Best of WNY 2012: It's the People
This is year seven for Buffalo Spree’s best of WNY. Each year, we determine the area’s finest by combining the deliberations of three expert panels with the votes of our readers. Each year, the categories change, just to keep it exciting. Agree or disagree? Be sure to let us know by posting here or on any of the other Best of categories we post this week on BuffaloSpree.com.
Best friend of the arts
It’s hard to tell which Megan Callahan has more of, energy or love of arts. Either way, the combination creates a dynamic force for cultural good. Even before she became the executive director of Give For Greatness—the support organization formed by Artvoice in response to County Executive Chris Collins’ arts funding cuts—the Queen City transplant had a crazy arts-focused schedule. She founded, and runs, Buffalo Actor’s Learning Lab, rallies at meetings and budget hearings, teaches music, is the go-to dialect coach for area theaters, and frequently acts and directs on the very stages she defends. Busy as she is, when the Collins cuts came, Callahan mobilized to create the G4G fundraising campaign that ultimately enabled her to distribute $90,000 to Buffalo culturals in 2011. Buoyed by the success, Callahan birthed G4G as a permanent, nonprofit organization that seeks to raise community arts awareness, as well as funding. Thanks for adopting our city, Megan!
Kelli Bocock-Natale (Lola, Come Back, Little Sheba)
In a season flush with top-shelf performances, it’s to Kelli Bocock-Natale’s credit that her portrayal of the quietly desperate Lola in William Inge’s Come Back, Little Sheba stood out. The tricky thing about playing quiet desperation is just that—it’s quiet. Without histrionics, overwrought sighs, or expository monologues, Bocock-Natalie deftly relied on a much more subtle skill set to convey Lola’s deep-seated grief with heartbreaking eloquence. Slower movements, traces of sadness behind a lilting voice, politeness of speech—with these choices, Bocock-Natale’s dialogue almost didn’t matter, so clearly could we feel the anguish and hope at odds in Lola’s battered heart. The tears did come, finally, when Lola talked to her mother, and their brief appearance was all we needed to know and feel the depth of Lola’s disappointment and the cost of her perpetual resilience. It was spellbinding, and those who saw it surely took a piece of Bocock-Natale’s Lola home with them afterward.
Brian Mysliwy (Valere, La Bete)
Mysliwy had already demonstrated that he was an uncanny performer in the Irish Classical Theatre Company’s The Servant of Two Masters years ago, but he wasn’t just a performer in ICTC’s production of La Bête, he was a force of nature. His stage presence as Valere, an ultra-obnoxious 17th century entertainer/wannabe playwright commanded attention—and a strong stomach. His monologue with an impressively incessant spray of food flying from his mouth upon co-star Vincent O’Neill was perhaps the most hilarious scene ever done on the ICTC stage—and delivered in verse, no less. Though Mysliwy was a revoltingly vile boor as la bête (the beast), he was never boring, turning a period comedy into a wildly entertaining time at the theater. Period.
These 2 winners are very similar in that both have graduated to the top level after serving in the ranks of their respective organizations. Sean Donaher first made his mark as director of Big Orbit Gallery, where he calmly and efficiently oversaw spectacular installations as well as carefully chosen solo and group exhibitions. He’s been de facto director of CEPA for at least a year, and we expect him to continue his excellent work. Cori Wolff has moved up to artistic director (Jeff Langridge is executive director) at Buffalo Arts Studio after curating the space for over 3 years. Her shows are always thoughtful and demonstrate an awareness of the larger art world we don’t always see when in comes to WNY’s smaller venues.
Deluca’s programming at Squeaky Wheel brought an exciting array of film, video and digital work to the media arts center this year. Examples include the touring version of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, appealing to classic film enthusiasts, and an early sell out for the underground experimental documentary, Inni, fueled by fans of the band, Sigur Ros. A collaboration with Burning Books led to a screening of Lara Lee’s Cultures of Resistance, a film exploring art and activism. The Here and Now Regional Showcase brought Alfred media artists Andrew Deutsch and Kyle Martin to Buffalo, working with timely projects using synthesized audio feeds and video from the Fukashima Nuclear Plant disaster in Japan. Visitors from farther afield included the Echo Park Film Mobile, which made a stop at Squeaky Wheel, touring films from their California media art center and hosting a film animation workshop. In June, Deluca deservedly took over as Squeaky’s executive director.
