On the evening of Sept. 22, Buffalo United Artists Theatre will welcome its final audience.
The theater company and its fellow tenants in the Delaware Court Building have been told they must leave the building by the end of September, according to BUA founder and artistic director Javier Bustillos. Under tentative plans released Wednesday, Uniland Development, which bought the Delaware Court nearly a year ago for about $3 million, will raze the 1917 building and replace it with a 12-story hotel and office tower.
Bustillos said that his 21-year-old company, a fixture on Buffalo’s theater scene and an institution in the local gay community, has no immediate plans for a new space and is quietly evaluating its options.
“It just happened faster than we thought it was going to happen,” Bustillos said. Asked if the company was actively seeking other venues or would merely throw in the towel, he suggested that maintaining a theater space in a rapidly changing downtown is becoming a more difficult proposition.
“Hmm. That’s a very, very good question. It’s not that easy,” Bustillos said. “You realize, also the whole thing has changed downtown a lot, the medical campus area and all that, it’s getting a little hard. So we’re looking. We’re looking. I don’t know how actively we’re looking.”
The company, whose final show in its Chippewa Street venue will be a limited run of “Confessions of a Mormon Boy,” is no stranger to bouncing from venue to venue.
After more than 15 years as an itinerant theater company, BUA and Bustillos finally settled on the 80-seat Chippewa Street venue, a conference space by day and theater by night that it sublets from Evergreen Health Services (formerly AIDS Community Services), in 2009.
But even then, Bustillos was loath to embrace the space as a long-term home for the company, saying: “We’re going to be here for the next five years, we hope.” But his small but devoted fan base, which has been vocal in its disappointment over the theater’s demise, treated the opening of the space as a well-deserved homecoming after too many years of renting space from other theater producers or cramming crowds into tiny, out-of-the way spaces.
Actor Marc Sacco, who frequently appears in BUA productions, said he is confident the company will be able to draw on its many years of experience producing theater in unexpected places to find a new venue that suits its needs.
“I think that it was really nice for them to have a resident space they could sort of sit down in and just have it for a while. If and when they have to move, I do think that they will, as they have before, pick up and find a space that’s going to work for them in whatever way they can make it.”
As for Bustillos’ suggestion that BUA may disband amid an increasingly challenging real estate environment, Sacco echoed the concerns of many of the company’s longtime fans and followers.
“I think that there’s definitely still a market for LGBT-themed theater,” Sacco said. “I think that this city would suffer a loss if it wasn’t there any more.”