Much bigger but still under the radar

As festivals go, an event with 556 performances taking place in 43 venues over 11 days would count as a large one in most people’s books, even for those who live in cities with over a million residents.   Imagine a festival of that scope in a community with just under 300 000 residents.   Imagine a festival of that scope centered around one area of town.   Imagine a festival of that scope that stays true to it’s underground roots.   Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Buffalo Infringement Festival.

The fifth anniversary of this event of “art under the radar” started Thursday and runs until Sunday, August 2nd in venues and the streets of Allentown, a burgeoning artistic neighborhood in the heart of Buffalo.   It was inspired by the infringement created in Montreal in 2004 and is part of the International infringement Circuit.   In just a few years, it has surpassed the original in terms of size and media coverage.

Now, this is a theatre column and this festival, both in Montreal and Buffalo, started as a theatre festival.   This year, Buffalo is offering 26 theatre productions.   Among them, Eugene O’Neal’s The Hairy Ape caught my attention.   It is directed by Kurt Schneiderman, the guy who brought the infringement to Buffalo in 2005 and produced by Subversive Theatre.   I’ve seen three productions with this exact combination and loved each one, most notably their street theatre version of Brecht’s The Exception and the Rule in 2007.

A mad Hairy Ape (image from Subversive Theatre)

Subversive promises to mix this politically charged black comedy with live found-sound music, puppetry and other “experimental twists.”   From experience, when Subversive promises experimentation, they deliver.

JFK The Musical sounds very interesting as well.   It’s not a grassy knoll singalong as the title may suggest, but rather the tale of Kilissa Cissoko, who spent 36 hours in JFK airport, done as a workshop where “the audience will BE the event.”

Unfortunately, I won’t be in town early enough to catch this one and I’ll have to juggle things to catch the Subversive show as well.   This is because I will be attending this festival as a performer in Car Stories, an experimental combination of theatre and street performance that runs the second weekend on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

Buffalo infringement t-shirts (photo by Leslie Fineberg)

The infringement is much more than theatre.   In fact, I heard that this event is the largest music festival in Western New York.   One musical act of interest is the The BloodThirsty Vegans, a combination of hip hop, rock and ska featuring Janna Willoughby (who is also known and also performing in the festival as rapper MC Vendetta).   Their venue choice even interests me: they’re playing tonight on the front porch of the Nickel City Housing Co-Op‘s Old Wondermoth mansion (yes, a real mansion converted into a co-op).

From the “name says it all” department, there’s Anal Pudding.   This band, fronted by fest music and overall coordinator Curt Rotterdam is described as “Buffalo’s finest punk funk potty rock.”   Unfortunately, I won’t be in town early enough to catch them as part of the Space Alien Love Fest on July 25th, but if you’re in town you should.

Beyond music and theatre, the fest offers quite a bit of visual arts, films and poetry, including The Alliance, a duo comprised of Buffalo spoken-word veterans Marek Parker and Josh Smith.   I had the chance to catch Smith performing some of his poetry and doing standup comedy as the “Rated-R Rockstar” at the Montreal infringement and I have to say he’s very funny/serious.

It wouldn’t be an infringement, though, without randomness and there’s plenty of that this year as well.   Brian Milbrand and Ron Ehmke’s self-infringement is a prime example of this.   Basically, you pull a task from a box at Rust Belt Books and follow the instructions to do your very own infringement performance.   I did this in 2007 and won’t tell you what I had to do, only say that I’ll most definitely be doing one again this year.   It runs every day of the fest.

As you can gather, this won’t be my first time in Buffalo.   I have performed as part of Car Stories there three times already.   I have witnessed some of the growth and have even written about why I feel Buffalo is perfect for a fest like this.   What I haven’t done yet is experience an infringement fest developed to the extent that Buffalo has, while still staying true to its roots by continuing to promote art under the radar and I am very much looking forward to doing so.

* For the complete schedule and updates, go to www.infringebuffalo.org.   For daily reports, check out their blog.

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