by Jason C. McLean, The Talking Stick
originally published on Outside The Box (http://jasoncmclean.blogspot.com)
With over 300 projects in over 50 venues, the fourth-annual Buffalo Infringement Festival, opening this Thursday, promises to be the biggest infringement yet. We now present a look back to last year’s event, from the point of view of a Montreal infringer…
For the third year in a row, Car Stories played the Buffalo infringement Festival, for the third year in a row, I made it down and for the first time, I found a bit of time to write about it.
Now entering it’s third year, the Buffalo festival is, without a doubt, the largest in the International infringement circuit (so far). While the Montreal infringement improved audiences and developed the local infringement community this year by pulling itself back and focusing on less shows centered around the Plateau neighborhood, Buffalo’s event keeps getting bigger and better.
With over 140 acts this year (up from last year and almost quadruple the number of acts in the original 2005 Buffalo event), the growth in the festival’s size is matched by it’s growth in intimate community feeling and original, spontaneous ideas.
That’s not to say that the festival doesn’t have it’s critics, or should I say critic. Among all the praise and in-depth coverage found in Buffalo’s media, there was one editorial (um, “survival guide”) in the Artvoice urging the festival to drop it’s claim to support and represent underground artists with something to say by giving them a place to say it.
I’m not sure if anyone took that advice to heart, but it sure didn’t look like it on the streets of Allentown (the festival’s epicenter) during the festival’s opening weekend and the subsequent few days we were in town.
As people were busy completing their “self-infringement” assignments, pulled out of a box at Rust Belt Books, four separate public performances turned Allen Street into a spontaneous artistic celebration. On Monday night alone, three of them co-existed simultaneously.
The surreal experience started when Subversive Theatre’s fantastic street-theatre version of Berthold Brecht’s The Exception and the Rule (which I had the chance to catch a day earlier) made it’s way down Allen parade-style past MC Vendetta’s Open-Lot (a musical open-mike in a parking lot) to Day’s Park.
We started preparing for Car Stories, while taking in some of what was happening around us. Just before our first showtime of the evening (with a new show every 30 minutes, Car Stories has several), The Exception and the Rule made it’s way back to Allen Street and took over the parking lot next to Nietzsche’s, briefly trapping one of our actors behind the scene. It moved on to the parking lot where Open-Lot was taking place, just as they went on break.
In the middle of their scene, Car Stories started half a block down outside of Mulligan’s Brick Bar. Our actor, who was watching the show, made it to Mulligan’s in time for her cue and brought the audience back, past the now-resumed Open-Lot and into our car parked in the now theatrically vacated lot next to Nietzsche’s as The Exception and The Rule continued up College Street.
Three street theatre productions all happening at the same time in the same two-block stretch of the same street, with no problems. Truly a great example of what infringing is all about.
What I really found refreshing was that the festival didn’t have to compete with corporate reality ads running up and down the street as we do in Montreal.
This probably isn’t the case all the time in Allentown (I was told that there were some other, more commercial festivals), and quite possibly not the case in other Buffalo districts, but for the few days we were there, it was really nice (and possibly hints at why the festival doesn’t have a Ministry of Culture Jamming).
For the past three visits, our troupe has been housed by the good people at the Nickel City Co-Op. They had taken over a four-story turn-of-the-century mansion (with gargoyles!) and turned it into their home.
This reclaiming of the city is evident all over Buffalo. It’s a community breathing new life into the relics of an older, much more financially prosperous time (Buffalo was once a city of millionaires, not so anymore) and celebrating while doing it. It’s one of the most unique, vibrant artistic communities I’ve encountered and it’s the perfect match for both the infringement and Car Stories.
Since Car Stories takes place in streets, alleys, parks and parking lots that already exist, a big part of the show is finding new use for what’s already there which is why, I feel, we had no problem putting together a show with mostly Buffalo actors in hardly any time.
We came up with the theme and worked out characters and scenes that fit it the day of our first performance. We don’t always do things this spur-of-the-moment, but this time we did, and it worked very well.
We even played on the Artvoice article, telling the audience that we had to make more money, so we were going to do musical theatre and were sending them to an audition with Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Back in Montreal, I can only hope that what’s happening in Buffalo will rub off on the rest of the circuit, because when it comes to infringing, they get it.
The 2008 Buffalo Infringement Festival runs July 24th through August 3rd. For more information, including the schedule, please visit www.infringebuffalo.org