Working in the Theatre: Curtain Up!

[Music] Curtain Up is an absolutely phenomenal celebration of the opening of the theatre season in the
city of Buffalo. It’s been done for thirty five years and
it has been tremendously successful and usually all of the theaters in downtown Buffalo sell
out. [Music] We have three acts. The first act is where we have a cocktail hour and people get to have a wonderful gourmet dinner. This year it’s on the beautiful Shea Stage. And then after that everybody rushes out to
get to one of the theatre performances that night. And then afterwards, we invite everybody back
downtown for a free street party, which is full of entertainment and fun and excitement. [Music] I think that Curtain Up has been successful in Buffalo for two reasons. One; we’ve earned it. And two; we need it. That it came to this city at a time when we
were at rock bottom and needed a sense of ourselves. There was a strong awareness that this once great city, this city at the end of a canal, had seen better days. [1940s Jazz Music] [Radio Announcer] It may be off the Great White Way, but word spreads fast that Main Street Buffalo is becoming a new theatrical address. I came to the very first Curtain Up. In those days, downtown was desolate, it was
quite bombed out and the city had gotten a grant to build a subway line. This subway that was supposed to revitalize
the city, had the opposite effect. While it was being constructed, it killed
every business along its path. And so downtown, the theatres were in a panic. What to do? No one was coming downtown, Buffalo was losing
population. And so Michael Pietek was the managing director
of Studio Arena Theatre suggested, well, why don’t we do what we do best, an event? Let’s have a party and invite people downtown
to have a party and to remind them that the theatres are still opening and operating. It was very modest. Snow fence, little hand-written signs on cardboard,
balloons that had been blown up by hand; and that was Curtain Up. It started off outside, under tents, and then weather, of course, was always something to
be concerned about. I can remember sitting in a tent with water up to my ankles and saying, “I’m never coming to this event again.” [Laughs] It was held in the center of the theatre district which is actually a giant fountain and they would drain the fountain and put a tent over it and they would hold the formal dinner there. The problem was you could never depend on
the weather so one of the theatres suggested that we consider doing the formal dinner on
the stage at Shea. [Music] Of course that meant that we could not present an event that night. But for us, because we’re in the Broadway
touring business, generally speaking, there is not a lot of product available in early
September anyway. We thought about it and felt that might be
our best contribution. I think something like five hundred people will be seated for dinner tomorrow night. And at the beginning of the theatre season,
I love the idea that we come together and raise a glass and we kick off the season. Everybody is preparing their production and readying it for an opening for an audience. But they’re all doing it in collaboration
with each other and marketing symbiotically and working together so that we’re opening
our individual productions, and we’re trying obviously to market it and to get a box office. But there’s also a bigger picture where
the community comes together, and as well as marketing their own show, we’re marketing
the whole concept of Curtain Up and a thriving, vibrant theatre community. Buffalo’s a special place. Here, the theaters support one another. Twenty two theaters that all do something
different, so no one theater’s going to step on another theater’s toes. So if you can help me, I can help you. Because in most cases, a patron will only
go to see a show once. But now you have twenty one other theaters
to see. [Music] [Chatter] In a way, it’s very practical. If MusicalFare out in Amherst wants to put
on In the Heights, their usual cast, their usual troop, really might not be great for that show. But if they collaborate with [a particular]
theater, they’re going to find the right cast for In the Heights. If that theatre production is in Amherst,
some of the folks who like [that theater] are coming to a different community, but also
the folks in Amherst who are going to MusicalFare are getting exposed to a while different art
form. I know a lot of times, even in this city, years ago people would look at Shea’s and
say we’re the eight hundred pound gorilla and we don’t really care about the small
theatre companies and what they do; we present Broadway and that draws huge audiences so
what do we care about the other theaters? I’ve worked very hard to make sure that,
number one, my staff and the people here at Shea’s, whether it be staff or board, understand
the importance of all the theaters in town, regardless of size. We all are a community and I think the most
important thing is that we understand that. We can look at each other as competitors;
you can accomplish a heck of a lot more when everybody’s working together. This theatre season we have about twenty theatre companies and they range from anything from
