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The View from Paris #1: How Stupid Is Your Daily Paper?

Last Sunday, I traveled to Paris, France. On Monday, thinking I should check on things back home I perused a few local Buffalo Web sites, including, where an article about the Buffalo theater community caught my attention. It was from Sunday, March 16, written by Colin Dabkowski, and titled “How much is too much?”

Colin, a former Artvoice intern and now a staff writer for the Buffalo News, is generally a fine writer. However, one has to wonder about the point of this particular article. The basic thrust of the piece was a suggestion that there are too many theaters in Buffalo and that’s why they’re struggling to fill seats. After citing a few well-worn facts like population flight and a downturn in the economy, Colin writes:

“Yet, in flagrant opposition to logic and mathematics, Western New York is home to more than 20 professional or semiprofessional theater companies, all of which produce work regularly.”

Really? Let’s apply some logic and mathematics elsewhere. There are approximately 70 movie screens in the Buffalo area. In today’s (Wednesday, March 19) listing on Yahoo there were 326 screenings of various films. That’s 35,697,000 screenings a year. Is it any wonder that oftentimes when I go to see a film that I am one of about five or six people in the audience? Where is the Buffalo News article asking, “Are there too many movie theaters in Buffalo?”

There are over 1,400 restaurants in Buffalo and over 2,000 restaurants when you throw in the suburbs. Restaurants close and go out of business continually. Where is the Buffalo News article asking, “Are there too many restaurants in Buffalo?”

The article goes on to print such nuggets of wisdom as a quote by Kavinoky executive director David Lamb: “If the Kavinoky were the only theater in town and we were the only ones producing, I don’t think we would have a problem filling our seats.”

Gee, if I had the only restaurant in town I wouldn’t have a problem selling hamburgers either. What is this crap?

In another flash of brilliance the article notes that a majority of people in the area who have attended a theater performance went to Shea’s. Well, let’s see, Shea’s seats 3,165 people and Buffalo United Artists, for example, seats about 75 people. For BUA to host a “majority” of people who went to theater they would had to have sold out over 5,000 nights in a single year, an obvious impossibility in 365 days. Yet the Buffalo News points to this as some kind of failing among theater companies.

Why is the Buffalo News selectively publishing such a terribly negative view of our theater community? Hey, Stan Lipsey (Buffalo News publisher), I have an idea. Instead of making Colin write this ridiculous story why don’t you give the theater community a whole lot of free advertising? Has anyone noticed how many times you don’t see Buffalo United Artists, Kavinoky, Irish Classical, MusicalFare, etc., running big colorful ads in the Buffalo News like, say, a Hollywood movie does? Has anyone noticed how many times you don’t see any television advertising for the new production of Shakespeare in the Park? How often do you hear Vincent O’Neill pitching the latest offering from the Irish on any radio station? Do you think that might have something to do with the problem?

Artvoice once did a “man on the street” question about local theaters and the first respondent said, “We have theaters in Buffalo?”

There is no question that some theaters have problems. Studio Arena, for example, was run by a board…oh, I better not go there…we don’t have time. Let me say, however, many theaters do very well and consistently have great houses, good shows, and are financially stable, like BUA, Irish Classical, MusicalFare, Mary Kate O’Connell’s Cabaret-in-the-Square and so on. So just because Studio Arena has had a disastrous year, and one long overdue, we needn’t paint the whole town black.

  • Kathleen Betsko Yale

    Jamie, I couldn’t agree with you more. On the very day of a recent panel discussion (the purpose of which one presumes was to discuss theatre district matters), this news was sent out by the ever-vigilant Darleen Pickering Hummert. She had just read the announcement in the Buffalo News. The event was to take place in that evening. No lead time, no word from the Arts Council (who may not have known,either), no time at all to plan attendance. The artistic directors were on a panel talking to each other about the future of Buffalo theatre. Unfortunately, most theatre people were not informed or invited.
    Here is Dar’s hurried note to the theatre community culled from The News.

    state of live theater in Buffalo

    Updated: 03/10/08 Monday


    A panel discussion on the state of live theater in Buffalo will be held at
    7 p.m. today in Wick Center at Daemen College, 4380 Main St., Snyder.

    Randall Kramer of MusicalFare Theatre, Vincent O’Neill of Irish Classical Theatre, Saul Elkin of Shakespeare in Delaware Park and Paulette Harris of Paul Robeson Theatre will debate live theater’s place in Western New York, rising costs versus diminishing funds and whether there are too many stages, among other topics.

    The event will be free and open to the public.

    Call 839-8372 for information.

    TO: Darleen Pickering Hummert
    Dar, thanks for making this announcement. It comes too late for me to a damn thing thing about it. Of course, that’s not your fault,but what is up with these artistic directors? Same day notice? Not even that! I probably would never have known, if you hadn’t read the News! It’s outrageous! Every actor in town should be there. It’s our livelihoods that are involved. Who is going to be in the audience? Don’t they think the actors have any stake in this, or any opinions? Debate with whom? Is it purely an academic event to them? Or what amounts to a business meeting? I’m a member of the Arts Council, I received no announcement. However, I wonder if the AC knew— they can only inform of us of what they’ve been told about. It really pisses me off.
    I think there is too much corporate thinking afoot in the theatre community. “Bottom Line” thinking. “Board room” thinking, the same sort of thinking that wants to close neighborhood libraries and cattle-drive readers to one mega-facility: Why keep the lights and heat on in all these little theatres with less than 20 people in the audience, when you could just herd them all over to Shea’s for a good show when the wrinklies feel the urge for live theatre. Then those dwindling discretionary entertainment dollars could be funneled into the casino perhaps? I may be reaching, but something insidious is eating away at our theatre district. Everyone, including the theatre community, is quick to blame the “business model” of several theatres that have stumbled of late, when we should be asking how the hell we can come together and help. Studio Arena not only stumbled, but broke every bone its body. In my bleak opinion, it is only one of the dominoes about to fall as we slowly change from a town known for its live theatre to a town known for its gambling. Today someone else’s theatre, tomorrow yours. Perhaps unknown to our theatre CEOs out lunching with the corporations, groveling for badly needed funds, those corporations may well be dining on the theatre community as “the money men” guide our wonderful theatres to corporate “business models” that have financial bottom lines in mind, not art.
    One thing our theatres can do is reduce the seat prices. Ask any restauranteur–better to have 40 rear ends in the seats at 20 bucks a seat,than 20 rear-ends at $40. Most non-theatre people I talk to can’t afford to go to see live plays anymore. Let’s have another “theatre debate” and this time invite the entire community of theatre creators and theatre-goers with plenty of time to get it on everyone’s calendar.
    Kathleen Betsko Yale
    (actor/writer/Artie Awards committee member)