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and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and
disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel
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January 15, 2006
Where’s The Art?
No Trains, No Galleries, No Firlefanz
I managed to beg a pair of tickets from Cathy Frank to see the puppet
version of Eugene Ionesco’s play Rhinoceros for last Thursday,
the 12th of January, at the Firlefanz Gallery. Cathy and her husband,
Ed Atkeson, run, or I should say ran Firlefanz on Lark Street for
the past three years. Firlefanz has officially closed as an art gallery
and public space. This three nights of Rhinoceros was part of a farewell
It was one of the most delightful and amazing performances of any
sort that I’ve seen in years. The puppets themselves were works
of art, and the play clipped along at a brisk pace with nuanced voice-acting.
After a few minutes the puppetry seemed perfectly natural and one
could not help but suspend disbelief. Even the occasional opening
night glitches added delight, such as when a cap kept falling over
the face of one of the puppet characters, and a black shrouded arm
popped out from between the black curtains to push the puppet’s
cap back into place.
The audience could clearly see the tremendous amount of effort that
went into this complex production. It was so good that it made me
sad to realize that there would be only three performances. Would
all this work, beautiful puppets and all, be simply discarded after
the weekend? Perhaps if the show were mediocre it would be all right,
but to abandon this production seemed a crying shame bordering on
The Firlefanz store front is (was) narrow and crowded, we were lucky
to get tickets for the last remaining seats. Surely the production
could attract enough of a crowd to fill a bigger space. The wife
suggested Steamer 10 on upper Madison, she thinks the puppets are
big enough to be seen by the whole theater. They were almost too
big for Firlefanz. How about it, Cathy and Ed, and the rest of the
The Monday evening before, we were at the Lark Tavern (why is the
Lark Tavern on Madison? ...oh, never mind.) Nudged by my spouse,
I cornered Cathy Frank and shook her down for tickets to the Thursday
showing. This was during intermission at Nicole Peyrafitte’s
second-Monday-of-the-month Experimental Cabaret at the Lark, a veritable
circus of surprising and off the wall performances. For example,
that Monday night we were particularly taken with a fabulous performance
by a slender young woman in a tutu, who played first an accordion
and then a saw, casting her shadow on a video projection of rhythmically
jerking birds in flight, all the while singing songs in a sweet voice
about arson and dismemberment. That sort of thing.
One doesn’t expect to see such interesting stuff in an upstate
cow town like Albany. Apparently Nicole, or for that matter Cathy
and Ed, haven’t heard that Albany is a hopeless cultural backwater
that cannot support such things. (By the way, the talented young
lady in the tutu was C. Ryder Cooley from San Francisco, and she
is currently attending SUNYA.)
But then, Cathy and Ed must have decided that Firlefanz was not
worth the trouble of keeping it open, they have cited financial drain
as one of the main reasons for the closing. But here we were on Thursday
night, me and the wife blowing off a meeting, shirking our public
duty to see... puppets!
Boy, are we glad we went. That Thursday afternoon, when we realized
that we had a scheduling conflict, I asked the wife, “Tonight,
would you rather see puppets perform Rhinoceros at Firlefanz, or
would you rather attend a meeting of the neighbors organizing against
the Common Council’s illegal spot rezoning of part of Holland
Avenue to ‘highway commercial?’”
After hemming and hawing, the wife shifted from one foot to the
other and said, “There’ll be more meetings, but when
will we get to see Rhinoceros at Firlefanz again?”
She had a point. Besides, the element of guilt here is strong. You
see, as far as I can recall, not once in three years did we make
a purchase at Firlefanz. Is that any way to support art spaces in
Albany? Oh, we attended performances and special events, and of course
art openings where we examined the art and delicately sampled the
trays of food. But not once did we shell out for the art, not even
for a trinket.
It wasn’t because we didn’t have the opportunity. Many
is the time the two of us peered into the windows of Firlefanz and
exclaimed happily at the displays. It wasn’t the quality of
the art, certainly some of it sucked but a lot of it was really,
really good, the kind of things you'd like to take home and display.
It wasn’t the cost, some of it was pricey but there were some
excellent bargains hanging on the wall. We’re not exactly millionaires,
but we could have shelled out if we had wanted to.
So, what was our problem? What was everybody else’s problem,
why didn’t the people with disposable income who live in and
around Albany point their credit cards and checkbooks in the direction
of Cathy and Ed’s art space?
