John Borek reflects on a page-turner of a life | Theater

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  • Experimental theater producer John Borek presenting an offbeat model of “Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline” at MuCCC.

It took a whilst for John Borek, one-time bookstore operator and a self-described tranquil gentleman, to become an open up e book himself. But the moment he did, the web pages turned quickly.

Rochester has not seen a conceptual artist like Borek — a usual-on the lookout, 70-ish white man who refers to himself as The Professor of Rap, the moment launched an album with tracks about Michael Jackson’s monkey, and finds as a lot that means in his failures on phase as a theater producer as his successes. He prepared to just take his struggle with leukemia to the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Pageant in September in a spoken-term piece named “The Reserve of Leuk.” But that was in advance of the ailment raged out of remission.

The web pages proceed to flip until eventually we come to this: the one-time e book peddler has penned a e book. Pulled from a 12 months in Borek’s life a 50 %-century ago, “The Club Van Cortlandt” is a charming, 132-web page tale of a 19-12 months-outdated Rochester child coming of age in a New York Town flophouse. The Van Cortlandt Lodge, 1968.

“It was the 12 months that outlined who I was no extended,” Borek says. “And who I was to become.”

Now, he’s a 71-12 months-outdated gentleman living in his 19th Ward household, which is cluttered with inventive curiosities that he and his spouse Jackie collected around the yrs. Besides Jackie is no extended right here. She died in May well, just after a long combat with a uncommon neurological ailment.

There is only Bill. Bill — a friend who questioned that his final title not be utilized right here — has recognized Borek for decades. Bill seems in “The Club Van Cortlandt.” Retired, divorced, his little ones grown, Bill moved in with Borek when he figured out of Borek’s health issues. It is an open up-finished, temporary gig that consists of helping Borek with outings to the hospital for blood transfusions and actual physical treatment, and organizing for a hoped-for bone marrow transplant to stave off the leukemia.

Borek chronicles his health issues on the nonprofit social networking web page CaringBridge, which lets people going through professional medical treatment options to update friends and kin on their situation. The posts were intended to be the substance of “The Reserve of Leuk,” but for now act as a living, no-retains-barred memoir, sparing readers no element.

“The biopsies are usually finished in the hip since the spongy bone marrow exists in larger bones and the hip is available. 1st, fluid is extracted from the marrow…”

Borek is no stranger to these kinds of literary resources. He wrote “The Club Van Cortlandt” on his cell mobile phone whilst sitting down in waiting around rooms whilst Jackie was going through procedure.

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“The Club Van Cortlandt” is confined to his freshman 12 months at Columbia College, which spanned 1968 and 1969, two formative yrs in the background of the country.

“My personalized background and my country’s background kind of intersected and blew up,” Borek says. “I was by appearances a suburban child, but I was actually the kid of a couple who had survived the Despair and Environment War II. And my mother and father had put in most of their life producing a harmless zone for the spouse and children — I’m an only kid — for me, the spouse and children, that would safeguard me from the harshness and indignities of life.”

He was approved into several Ivy League educational facilities, but chose Columbia since he wished to live in New York Town.

“I was the affirmative action of the nineteen sixties,” he says. “I was not only an unusually very good student, but I was Polish, so I had an ethnicity. I was Catholic, so I had a reviled religion. I went to a general public college, and I had no kin who ever went to higher education, so I was a ideal option for affirmative action that the Ivys were starting in the nineteen sixties, although now it seems ironic and preposterous.”

He would find operate at the famous New York Town bookstore The Strand. “It turned out to be my job route,” Borek says.

Borek returned to Rochester and in 1973 opened The Village Inexperienced Bookstore, which he named just after a tune by The Kinks named “The Village Inexperienced Preservation Culture.” The tune has a line, “God save minor stores.”

“That’s what we utilized to maintain us heading,” Borek says. “And we desired a good deal of blessings to maintain heading for that long.”

Until 1996, when he bought it, The Village Inexperienced on Monroe Avenue was additional than a retail outlet. It was a neighborhood area. It had popcorn and tea. Authors these kinds of as Martha Stewart, Gloria Steinem, Jimmy Carter, and a cranky Kurt Vonnegut arrived for signings.

“That form of reader-author attachment seems to have all but disappeared now,” Borek says. “Selling of publications has been neutralized.”

Now, he acknowledges getting addicted to e book-purchasing on Amazon, a behavior he phone calls a “betrayal of the bookstore marketplace.” At the same time, he throws up his palms and factors out, “You simply cannot rely on standard infrastructure any more.”

“The Club Van Cortlandt” will take a delicate poke at that infrastructure in its listing selling price. It can be had on Amazon, of system, for $four.32, a selling price that Borek says he set to match the retail expense of a top quality cup of espresso.

That form of imagining is in line with Borek’s seemingly inexplicable emergence, at age 58, as a conceptual artist. His moment arrived in 2008 when he directed and created a staged reading through of the notorious Broadway flop “Moose Murders” at the Rochester Up to date Artwork Heart. His energy to revive the enjoy, not as a enjoy, but as an artwork undertaking that paid out homage to a enjoy so lousy that it has become shorthand in the theater earth for nearly anything that goes immensely and precipitously wrong, obtained the awareness of The New York Times, which sent a reporter to city to catch the reading through.

