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“Virtual Theater” Alleyway-style continues this September and makes Buffalo look good.

It ain’t live theater, it’s more like film shorts, but for entertainment value, it’s worth what you choose to pay (see below).  CURRENTS: 716 is the opening offer of this truncated 2020-2021 season from The Alleyway Theater.  With special support from the Golden and Goldman Philanthropic Fund, The Alleyway commissioned fifteen local playwrights to create mostly solo performance pieces, a few with two actors, and then had them filmed by Full Circle Studios on location at sites around Buffalo.  They weren’t, but they could have been, co-produced by Visit Buffalo Niagara because they make the Queen City on the Great Lakes look, well…regal!

I couldn’t watch on “opening night” but chose the following afternoon, and what I saw was exactly what the Alleyway website promised: a combination of short sketches, broken up by some monologues, poetry, American Sign Language, and dance. And, as promised, some had extensive production, some were just “point and shoot” and for almost two hours (you can pause to create your own intermission) I dropped in on the lives and concerns of various fictional Buffalonians during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am so glad that I did.

So, every theater that has watch-at-home performances this fall has a slightly different approach for their virtual offerings and here’s how it works at The Alleyway. First, you MUST choose which day and time you want to watch the production. It’s not continuously “on demand” as with many venues. CURRENTS:716 runs through September 26, 2020, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. with Saturday matinees at 2:00 p.m. Then, choose your ticket price based on what you can afford and how generous you can afford to be. Ticket prices range from $88 to $5 (see below) and ticket sales close one hour prior to showtime.

So, you can be a “Headlining Donor” for $88 which includes a $50 tax deductible donation, helping Alleyway to continue doing what they do, which is create new, exciting theatrical works. It’s kind of their thing. So be generous.

You can “Share the Experience” for $60 which gets one ticket for you plus The Alleyway asks you to consider who else may be watching with you at home or you might consider it helping to subsidize their $5 Pandemic Pandemonium Pricing (see below).

A “General Admission” ticket costs the typical/normal/in-person/sit down and turn your cell phone off price (remember what “normal” meant?) of $38

Then there’s the alliterative (if you’re really a student you should know what that word means) “Standard Student” price of $20, which is their regular in-person price for high school and college students. They say: “Even though we can’t bring you into our building, we hope you’ll continue to support our fully-produced digital theatre at the same level you would in person.” And guess what kids. You don’t have to turn your cell phone off.

And, finally, (or did you just scroll down to see this) the equally alliterative “Pandemonium Pandemonium Price” of $5 because the Alleyway believes that theater should be for everyone. Especially now. And they emphasize that “If you have a financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, or just need a discount, we invite you to see our work at this special price. You can pick this price. It’s totally okay.”

So, on the day of the show, about one hour before the performance, you will receive an email with a special password.  And then…. at the time of the show, log in with your password!  It’s that easy.

Once you log in, you’ll also see a button to join the AUDIENCE ARMCHAIR event. Depending on which date you choose, it will be a live discussion on Zoom either before or after the show with select artists who worked on the production. You’re invited to join them for free for these special events. Last Saturday it was Zoom session with Executive Artistic Director Chris Handley, Managing Director Robyn Lee Horn, and actor Peter Palmisano who is featured in the last piece, playwright Donna Hoke’s THE SAME NEW STORY. They talked about the order of the pieces in the show, how the actors were great collaborators who had good suggestions, and, in answer to my question “What do you call all this?” the answer was, after a bit of discussion, “Virtual Theater.”

I’m not going to give any spoilers, but I will offer a few comments as I list, in order, what you’ll see. And again, during the streaming, you can pause to make more popcorn.

