It’s exciting to think of 2014 as one, big empty stage just waiting to be filled.
In this list of five wishes, I’ll be taking on the role of casting director (actors across the region may now collectively recoil in horror) to do just that. Here are a few proposals, ranging from the idealistic to the totally outrageous, for the coming 12 months of theater in Western New York.
1. A major co-production.
A large, loved and well-equipped theater space sits waiting and ready for a bona fide collaboration among two or more theaters. A theater producer with clout to spare is eager to help that collaboration happen. The theater is 710 Main Street, formerly Studio Arena, and the producer is Shea’s President and CEO Anthony Conte. The only trouble is that the producers of Buffalo’s more than 25 theater companies are so hamstrung by their egos and misplaced competitive instincts that they have not yet been able to combine their efforts in a lasting and meaningful way on a larger stage. May 2014 be the year this finally happens.
2. A step toward critical mass in the Theater District.
Since its very inception, Buffalo’s Theater District has been a lackluster experiment that has failed to realize its considerable potential. That’s because it still lacks a critical volume of the enterprise for which it is named. It has Shea’s, the sporadically occupied Smith, the institutionally lackluster Alleyway, the Irish Classical and Road Less Traveled Productions, tucked inside the struggling Market Arcade Film and Arts Center. As cars return to the block, it would be great to see the city kick in some incentives to get one or more small theater companies to migrate to a district where they likely would have an outsized impact.
3. Stability for stalwarts.
Life at more than a few Buffalo theaters has been an uphill battle from the outset. Among these are the Ujima Theatre Collective, Subversive Theatre Collective and many others where quality has too often lagged behind ambition. That’s not because of a lack of talent, but because of being overstretched. Let’s hope the coming year sees some stability on the horizon for these companies, whether it comes from the infusion of new blood as in Ujima’s case, or the difficult realization that the quality of productions matters a great deal more than the quantity.
4. A talent influx.
As Buffalo’s theater scene continues to fracture into ever-smaller niche markets against my yearly plea for increased collaboration, the number of overall productions will doubtless increase. And while the area has seen the arrival of many gifted actors and creative pros over the past few years, that influx has not been enough to keep up with the unlikely proliferation of theater companies in the region.
5. International success for “Against the Grain.”
In November, playwright Neil Wechsler announced plans to collaborate with the Burchfield Penney Art Center on a sprawling outdoor theater festival, the inaugural version of which will feature a production of his adaptation of Goethe’s “Faust.” The idea is so ambitious and the details so vague at this point that all I can do is hope against hope that Wechsler’s plan to put Buffalo on the map as an international destination for actors and audiences thirsting for theater on a scale that would impress even Goethe succeeds.