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Erica Fee

“I am Star Trek” was a sendup of the original TV series, Erica (right) says. And it was as much about the show's creator, Gene Roddenberry. “There was as much drama off camera as there was on camera,” she says. After performing in the London premiere, Erica went with the show to Edinburgh, where it was a monster hit.She left for London long ago, on a quest to break into one of the world's great theatre scenes.

But after a decade of success as an award-winning producer and actor across the pond (including a stint on the starship Enterprise), the Rochester native is back in town. And she's leading a new effort to put the city on the map—the world map—for its performing arts.

Sure, Rochester already has a full plate of festivals every year. Many of them famous in their own right. Jazz. Film. Lilacs. But what's been missing is a showcase of all the arts combined, from theatre to music to visual.

Enter Erica Fee.

She's the force behind the new Rochester Fringe Festival, which makes its debut this September. The term “fringe festival” originated from independent shows that sprang up around the Edinburgh International Festival in Scotland—a festival Erica knows and loves.

Erica made a name for herself in London as a producer, with shows like “Bicycle Men,” which starred Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer Simpson, which also starred Rochester native and Second City alum Joe Liss.Shortly after graduating from the University of Rochester in 1999, Erica moved to London, England, to study acting at Arts Ed London, where she received her MA. She got an agent, started getting parts in shows, and starred in some TV commercials in the U.K.

“I started acting in London theatre, did a lot of commercials. In 2001, I was cast in a show that went to the Edinburgh Fringe, called 'I am Star Trek.'”

“That show was so much fun. There were nine of us and we played over 70 characters. And it had come out of the New York Fringe.”

Erica went on to produce shows for the Edinburgh Fringe. That first-hand experience with one of the world's most popular performing arts festivals has served her well this year as she leads the charge to launch one in Rochester.

But her journey home began in 2009, by way of Chicago.

On her way back to London from the Windy City, Erica stopped in Rochester for a visit. She had a chance to check out the Rochester International Jazz Festival for the first time. She was blown away.

“It was fantastic,” she says. “And I thought 'wouldn't it be nice if we had something like this for all of the performing arts?'”

Serendipity—and some local friends—connected her with the fledgling effort to launch a new performing arts festival in Rochester.

“I was asked to come back to head this up,” Erica says.

At first, she didn't plan to stay for good.

“I put all of my things in storage in the U.K.,” she says. “Then this idea took off and it's been so excitingthere's so much momentum,” she says.

By January 2011, Erica's return to Rochester was permanent.

Of all the places she thought she might settle—London, New York, Los Angeles—Rochester was never at the top of the list. But it's good to be home.

“I wish all Rochesterians would leave Rochester for a few years and come back,” she says.

Good advice. Of course, with Erica on the playbill, Rochester's going places, too.




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Mark Groaning

Yes, there are some things you just can't learn in school. This painter, glass artist, sculptor and jewelry designer is living proof.

“What surprises most people is that I am predominantly self taught,” Mark says. “I experiment with materials that interest me and use whatever knowledge I can glean from the internet or books. And—of course—happy accidents."

“Silent Partner”—Plasma-cut painted steel.But it's no accident that Mark, of Fairport, finds inspiration in everything he sees. After nearly going blind—twice—during treatment for illness, he has a new appreciation for feasting his eyes on the world around him.

“Just waking up and being able to see,” he says, “To live in the moment and express what I feel as my living. Every waking moment, every sound, every person.”

Mark's work has been shown and sold at several local spots—most recently Tap and Mallet in the city's South Wedge. He's also had his art featured at galleries in Provincetown, Mass., and in Naples and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Still, he's a Rochester-made artist, through and through.

“I've lived here nearly 30 years. I got my start working at Gateway Poster and Framing,” he says of the shop formerly on Goodman Street. “My first show was there, and I sold three pieces.”

MarkAfter that, he opened a studio across the street at Village Gate.

“About 200 square feet, a few racks of hand-painted t-shirts, a small easel and a sales counter,” he says of his first space. “All located under the stairs.”

“Martian Sunrise”—Red neon and powder coated steel wall sculpture.But his first big break happened at a restaurant, in the late 1980s.

