oriented companies than before, certainly more companies doing
MARY KATE O’CONNELL (O’Connell and Company): Theater
has always provided an escape from the “real world” and these
days, we need that escape even more. More and more, our
audience wants to laugh.
O’NEILL: I would love to see more companies take on
challenging work like Torn Space and RLTP; they don’t go for the
HARRIS: In this political climate, theaters are exploring more
issues, and theater patrons embrace more difficult themes when
they are presented in a production versus during a conversation.
O’NEILL: The other trend is audiences becoming younger in the
sense that when I sit at a theater, I’m not the youngest person in
the house. It’s a slow trend, but a definite one.
ELKIN: JRT is also attracting a larger and larger non-Jewish
audience, and as I look across the hill at Shakespeare in Delaware
Park, I am seeing a greater demographic mix. The more varied and
interesting the menu, the more audiences are responding.
To what do you attribute these changes?
O’DONNELL: The loss of Studio Arena. Studio did some
amazing work and really put Buffalo on the national map. The
trouble was and still is that the public perception is that Studio did
the best work and deserved most of the attention and publicity.
Ten years later, the other theaters are [still] trying to make
themselves the theater that deserves the accolades, funding, and
respect, when, in fact, they have always deserved all of that.
BEHREND: It can’t hurt that there’s more people living and
working in the city. Especially with my All For One partners,
there’s been a lot of discussion of how we need to be a part of the
conversation about this new Buffalo. [ We’re creating] something
that is going to be noticed by the public, hopefully bring new
people, and push the entire sector forward.
O’NEILL: This antiquated notion that we’re in competition is
BEHREND: We’re gonna start compiling data—where are
patrons from, who they are, what they want to see. That will
hopefully have a huge effect not only on 710 but all of our
theaters, and from there, we’ll see a trickledown effect. As a
community, we’re still trying to figure out what’s next, and this is
a first step.
O’NEILL: Critical mass helps all of us, not just in terms of
number of theaters but also the number of restaurants and people
employed and living the downtown corridor.
BEHREND: Most theaters in town are trying to reach out to
new audiences, including younger people.
In the past decade, what changes have
you had to make in order to adapt?
MEG QUINN ( Theatre of Youth): We called
our forty-fifth season our year of reflection,
and new information has stimulated how we
do things. It goes back to your audience and
what they’re looking for and trying to step
up. We want to give enough choice around
what people know and feel comfortable
with and, at the same time, plug in one or
two a season that are artistically exciting—
O’NEILL: If Hamilton is going on at
Shea’s, we know there will be parking issues.
We’re also not going to do a massive musical
to compete with Hamilton, so we’ll do
quintessentially classic Irish. If Kav opens The
Producers, we wouldn’t do The Music Man in
the same slot.
O’CONNELL: With more groups on the
scene, we have to be more creative in getting and keeping our
audience’s interest and dedication. Step up our game!
KRAMER: We’re constantly reevaluating the best way to create
and enhance MusicalFare’s [visibility] with current and new
patrons. We’ve seen the so-called best marketing practices jump
from print and mail houses to online and social media. Right now,
it feels like the most effective marketing encapsulates all of these
platforms. Ask me next year and my answer may change...
HARRIS: The cutthroat nature some theaters will go through
to secure the “perfect casting” situation! Some theaters will entice
artists from other theaters with obscene amounts of money or
cast years in advance so they can have a specific person. Does
it affect my theater? It does, because, in most cases, the other
theaters are attempting to court some of our artists. I usually
prepare for this by securing new artists and offering memorable
“experiences” that are not bought!
That’s a perfect segue into talking about what efforts you all
are making toward gender parity and EDI [equity, diversity, and
inclusion] in your season programming.
O’NEILL: At [ Theatre Alliance of Buffalo] auditions, we’re
seeing more actors of color, and the more successful Robeson and
Ujima are, the more those actors come into the community and
the more we become aware of potential casting. Raices, too, has
been effective, like Rolando Gomez is playing Hamlet’s father,
working with us for the first time. Initiatives need to come from
performers as well.
HARRIS: I take EDI into consideration with all of my
programming and it may sting at times to have to use theater
as a platform [for that] conversation. The importance of equity,
diversity, and inclusion is discussed regularly during our rehearsals
because the world is just that diverse.
O’CONNELL: We are a woman-owned business and our whole
mission supports EDI. Our Diva by Diva A Celebration of Women!
and its many offshoots, offers opportunity to men and women
of varying ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds. We regularly enlist
color and gender-blind casting for all productions. Our Suffragist
DIVA celebrates the women who have and continue to advance
and enhance the women’s movement. I write and pursue scripts
that are diverse and inclusive. We make sure that casting notices
are open to the public, and we train our staff to cater to senior and
special needs audiences.
KRAMER: Whenever possible, our casts represent people of
[varied] ethnicities. It makes for a more inclusive gathering in the
theater and a more interesting production. Additionally, in 2018-
19, we have a number of shows—Pump Boys & Dinettes, Ragtime,
and Fun Home—that feature female writers and/or composer/
BEHREND: We’re successful at
maintaining diversity in our organization,
ensemble, and work we do. I’m conscious of
making sure we have female writers, diverse
writers in terms of gender, ethnicity, and
sexuality. It’s on our radar all the time.
QUINN: It’s always been part of who we
are that every child who comes here feels
welcome and connected. Now, it’s even more
deliberate to check with ourselves that our
planning reflects our community. We’ve also
started doing sensory friendly shows and
sought out people to educate us about how
to best serve a population of children with
special needs. At every performance, a mom
has come up to me and said, “thank you,
because sometimes it’s so hard to go places.”
In Buffalo, what are the challenges of
WE NEED THAT