A look at two of the upcoming acts at the fest: a cabaret goth/folk musical duo and a comedic play pitting Susan B. Anthony vs. Victoria Woodhull

With more than 575 performances and events slated over the course of a dozen days, the 2019 KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival is among the biggest showcases of what the region has to offer in the creative arts. We're now on Day Three of the festival, which opened Tuesday and continues through Sept. 21 — and while space obviously doesn't allow for introducing each of the nearly 600 acts here at the Front-Row Seat, we'll continue what we started last week and showcase a sampling of the upcoming shows: a cabaret-goth-folk-rock duo using tarot cards to make each set a different experience; and a comedic play about current politics through the lens of the 1870s, pitting Susan B. Anthony and Victoria Woodhull against each other.

With boxing gloves.

Charming Disaster at Nox

If there's one musical act that seems tailor-made for a Fringe Festival, it's the Brooklyn-based duo Charming Disaster. 

The cabaret-goth-folk-rock duo of Ellia Bisker (ukulele) and Jeff Morris (guitar) perform songs inspired by mythology, noir films and books, occult themes, murder ballads, monster movies, science fiction/fantasy, Edward Goreyesque dark humor and carnival/circus imagery, just to name a few of the more obvious examples. Their storytelling songs are populated by the likes of a recent widow and her ghost lover. Lovers magically transformed into a fox and crow hounded to the death by predators. A pair of grifters who may or may not be taking each other for a ride. A knife thrower and his strapped-to-the-spinning-board assistant who are most alive at the moment of greatest risk. Baba Yaga, fearsome witch of Russian folklore. And the Bride of Frankenstein.

"Basically, we're book nerds with instruments," said Bisker.

What's more, on their current tour — which indeed takes them to Rochester for the 2019 KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival next week — their set lists are chosen anew each night by audience members drawing tarot cards, each of which is keyed to a particular song, which they arrange in a Celtic cross pattern. The result: A concert that's different each night that doubles as a reading for the audience and performers alike.

Charming Disaster will present four shows Sept. 18-20 in Nox Cocktail Lounge, 302 N. Goodman St., Rochester (at Village Gate): 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 18; 6 and 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19; and 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20.

Bisker and Morris formed Charming Disaster in 2012. They were both in (and remain in) larger bands — Bisker in Sweet Soubrette (from its website: "songs about books, bad women and the mysteries of existence") and the 20-piece multi-genre Funkrust Brass Band; Morris in the indie cabaret/rock band Kotorino. They often played with each other's bands and were impressed with each other's songwriting — and were intrigued by the idea of forming a more intimate act, telling stories with two distinct voices.

"When we started talking about working together, we actually considered calling the band 'Hole in the Head'" Bisker said — because they both needed another band like, well, you know.

But they were intrigued by the opportunity to, in Morris' words, "tell a story that was not our personal lives" — to create characters they could embody.

"We wanted to do something very special — to use two voices to tell stories," Bisker said. "Storytelling as a goal is really built into this project from the very beginning." 

Often, the songs will present a situation from two perspectives, sung by Morris and Bisker, who join in harmonies on a refrain, chorus or resolution. In "Ghost Story," which was featured on the popular and equally quirky podcast "Welcome to Night Vale," Bisker sings the role of a recently widowed woman, keeping up the front of mourning and graciously accepting the comfort of casserole-bearing well-wishers — while trysting every night with her spectral lover (sung by Morris), who was not her husband. (There's more to the story, but let's not give it away.)

"We sort of are captivated with the idea of people in some sort of trouble," Morris said. "We made up this long list of subject matter" about such troubling situations.

That said, there's also a wry, sometimes dark, humor to their songs — after all, Edward Gorey and Tim Burton are among their list of literary, aesthetic and musical influences, which range from Led Zeppelin to Dresden Dolls to genre literature (noir, fantasy and more) to fairy tales to French New Wave cinema to mythology from assorted cultures. "Ragnarok" may be about the end of (one cycle of) existence in Norse mythology, but there's an upside: "Now that the sky is raining soot / No need to return all those late library books."

As Yes! Weekly put it: "Charming Disaster sound like the music that Pugsley and Wednesday Addams might have made after listening to the Decemberists, Squeeze and some Chopin."

Over the years, Bisker and Morris played their share of the usual venues — clubs, bars, coffeehouse, music halls, and the like, including Rochester's Spiritualism-themed tavern The Spirit Room — plus some more unusual sites: The Edgar Allen Poe museum. A mausoleium. ("Is that strange? I feel like that's not really strange," says Bisker.) A science-fiction convention in Pittsburgh. And an Oregon venue that doubled (tripled, really) as music venue and livestock feed store and craft beer seller.

Admission to Charming Disaster's Fringe shows at Nox is $14. Tickets are available at rochesterfringe.ticketleap.com/charming-disaster-a-musical-tarot-reading.

'The Fighting Girl's Guide to Politics'

The opposition to the vested political and societal powers finds itself deeply divided over philosophical and practical issues, with a pragmatic progressivism pitted against a desire for broader, more sweeping change.

American politics, circa 2019? Sure — but also that of the 1870s, an era which saw Victoria Woodhull become the first woman to be nominated to run for president in 1872, to the chagrin of more temperate suffragists who believed that Woodhull's radicalism by the day's standards (her "free love" advocacy dealt with keeping societal and governmental restrictions out of marriage, divorce and childbearing) would hurt the cause of women's suffrage and equal rights. Temperature suffragists like Rochester icon Susan B. Anthony.

It's probably unlikely that Anthony and Woodhull ever picked up boxing gloves and went after each other, as depicted in a scene from Rochester playwright Brad Craddock's new original comedy "The Fighting Girl's Guide to Politics," which sees its world premiere this weekend during the 2019 KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival. Of course, one never knows.

