Buffalo playwright Neil Wechsler announced this week that he is teaming up with the Burchfield Penney Art Center to launch an outdoor theater festival that will open next July with a production of Goethe’s tragic play “Faust.”
The inaugural Against the Grain Festival, according to a release, will feature a roving, multimedia production of both parts of the play among Silo City’s century-old grain elevators from July 22 through Aug. 3, 2014.
Wechsler, whose play “Grenadine” won the prestigious 2008 Yale Drama Award juried by three-time Pulitzer winner Edward Albee, will serve as the festival’s director and has recruited David Oliver to direct the production.
Wechsler has whittled down Goethe’s sprawling, 23-hour play to a manageable two-hour piece that “likens Buffalo Niagara’s industrial past to Goethe’s fable of the rise and fall of western civilization.” He intends to recruit actors from Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Toronto through universities and theater companies he has not yet named. Auditions for the festival are slated for late January.
The goals for Wechsler’s long-planned festival, now in its very formative stages, sound nearly as grand as the scope of Goethe’s early 19th century masterpiece.
“It is a glorious impossible play, which is the only reason I bothered to adapt it. There are only so many glorious impossible plays,” Wechsler wrote about the project in an email. He also adapted Ibsen’s “Emperor and Galilean” for a successful Torn Space Theater production in 2012. “The silos reflect that grand human scale: the rise, the fall, the potential rebirth of human greatness.”
Wechsler said he believes that the festival has the potential to draw audiences from surrounding cities.
“I think Buffalo is the ideal centerpiece for such a project and such a movement,” he said, citing its proximity to Hamilton, Toronto and its other Rust Belt neighbors. “Buffalo is the ultimate underdog, and it has all the artistic and civic potential to make it work. It can open up the scope of artistic possibility. It can provide the freedom to literally work outside borders.”
As part of the collaboration, the Burchfield Penney will provide housing to out-of-town actors participating in the production as well as help some organization and promotional aspects of the project. Wechsler said that more information about the project, including a list of the organizations and theaters collaborating on the project, will be released in the coming months.