in Nietzsche's, members of Montreal's Optative Theatrical Laboratories -- creators of the original Infringement Festival -- present "Occupy Theatre!" The event and open mic, according to the Infringement site, will highlight "important activist performances from the Occupy movement and beyond."

• In Days Park at 9 p.m. Go Bike Buffalo, Merge and Squeaky Wheel team up to present the final screening in its "Wheel to Reel" outdoor film series. The selection for this evening at the bike-in theater is the ever-popular "E.T."

--Colin Dabkowski

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