“I want it to be just about the joy of executing,” The Times quoted Borek as indicating. “I want as minor professionalism as probable to come out.”

“In that regard,” The Times reporter wrote, “it was a accomplishment.”

Borek’s job as theater mogul soared from there. He put in ten yrs as the inventive director at the Multi-use Local community Cultural Heart, a theater area fashioned out of a former church on Atlantic Avenue that affectionately goes by the acronym MuCCC. Just one of his reveals was “Dinner Theater,” an improvisational piece in which he had friends of his, picked for their wit, to sit at a evening meal desk and gab. There was no Agatha Christie-design and style murder for the audience. As a substitute, the audience obtained cookies and watched 8 flights of wine and an 8-system food prepared by the cafe Excellent Luck served to 8 actors on phase who . . . just talked.

“I’d hardly ever seen these kinds of an outraged audience in my life,” Borek says. “It was spectacular, the anger at . . . I guess it was, I do not know, course framework. The simple fact that they had to look at people getting addressed in a way that they are not getting addressed. But there was this bizarre explosion and anger in the theater.

“And in simple fact, a 12 months and a 50 % just after I did the show, I was in Wegmans and a woman I had hardly ever seen, who apparently was in the audience that night, walked up to me and reported, ‘Are you the individual who did “Dinner Theater?”’ And I reported, ‘Yes.’ And she screamed at me, ‘You robbed an evening of my life!’”

So “Dinner Theater” was, Borek says, “an efficient operate of theater.”

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Borek performing in his show

  • Borek executing in his show “Pope It Up” at MuCCC.

There could be many, many additional chapters to Borek’s tale — chapters of additional substance than conceptual artwork indulgences these kinds of as running for pope just after the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI, or his obsessive accumulating of autographed movie star photos, all of which he insisted have the salutation, “Dear John.”

There could be a chapter on the 5 yrs he put in as a economical advisor and stockbroker just after advertising The Village Inexperienced, an experience he says “made me a good deal louder.” There was also his entry into the political realm, as president of the 19th Ward Local community Association. He ran neighborhood advisory systems at the College of Rochester, and put in 15 yrs as a legislative aide for former Town Councilman Adam McFadden.

If there is a link between the stockbroker and the pretend pope to be found in the young gentleman at the Van Cortlandt Lodge, Borek says, it was “a sense of my wider look at of life, and that carried via for the following fifty yrs.

“I figured out that no issue what one’s life situation are, or might be, one is still alive and all the people I satisfied in the resort, the Van Cortlandt, were quite a lot alive, they were quite spirited, they were quite active, they were quite fully commited to political results in, to artwork, to just helping people.”

So it was with John Borek and Jackie Levine. They satisfied at The Village Inexperienced. She arrived in asking for Ignazio Silone’s novel “Bread and Wine” and the poems of Rabindranath Tagore. Borek hired her. They married.

They had no small children, besides for the handful of young people they mentored and welcomed into their household around the yrs, and whom Borek and Levine affectionately named their “non-small children.”

Mentoring arrived obviously to them, primarily Levine, who directed the College of Rochester’s study abroad program. Borek figures she sent eight,000 college students abroad and marvels at the assumed of how she would know 50 % of them, and what they were up to nowadays, if they walked into the espresso shop at the Rochester Public Marketplace whilst she was operating on her New York Times crossword puzzle.

Levine raised an eyebrow at “Dinner Theater” and other productions of what Borek phone calls his “shadowy theater job.” But Levine was also the narrator of “Moose Murders.” They played off every single other for 44 yrs.

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Just one chapter closes. The following one opens. Levine edited “The Club Van Cortlandt,” the minor e book that Borek typed on his mobile phone in hospital waiting around rooms whilst Levine was going through treatment options, and Borek dedicated the e book to her.

“My feeling about memoirs is that none of them are accurate,” Borek says. “All of them are what I contact autobiographical fiction. No person writes a e book fifty yrs just after situations and can assert that they’re telling the fact.”

He recalls an interview Oprah Winfrey did in 2006 with James Frey, whose memoir of his struggle with dependancy, “A Million Very little Parts,” was a bestseller.

“She had him on her show, and then attacked him for earning big pieces of it up,” Borek says. “I assumed that was certainly fascinating. And she ruined him, she ruined the e book . . . And still, the e book served hundreds of hundreds of people prevail over dependancy. So what very good did it do to discredit it?”

In Borek’s intellect, autobiography and memoir are flawed principles. So was there actually a useless gentleman in the shared rest room of the Van Cortlandt Lodge?

“I would say every little thing transpired to me, in some variety or other, which is in the e book. But I would be foolish to say that it is correct.”

Jeff Spevak is WXXI’s arts and life editor and reporter. He can be attained at [email protected]

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