In the back of the CFA’s basement, on a now-vacated desk, sat a bizarre assortment of pooping animal figurines. Much like the office’s former occupant, these figurines have since retired from the UB Department of Theatre and Dance.
Michael Formato, production manager at the department for nearly three decades, received the first of these figurines — a pooping cow — from a student in the late 90s.
“It was a hit. People loved the pooping cow. I had to keep feeding the cow,” Formato said. “Students over the years brought me more pooping stuff.”
By the time he retired in mid-February, his infamous collection totalled around 70 items.
His animal figurines have since moved on to greener pastures. About two weeks ago, he began distributing the defecating figurines to his students.
“As people came in, I said, ‘Hey, you want a pooping animal?’” Formato said.
The remaining seven figurines were placed next to the candy machines in the CFA’s student lounge. He hopes these beloved figurines will help students to think of him fondly à la “Phantom of the Opera.”
Before Formato became the department’s production manager, he spent a year as a corporate event planner. When UB called asking for his assistance with an event, Formato jumped at the opportunity and never looked back. That same night, the dean hired him on the spot.
As production manager, Formato took on many tasks, including everything from budgeting productions to securing the legal rights and royalties for performances.
“Sometimes I describe it to folks that I’m a plumber,” Formato said. “I just make sure everything flows.”
Formato didn’t shy away from an honest day’s work. He gave the department “150%” — and then some. Every five years, an outside entity conducts an evaluation of the department. They certainly noticed Formato’s fierce work ethic.
“[The evaluators], 25 years ago, told the department that the amount of work I was doing was illegal,” Formato said.
Although an additional production manager was brought on board to alleviate Formato’s workload, he remained tireless in his mission to help young people succeed in the arts.
Formato recalled an instance where three female students were chatting in the hallway about various faculty members. Two professors were thought of as their uncles and one was like a grandfather, they decided. At first, Formato was not mentioned in their conversation.
“So I said, ‘So what am I chopped liver?’” Formato said. “And they say, ‘Oh, no, you’re our dad.’”
This cherished moment in Formato’s extensive career is merely a reflection of his No. 1 priority: his students.
“Very early on in my career, I had a lack of understanding with an administrator, and he thought that I worked for him,” Formato said. “I informed him that I worked for the students.”
Now free from burdensome administration and the heaps of responsibilities placed on a production manager, the world is Formato’s stage. Formato pondered returning to Cradle Beach, a summer camp for disadvantaged children — whether it be financially, socially, physically or developmentally — that he himself attended as a young boy. After being a camper, Formato spent 25 summers at Cradle Beach from 1969 to 1994 as a counselor, supervisor and program director. He is honored there as one of Cradle Beach’s “legends.”
“My theory is if you hang out somewhere for about 25 years, and you’re not a jerk, they give you a plaque,” Formato mused.
In addition to volunteering his time — and maybe adding to his collection of plaques — Formato contemplated returning to musical theatre as a performer.
“I’m just going to keep my eyes and ears open for somebody who needs an old guy in a musical,” Formato said. “Cause I’ve got the old guy part down.”
One particular “old guy” puts a sparkle in Formato’s eye. Accompanied by a beautiful score, Don Quixote sees windmills and thinks that they’re dragons.
“‘To dream the impossible dream’... That’s one of the [lyrics in one of the] songs and I try to live my life that way,” Formato said.
While Formato is off seeing dragons in inanimate objects and chasing the impossible dream, it’s unquestionable that he has left his mark on UB and in turn, UB — mainly his decades of students — has left its mark on him.
“At UB, I got to work in the arts and help young people, and that was beautiful to me,” Formato said. “I’ve only ever done what I love to do.”
Alex Novak is an arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alex Novak is an assistant arts editor at The Spectrum.