I can’t speculate about others, but around our house there
doesn’t seem to be a pressing need for new works of art. I’m
not sure why that is. Maybe it’s because we’re lowlife
slobs with no appreciation for the finer things. Maybe it’s
because the wife is programmed to panic to the point of hysteria
every time she observes me taking a strong interest in a work of
art for sale in a gallery. Maybe it’s because we haven’t
moved or rearranged the furniture in twenty years, so we have no
need to think about the things hanging on our walls. Or maybe we
just have enough “stuff.”
None of these excuses are convincing. They're pure baloney. Like
most spoiled rotten decadent middle class Americans, we are constantly
buying “stuff.” For instance, the wife delights in gadgets.
Ask her to show off her new iPod sometime. As for me, there’s
nothing I like to do more than go to Earthworld on Central Ave. and
load up with comic books. Comic books! An allegedly grown man! I’ve
got a massive unruly pile of them on the floor next to my side of
the bed. And don’t ask us how many times we went out to eat
last year. We can’t afford to tell you.
Are we guilty of some sort of prevailing Albany cow
town mindset that can’t conceive of supporting artists and
art spaces? When our friends Gregg and Nancy used to live down in
Kingston, NY, they would occasionally invite us to the monthly Art
Walk. This was a night when all the downtown art galleries great
and small would throw open their doors and welcome the unwashed masses.
The event always seemed to be a great success, some
of the galleries packed with so many bodies that you couldn’t
get near the trays of food. We never
once came close to hitting all of the galleries before the night
ended. Mind you, Kingston only has a population of about 35,000,
compared to Albany’s 100,000. But then, Kingston is an hour’s
drive closer to New York City than is Albany. Maybe that makes the
So then, if the civic leaders of Albany had the brains and the foresight
to push for and develop an affordable and reliable passenger rail
link to New York City, we could make up for this disparity. Certainly
such a modern and reliable rail link would do wonders for Albany’s
economy, particularly if it extended to Boston and Montreal. (Amtrak
is better than nothing, but it is an expensive and unreliable dinosaur.
Don't we deserve better?) Firlefanz survived for three years on the
stingy spending of us locals, perhaps if our city had a decent rail
link to the monied South it would have thrived.
Short of a clean sweep of City Hall by the voters, nothing of the
sort is likely to happen. Indeed, about a week ago, it
came out in the local corporate press that Jerry Jennings, The Mayor of Albany,
WANTS TO MOVE THE DOWNTOWN ALBANY BUS STATION ACROSS THE RIVER TO
Now, why would anyone in their right mind want to do such a stupid,
idiotic thing? It seems that the Mayor really, really wants a convention
center in downtown Albany, and is willing to do anything to get it.
He would probably be willing to wear a tutu, play the accordion and
sing about dismemberment in a sweet voice to get his convention center.
Along comes Joe Bruno, boss of the Senate, who apparently offered
to do some horse trading. He is willing to help Jennings get his
convention center if he moves Albany’s miserable excuse for
mass transit to Bruno’s home turf.
Now, imagine if Jennings put all this effort into developing a reliable
rail link with New York City, with passenger transit stations convenient
to all points in downtown Albany. What a legacy to remember him by!
Future generations would speak of Jerry Jennings as “the Mayor
who brought Albany’s economy back to life with mass transit.” Instead,
he wants to be remembered as the next Jim Coyne.
Meanwhile, Albany plods along and Cathy Frank is planning to turn
the Firlefanz storefront into a pottery studio. She and Ed tried
to jump-start the Albany arts scene, but the money and the commitment
wasn’t coming from the community. Perhaps others will build
on their work, but just as likely, others will be discouraged by
One last word about Cathy. She was once the proprietor of a restaurant
on Lark Street, Cathy’s Waffle Shop. Back in the 1970’s
I was a scruffy young kid subsisting on minimum wage, living in a
run-down squat on the then half-abandoned block of Hudson Avenue
below Dove. By necessity, I was very stingy. Although I never shoplifted
and stayed out of trouble, I was always treated like dirt by shop
owners, a common problem among young working guys.
One morning, I decided to splurge on breakfast at Cathy’s.
I spent maybe a dollar and change on a plate of waffles, they were
delicious. What made the encounter memorable, when I was leaving,
Cathy made a point of chatting with me. She was friendly. She asked
me to stop by again.
I was stunned! No restaurant or shop owner had ever talked to me
like that. I honestly didn’t know how to react. That memory
of Cathy’s random friendliness toward a disreputable looking
young fellow has stayed with me all these years.
So, we need a new garlic pot for our kitchen counter. Maybe if Cathy
makes a nice one in her new ceramics studio and puts it up for sale,
we’ll buy it.
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