“Grammy's restaurant hired me to design and paint their entire place,” he says. “I painted everything from their walls to employees' uniforms.”

Mark aptly decorated the space with wall sculptures made from the innards of pianos, sheet music and dried roses. And it was music to one collector's eyes.

“That's where Louis Perticone found me and started buying my work,” he says.

Perticone, owner of Artisan Works on Blossom Road in Rochester, continues to be a major patron. The vast gallery is also where Mark's found a studio from which to work (about 20 times the size of that under-the-stairs space from the early years).

“Koi Pond”—Large-scale painting on wood. Koi represent peace and tranquility to Mark, he says. He has a tattoo of one on his back. This piece now belongs to Mark's longtime friend and patron Rita Zizza, of Massachusetts.These days, Mark's also working on helping other local artists and small businesses demonstrate the creative process to the public. He's planning an art festival where visitors can come and see people doing their craft—from painting and sculpture to food, beer and coffee.

Ahhhh, coffee. It's both a favorite elixir and a consistent subject for the artist. Two reasons a sizable collection of his work is about to be shown at Joe Bean Coffee Roasters (event listing below). The show will include painted windows, large canvas paintings, metal sculpture—even a photo wall of scenes Mark has shot from the cafe itself over the past year.

Paint. Metal. Glass. Photography. Why so many different forms?

“I have a lot to say. One medium can't hold all of it,” he says.

But a cozy little coffee shop sure can.


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* * * 


If you're in the Rochester area, Mark's work now lines the walls of Joe Bean Coffee Roasters, 1344 University Ave., where a reception will be held at 6 p.m. Friday, May 4. The event marks the coffee company's one-year anniversary at the space, and coincides with the monthly, citywide First Friday art party. Mark will be on hand to greet the public.


Matt Wittmeyer

Left to right, Walnut salad from Pittsford restaurant Label 7; Brother Wease, host of The Wease Show on WFXF-FM 95.1; and high-end home décor are among the subjects Matt has tackled for Rochester Magazine.


Gourmet salads, public figures, and bathroom sinks have never looked so good.

This freelance photographer has been spreading his wings in Rochester for the past year, churning out vivid images of local people, places and things.

A poster for the 2012 United Way of Greater Rochester campaign, featuring a photo by Matt.Matt, who lives in Brighton, grew up in these parts. After grad school at Syracuse University, he cut his teeth in the photo biz in New York City.

“I moved to New York to work as an assistant to some great photographers,” he says, mentioning Matthew Jordan Smith, Stephen Wilkes, and Squire Fox among them.

Matt came back to Rochester, first working full time at the Democrat and Chronicle, and later turning to full-time freelance photography.

These days, he shares a slick, renovated studio at the Hungerford with fellow photographer Rich Paprocki and interior designer Jason Longo.

Matt's photographic subjects change from week to week. Sometimes editorial. Sometimes commercial.

You'll often see Matt's photo credit on the pages of Rochester Magazine. He also works on the biannual magazine for United Way of Greater Rochester, as well as occasional work for national pubs looking for local shots.

“One day I’m shooting a catalog for a golf company. Next I’m shooting portraits for a magazine. Next, it's the home of an interior designer,” he says.

MattThe diversity keeps him fresh—and busy.

“Being in a smaller market, I find it vital to adapt and be willing to shoot many different things,” Matt says.

Definitely not actual size: A pork chop from Max of Eastman Place, shot for a Rochester Magazine feature.He's photographed a long list of famous folks, from Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy to furniture designer Wendell Castle to choreographer Garth Fagan and supermarket supercouple Danny and Stency Wegman. Speaking of which, Matt says his happiest moments are spent with food.

“That would be my favorite subject,” he says. “I like to cook it, eat it, play with it—and shoot it.”

When he's not behind the camera (or chowing down after a shoot), Matt turns to other photographers' work for fresh inspiration.

“I'm constantly reading and looking at magazines, ads, annual reports—anything I can get my hands on,” he says.

“You can get a lot of great ideas looking at others' work.”

Amen to that.



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 A portrait of Finger Lakes Distilling co-owners of Brian McKenzie (left) and Thomas Earl McKenzie (no relation), shot for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.



Rachel McKibbens

The distance from brutalized girl to loving mom is wider than one page. Rachel would know. She's been both. And she's filled the space between with poetry.

