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.
Veteran writer and playwright Gary Earl Ross opens the evening with his historical portrait, “The Man Who Saved the President, Almost”. Set in the aftermath of President McKinley’s assassination at the Pan Am Exposition, this peek into Buffalo’s past captures both the highs and lows of its potential and reality.
In 1901 Buffalo was at on top of the world. She was a city of 300,000 people—more than we have now—with railroads and waterways pumping industry, profit and a growing population into her center. For six months that year, the world flocked to the “City of Light”. Over eight million people passed through the gates to experience the Midway attractions, to see the scientific advancements, and the catch the electric lights blazing over the city. And in early September of that year, thousands flocked to see President McKinley as he visited the fair grounds. A young anarchist named Leon Czolgosz and an African American waiter named James Benjamin Parker were two of the many who stood in line to shake the President’s hand at the Temple of Music on September 6th—but for very different reasons. That afternoon Czolgosz shot the President twice before Parker tackled him in an attempt to save the President. McKinley died from his wounds on September 13, 1901. Within twelve days Czolgosz was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to execution.
It’s hard to forget a past like this—a moment when Buffalo held the world’s attention, first for its grandeur and then for its tragedy. Today you can drive down Fordham Drive in Buffalo and see the marker commemorating the spot where McKinley was shot. At the Buffalo History Museum you can see the gun Czolgosz fired. We have McKinley High School, McKinley Parkway, McKinley Mall all in remembrance of our 25th president.
But what of James Benjamin Parker? What of the man who risked his life to save the President? Gary Earl Ross seeks to answer these questions in his piece “The Man Who Saved the President, Almost?”—an imaginative musing based on historical fact, which he adapted from his novel Blackbird Rising.
Ross is a consummate writer whose talents extend to novels, short stories, public radio essays, plays, poetry and scholarship. A lively imagination and thirst for knowledge has kept him writing feverishly since the age of 10. Writing whenever he can—mornings, evenings, lunches, between his full and steady teaching schedule—Ross produced two short story collections ( The Wheel of Desire and Shimmerville), seven plays including Picture Perfect (2007 selection of the Tennessee New Play Festival), Murder Squared, Sleepwalker, The Scavenger’s Daughter, Matter of Intent (winner of the 2005 Best Play Edgar Award for Mystery Writers of America, and a 2009 selection of the NAAA Festival in London), The Mark of Cain (2013 selection of the Playwright’s Platform Showcase in Oregon), and the novel Blackbird Rising. His work has made waves in Buffalo, across the country and abroad, with productions of his plays performed as far away as Shanghai and London.
This prolific writing career, fueled by intense curiosity, questioning and observation, grew in tandem with a successful educational career. After forty years as an honored educator, Ross retired from his professorship of Language Arts at UB’S Center for Educational Opportunity. Two full time roles—writer and educator—each stimulated and inspired the other. “As a teacher, I try to give voice to the voiceless. As a writer, I try to intrigue, inform, and entertain.” In “The Man Who Saved the President, Almost”, you see a meeting of these two intents, as Ross’ insightful look at moment of Buffalo history man brings to life a man who lost his voice as quickly as it was given to him. Gary Earl Ross is a member of the Dramatist Guild of America, the Just Buffalo Literary Center, Mystery Writers of America, and is resident playwright at Ujima Theater Company.
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.