  • THE BOX by Lisa Vitrano choreographed by and featuring LauRen Alaimo is a dance and spoken word recollection of a dream culminating with eating a bowl of (Cheerios? I really want them to be Cheerios made here in Buffalo) in the comfort and safety of a box. It’s first in the order because it begins on the Alleyway stage and sort of sets the tone of what the two hours are all about.
  • OUTSIDE AGITATORS by Jeff Z. Klein featuring Todd Benzin is hilarious as we meet the overworked “organizer” who dispatches all the “outside agitators” that are rumored by our President to be behind all the current social unrest. You’ll never hear the expression “outside agitators” again without thinking of this comedy.
  • CLOSE UP by Rosa Fernandez featuring Rachel Henderson (young, black, female) with Steve Jakiel (older, white, male) has two characters meeting at the Central Terminal (the old train station on Paderewski Drive, a Buffalo icon) and overcoming some of their barriers. Very timely.
  • WHAT SHE REMEMBERS ON A WALK by Gary Earl Ross featuring Mary Craig (whose character is suffering from dementia) being taken out for a walk from a care facility (in a wheelchair) by Ember Tate.  Bittersweet.
  • ACROSS THE RIVER by Bella Poynton featuring Melinda Capeles explores the heartache of couples separated by the COVID-19 travel restrictions as Capeles’ character gazes across the Niagara River near the Peace Bridge.
  • SIGNS OF THE DIVINE by Luane Davis Haggerty choreographed by and featuring Antonietta Alfano expressing herself with dance and ASL and with small, non-speaking parts played by Anna Krempholtz and Rev. Matt Lincoln.
  • BLACK NIKES by Ed. Taylor featuring Johnny Rowe takes us inside an Uber driver’s car as through the window we get an engaging tour of Buffalo. Would that all Uber drivers were as entertaining in their monologues.
  • WHAT MOVES AT THE BOTTOM by Maria Brandt featuring Sue McCormack should strike a chord with everyone (all of us) who has, through anger, shifted personal allegiances and then later regretted it deeply.
  • ON THE WINGS OF LOVE by Winifred Storms featuring Alexandria Watts is flat out hilarious. It’s a one lockdown/stationary camera shoot of Ms. Watts on a dating-site first date putting it all out there as she sits across from us (we are the date) and tucks into a bowl of Anchor Bar wings.  (Make sure that you have your own favorite wing spot on speed dial.)
  • MONOLOGUE #6 by Mark Humphrey featuring Greg Howze shows us a Roswell Park doctor who is black recount a micro-aggression with a white patient and her friends. But he gets in a little micro- revenge himself.  Masterful acting. Really fine.
The image is of actors L-R Dave Marciniak and Rolando Gomez as “Padon” and “Parsifal.”
  • WASTE TO WEALTH ON THE WATERWAYS OF WESTERN NEW YORK… OR PADON TELLS PARSIFAL HOW TO SAVE THE PLANET by Fred Harold Jensen featuring Rolando Gomez and David Marciniak.  My understanding is that Padon is one of the Patriarchs mentioned in the Hebrew Bible whose name means Redemption.  That could mean to redeem as in “save the planet” with connotations of redeeming your empty beverage containers for a nickel. Parsifal was a Knight of the Round Table who was on a quest for the Holy Grail with the connotation these days of being a long-sought solution to a problem.  Either way, the two, in costume, stand over the Buffalo River and talk about making money by recycling garbage.
  • ALMOST APRIL by Jennifer Tromble featuring Pamela Rose Mangus was the darkest, scariest, most theatrical of all the offerings and the one that has stayed with me the longest.  I won’t say any more other than Ms. Mangus is really one helluvan actress.
  • FACTS created and performed by dancer Naila Ansari while Marquis Ten Thousand Burton delivers an acapella rap about facts, non-facts, alternative facts and all sorts of other concerns in these troubled times.
  • THE SAME NEW STORY by Donna Hoke featuring Peter Palmisano as a news anchor has echoes of “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” from the 1975 film classic “Network.”

So those are the fifteen. In conclusion, because this isn’t “real” theater, it’s what we’re going to call “virtual theater,” I’m not going to give it any reviewer’s “Buffalos” (the equivalent of stars here at Buffalo Rising) but I will say that given that you can set your own price, you’d be a fool to miss it! Just remember, you can’t sign up and then watch anytime “on demand.” You have to pick a day and time and then tune in.  I would also encourage you to join the Zoom sessions if and when they are offered.

I also want to give a huge round of applause to The Alleyway for featuring so many black writers, actors, and actresses.  It’s a great way to kick off the new season.

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), 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?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

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

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 was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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