Coming full circle
Shea’s, Road Less Traveled Productions bring famous Buffalo theater back to life
Published: Sunday, February 3, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 3, 2013 18:02
In 2008, the curtains closed on Studio Arena Theatre and it almost became a parking lot.
Last Friday, Buffalo’s theater scene came back to life with the Road Less Traveled’s production of Annie Baker’s hilarious Circle Mirror Transformation.
Formerly known as Studio Arena, 710 Main St. was once a historic landmark of Buffalo, boasting an impressive theater that has brought nationally renowned talents such as Kathy Bates, Glenn Close, Kelsey Grammer, Jon Voight and Christopher Walken.
Due to financial struggles, the theater was forced to shut down, which put a halt to the work put on by Studio Arena since it was founded in the 1920s.
“Tonight, the audience was rooting for the theater just as much as for anyone on stage,” said Mary Beth Lacki, 25, of Buffalo.
Now, with the help of Shea’s Performing Arts Center, the theater has been reopened with a new name, 710 Main Theatre, and a new mission: to help support and showcase the work of local theaters in Buffalo.
Now, Shea’s presents RLTP’s production of Circle Mirror Transformation, which received rave reviews in New York City and won the 2010 Obie Award for best new American play and a Drama Desk nomination for Best Play.
The play centers on five strangers living in Shirley, Vt., who came to the small town to take an adult theater class; it is in the process of taking the course that they are “transformed.”
The characters go through a series of typical theater exercises, which at first seem to make the group uncomfortable. One such exercise features members introducing themselves as other characters in the play. This activity asks the question of how we perceive others and if we really can understand who people are.
“I liked how the plot followed the arc of the actual training process from beginning to end,” said Matt Snyder, 24, of Buffalo.
At first, the characters deemed the drills absurd. In a particular drill, their teacher, Marty, asked the characters to run around the room and simply take notice of each other. Having to actually focus on listening is different from the implied sense of passivity we tend to take in our own lives, according to the play.
“Start noticing everyone around you,” Marty said. “Don’t forget to really listen, you guys.”
The members of the audience enjoyed themselves during the show, really taking in all of the subtle humor. Some audience members even snorted with laughter throughout the play.
“[Circle Mirror Transformation] is an accessible show with RLTP values, meaning that it both entertains and challenges the audience, but also, it is just a great night of live theater,” said Scott Behrend, director of the play and artistic director for RLTP. “That’s the great thing about theater: you can never take away that it is live.”
Behrend stressed that local theater-produced plays are relative to the community more so than glitzy musicals.
He went on to comment he wanted to direct this play because of its non-conventionality. The play speaks to the struggle we face when trying to communicate with other people. Behrend believes the play shows how theater can have the ability to make people open up. He sees it as a parallel between catharsis and therapy.
In a press conference held in May, it was officially announced that Shea’s and 710 Main Street Inc. entered into a management and programming agreement together. The theater will now operate as a presenting space managed by Shea’s, which will partner with local theater companies to bring an assortment of theatrical events to the 625-seat theater.
“We truly have come full circle,” said Ross Eckert, a 25-year subscriber to the former Studio Arena and now chairman of the board of directors for 710 Main Street Inc.
As far as what is next for RLTP, Behrend assures they will continue to produce great plays while also helping playwrights with their own careers. This summer, the theater company will offer its RLTP Summer Institute: a comprehensive introduction to theater and drama for budding theater practitioners ages 11-16.
Circle Mirror Transformation runs at 710 Main Theatre until Feb. 17.