WXXI AM News

Across the Universe

Our musicians, our writers, our artists, the culture that comes to visit us, the Elvis impersonators, the stars. WXXI Arts & Life Editor and Reporter Jeff Spevak takes a look at the local scene each week in Across the Universe.

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If it weren’t for Willie Mays, we might never have been blessed with “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

That’s just one of Penny Sterling’s revelations in “The Story Behind the Story of ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’ ” presented live at 7:30 p.m. Friday on Zoom. Sterling will reveal the secrets she has uncovered before allowing viewers to ask questions or share their own Ghosts of Christmas Past.

Rochester Broadway Theatre League

This is, John Parkhurst says, “the longest intermission of our lives.”

As we churn toward what epidemiologists predict will be the darkest period yet of the coronavirus pandemic, venues such as Rochester’s Auditorium Theatre are shuttered in uncertainty.

“Right now, you plan for the worst and hope for the best,” says Parkhurst, chief operating officer of the Rochester Broadway Theatre League. “And if we can be open in March or April, it’s still a possibility.”

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Amy Collins has never seen the northern lights. In the coming months, she aims to address that glaring hole in her soul.

Collins and her husband, Tim Clark -- both folk singers -- were hurtling down the New York State Thruway earlier this week, after leaving Rochester the day following the election. Behind them was Burlington, Vermont. Just ahead, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. They were at the head of a 52-feet-long, one-ton truck, pulling an RV trailer loaded with things they’ll need over the next five or so months of touring the country.

Jason Milton/WXXI

Danielle Ponder and her band -- Avis Reese, Derek Bennett, Levi Bennet and Jonathan Sheffer -- are on the stage at The Little Theater. In front of them are 280 seats, virtually all of them empty.

This is not the gig from hell. This is the COVID-19 reality.

Max Schulte/WXXI News

It was 1966, and Armand Schaubroeck was ready for his close-up.

“He had us sit on that couch that’s on The Velvet Underground album,” Schaubroeck says. “I don’t know if he was trying to make the couch famous, but that’s where he shot most of his photos and his screen tests.”

Warner Bros. Pictures

A murmur of excitement rolled through the area’s movie-going community, long in coronavirus limbo, when word came out early Saturday afternoon that Gov. Andrew Cuomo had just announced that theaters throughout the state – umm, except you, New York City -- could reopen as of this Friday.

The news seemed to catch everyone by surprise. Then reality hit: Restarting an industry is not as simple as firing up the popcorn machine and hitting the projector “on” switch.

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Winter’s coming. A long season of coronavirus discontent is settling over us.

A shift in our community interactions has already proven to be inevitable.

After a slow, downward spiral, one of downtown Rochester’s iconic bars, Richmond’s, closed last weekend. The place goes back more than three decades, back to when it was Schatzees.

Illustration by Jacob Walsh/CITY News

Morning glory vines have overtaken my backyard this summer. They are deceptively beautiful, with their lush greenery and scattering of delicate trumpet flowers creeping up the deck railings, thin tendrils reaching out to embrace the legs of the grill. The morning glory grows with startling virility. If the dog stood for too long within its reach, I might have to tear the vines from her legs.

But in truth, the morning glory is a lie. It is a noxious weed. If I allow it to spread, it will kill everything beneath it.

For fans of metaphors, the morning glory is 2020.

John Solberg

As best as Francie Marx can reassemble the story after more than seven decades, Robert Marx was 19 years old, serving in the U.S. Army Air Force as a military policeman somewhere in Europe. World War II had just ended, and he was assigned to sit outside the cell of a prisoner. Francie recalls Robert describing him as "a pathological killer."

"And if the guy wanted a cigarette, Robert would light one, put it on the floor, push it forward with his foot," Francie says. "This guy could then smoke the cigarette."

Smart art must make smart choices.

And the process often means making far more compromises than most artists will admit to. The coronavirus pandemic has forced the arts to re-think everything. As in: To what degree will our society be embracing virtual presentation of the arts?

The answer is being explored in a major way during Rochester Fringe. It is a petri dish of virtual performance as we watch what kind of bacteria, mosses or pleasantly edible fungi emerge over this 12-day experiment. Is virtual arts useful culture, or is it contamination?

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