Special Sections » Rochester Fringe Festival

‘Blowing off the Lake’ explores a local legend’s mysterious origins


Employing a mixture of experimental silent filmmaking and live recordings from within a black box theater, “Blowing off the Lake” explores a chilling folk myth local to the Rochester area: the ghostly Lady in White, a mysterious apparition said to roam Lake Ontario’s shores. The short film plays at the Spiegelgarden at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 22 and 7:15 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 23 as part of Rochester Fringe Festival.

Between soundless, meandering flashbacks accompanied by character voice overs and static shots of the players onstage addressing the camera, the film dives deep into the legend’s origins, the lady’s perpetual feelings of loss and sorrow, and an original narrative take on why she now haunts Durand Eastman beach.

Martha Schermerhorn, the playwright behind the film’s script, said it is greatly influenced by her own infatuation with folk myths sparked by childhood experiences.
“My father was really interested in what you would call strange phenomenon,” she said. “We used to go on trips all the time to visit places that were supposedly haunted or had some significance.”

Though initially conceived as a play, “Blowing off the Lake” was reshaped into a film after Schermerhorn and director Maria Brandt realized the potential behind its visual depictions of confinement both physical and emotional. “It's very poetic and (overlaps) with a lot of repetition that feels like waves,” Brandt said. “(It shows) the way the lady herself is stuck in her own cycle of loss and mourning.”

The film blends elements of cinema and theater together, marking a new experience for both Schermerhorn and Brandt, who each specialize in playwriting. Overall, the two filmmakers feel the medium they chose did the concept justice by allowing it to transcend its theatrical confines. “If we were to do it as a stage version, it would be totally different,” Brandt said. “I think this version you'll see is not anything that could happen on the stage.”

The experience also charted new territory for actor Christopher C. Conway, who described the film as “fairly unique and abstract.” He stars in the film as a traveling rogue, and was drawn to the project by its timeless, fairy tale-like atmosphere, as well as Schermerhorn’s open-ended script.

“As an actor, it's all about the text and it's all about the language,” Conway said. “There was really a poetry that was working in this. You sort of walk this fine line between literal and metaphorical.” Conway’s cat, Cousin Harold, also appears in the film as Old Tom, a feline whose presence recurs throughout the story.

Through its eerie subject matter, Schermerhorn hopes “Blowing off the Lake” will spark viewers’ own curiosity in exploring local myths and the supernatural.

“I hope [viewers] start walking up on Lake Ontario and looking for the white lady,” Schermerhorn said, adding that the legend’s local ties are another point of interest for the film. “These white lady, weeping lady myths happen all over the world on a body of water. It's just fascinating that Rochester has our own.”

Ethan Stinson is a Goldring Arts Journalism and Communication graduate student at the Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University. The cohort previewed Fringe as part of a summer class.

In This Guide...