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Onstage / Neal Radice, Alleyway founder, retires

IMAGINE THE WORLD MADE OVER—but not like this



Neal Radice

photos by kc kratt

 

Alleyway Executive Director Neal Radice surely didn’t have our current world in mind when he chose the title—Imagine the World Made Over—for the now-canceled farewell revue of his career. Though the show won’t go on, Radice still retired in May. “My decision to retire is based solely on my age. My health is fine and my ambition to direct theater has not waned,” says Radice. “However, after forty years since I founded the company, and now reaching the age of seventy-two, I decided it is time for others to take the reins of Alleyway Theatre. What I know about the company, including our facility and its operation is so comprehensive that if I were to suddenly fall out of the picture, it would be a severe blow to its future. The people I am training to replace me have already joined the company and they are learning all that will be needed to accomplish a smooth transition. Under the new leadership of Chris J. Handley, I am confident that there will be new energy in new directions, a healthy boost for any organization.”

 

Alleyway has come a long way from its beginnings as Buffalo Theatre Collective, a small resident company that sought to provide opportunities to its members as a way of developing theater skills. “In the early years, members were cast from show to show throughout each season,” Radice explains. “However, there developed a conflict between the goal of presenting new plays and maintaining a resident company. After only a few seasons it became clear that, if the quality of each new script was to be the deciding factor, it wasn’t feasible to promise any one actor that there would be roles throughout the year. The commitment to producing new plays and musicals demanded that, in our process, the play comes first. Nothing through the years has had more impact on our success than the founding of our annual Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition in 1990. It has provided the fuel for our fire.”

 

Chris J. Handley, who’s already been working with Radice to smooth the transition, will find a different theater landscape than Radice first encountered in 1980, when Radice and his peers were beginning the first wave of small professional theaters. “Studio Arena had been around since the mid-sixties, the 1970s saw a burst of professional dinner theatres pop up from Buffalo to Niagara Falls, and Western New York long had a healthy community theater scene,” says Radice. “Those of us who created the long-lasting small companies, including my fellow producers Lorna Hill [Ujima], David Lamb [Kavinoky], Saul Elkin [Jewish Repertory Theatre/Shakespeare in Delaware Park], and the late Rosalind Cramer [Theatre of Youth], were building a professional theater community where none had previously existed. We developed companies with very distinctive artistic missions and styles. Today, at last count, there are over two dozen small professional theater companies in the area and the overlap in artistic missions and styles of presentation is surprising. I often wonder how the community will ever be able to support [them all].”

 

That curiosity, or even the competition, won’t sway Alleyway from its commitment to new work, something both Radice and Handley are passionate about, despite the inherent difficulties in that mission. “Maintaining the mission of developing new plays and musicals is not easy. I suspect that the public and even many members of the theater community don’t realize how much more time and effort goes into creating a new work,” Radice contends. “It is common for our plays and musicals to be in development for twelve to eighteen months before they end up on stage. Scripts don’t come to us with set designs, costume plots, or a list of props.  In the final days of rehearsal, we prepare for the arrival of a playwright, often whom we have never met, who, based upon what we’ve accomplished, may get a brilliant idea that causes us to add or cut dialogue, revise the order of scenes, or even redesign portions of the scenery. My wish for Alleyway is that the company never give up on meeting the special challenge of creating new theater.”

 

On a practical level, Radice will neither remain involved with Alleyway, nor serve on the Board of Directors. “I don’t believe it’s healthy for founding directors to hang around looking over the shoulders of the new staff,” he explains. “Perhaps, the new artistic director may choose to invite me to occasionally direct, act, or design, but, if that happens, it would be simply on a project by project basis. I will miss the daily variety. In forty years, no two days have been alike. I’ll miss not being constantly challenged. But I will most miss directing new plays and working with playwrights. What I will miss the least? That’s easy: I hate fundraising!”

 

With no show to mark the actual end, Radice went out quietly, but not without the comfort of memories. “It has been my great fortune to work with wonderful people. Some of my closest friends have been actors, and members of the staff,” he maintains. “I think back to my original group of resident actors. It seemed we were always having to build something out of nothing and willing to work long hours for little pay to do it. But whether it was that first bunch or the terrific staff I [had when I retired], I love working with a dedicated team, and I had that for most of my forty years at Alleyway.  I also fondly remember my wedding to Joyce Stilson which happened at Alleyway in 1989. I did sets and lights, she did costumes, the staff played music and  sang, and a member of the Alleyway Board conducted the ceremony.”

 

Radice is also clear that retirement doesn’t mark the end: “I will continue writing plays and musicals and begin to promote the works I’ve already created. I’ve always been so busy with Alleyway that there has never been enough time to let the rest of the world know about my work.”

 

In closing, Radice shares the playbill note for Imagine The World Made Over, words and a show that “now, my audience will never see”:

Well, this is it. I set the end of this season as my retirement date, and here it is. If I had the space in this entire playbill I couldn’t begin to thank all the people who have made my forty-year journey so artistically satisfying and so very happy. I can tell you from personal experience that operating, or working for, a small non-profit arts organization, especially one that takes on an artistic mission of creating art that is new, is no way to get rich. Despite that, the loyalty that I have enjoyed from artists, staff, board members, and volunteers over these years has been the glue that held Alleyway Theatre together and allowed me this gratifying last moment. And to compound my happiness, I am comforted to know that the company I founded in 1980 will be in the capable, very talented hands of Chris J. Handley and that he’ll be supported by the rest of the outstanding staff members who have joined us in recent months. I encourage you to keep an eye on Alleyway over the coming years as, under energetic new management, Alleyway Theatre grows into an even stronger force within this theatre community. With this production of Imagine The World Made Over, I am offering my thanks and wishing you farewell. - Neal Radice

 

Happy retirement, Neal, and thank you for all your contributions to Buffalo theater. We know we haven’t seen the last of you.

 

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