This year marks Road Less Traveled Productions Tenth Anniversary Season, and to celebrate they are presenting a special Curtain Up show, Buffalo Rises, featuring Western New York’s exceptional talent in playwriting, performance and fine art. RLTP asked eight WNY playwrights to tell Buffalo’s story through their eyes and imaginations. The result is Buffalo Rises—a collection of eight short plays, accompanied by original artwork by local artists, that recall our city’s history, humor and hope. In one night we are taken on Buffalo’s rollercoaster history as seen from the highs of the 1901 Pan American Exposition, the lows of post-industrial decay and all that’s in between. Over the next few weeks Road Less Traveled Productions, generously sponsored by Buffalo Rising, will present an eight part series taking a look into the plays and playwrights that make Buffalo Rises.
“We jus’ tired a bein’ lied to, that’s all.” “They gonna catch much hell if they don’t do sumpin now.”
These statements were gathered from residents of Buffalo’s East Side who, for five days in June of 1967, rattled the city with a series of disturbances and riots. Tension, violence, and unrest permeated Buffalo as complaints mounted from the city’s growing African American population. Living in substandard housing, working for meager wages with no job advancement or unemployed, their frustration and anger rose to a boiling point. In “Mad Dogs”, part of Road Less Traveled Production’s Buffalo Rises, acclaimed playwright Ibn Shabazz takes a snapshot of this moment in Buffalo history, showing us our past and how it’s reflecting in our present.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s—America was burning with riots, demonstrations and unrest nationwide, and Buffalo was not immune. On a Tuesday afternoon in late June, groups of teenagers cruising William Street and Jefferson Ave on Buffalo’s East Side began smashing car and store windows. By nightfall 150 police officers, equipped in riot gear, were sent in to quell the disturbances. Yet the following evening that number jumped to more than 400 policemen distributed into the bristling neighborhood. Police Commissioner Felicetta, in a later report, testified that over the course of the disturbance 242 adults and 17 juvenile offenders were arrested, and property damage was estimated at about $151,000 due to looting and fire.
What sparked the riots? Tensions had been mounting, but what was it about that summer night? A flier distributed on June 29th by the Youth Against War and Fascism Group asserted, “The Black community of Buffalo is rebelling against the same inhuman conditions that have already caused rebellions in most major cities in the United States…The Black masses – especially the youth – in the city of Buffalo have long faced conditions such as joblessness, ghetto housing, police repression, high rents, lack of recreational facilities, inferior education, teachers and school buildings. The Black youth in particular – who are in the vanguard of the struggle – face a completely hopeless situation…it is an accumulation of these grievances – and not “hoodlumism” as the press and city officials have been quick to shout – that makes a rebellion…” Sick of empty promises, feeling powerless, and needing change, the Buffalo Riots called for communication and action. Mayer Frank Sedita met with many community leaders to seek a solution, and yet even with the demands firmly planted, change would be slow in coming to fruition.
“Mad Dogs” captures in tangible imagery and studious detail the energy of that chapter in Buffalo History. Shabazz’s story is historical, yet the cries for change and movement ring with contemporary truth. He fills his piece with dynamic characters, including the real life Office Kirkland and Mad Dog gang, as well as an imaginary encounter that ties together the past struggle with the present. It’s a glimpse into the complicated whose scars are still seen on Buffalo today.
Shabazz, playwright, actor and director, began writing at the age 15, producing a teleplay Where’s the Money? that was filmed by the Langston Hughes Institute’s Inner City Television Workshop. He went on to work as an actor, director and stage manager with UB Department of Theatre, Spelman College, the Alliance Theatre Company, Theatre Charlotte, and Shakespeare in Delaware Park. Having published short stories and produced several one act plays, he premiered his first full length play at RLTP in 2011. Insidious won the 2011 Artie Award for Outstanding New Play before going on to a successful run at the St. Louis Black Repertory Company. It is currently slated for off-Broadway next season at Woodie King Jr’s New Federal Theatre. Other credits include directing Crumbs from the Table of Joy and The Bluest Eye at The Paul Robeson Theatre, and performing in Dutchman (Clay) and The Piano Lesson (Boy Willie). Shabazz is part of the Road Less Traveled Productions Ensemble.
Buffalo Rises, directed by Scott Behrend, premieres September 13, 2013 at Road Less Traveled Productions theater inside Market Arcade Film & Arts Center on Main Street in Buffalo. Shows are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2pm (with the exception of Friday, September 20th at 8pm for Curtain Up!). Tickets are $33 for Adults, $15 for students. For more information and to purchase tickets visit www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org.
See Buffalo Rises #3 – On the Eastern Shores of Lake Erie by Justin Karcher
see buffalo rises #2 – Good Neighbors: Caitlin McAneny
see buffalo rises #1 – The Man Who Saved the President, Almost by Gary Earl Ross