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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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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."

The world has reached the point where, after a tough day at work, you can’t pull up a barstool and unwind with an expertly made Negroni cocktail without feeling like it’s an act that puts your friends and family in danger.

Not since the coronavirus pandemic, “when the world changed,” Chuck Cerankosky says.

“But we’re all still here. The bars are still here, we’re struggling to survive. We’re trying to navigate through this forest of precautions and guidelines and morality.”

In his four decades of working in the music business, Quake Mark says he’s had a gun pulled on him three times, he’s been shot once, stabbed twice, overdosed once, been in three bus crashes, four bus fires and has survived two plane crashes, including with the Goo Goo Dolls in 1999 when the band’s plane skidded off a runway in Italy.

But this coronavirus pandemic could be the end of his career as a sound technician, production manager and tour manager, “which is a fancy way of saying I’m a very high-priced roadie,” says Quake. 

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