Today, my friend Matthew Crehan Higgins, with whom I co-curate BUA Takes Ten: GLBT Short Stories, tweeted and posted on Facebook that tonight—the sold-out opening of Buffalo Rises at Road Less Traveled Theater—will be our third shared opening. On Facebook, he noted that actors get to say this sort of thing all the time but playwrights not so much. Those posts gave me the perfect opening for the blog post I was already planning to write this morning about Buffalo Rises, and what a special project it’s been in so many ways, beginning with Matt’s observation.
First, let me explain Buffalo Rises. Road Less Traveled Productions turns ten this season and, as part of its celebration and in accordance with its mission to produce world premieres of work by Western New York playwrights, Artistic/Executive Director Scott Behrend decided there was no better way to do that than to showcase eight WNY playwrights in one evening. And not only would he showcase eight WNY playwrights, but he would also showcase WNY itself. To that end, he commissioned us to write ten-minute plays about Buffalo with a catch: each play had to put a positive spin on the city we all love.
I have no shortage of positive things to say about Buffalo (and people are usually surprised when I start a litany; ask Roland Tec), but trying to be positive and create drama at the same time proved to be a challenge. Things that created controversy weren’t easy to spin, and things that were overwhelmingly positive didn’t lend themselves to high stakes. I was finally inspired by a book I picked up at the Erie County Fair: The 100 Greatest Moments in Buffalo History. When I randomly opened the book, I learned that the first ice cream sundae was served in Buffalo, and that sparked the idea that became “Spirit of Buffalo,” my ten-minute entry tonight, a play about how Buffalo’s positives lure so many back home.
Jonathan Shuey and Bonnie Jean Taylor in “Spirit of Buffalo”
For Matt, the positive came from the Fountain at Gates Circle, a symbol of perseverance, change, and enduring love for his city. For Justin Karcher, the positive came from supporting a city in her hour of need. For Darryl Schneider, it came from increased harmony among native and immigrant populations in the Lovejoy area where he grew up. For Ibn Shabazz, it was events that led to the election of the city’s first African-American mayor. And so on for eight plays, each tinged with a very personal, positive take on the Queen City. Listening to the plays is to hear the very distinct voices of these eight playwrights on one stage, a community of Buffalo playwrights writing love letters to the Buffalo community in the audience—an audience who will understand everything we say and, more importantly, why we’re saying it. Check it out:
But the Buffalove doesn’t end there. To further showcase Western New York’s abundant artistic talent, Behrend commissioned eight local artists to create pieces specific to the eight plays. These are used in innovative ways in the scenic designs for the show. More than that, they serve to connect two vibrant artistic communities that are thriving here. Those eight artists will be in attendance at Road Less Traveled tonight, many for the first time; artistic connections have been made in ways they never have been before.
And now I return to Matt’s point, and thank him for giving me an opening and articulating so succinctly what it took me this whole page to say. I often envy actors for their ability to share so much of their creative process, and I have discovered through this experience what that can be like. Tonight, when we open, I will not just be sharing the opening with seven fellow playwrights, but with eight visual artists, and seven performing artists, the entire design team, and an audience of people who love Buffalo. We will all be there. If theater is shared experience, then I don’t know how much better than this it can get.
Edited to add two great reviews:
Clockwise from top left: Caitlin McAneney, Gary Earl Ross, Matthew Crehan Higgins, Jon Elston, Donna Hoke, Justin Karcher, and Darryl Schneider