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LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA opens for SECOND GENERATION THEATRE, now at Lancaster Opera House, next year at Shea’s Seneca Theatre

A tour guide at the Frank Lloyd Wright Darwin Martin House, a jewel in the crown of Buffalo’s restoration projects, once observed that Buffalo’s lack of economic growth over the last half century had actually been a blessing. It saved many structures from the wrecking ball. In a developer’s-dream sun belt city such as Houston or Atlanta, the property values would have led to tear down and new build of… what? Something shiny, but probably with no link to any past glories. Not so here in Buffalo, a city of immigrants, where we take pride in the generations before us. And so does Second Generation Theater; it’s in their name. They will open their last show LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA in their current “rental” and are about to move into a new permanent home in an old place that was beloved of generations before.

That place? As recently announced by Jake Schneider, the old Shea’s Seneca Theatre in the two-story brick building at the corner of 2178 Seneca and Cazenovia streets will be restored, rehabbed, and slightly repurposed. The 9-million-dollar project headed by Schneider Development Services will feature a banquet facility, interactive retail space, over 20 apartments, and a 130-seat theater, to be the new home of Buffalo’s Second Generation Theatre. (Lead image – photo by Katie Schneider)

The 9-million-dollar project will feature a banquet facility, interactive retail space, over 20 apartments, and a 130-seat theater, to be the new home of Buffalo’s Second Generation Theatre.

Continuing to entertain audiences into the 21st Century would bring a smile to Michael Shea, born in 1859, who grew up in the Old First Ward in the shadow of the grain elevators, and went on to build an astonishing number of Buffalo theaters, three of which, about to be four, are still operating today: The Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda, The North Park on Hertel, the flagship Shea’s Performing Arts Center on Main, and now the Shea’s Seneca Theatre. And that brings a smile to Second Generation Theatre’s Executive Director Kristin Bentley and Artistic Director Kelly Copps.

In a recent conversation Bentley and Copps said that their acting ensemble’s initial inspiration was to honor their parents and their teachers (they are both UB grads) while creating entertainment that would appeal to audiences of their generation, the “second generation,” which today might be described as Generation X or Millennials.

Bentley and Copps describe their acting troupe’s situation not as “homeless” but as “nomadic” as they have pitched their tents at a variety of venues around town. For a while they were at The New Phoenix Theatre at 95 Johnson Park, downtown. A few years ago they began renting The Lancaster Opera House at 21 Central Avenue in Lancaster. This Friday night they will open the romantic musical LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA in Lancaster and it will run through June 18th. And then that’s the last time for SGT in a “rental” space.

So, what’s the new place going to be like? Well, Bentley and Copps describe their new theater as a proscenium modeled roughly after the MusicalFare Theatre in Amherst, NY.

Bentley and Copps describe their new theater as a proscenium modeled roughly after the MusicalFare Theatre in Amherst, NY.

And that’s good news for a number of acting companies who might want to “rent” that new space. Bentley and Copps would never say this, they are far too polite, but frankly it seems to some of us that we have too many “black box” situations in Buffalo. Now, to be sure, as actor Kenneth Haigh is quoted as saying: “You need three things in the theatre – the play, the actors and the audience, and each must give something” but in Buffalo, sometimes the audience gives up a lot in terms of creature comforts. And, so do the actors, although they never complain. Yes “the play’s the thing” but dressing rooms and green rooms and modern lighting and sound equipment are important, too. True, we have Shea’s 710 Theatre (the old Studio Arena) with that great thrust stage, but with 626 seats, it’s just too big for many local groups. So, 130 seats is just about right. Second Generation needs it and so do we all.

And, Shea’s Seneca, like everything else in Buffalo, is about 20 minutes away from wherever you are, but with a difference. There will be ample parking, which is becoming a problem downtown. Yes, it’s a good problem to have, but still….

If you’re heading out to see LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA at the Lancaster Opera House, remember that there is ample parking behind the building and, speaking of old glories, take some time to look around the 1897 structure. On their website, the LOH’s Artistic Director, David Bondrow, writes: “The Lancaster Opera House is a reminder of an early American tradition. In previous centuries, it was not unusual to combine a music hall with a town’s main governmental building. These multi-functional halls were often called “Opera Houses”, whether or not opera was, in fact, performed. The Lancaster Opera House, designed by George J. Metzger, is one of only a few such Town Hall Opera Houses left in the country.

LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA is not, in fact, an “opera,” but it is a charming musical (winner of the 2005 Tony Award for Best Musical Score), with a romantic coming of age story, set in Italy, about a young woman who has suffered a head injury, leaving her “mentally disabled” which is obvious to native speakers of English, but not to the Italians, in particular one handsome young man. To him, she is perfect. Mom has to come to terms with her own marriage and the fact that it’s time to let her little girl grow up.

Opening this Friday, June 2, LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA shows are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through June 18.

The original building on Seneca Street was part of a theater complex built in 1929 by Michael Shea, the same person who built Shea’s downtown and the North Park Theatre on Hertel Avenue. As reported in The Buffalo News, Jake Schneider, with $1.5 million in historic tax credits, will preserve the ornate theater lobby, with its barrel-vaulted ceiling, entryway and foyer. The decorative plaster and other ornamental details – many in a green and copper palette – will be restored to their former glory.

The theater space will open with the regional premiere of Andrew Lippa’s Broadway musical BIG FISH in June, 2018.

For more information, visit www.secondgenerationtheatre.com.

Lead image: Katie Schneider

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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