You can hear it when her voice glows warm with wisdom. Or rage. Or love.

“Reading aloud brings new blood,” says the mother of five, who lives in Rochester.

“Many topics I thought were scarred over, often reopen when I'm working them out for the page, and then reopen when I resurrect them for the stage,” Rachel says.

She usually waits until there's a safe distance from an experience before she writes about it. Still, the emotions are never far from her voice when she reads.

“I get emotional when reading my poetry,” she says, “and I usually don't rehearse or over-read them, so they feel new again when we meet onstage.”

And sometimes, she breaks her own rule about waiting, and writes while the feelings are still raw and fresh.

“Those are the poems that choke me up when I'm reading them to an audience.”

RachelChoked up or not, her confessional work reveals a deep, dark well of courage. That's clear from her first published collection, Pink Elephant (Cypher Books, 2009), which captures her fearless look back through life's chapters. The critically acclaimed book is taught in MFA programs around the country.

Rachel's work as an instructor has taken her around the country, too—and helped others heal along the way. She taught poetry through the Healing Arts Program at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan for four years. Today, she teaches creative writing in housing projects, needle exchanges, high schools, hospitals and universities.

“Teenagers, drug addicts, the mentally ill. I get along best with underdogs,” Rachel says. “I don't trust people who haven't struggled. I can't relate to people who have it easy.”Reviewer Barbara Jane Reyes, writing for The Poetry Foundation, says Pink Elephant “illuminates for us how the process of survival, which she has taken into her own hands, is a lifelong, ugly, and non-miraculous one.”

Nothing's come easy for her—including success. But she's found it anyway. The same year her book was published, Rachel was named 2009 Women of the World poetry slam champion, after nearly a decade on the circuit. Slam poetry—in which writers read and are judged—draws eighty teams of poets from cities around the U.S., who compete in the National Poetry Slam.

Between raising a family and traveling to teach and share, where's the space for writing?

“There are only two months in the year when I write,” Rachel says. “And when I do, I write about 20 to 30 poems in that time.”

She works after the kids have gone to bed.

“I write between 1:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m.,” she says. “Sometimes I listen to music. The band Dark Dark Dark was on repeat while I wrote the final poems for Pink Elephant.”

In the end, it's not the time of day or the soundtrack that makes things happen. It's simpler than that.

“My best work has always come from me sitting down and just writing,” she says.

“The words are already in my head, waiting for their turn.”

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Rachel got her start at an open mic program in 2001 in her native California. Since then, she's made a name for herself as a New York Foundation for the Arts poetry fellow and a poetry slam champion. She's also appeared on HBO's Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry and in the documentary, Slam Planet: War of the Words, which premiered at the SXSW film festival in 2006.

Below, she shares "Central Park, Mother's Day" at inkSLAM 09 in Los Angeles. (Adult language)




“The date is fuzzy, but as near as we can figure it was 1991,” TeeJay says of the year she got her start as a tattoo artist.

Fuzzy, maybe. But one thing's clear. A respect for individual dignity—and disinterest in trends and critics—have served her well these past two decades.

Here, TeeJay works on her client, Alexander Fess. Every tattoo artist works at a different pace. But for TeeJay, most clients require multiple sessions. A sleeve—a tattoo that covers a forearm—can take between 20 and 60 hours of work. “A back piece is going to be a minimum of 40,” she says. Photo courtesy of Zappia Photography.A Rochester native who lives in Irondequoit, TeeJay entered the profession at Sailor Fred's Golden Needle on Lyell Avenue in Rochester. Today, she owns White Tiger Tattoo, with area locations in Greece and Webster. She shares those spaces with a handful of fellow artists, and relishes watching them grow into a craft she loves.

TeeJay has also made a name for herself across the country—with all kinds of folks. Each of them, a willing canvas.

“I have one client who regularly travels from New Jersey, and another who comes up at least once a year from Texas,” TeeJay says.

“Pretty much the only thing my customers have in common is they're all over 18 and want to have tattoos. Beyond that, they vary widely.”

The tattoos they want vary, too. A delicate origami design that seems to cast a shadow on the skin. Intricate patterns of motorcycle gears and chains. Birds. Banners. Portraits. Pocket watches.