Best media personality
“And I’m Anthony Chase.” That weekly WBFO Theater Talk tag is so distinctive that even if you’d never met Anthony Chase and he were sitting in a theater behind you, you’d recognize the voice (yes, it’s happened). Chase’s voice is equally distinctive on the pages of Artvoice, where as founding theater editor, he’s been offering incisive wit and commentary on the WNY theater for 22 years (he’s also the creator and producer of the Artie Awards, our local Tonys). It’s been a winning year for Dr. Chase, assistant dean of humanities at Buffalo State College: in January, he was awarded the Community Leader Award in the Arts from the National Federation for Just Communities, and in April Outstanding Faculty Member at Buff State’s Student Life Awards. We’re glad we’re not the only ones who’ve noticed that without Anthony Chase (it’s fun saying his whole name—try it), there would be no champion of local theater with such a committed, impassioned—and yes, recognizable—voice.
There are many good and great writers at Artvoice, including editor Geoff Kelly, whose City Hall coverage is fearless and exhaustive. But if we needed further proof that reporter Buck Quigley, whose writing appears less frequently in the paper, was deserving of recognition, it came with his recent blog posts and print articles on the possibility of hydro-fracking in New York state. Quigley sharply questioned the impartiality of a recent UB Foundation study, and he had the facts to back it up. (He was also way out in front of the Buffalo News on it.) Here’s a reporter who takes hold of an issue and doggedly explores every byway—with eye-opening results.
Most outspoken WNYer
He’s not really, but he speaks out to a purpose, and his speaking gets things done. Termini led the charge for the historic restoration tax credits New York State has now—which he used in his recent renovation of the Hotel Lafayette—and is currently calling for an expansion, so that he and others can develop Buffalo’s remaining large-scale historic restorations.
Best local hero of 2012
Remember the Chris Collins era? Let’s think back for a second (cue “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme”), to the days of culture cuts, Six Sigma, and terse, elitist attitudes. … Well, breath deeply. It’s over. Mark Poloncarz is County Executive now, and while his first few months in office have been relatively quiet, that’s a good thing. The challenges he is facing have not decreased; in fact, they’ve likely multiplied. But Poloncarz seems confident, undaunted, and understanding of his role. As he told Spree in March, “At the end of the day, people should be proud of their community and their government. I am going to try to make that happen.” Heroic words—especially from a politician. And his victory hammered home a powerful point: That government cannot be run like a business. His knowledge of that simple fact may have won him the election, and his actions based on that belief made him the clear winner of our “local hero” honors.
One day, he is “Tyler Perry’s Urban.” Another day, he is “Urban Targaryen” (as in the exiled noble family from the books-turned-TV-series Game of Thrones). But to his 5,700 or so Twitter followers he is simply “Urban,” a smart, gay, Sabres-loving, sometimes-NSFW comics fanboy who, unlike most other Buffalo-based mega-tweeters, is never confessional (unless he’s being ironical), and typically more concerned with pointing out the ineptitude of our national political “leaders” than our local ones. What makes Urban the clear favorite among our panel, though, has less to do with content of his feed and more to do with the clarity of his voice. Whether he’s expressing his excitement for a muscled-up Mark Wahlberg or poking fun at himself for crying at a Death Cab for Cutie concert or airing his contempt for the Fox News nation (“But what does Bristol Palin think of Putin’s reelection, I need her opinion on everything.”), Urban does something with Twitter that few mortals—let alone Buffalonians—are capable of doing: he always, without fail, entertains us.
We’re very grumpy indeed when we don’t see Smith’s The Morning Grumpy front and center on the Artvoice.com landing page. Smith starts out with a few well-chosen topics in list format, with great links to back up his sharp, provocative and funny-when-appropriate commentary on the social and political issues of the day. Then there are regular features like the fact-of-the-day, laugh-of-the-day, and song-of-the-day. The only thing missing? More Morning Grumpy.
Best Facebook Posts
They may ban Facebook where you work, but here at Spree, it’s just another local information source—one we check every day. One of our favorite feeds comes from the always-cynical, always-outspoken artist and community activist Paul Morgan. Here are a few phrases he posted within the 48 hours before we went to press: “Maybe we are already the United States of the CIA?,” “We don’t need another party-switching conservative hack,” and “Thank you again for your annual march of arrogance” (on the Buffalo Marathon page).
Favorite college sports team
St. Bonaventure women’s basketball
Well, this was an easy one. The St. Bonaventure Bonnies women’s basketball team did, in 2012, what no other local hoops program has done in recent memory: They made it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. Coach Jim Crowley’s remarkable squad of athletes had a strong regular season, but it wasn’t until the tournament that national attention truly turned their way. In fact, after the team’s triumphant defeat of the No. 13 seed, Marist, it was easy to forget that St. Bonaventure is a school of just 2,000 students, making the Bonnies the smallest program in the Sweet 16. The unforgettable campaign ended with a loss to Notre Dame, but it’s no exaggeration to say that memories of one of the greatest seasons in local basketball history will linger. Who can forget the sounds of dedicated fans chanting “We love Bonas” at the buzzer?
