Theater in WNY / Road Less Traveled
Builds (another) new theater
Photo by Stephen Gabris
In 2016, Road Less Traveled Productions (RLTP), which had been housed for a decade in Main Street’s Market Arcade theater, lost its home when the building was sold. The company relocated to 500 Pearl Street and built a beautiful space, but, knowing its long-term viability was never guaranteed, couldn’t rest easy or plan for the years ahead. RLTP played three seasons on Pearl Street—all while the Market Arcade remained hauntingly empty—but now, with a long-term lease in hand, the company’s new digs at 456 Main Street allow it to continue its mission of producing contemporary works with excellent production values—all with a confident eye toward future growth.
This past summer, RLTP was busy readying its new home, and, in fact, building delays forced cancellation of its Curtain Up! performance of Robert Askins’ Hand to God. These are headaches that artistic director Scott Behrend, sadly, has grown accustomed to. At Market Arcade, RLTP’s first permanent space, the company retrofitted a movie theater into a live performance space despite a nearly non-existent backstage area. At 500 Pearl Street, RLTP built a theater-within-a-theater by introducing stadium seating and a floor stage at the former Forbes Theater. It was a beautiful space with a spacious lobby and bar, although one that suffered from accessibility issues posed by the large staircase in the front hall, the theater’s only convenient point of entry.
At 456 Main, the former home of Baker’s Shoes, accessibility issues aren’t a problem as both the building’s front door and the theater space itself are on the ground floor. The marquee at the front entrance incorporates digital end caps on either side similar to those at 500 Pearl. The marquee also includes a black facade adorned with a well-lit RLTP logo.
Through the front door, patrons enter retail space that operates independently from the theater. A quick left turn bypasses the retail space via a hallway that ends at RLTP’s lobby. This lobby features a full bar and formal box office window; the wall opposite the box office has been opened to provide access to bathrooms in an adjacent building, which is also owned by Ellicott Development—RLTP’s landlord at both Pearl and this new location. As it did on Pearl, RLTP will use the lobby for developmental work and readings, and, because a sound barrier exists between the lobby and theater, such activities can now run concurrently with rehearsals on the stage.
The theater space itself is reminiscent of the Pearl Street location and includes the same metal frame for roomy stadium seating, although the framing has been adjusted to narrow the block of seats and add an extra row. The stage itself is built into the floor and measures thirty-by-thirty feet. That’s slightly narrower than the Pearl Street stage, but with eight more feet of depth. The floor of the entire theater space, starting at the lobby door, is constructed from plywood and masonite and painted black.
Also in a set-up similar to Pearl, a mezzanine houses most of the technical elements including the stage manager booth and a dimmer room above the box office. The difference is a building that is 5,000 square feet instead of 13,000. “In the old space, the stage manager used to have to hike to the dressing rooms,” Behrend said. “Here, it’s much more compact and easier to get around.” A truss and pipe lighting grid system has been designed and installed by RLTP’s long-time lighting designer John Rickus, and the company plans to obtain new sound and lighting equipment by its second year in the space.
Directly behind the stage, RLTP technical director Lou Iannone enjoys a large open area to build set pieces that can be loaded in through the adjacent building. There are also two backstage dressing rooms, each of which can comfortably fit up to six actors. Another room houses laundry appliances and paint supplies; there is also a bathroom. Throughout the building, new electricals and outlets have been installed and promise noiseless heat—an upgrade from Pearl Street—and air conditioning.
RLTP had been looking at other spaces as early as two years prior to the Pearl Street move, but not only were theater-friendly spaces scarce, Buffalo’s current boom meant rents in prime locations were steep. The new location is not only on the Metro Rail, as it was at Market Arcade, but it’s also close to hotels, restaurants, and entertainment options near Lafayette Station on a block of Main Street that will see traffic return in two years. All told, renovations at 456 Main Street cost about $600,000—half of the capital project originally planned to renovate 500 Pearl with the majority of the work being completed by Ellicott Development. “Ellicott’s been a great partner,” Behrend says.
At least one nearby business owner is pleased to see a theater company moving in. “The more businesses drawing traffic to Main Street, the better,” says Dustin Snyder, founder and owner of Hatchets & Hops. “We moved in just as the ribbon was cut to open the street to traffic again, and it’s been amazing to see the area go from a quiet ghost town to a lively, culture-filled area with exciting attractions day and night. Road Less Traveled will continue that momentum.”
Three more theaters on the move this season
Second Generation Theatre
Starting with the 2018-19 season, and after a season hiatus, Second Generation Theatre has taken up residence in Shea’s Smith Theatre at 646 Main Street. The 200-seat Shea’s Smith is the third home for the company, which previously played three seasons at New Phoenix Theatre and two at Lancaster Opera House. SGT’s first show in the space will be the musical Big Fish, opening October 12.
American Repertory Theater of Western New York
American Repertory Theater of Western New York will operate in two spaces during the 2018-19 season. The first is the former Theatreloft at 545 Elmwood Avenue. The second space, which is currently running the musical Heathers, is the Philip Sheridan Building at 3200 Elmwood Avenue in Tonawanda. This 300-seat space will host three to four ART productions during the season.
Ujima Theatre Company
The former School 77 at 429 Plymouth Avenue recently underwent a $15-million renovation coordinated by People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH) Buffalo. Ujima Theatre Company is a primary tenant. Ujima will produce shows in the auditorium of the former school, which also serves as home to PUSH Buffalo and Peace of the City, and it includes thirty units of senior housing.