Posted by Evan Goldstein, former contributor and Poetry Editor for Issue 4.1
The Rochester Fringe Festival is an annual ten-day multi-disciplinary arts festival, with performances and visual installments spread throughout Rochester, featuring “fringe” arts outside of the mainstream. Fringe festivals like that in Rochester and many others around the world give audiences to many isolated and otherwise cut off artists. Like a large, dispersed literary journal, fringe festivals provide a community for artists and audiences to come together and experience arts on the fringe of the mainstream community. Today was Geneseo’s day at the Lyric theatre, an old church recently converted into an opera house for performances and readings. Geneseo’s day at the Lyric theatre was the first ever reading that Geneseo students have given as part of the Fringe festival, and the first strong showing of Geneseo talent as a whole at Rochester Fringe. We had performances ranging from a capella to improv, to film poems and, here at the “Stories a la Mode” event, a fiction reading complete with ice cream.
The usher was French, and I know that because I heard the soft throaty nasal vowel—ahhsss—and one hard choked consonant—krèm—as he, quietly insistent, led me to the far chamber door and held it open, gesturing to a bar in the
back of the small hall. Maybe he was French-Canadian. I, playing reporter (press pass and all), got my camera out and crouched in front of the bar, watching the audience, cups of ice cream and little spoons in their hands, watch the writer read her story. A glance up at the barman’s shirt: Hedonist Ice Cream. Yes, I thought: the perfect blog post story. The hands at the tables holding the little cups of ice cream, I’ll take their photographs and interview them about free ice cream, our community hub, come up with a clever “Gandy Dancer as Ice Cream of SUNY System” blog post title, make it home in time for dinner, maybe a night cap—ice cream for dessert, yes. Good plan, delicious plan. The audience leaned toward the stage at the front of the room.
Through the viewfinder I framed an older man’s lips, anticipating the lick after a delivery of ice cream, hoping to document his satisfaction with the whole affair. Funny, I thought—hedonist ice cream pleasuredome in this old holy side chamber. His lips parted—stained teeth, some chocolate residue, smiling, watching him watch our writer read her story. Not wanting to disturb the older man’s smile with a shutter snap, I lowered the camera and sat, listening to her words. The writer, Sarah Hopkins, up on the old stage in the old Church, reading her story to a silent, rapt audience—some students I knew, but mostly new faces, all unconcerned with the ice cream. Sarah’s story was about a writer in his mid 20s, an unreliable narrator failing at his art, manifesting his failings in a controlling relationship with a high school girl. Before her, Sarah Steil opened the day with a coming of age tale, exploring themes of memory and the inevitability of losing innocence, all through the accidental death of a dog. Our last story, by Maya Bergamasco, illustrated a son’s realization of his responsibility and inability to protect his family from his father’s sins. All stories commended the audience’s attention away from the ice cream and onto the stage.
At the end of the reading, the audience applauded and mostly stayed in their seats (only some went for more ice cream), waiting for Maya, our next writer, to take the stage, and take part in that foolish search for meaning that Sarah Hopkins’s character lamented at the end of her story. Maybe that’s what was wrong with those film poems I saw earlier that week, so disjointed and imagistic and moody, complicating those innocent folks’ nights over at the pedestrian drive-in—all they wanted to do was watch the feature film: Pitch Perfect. For five evenings, five audiences, Geneseo’s poetic short films played in the open air in Rochester—filling the night for fifteen minutes at a time, with what writers here have written and seen, and tried to make into meaning.
Geneseo’s participation in the Rochester Fringe Festival is evidence that our small artistic community is slowly growing again, sharing our stories, getting our film poems on screens, our short stories in mics at old churches, our singing groups and string bands on opera house stages. Geneseo is a small community, with only one bar, 1.5 stoplights, long winters, but a lot to talk about with communities beyond us. The ice cream server, the excited possibly French usher, unknown faces in audiences, confused but patient and curious Pitch Perfect awaiters—though they apparently did not come together under the pretense of free ice cream (there goes the easy blog post title), Geneseo’s growing presence in Rochester’s literary hub reflects a confluence of communities, our small universe expanding, into a wider reach for our writers and artists. Gandy Dancer, to narrowly avoid the ice cream metaphor, acts similarly—allowing a confluence of communities in a single space, for a single purpose: voicing ourselves to a listening audience.