Photo courtesy of Zappia Photography.And—in a category by itself—reconstruction. The kind that follows breast cancer procedures.

“My medical tattoo clients are even more varied—other than all being women. Many of them never wanted a tattoo nor expected to find themselves with one,” TeeJay says.

Her masterful hand gently recreates the colors and contours of a nipple lost to surgery. For many clients, it marks the close of a traumatic chapter in their lives.

TeeJay“I help them feel whole again,” TeeJay says. “I'm the final 'procedure' on a very long road.”

It's a life-affirming experience for her clients—and her.

“There are hugs and tears sometimes. And nervousness. Some of them have a great sense of humor about what they've been through, and some are desperate to move on. They allow me to be in their physical space and be a part of their healing process,” she says. “Some have become friends.”

But TeeJay has a permanent impact on every client, breast cancer survivors or not.

“There are moments I've shared with clients that have meant the world to me. I've had people come back years later and tell me that their lives have changed for the better based on some conversation we had during their tattoo session.”

Living proof that the mark you leave is in direct proportion to the hearts you touch. 


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P.S. TeeJay received her own first tattoo when she was 18. It's a small dagger on her ankle with a rose wrapped around it. “It was done by Debbie Cooper of Underground Tattoo Studio,” she says. “I don't know where she is now.”


Joe Guy Allard

The world of robots and zombies is full of weird creatures who have a glimmer of humanity. Just ask C-3PO. Or Shaun of the Dead. Or Joe Guy Allard: creator of a tongue-in-cheek world somewhere between brushstrokes and comics.

Joe has shown and sold his acrylic-on-canvas work at art festivals, galleries, coffeehouses, bars, and tattoo parlors, mainly in Rochester and Buffalo, but hopes to expand his presence in years to come. A graphic designer from Ottawa, Canada, he now makes his home in Rochester's Highland Park neighborhood with his wife and two kids.A full-time graphic designer, Joe first put brush to canvas when he moved out on his own—“to keep my walls from being bare.”

In the beginning, it was simply a matter of money.

“Since paint and canvases were cheaper than the actual prints and frames, I could just copy what I wanted to hang around my tiny apartment,” Joe says.

“I started experimenting with styles and techniques I'd read about. By repainting and repainting over the same canvases, eventually I found my groove.”

His earliest audience? Friends.

“At some point I started forcing custom pieces on my friends whether they wanted them or not,” Joe says. “And they were gracious enough to hang them, giving me the confidence to be more serious about what I was doing.”

After he got married, Joe's wife encouraged him to start showing his art beyond their living room and their circle of friends.

“I got into the Corn Hill Festival that year, put up a shabby-looking mess of a tent, and sold one single painting. It was amazing.”

And life-changing, he says.

“It was the first time a perfect stranger walked right up to me and essentially said 'I want to give you my hard-earned money for the piece you painted out of nothing.'”

Joe remembers his first customers well. Newlyweds moving to Rochester from Atlanta.

Joe“Their story, their faces, the sound of their voices. It was so awesome and surreal, I had a piece of the painting tattooed on my arm to commemorate the moment.”

Joe's horizons have broadened since then.

“I paint what makes me happy, so I initially pictured my audience to be exactly like me,” he says.

His fans today are much more diverse than he expected. Sure, Joe's work has a following among students—and parents looking for art to give their teenage kids.

Right now, Joe's working on a new series, “Villains,” that stars an anti-hero. Here, the characters are displayed as cutouts in the storefront window of Pulp Nouveau Comix in Canandaigua, NY.“But there is also the 37-year-old lawyer who has bought two of my paintings so far,” he adds. “And the South Wedge couple who liked my pieces hanging at Tap & Mallet so much that I now create all of the gig posters for their comedy shows at Boulder Coffee. It's a weird mix and I love it.”

His recent success keeps him motivated to grow. So do success stories from others.

“I can't get enough of reading about one- or two-person businesses that make it. Not necessarily making it big, but that they can make a living by doing something that didn't exist before they came along. I love those stories,” Joe says.

He's not sure what his next project might look like. But it may be clothing-optional.

