Friday, June 1, 2012

The Lazarus Arena

In early May 2012, an announcement that WNY regional production house, Shea's Performing Arts Center, was purchasing the 710 Main Street fossil called Studio Arena. A collective "yea" was raised among the community as the lifeless shell of the once proud LORT house had new life breathed into it. 

This prompted a positive reaction from numerous representatives from the Buffalo Theater community as all saw some sort of benefit to be had by this resurrection. Spokesperson and board-member for every conceivable Arts agency, Randall Kramer jumped at the PR opportunity and happily announced "Its an exciting day for theater, but also for arts in Western New York." 

Scott Berhand, who's company Rod Less Travelled had the distinctive honor of being last production that closed the doors on Studio, generically exclaimed "...a big win not only for the theater district but also for the entire theater community." 

How so? 

Shea's Executive Director, Anthony Conte indicated the new theater would accommodate production companies from Cleveland, Rochester and, even, New York City. "The key on our part is to assess, evaluate, if we think XYZ show can sell in Buffalo" as Conte indicated the focus is to sell tickets and not originality.

This would mean Lazarus Arena would be importing productions and exporting revenues (minus the portion of what Shea's takes out) to communities outside of Buffalo. 

Not so the case as Conte also indicated that local theaters and college companies will be included into the production scheduling. The stipulation is that a 625 seat theater will certainly require local theaters and college companies to have XYZ shows to fill atleast 200 per night to cover costs.

Again, not sure how this will benefit Buffalo Theater. 

Perhaps those local theater representatives most overjoyed about this announcement will be the only ones with an active part in bringing in their own productions. 

And why not? If you're aiming to fill 625 seats on a nightly basis to cover the production cost alone, then safe XYZ bets are sing-along, jukebox musicals or celebrity endorsed (or casted) productions. Hell, that model worked well for Studio Arena in the past why not follow the same plan again?


There is acting method to understand a role by looking at the "sub-text" of a script. This in-between-the-lines method assists the director and actor in gaining a sense of the character and scene, thus having insight into story's bigger picture and the characters placement within it.  

What is the "sub-text" of having Lazarus Arena back among the living theater scene? 

Lost ticket revenue. All those lost-souls Studio subscribers who sought out other companies and supported them in the absences of Lazarus Arena will now funnel their money back to this establishment (providing they're still alive). 

Lost Public and Foundation money. Having the reputation through Shea's parental affiliation, this new production house adds its tin-cup to the thinning soup-line of public and foundation money and will get a greater, warmer portion than the ones in the back of the line. 

Placed in a region of shrinking populace, the emergence of another entertainment source furthers dilutes the artistic diversity this city prides itself on. If there was a sense that Buffalo was on an economic rebound and a hard-factual indicator the population was on the rise, this rising of a dead dinosaur would seem appropriate. This is not the case. There is not enough dramatic art supporters to spend money on Lazarus Studio and then find the resources to attend lesser known companies putting on diverse and unfamiliar works. 

An argument could be made that those patrons who actively look for diverse and unorthodox theater will continue to support theater who maintain this creative mission. For these companies, the existence of the new Studio will not effect their box-offices. It just means companies are left to fight among themselves for the "scraps" of these particular patrons' support. 

Finally, when it was mentioned that theater companies would rather sell 625 seats instead of 90, there is an underlying message sent to Western New York theaters. Pack the patrons in, put on safe XYZ shows with celebrities or out-of-town talent, and don't spend your money on diverse and/or  unfamiliar works (unless these have been commercially successful elsewhere). 

With all that said, alongside the giddy automated generic responses, some sort of positives takes should be taken from this Lazarus taxon. 

The job creation from the resurrection will mean several folks will find employment as box-office people, lower-teir admin positions or production crews (providing the Local #33 is brought back). 

Having the "lights back up" on 710 adds a nice touch to Main and is crucial to the rejuvenation of downtown Buffalo. This boost could mean increased profits for local businesses resulting in an increase of job opportunities for out-of-work waiters, dishwashers, bartenders and pan-handlers. 

Hotels could see an increase in stays as out-of-town performance companies need to house their imported talent for a performance's run. 

And... I'm running out of positives.

Who knows what type of impact this will have on the community? No official studies were made public, no questionnaires were submitted to the community, no polls, no input and no plans were to be seen. 

Just a solo 2.1 million dollar bid for a building left dark for the last four years. Faith would have us to believe that the business plan put into place to secure that much money would be more than the vague, generic responses to this public announcement. 

Still Anthony Conte is confident with some sort of plan in place to bring Lazarus Arena to the forefront of Buffalo theater, but echoes the gamble of such a venture, "We still will be taking a certain amount of risk." 

No doubt. 

A 2.1 million dollar risk in which the rewards are uncertain? Anyone for a trip to the Seneca waterfront casino. 
C'mon Lazarus, roll a lucky 7.