doing dramas to classical work, musicals, cabarets, we have comedy sports. And that’s the other thing that is wonderful. If you are a theater-goer, you’re going
to find something that you like. [Music] [Music] [Chatter] We’re opening at Irish Classical Theatre with Sweet Bird of Youth. Usually we open with an American classic. I think the opening show each season has strong
title identity ‘cause that’s kind of the hook that pulls the audience in and then hopefully,
they’ll buy a subscription to the rest of the season. [Chatter] What I love about Buffalo theatre is its diversity, in so many senses of the word. Every once and a while, you’ll get a funder
or you’ll get an elected official who may not be as in tune with what our cultural sector
is offering and they’ll say, wait a minute, twenty theaters, twenty five theaters? That’s too many theaters. I mean, aren’t they all the same? No, they’re not all the same. In fact, no two of them are the same. [Singing and chatter] It’s very easy for me to choose which play I’m going to see on Curtain Up night. My husband is a producer and so I go to his play. And the reason I go to his and not someone
else’s is one; I’m not going to review it and that’s good because the Curtain Up
audience is unpredictable. It’s like New Year’s Eve; a lot of people
who don’t go to the theater ordinarily will go on Curtain Up night. And they will have been to dinner and they
will have had cocktails, so it can be a very rowdy opening night audience. Which, when you are a critic, can be distracting. So Curtain Up is for the fun. The work will resume for me the next day. I’m going to Gentlemen Prefer Divas. A lot of friends are in that, not only actors
who are part of that but a variety of community members so it’s fun to see people become
part of that event. [Singing] [Chatter] We came to see Sweet Bird of Youth and we thought it was just fabulous. Our favorite was when Miss Lucy came out. I agree. I thought she was so sexy and sassy and she
made the part. And I saw it in New York; I think they did
a wonderful job here. I think we’re very lucky in Buffalo. Everyone loves theatre. Look at the buzz! [Music] [Music] Looking through the crowd, I see the crowd very differently from the way another person
might, because I see the theatre people mixed in with the civilians. So I recognize the cast of Urinetown over
there and the people from Gypsy over here and for a lot of people, this is their introduction
to the theatre community. Coming down here and meeting lots of people;
you can meet anybody you want from directors to the mayor tonight. [Music] This party here is something very special, something very unique because we support the
arts more than any community that I’ve ever been in in my life and I’m actually from
Chicago. There’s seven times the amount of theaters
in Chicago but nothing like the experience you’ll get here. [Music] The impact of having Curtain Up and a vibrant theatre district in the city of Buffalo has
been tens of millions of dollars of investment in the city. And during my tenure as mayor in this theater,
in arts and cultural institutions, community centers, we have invested over forty million
dollars. The economic impact of Curtain Up and the
theatre district, to downtown Buffalo and the city of Buffalo has been quite significant. [Music] We know the economic impact of Shea’s to the downtown Buffalo region is in the neighborhood
of sixty five million dollars a year. When we bring people downtown, whether it
be Shea’s or 710 or any of the other theatres; when we bring people downtown, they eat dinner,
they park their cars, if they come from outside the area, they stay at hotels so the economic
impact is pretty powerful. [Music] The first time I came to Curtain Up, I just did the street party. I was a little bit younger and just wanted
to be part of the scene. And then eventually started going to the plays
and now I do the whole thing. And that’s really a cool, unique thing about
this event, is that by midnight, you’ve got people in tuxes and suits and then t-shirts
and jeans all having a good time together celebrating. [Music] Buffalo is coming into a new place and I think the arts community for a long time has been
part of that. Because artists, God bless us, we always see
the positive, we always see the possibilities, we always find the energy to see something
beautiful or the potential in something. [Music] Art in the best sense can be a reflection of the times; and it can also be a distraction
from the times. At times when we were economically disadvantaged,
our cultural organizations and our theaters kept going and kept producing meaningful work
and also kept producing entertaining work. And really brought people through it. I think if there’s anything that other cities could learn from Curtain Up in Buffalo, it
would be the importance of celebrating community itself. To take a moment to celebrate the things that
are good about the place where you are is critically important. We learned that by accident here and it’s
been a terrific thing. I hope it continues forever. [Music]


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