Favorite high school sports team
Orchard Park Quakers football
Local high school sports fans still talk about the 2008 Orchard Park Quakers football team, undefeated winners of the Class AA state championship. In 2011, the Quakers equaled the school’s success of 3 years prior, and may even have topped it. After all, the 2011 season included a stunning comeback victory in the Far West Regionals—OP was 2 touchdowns behind in the 4th quarter. That kind of come-from-behind win has a lot to do with coaching, and there’s no question the 2011 season solidified head coach Gene Tundo’s status as one of the most successful in Western New York history. Under his watch, the Quakers have won 10 Section VI crowns, more than any other local school. It would be no surprise to see Tundo’s 2012 troop make it 2 in a row.
Best nonmainstream sports team
The Stallions and Blizzard are long gone, but soccer—“the beautiful game”—has crept up in popularity. (You’ll find plenty of local spots to watch the World Cup every 4 years.) But the biggest sign of progress is the success of FC (Football Club) Buffalo. The team was born in 2009, an expansion franchise in the National Premier Soccer League. The FC Buffalo love really went into overdrive last summer, when the boys took on the U.K.’s Bedlington Terriers. The game not only drew an enormous crowd, but also saw Buffalo’s finest footballers prove victorious in the “Lord Bedlington Cup.” While the win was nice, the team’s win/loss record isn’t what matters. (FC Buffalo’s record was above .500 in its first 2 years.) What’s truly noteworthy is this indicator that a “start-up” sports franchise can make a go of it. It can, at least, when the matches—and the raucous crowds—are this entertaining.
Best volunteer group
Garden Walk Buffalo
We all know that Garden Walk Buffalo has earned national praise from the Atlantic and Metropolis magazine, and that the success of this annual 2-day July event led to the creation of the National Garden Festival. And we’re aware of just how beautiful and unique its gardens are. But consider this: Garden Walk Buffalo has no paid staff. It’s all volunteers—350 of them, with twenty committee members. Jim Charlier and company have made GWB more than just a pleasant way to spend a weekend. It’s now an economic engine for Western New York, and the largest event of its kind in the nation. To think that it all started with a small group of volunteers in 1995.
Most effective community organizer
Led by Aaron Bartley, the People United for Sustainable Housing organization has been speaking truth to power in Buffalo for over 6 years. From heating bills to unnecessary demolitions to job creation for all, PUSH has been in the forefront. In person, Bartley is a soft-spoken, charming young man. In public, he is a forceful public voice for those who have none.
Best local music act
Every few years, there is band that pops up on the radar of every local music fiend, and in 2011 (and into 2012), that band was the Albrights. The Buffalo foursome—Joseph Donohue III, Brandon Barry, Matthew Crane, and Aaron Odden—have a sound that feels utterly fresh; a listen to the jaunty “Hard Times” is all it takes for the band’s blues-rock swirl to draw you in. It’s as catchy and lyrically strong as any locally produced song in years, and it’s also quite funny (“Three cheers to Bernie Madoff / Hope prison folk are friendly”). They’ve already developed a local following, scored some awards, played South by Southwest, and released the fine debut, Ask, Tell. There’s a good chance the Albrights are playing near you, very soon. See them now, while you can still snag a ticket.
Favorite local scandal
Mark Grisanti/The Seneca Nation
Niagara County is like a real life pro-wrestling federation in many ways. It's got it all: long running feuds, nefarious activity, ethnic clout, larger-than-life characters, and the sense that even the good guys might change direction at the flip of a switch. So it shouldn't have been any surprise when State Senator Mark Grisanti and his wife Maria found themselves in an all-out brawl with members of the Seneca Nation after a charity event at Casino Niagara in February. The fracas had all the components of a Wrestlemania rumble: sucker punching, insult hurling, finger pointing, and a story line left unresolved. Vince McMahon would be proud. The prospect of arrests and lawsuits vanished into the mist and the Grisantis were ultimately banned from the casino. Which makes them the real winners.
Favorite Power Couple
Kathy and Bill Hochul
We have to be honest and say Kathy has the edge here—after all, what’s not to love about the plainspoken but determined underdog who defied the odds to take the 26th District for the Democrats? Both Hochuls are approachable and friendly—you’ll never see phalanx of bodyguards or handlers with either.
Thanks to Spree’s panelists and writers: Bruce Adams, William C. Altreuter, Nina Barone, Alan Bedenko, Julia Burke, Don Burtless, Bryan Calandrelli, Rachel Fix Dominguez, Bruce Eaton, Jana Eisenberg, Seamus Gallivan, Donna Hoke, Cheryl Jackson, Meg Knowles, Elizabeth Licata, Darwin McPherson, Jane Mogavero, Barry A. Muskat, Nancy J. Parisi, Kevin Purdy, Christopher Schobert, Maria Scrivani, Christa Glennie Seychew, Joe Sweeney, Margaret M. Toohey, James Walkowiak, and Ryan Weaver.