BEHREND: Attention being paid to female playwrights is still a
huge challenge, and female directors are a huge challenge, and that
doesn’t even take into account playwrights or directors of color,
which is a whole other level of challenge. It’s important that the
top theaters set the trend.
O’DONNELL: It has never been a matter of finding talent—we
have an overload of that—but in the past, we have been
comfortable using the same people over and over again. That is
changing. This season, we have women directing three of five
shows; that’s a first. And it’s not because we are trying to check
any boxes; it’s because they are good for the projects.
O’NEILL: It’s a smaller percentage of established plays [by
women] so they tend to get produced less. It’s also a question of
programming your mission. There’s an Irish playwright whose
work is so visceral and in-your-face that it would antagonize the
audience. I’m looking at seven full-time employees and 100 part-time and that’s a lot of mouths to feed; you can’t make arbitrary
choices and do Bermuda Shorts on Roller Skates just because it’s
different—not that I’m equating that to a production by a female
playwright. If buyers are buying into a particular way of looking at
the world, you deliver to that mission.
O’DONNELL: We need to think about the future when those
patrons are no longer here. It only makes sense to invite as many
different people to the party as possible. Real, powerful theater is
not just for one demographic.
BEHREND: For certain, it’s one of the biggest challenges in
programming the work we should be doing. For Disgraced, it took
me three years to get the right people together, and we finally
had to bring in a lead actor from out of town because I wanted
somebody who was from the correct background. I’m not going
to cast a white person in a Latinx role; I won’t do it. That makes
the job tougher, but it’s about getting more opportunities to more
QUINN: It’s a challenge to find people and let them know
they’re welcome, but that’s not to say you want to give yourself
a laziness about it. It’s always been an awareness, but now I’m
making it my business to not leave it up to chance. I’ve held out
on roles until I found the person who should be doing it. I search
harder and farther, and I’m going to build out my resources
and connections so that it happens all the time. I’m also having
conversations with Buffalo City Schools to find what are the plays
that will connect with the city.
O’NEILL: It’s easier to create parity in a classic than it is in a
quintessentially Irish play. When we do Sive, it could be all white,
but Hamlet will be a mix, and Three Musketeers is a diverse cast. It
depends on product, vehicle, and how well it works.
QUINN: With more theaters and just the cycle of scheduling
with people, it can be challenging to cast.
And then for actors, sometimes people are
overcommitted so scheduling becomes
What is the best trend in Buffalo theater
right now? Explain.
HARRIS: The film industry has
tapped into local artists, and it provides
opportunities to artists that may not ever
had the opportunity for film at any level.
More artists are experimenting with digital
media, which expands into web series
and indie film projects, and sometimes
there is crossover with non-threatening
KRAMER: It’s still economically possible
to put on a production for not a lot of
money. This allows new actors, writers, and
producers to enter the theater scene. The
danger in this is that once these companies
have done this, they need to develop resources to improve. If
the effort stops there, the growth of the theater community also
BEHREND: Better infrastructure. There’s a better sense that if
we want to keep talent in Buffalo and working here, we have to
provide quality experiences and pay our theater artists in a way
that is legit.
O’NEILL: The extraordinary increase in artistic standards.
Back in the day, there were three or four directors you’d want to
use, and now I have a list of fifteen to twenty who are first rate.
[ Years ago], you’d have the five leads, but everybody else was
undertrained; now there’s so many people who are fully trained.
And we’re spoiled for lighting, set, and costume designers when,
again, there were just a handful fifteen years ago.
QUINN: Diverse casting.
O’DONNELL: More women in leadership roles!
O’CONNELL: Enthusiastic casts and crews regularly posting on
social media about the productions they’re working on. The posts
generate feedback and excitement.
The worst trend?
HARRIS: The insurgence of digital media and filming projects.
These media have distorted the viewpoints of the novice who
feels, because they were an “extra” in a film, they are capable to
perform onstage or are above performing on stage.
QUINN: Trying to forecast challenges that are brewing; casting
is one. And [fixing it] means building a broader network of actors,
people who can come in from New York and there’s a way to house
them, or a way for theaters to share cost of an actor, to package a
job that makes it worthwhile for actors to relocate for a time. And
paying actors a livable wage. So often, the basic nonprofit business
model is set up for disaster. First cut is what you pay people, and
that doesn’t sustain and strengthen a community.
BEHREND: [Not doing] a better job with our websites, Internet
presence, social media presence, and overall digital marketing.
That’s the way of the future, and people need to put a lot more
time and resources into that.
How do you feel about the current trend in theater reviewing,
i.e., it falling largely to bloggers with fewer reviews by major
O’NEILL: Bloggers and social media is not a substitute; it’s
an add-on. If you look at a company like ours where majority of
our audience is over fifty, they go to print media, not blogs and
Facebook; they don’t use Twitter.
BEHREND: I’m disconcerted about what’s happening with
the Buffalo News, which just eliminated its full-time arts critic
position. I’m surprised that we’re still seeing
as many reviews, but I think the clock is
ticking on that.
HARRIS: A reviewer’s opinion is their
opinion; unfortunately, there is a population
that relies solely on that.
KRAMER: Informed theater criticism is
important. It’s great to have social media
platforms for people to share opinions—after
all, the best marketing is still word of mouth.
HARRIS: If a show becomes the “it”
show, people want to come see it based on
KRAMER: But if I’m going to work at this
full-time, it would seem appropriate to have
the person critiquing my work have a similar
investment in theater.
Harris: I’m not sure every reviewer
is equipped with the experience and
knowledge to provide an adequate review.
Providing a play-by-play account about a
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