“Nudes maybe? I never did go to art school, and I feel I missed out on the whole figure drawing business,” Joe says.

“Wondering what my nudes might turn out to be makes me laugh—which usually means there's a good chance I'll paint it.”

In a world of robots and zombies, it's only natural.

 Joe creates gig posters for a comedy series at Rochester's Boulder Coffee. 



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Brandon Alexander

Brandon performs the Spanish sequence from the Nutcracker with partner Tara Lally. When he was just 12, he won a full scholarship to Houston Ballet Ben Stevenson Academy. Photo by Rochester City Ballet photographer Tim LeverettThe story of The Nutcracker may not include any ghosts of Christmas Past, but for Brandon, performing in this holiday classic surely conjures old spirits.

Rochester City Ballet, his artistic home since 2008, is the third company where Brandon has danced in The Nutcracker.

After graduating from the Houston Ballet Ben Stevenson Academy, Brandon joined the Houston Ballet II, where he first performed in The Nutcracker. His next performance came at the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago.

And you already know No. 3.

It's one of the most beloved ballets in history, but for Brandon—as for many dancers—The Nutcracker is one chapter in a bigger story made of many moments. Some dreamed, some earned.

“I've been very lucky to have many proud moments, most of which I don't fully realize until after they've happened,” he says.

Most recently? Dancing his first lead role in a full-length ballet.

Brandon was chosen to play Dracula in the world premiere of The Blood Countess. This darkly erotic original tale by Rochester City Ballet artistic director Jamey Leverett debuted in Rochester last spring. The story imagines a fateful encounter between a notorious 16th century Hungarian countess and Dracula—before he was bitten.


“I had to be able to tell the story of this guy and what happened to him at that time in his life,” Brandon says. “I had no other example to look at because I was the first one.”

This professional milestone wasn't without some anxiety. Even Dracula gets butterflies.

“I was definitely freaked out and stressed during the entire process,” he says. “The moment right before you go onstage can be one of the worst—but best—feelings. But it felt amazing to be able to develop a character and carry a story. I try to let my character speak for me.”

Brandon performs the Arabian sequence from The Nutcracker with partner Kaitlin Fitzgerald. While all ballet dancers strive for strength, every artist has natural limits. For Brandon, studying the performance videos of dancers helps—particularly those who have a build like his. He points to Italian dancer Massimo Murru, an etoile with La Scala Di Milano. Photo by Rochester City Ballet photographer Tim LeverettA new role stretches the artist. But rigorous rehearsals aren't always enough to build the physical strength he needs for ambitious choreography.

“I'm not a naturally flexible person,” Brandon says. “I do a lot of stretching. Need to keep at that. I've also done Pilates and Gyrotonics. Both helped me find new muscles and ways to use certain parts of my body."

In recent weeks, Brandon's workouts have been in preparation for The Nutcracker 2012. For all the companies where he's performed in this ballet, the Rochester production stands out for its active inclusion of young performers.

“The children have more involvement than in the other productions I've done,” he says. “It gives them the chance to perform in a big theater and wear a costume onstage for the first time.”

That experience can spark their interest in ballet.

“It could be that one special thing that makes them see that ballet can be a career, so they want to pursue it and keep the art going,” Brandon says.

For Christmases yet to come.

* * *

Brandon is in the final days of rehearsal for The Nutcracker, which opens Friday, Nov. 25, at Eastman Theatre's Kodak Hall in Rochester. For details on showtimes and tickets, click here.


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Emily Winters

Emily's living room was very small and dark (below). She opened it up by exposing the original hardwood floors, painting the fireplace a lighter color, and installing a windowed door to the adjoining sunroom. She dropped the curtains, added blinds, switched the chandelier and changed the room's entire color palette.When she purchased her first house in 2009, Emily had a real fixer-upper on her hands. And she couldn't have been happier.

She caught the do-it-yourself bug early. Growing up in a farmhouse south of Buffalo in Derby, NY, Emily watched her parents steadily tackle home improvement projects on their home.

“I was exposed to gutted living rooms, kitchen tile, hardware and appliances from an early age,” she says. “I learned to embrace the benefits of an upcycled, do-it-yourself lifestyle.”

Shortly after she moved into her Rochester home, Emily started a modest blog to share her home improvement projects.

