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.
What does Buffalo mean to you? Some see it as albatross, an insurmountable barrier to their dreams. Some as a land of opportunity, where with enough energy and determination you can make anything happen. To others it’s the paradox of home—comfortable and known, sometimes frustrating and stifling. In “On the Eastern Shores of Lake Erie”, the third piece in Road Less Traveled Production’s Buffalo Rises, playwright Justin Karcher dramatizes the conflicting perceptions of his hometown, and how these perceptions change with time and desire.
Karcher, in his violent, poetic language, speaks to and about a generation of lost souls, newly minted adults who have yet to figure it all out. The plight of many Millennials is captured in recent monikers such as the Peter Pan Generation or the Boomerang Generation. Practical considerations of a struggling economy, high student loan debt, and chronic unemployment and underemployment compound generational struggles with adulthood and direction. Job, marriage and children, traditional markers of a “growing up” have been delayed, leaving some left questioning in this period of extended adolescence.
Two Millennials and lifelong friends balance on this precipice of adulthood in “On the Eastern Shores of Lake Erie”. Wrapped up in this debate—and complicating the transition—is the question of what Buffalo means to them. Is it their future or only a past? Is it a dream or a nightmare? Do they stay, or do they go? Can you make the dream happen in a city on the rise, or starve in the rusty shackles of a post-industrial wasteland? Their mundane struggles are juxtaposed with the heightened style that Karcher frequently employs—the language of an over-educated, underused generation. His words, rhythm and imagery are musical and poetic while simultaneously being dark, humorous and puzzling. And yet, his characters speak of a Buffalo that is familiar, particularly to the artists, the wanderers and the misbegotten.
A native of Buffalo’s Lower West Side who turned to literature, art and writing for solace, Karcher is familiar with the dreams and disillusions of a his generation, the struggles of an artist, and the emotional tug of war with Buffalo. As Karcher says of himself, “He was infected at an early age with loneliness and sadness of the American variety and was thus propelled into poetry, alcohol, sex and theatre. He will continue to document and interpret the strange American experience of today.” And yet while his original work speaks of the disaffected and tormented, Karcher himself is part of a young, active arts culture in Buffalo. It’s a growing crowd who are making opportunities, and infusing the arts scene with a fresh perspective and intent. As co-founder of Theater Jugend, Karcher creates material that targets younger and atypical theater audiences by utilizing pop culture and cult works adapted for stage. As a playwright, Karcher’s new works and adaptations have frequented the Buffalo theater scene. His strength and affinity for reimagining classic works such as Brahms Stoker’s Dracula and George Orwell’s Animal Farm reflect his affinity for literature and his Master’s Degree in English. Occupy Animal Farm was produced by Subversive Theater in 2011, and in 2012 his collaborative musical The Dead English premiered. Always churning out new work, Karcher has been part o RLTP’s New Play Workshop several times, and directed several of his plays in various venues throughout Western New York.
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 #2 – Good Neighbors: Caitlin McAneny
see buffalo rises #1 – The Man Who Saved the President, Almost by Gary Earl Ross