A week at the Buffalo Infringement Festival

To say spending a week at the Buffalo Infringement Festival is a good time is like calling a Sasquatch a bit hairy. Without any qualifiers, my seven day experience at the BIF this year was the most rewarding time I have had as an artist, audience member and general participant in recent memory or possibly ever.

Definitely the right place: Infringement banner hangs over Allen Street

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a giant banner hanging over Allen Street reassuring us that we were in the right place for infringing.   I knew this festival was successful and I knew it was big – over 700 performances isn’t exactly a secret event known to a few.   No amount of advanced knowledge of size and scope, however, could prepare me for what I was about to experience.

Playing in 3-D: (l-r) Ron Ehmke is questioned by infringers Jeannine M. Swallow, Donovan King and Ethan Cox during Show Me Your City, I’ll Show You Mine

Our small group of Montrealers and newfound Buffalo friends had the chance to check out some great performances like Ron Ehmke’s highly interactive walking tour Show Me Your City, I’ll Show You Mine in the streets of Allentown, the straight-out rock of Cincinnati-based BIF regulars Lazy Ass Destroyer on the porch of the Guerilla Gallery and a slew of artists taking part in an artists reception at the always fun Nobody’s Art Centre…and that was just our first evening in town!

Tearin’ it up: Lazy Ass Destroyer play the porch of Guerilla Gallery

A couple of nights later, we got to see Subversive Theatre‘s astoundingly interactive interpretation of Brecht’s The Mother. Director (and BIF founder) Kurt Schneiderman not only pulled off a great costume-free show with a rather large cast, but also hosted the evening and cast the crowd in attendance as various household objects (I played a door!) and even as extras in large crowd scenes (throwing rocks at strike-breakers is always a good time).. Schneiderman managed to tell the story and make the audience really feel as though they were a part of it. I won’t forget this show for a long time.

Thirst on the street: Bloodthirsty Vegans perform at the College Street Block Party

During our stay, we also got the chance to catch the lovely Euphraxia & Red Moon American Tribal Style Bellydance at the beautiful Allendale Theatre, the always dance-ready Anal Pudding, performing this time as part of a costume ball at rock hotspot Nietzsche’s, The Bloodthirsty Vegans rocking out at the College Street Block Party, Vegans frontwoman MC Vendetta telling it like it is at Nietzsche’s along with Brownman, music and art at a really cool new venue called the Vault, Twister upstairs from the Vault, photographer and Vault booker Amanda Giczkowski funky photos of infringers taped right to the streets and hung from the trees and various other places on Allen Street and Jason Klinger’s movie night in Days Park featuring Punchlines for Progress. And that’s just some of what we saw, pretty good considering sheer volume of events happening within the fest’s eleven days.   Also pretty good considering we were there to do a show ourselves.

Dancing the night away: (l-r) Ashley Bobbett and sheep take the stage during Anal Pudding's set at the costume ball
Dancing the night away: (l-r) Ashley Bobbett and sheep take the stage during Anal Pudding’s set at the costume ball

Speaking of that show, three of us from Montreal, myself, Ethan Cox and Donovan King, brought Car Stories (the show that essentially sparked the Infringement in Montreal which lead to the much bigger Buffalo incarnation) back to town. We came by bus, so no car right off the bat, but it didn’t matter because Nobodys booker, visual artist and all around incredibly helpful and friendly person Melissa Campbell lent us her Wambulance: a real, hollowed out ambulance that already has a cross-country road trip under its fan belt.

Hangin’ by the Wambulance: Car Stories cast members (l-r) Melissa Campbell, Jeannine M. Swallow and Ethan Cox

Wambulance in tow (almost literally a couple of times – lights are fun but take energy), we looked for other cast members and didn’t have a problem in that department either. Photographer and world traveler Jeannine M. Swallow, who saw the show last year, joined in from the get-go, as did Anal Pudding member Mike Sentman and the aforementioned Campbell.

Swallow continued in her role the next day and played right up until the end of the announced run. She was joined by Carol Alaimo, now a Car Stories Buffalo veteran (who continued with us for the rest of the run), Scott “Skitchy” Steele (also an Infringement performer) and dancer Sara Burhans, who saw the show for the first time the day before and jumped right in to play art manager Holly Farms, opposite my interpretation of L’Orange (a pretentious corporate artist). Burhans continued until the end of our regular run and even stuck around for the extra night of performances we added out of popular demand.

Holly Farms and the “great” L’Orange: (l-r) Sara Burhans and Jason C. McLean

On our third night, we were joined by Tim Sentman (aka Blue Lazer) as well as a new Pee Brick. You see, we had decided to incorporate the Dumpster Dive Art Drive from the Montreal Infringement into Car Stories and the Pee Brick from the art drive became a key part of the show. Someone who saw the show (we still can’t figure out who) apparently liked it so much that he actually painted a new brick for us to use, with the Car Stories logo and all:

Yes, it just showed up: The new Pee Brick (photo Jason C. McLean)

That’s exactly the type of attitude that was common in Buffalo: one of support for your fellow artist and a desire to just jump in and do it. That’s why, when visual artist and Hula-Hooper Ashley Bobbett, musician Corey Hagstrom and Subversive Theatre and improv actor John Kreuzer joined the show, we had an 8-person strong cast on our last night with only two Car Stories actors from Montreal. That’s why when Kreuzer agreed to get a Buffalo version of Car Stories going year-round he got plenty of support. That’s why when we go to Buffalo, we”re welcomed with open arms by the Nickel City Co-Op.   That’s why the Buffalo Infringement is the success that it is.

It’s not about money, the festival needs just enough to survive. It’s not about press, though this festival does get quite a bit of that. It’s not about careers, though some can be born and augmented by this event. It’s about art and community.

Beyond all the shows and the hoopla, there’s a team of organizers like Jason Klinger, Curt Rotterdam, Melissa Campbell, John Shotwell, Leslie Fineberg, Patrick Sears, Janna Willoughby, Ashley Bobbett and Dave Pape (and those are just the ones I met) who have spent countless hours working hard to make this event work without personal financial gain.   For the most part, they are also artists: Rotterdam fronts Anal Pudding, Klinger is a filmmaker and visual artist, Willoughby is MC Vendetta and so on.

Late night at the fest: (l-r) organizer Jason Klinger and Vault booker/photo artist Amanda Giczkowski

Beyond them, there are hundreds of artists who just want to play. Beyond them are volunteers, audiences and the people of Buffalo who, in one way or another, infringe and have a good time.   Together, this is the Buffalo Infringement.

It’s an artistic community and one that takes care of and supports its own. I felt like I was part of this community both at the festival and even when I was exploring the rest of Buffalo with fellow infringers.   I’ve been to the BIF before and left feeling satisfied, but this year, there was something extra special in the air and you could feel it everywhere.   My only regret is that I missed three days.   Next year I won’t.

By light of wolf: some of the Buffalo Car Stories cast and one happy dancer: (l-r) Jeannine M. Swallow, Jason C. McLean, Sara Burhans, Leslie Fineberg, Ethan Cox and Donovan King (photo Amanda Amanda Giczkowski)

If art is going to help make a change in the world, it needs to adopt this community-based approach and actually offer another way of doing things different from the business-as-usual pro-corporate model that so many festivals fall into. The Buffalo Infringement Festival gets it. The people of Buffalo get it and until the day when the rest of the world catches on, Buffalo, during the Infringement, is the only place to be.

* All photos by Jason C. McLean except where otherwise noted

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