“My little blog was an easy way to keep my family across the country apprised of my home improvement projects,” she says.

The house, in Rochester's Charlotte neighborhood, has seen some serious action in the short time she's lived there. With a helping hand from her boyfriend, Pete Fazio, Emily has renovated huge sections of the house, inside and out. From the light-filled, vibrant living room to the open, modern kitchen to the pergola-crowned decks in the back—and many of the fixtures and accents in between.

In the beginning, her blog was mostly photos of her projects. Then in 2010, with some inspiration and encouragement, Emily expanded, started writing more, and was born.

“I really just dove in, committed to doing a post every day during the week to establish some kind of frequency, and didn’t look back,” she says.

As her home began to take shape, so did the digital chronicle of her projects. The only problem? She wasn't loving her full-time job.

For Emily, do-it-yourself also means decorate-it-yourself. She fell in love with lighting fixtures she spotted at Anthropologie, and designed lighting of her own inspired by the ingenious use of “upcycled” cardboard.

“I always wanted to love what I do,” she says. “I took a big leap this past spring, leaving my steady job in advertising and opening myself up to new opportunities.”

The most recent one came just this week, as Emily landed a contract position with the popular online DIY Network, as their first featured blogger. (See her video announcement below.)

“I’ll be posting on their blog weekly in addition to maintaining Merrypad,” Emily says. “I don’t really know where I’ll go from here, but I’m enjoying where I am.”


And where is she? Everywhere. Merrypad already has an international following, with most readers in the U.S. and Canada. It's found a broad appeal to budget-conscious apartment dwellers and homeowners. They like what they see—and they write back.

“I love getting personal emails from my readers,” Emily says. “It’s fun to learn more about the people you’ve inspired, see their projects, hear about their experiences, and just know that you’re reaching someone.”

By cutting layers of cardboard rings and stacking them into a shade, Emily produced a lamp that emanates “mad-eco-recycled love."You'd think Emily might run out of material sooner or later. Especially when her house has already been transformed into an eye-popping showplace.

Happily, her to-do-it-yourself list is plenty long.

“I’m hoping to tackle some bigger projects this winter,” she says, listing a bathroom renovation, door replacements, and a few pieces of furniture.

Still, for all the doorknobs, paint jobs and pergolas, Emily's biggest, boldest renovation project has been Emily.

“I’m diving into this business of reclaimed happiness.”

Put a barn-wood frame around that.


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Sarah Mattison Staebell

If you've ever watched the FOX TV series Glee, you already know how life-affirming it can be for kids to take the stage and sing their hearts out. Lucky for Sarah, she gets to help them do it—day and night.

Sarah serves as vocal director at Artists Unlimited, a Rochester theatre group that casts special needs performers in its shows, staged High School Musical in 2007. This November, the organization returns with a production of Annie.An Eastman School of Music grad who teaches voice at Brighton High School, Sarah is active in the Rochester theatre community.

Since 2006, one of her favorite groups is Artists Unlimited, a theatre company that provides a creative outlet for people who have special needs and a dream to perform.

“Our cast members have such passion for performing, and so many special talents,” Sarah says.

Talk about full circle: As a five-year-old piano student, Sarah alreay knew she wanted to be a music teacher. Today, her first piano instructor from all those years ago volunteers with Sarah at Artists Unlimited. “There's no better feeling in my field than helping people develop the tools to express themselves and then giving them an opportunity to perform and feel pride in their work.”

Sarah, of Rochester, first heard about the organization because her brother attends School of the Holy Childhood—a school for students with developmental disabilities that many of the cast members attend.

Drawn to a group that would give her brother a chance to perform, she's been the vocal director for Artists Unlimited ever since.

In her time with the group, Sarah has helped produce High School Musical, The Wizard of Oz, Cinderella, Willy Wonka, and this year's production, Annie, which opens at 8 p.m. Nov. 4 at Theatre on the Ridge. Rehearsals are underway, as captured in a recent photo essay that appeared in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

Sarah expects a good crowd for this season's production, which marks the group's tenth anniversary. To date, the organization has sold 12,000 tickets to 60 performances.

“We sell hundreds of tickets to each show,” she says. “Because people come to see a quality performance.”