The three women featured in the play — Woodhull (portrayed by Shawnda Urie), her sister Tennessee (Laura Thomas) and Anthony (Suzanne Bell) all qualify as "Fighting Girls," and Craddock included pugilistic imagery through the show, with Woodhull having taken up boxing (hence the gloves). The struggle for equality, for freedom, is just that, a struggle — a fight — Craddock noted; and in his play Woodhull comments that the male political arena is "sluggish, brutish and mean" and women can only advance by "playing their game." And Woodhull and her sister also had their past to fight with, raised by an abusive con man and his submissive wife, forced to leave town when her father burned his grist mill for insurance money. Craddock's Woodhull is of two minds about her father — she disdains him, but appreciates that his abuse toughened her to the point where she would accept no more domination from men. Woodhull was married young to an alcoholic womanizer, divorcing him after the children were born. The sisters took the so-called male world by storm, becoming stockbrokers (and opening a brokerage firm) and founding a newspaper, which presented some of their more controversial opinions for the time.

"I didn't know a lot about her before we started the play," Urie said. "Her struggle really resonates with me, to find the space to be herself. That's all she wants to do, find a place to be herself in this world." Noting a particular line of Woodhull's expressing outrage and disdain over men regulating women's family and bodily choices, she noted, that struggle hasn't gone away, more than 140 years later. "I think Victoria would be appalled with that."

Bell relished portraying another side to Anthony, among the most famous of suffragists and often placed on a pedestal as an icon, especially in Western New York where she lived. Much of the humor in Craddock's play comes from the arch interplay among the three women, particularly passive-aggressive on Anthony's part — plus a funny bit where the temperance reformer gladly accepts a touch of whiskey for "medicinal" purposes, holding forth about how she remains a temperance advocate while draining the bottle into her teacup.

"I'm not big on icons — everybody has feet of clay," Bell said. "I think it's very fun that Brad has written her this way." Which isn't to say that the play doesn't present Anthony's serious, impassioned side. Her tensions with Woodhull are born of their holding very different views on many subjects while bound together by the common major goal of women's equality. And she cannot countenance activities on Woodhull's or anyone's part that may hurt the cause — "Without a common cause, we are lost at sea," the Anthony character asserts.

Any similarity between the scenario presented in the play and our current political situation is, of course, entirely non-coincidental.

"This is the discussion I would like the radicals and the liberals to have, in a closed drawing room, if will will," Craddock said. "Or if the different people in the Demoractic Party could talk to each other. ... Do we have to stay moderate to to convince the conservatives to agree with us, or could we be more radical?"

"We can't just shut out the other side," he added, noting that his play is a way of talking about the issue but at a safe remove, setting it in the 1870s with suffrage as the main issue.

Craddock, author of the plays "Learning Targets" and "Pink Ribbons" (both presented at previous years' Fringe fests), has taught creative writing at the School of the Arts in Rochester for over 20 years and has directed two Shakespeare shows in the Highland Bowl for Rochester Community Players, as well as performing in productions with assorted local companies. He started the Playwrights’ Festival (celebrating its 21st year this spring) to inspire young writers by producing and directing their original one-act plays.

"The Fighting Girl's Guide to Politics" will be presented at the School of the Arts Comedy Club (at the school at 45 Prince St., Rochester) at 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14; 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 15; 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 18; 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20; and 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21. Tickets are $12 at rochesterfringe.com. Remaining tickets will be available at the door starting one hour before curtain.

Len Brondum featured at Artizanns

The work of Lenaria (Len) Brondum of Canandaigua is the featured artist in the new Revolving Upstairs Gallery Room at Artizanns, 118 N. Main St., Naples. Brondum will be on hand for a reception and review of her work from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, with refreshments.

Brondum's work will be up throughout September and October at Artizanns.

Her work has been exhibnited in numerous galleries and organizations throughout the Finger Lakes and Rochester areas, as well as several locations across the nation. Her war paintings are on permanent display at The Citadel in South Carolina. She ha sbeen an adjunct lecturer at Rochester Institute of Technology and at national silk painting conferences, and offers workshops at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester. She has been an active member of the Rochester Art Club for over 20 years and a member of The North East Enamel Guild for 15 years.

Local opera singer at Cobblestone

Local opera singer Rose Kearin, a current voice student at Eastman School of Music, will give a Lunchtime Concert at 12:15 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, in the Cobblestone Theatre at Cobblestone Arts Center, 1622 Route 332, Farmington, the first lunchtime concert of the fall season. the soprano from Houston will perform an eclectic mix of  the classical repertoire.

Patrons of Finger Lakes Opera should recognize Kearan from her roles as Micaela in "Carmen" and La Contessa in "Le Nozze de Figaro," as well as Mrs. Nimble in "Jack and the Beanstalk." She participated in FLO's Young Artist Program this summer.

For more information on the Lunchtime Concerts or other events at Cobblestone, call 585-398-0220 or visit www.Cobblestoneartscenter.com.

Tunes by the Tracks features Peg Dolan

The Celtic/acoustic singer and guitarist Peg Dolan — a veteran performer solo, in duos and formerly with the band The Wild Geese — will be the featured act for the next "Tunes by the Tracks" concert, set for 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 18, at Clifton Springs Library, 4 Railroad Ave., Clifton Springs. Her repertoire ranges from traditional and contemporary Irish songs to songs by pop and country musicians like The Eagles and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

As always, the second half of the evening will feature the Mystery Pickers open mic.

The concert is free, though a $5 donation is suggested for the feature and refreshments.