That success has attracted more potential performers than any single musical can include.

“We have more interested people than we can physically fit on our stage,” Sarah says.

So, to welcome as many budding performers as possible, Sarah and her colleagues launched Voices Unlimited in 2009. It gives more people a chance to participate.

A scene from Artists Unlimited's 2009 production of Cinderella. From choreographers to costume and set designers, Artists Unlimited has an army of behind-the-scenes volunteers who help produce each show, Sarah says.Voices Unlimited singers perform in concert each spring. Their playlist ranges from classic rock, to Motown to pop.

“We meet in the off-season so people who are in the shows can participate in both,” she says.

Some kids practically burst with talent, like the cast of Glee. Or the title character in one of Sarah's favorite musicals, Billy Elliot.

But there's something to be said for bringing out the brilliance of undiscovered stars. Sarah sees them all around her.

That's what really lights up her nights.

“It’s such a gift to be able to help people work toward a great performance,” she says.

A gift to the performers, too.

* * *

Artists Unlimited, Inc. presents Annie Nov. 4-6 and Nov. 10-12 at Kodak Theater on the Ridge, 200 West Ridge Rd., Rochester. Advance sale tickets are $11 and are available at select Wegmans That's T.H.E. Ticket locations. Check your local store. Tickets are $12 at the door. For details, call 585-219-5188 or email


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Igor Lipinski

Igor first came to Rochester by way of Buffalo, where he had a role in a play about Polish composer Ignacy Jan Paderewski. Years earlier, at a piano competition in Kasna Dolna, Poland, named for that same composer, Igor won the Grand Prix for Young Pianists at 12. On another related note, Paderewski frequently visited Rochester decades ago—his final public performance took place here in 1939.

It was serendipity, he says, that brought him to Rochester.

“Or, if you wish, a chain of lucky events,” adds the pianist from Poland.

Eight years ago, at his high school in Tarnow, Igor heard that a theatrical director from the University at Buffalo was at a theatre across the street, looking for a pianist to play a role of a young musician in his upcoming play, Paderewski's Children. The play was about a Polish composer.

Igor introduced himself to the director, played the piano for him, and was cast in the role. He arrived in Buffalo in February 2004 to prepare for the play.

“A day before the dress rehearsal, a friend of mine took me to Rochester to visit Eastman School of Music,” Igor says.

While visiting Eastman, he met the chair of the school's piano department, who encouraged him to join the school's summer piano festival.

So, Igor came back to the U.S. for the entire summer. The following year, he auditioned and was accepted at Eastman as a piano performance major.


Igor“The rest is the history,” Igor says. He received his Bachelor's Degree in 2009 and finished his Master's Degree this year.

His studies have helped him fine-tune another passion, too: Igor is an accomplished magician who's been entertaining audiences since his teen years.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I was fascinated by magic,” Igor says.

“I actually learned English in order to read books about magic since there wasn't enough literature written in Polish.”

For his Senior Project at Eastman, Igor even combined music and magic. And after a successful premiere in 2009, he took his one-man show on the road. During each performance, he invites audience members to the stage when he performs, incorporating sleight-of-hand card tricks into his concert.

“You may hear tango music or Liszt or Chopin mingled with illusions, everything to provide not only auditory, but also visually memorable experience for my audience,” Igor says.

He recently premiered the show in his native Poland, his first performance there in five years. He hopes to go back for more this fall.

Click to listen to "Letters," an album of original compositions by concert pianist Igor Lipinski.As if he didn't have enough to write home about in his time living in the U.S., Igor has also recorded an album of original work, titled Letters. Each is sweet, often sad, and all are filled with ineffable stories.

“(The album) literally features letters I have never sent,” Igor says.

“I wrote my first 'musical letter' when I was still in high school. The music is usually a reaction to a special event or an important person I have met in my life.”

Letters with a signature you can hear. Now that's magic.





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P.S. — From the piano world, Igor loves Chopin, Rachmaninov, Scriabin, and Bach, among others, he says. But with each artist, his interests tend to zero in on a particular work.

“My interest usually isn't focused on a specific composer, but one specific piece," Igor says. "Try listening to an hour long work by Henryk Gorecki: Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. It will change your life.”