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EC200 | When The World Shuffled Off to Buffalo – The Rich History of WNY Theatre

On April 2, 2021, Erie County celebrated its bicentennial anniversary, kicking off a year of celebration. This significant milestone is an opportunity for the community to reflect on the history, stories, and legacies of the many men and women who came before us.

With each passing moment, history is being made.

Rather big or small, each moment in life is a momentous grand salute to the infinite unknown. It takes true patience and dedication to compile all of these moments into something that is tangible for generations to look back on and admire in awe of what their great ancestors before them did. For Peter Palmisano, it seems that this is exactly what he was made to do. During the months of darkness in 2020, most of us were using free time to twiddle our thumbs in anxious anticipation of some sort of good news. It was there, in those bleak moments of despair, that Peter Palmisano was hard at work on an idea posed to him by the team at Road Less Traveled Theater. The mission, you ask? A new podcast known as OFF ROAD. What started off as a seemingly impossible venture, has now turned into something that could change the scope of our city’s history for years to come.

Palmisano is no stranger to the world of arts. From his long and extensive background in the theatre industry to his grand and arguably his most reputable “performance” as a High School English teacher of 32 years, he is a man of many talents with a zeal for life that can even be seen over a zoom call. While character shaping and grading final papers may have been the theme of most of his life, destiny has now called him into the world of podcasting. With the idea posed by the theater’s artistic/executive director, Scott Behrend and managing director, Gina Gandolfo, this trio has already proved to be unstoppable.

OFF ROAD isn’t just for theater buffs- it also takes listeners through a journey of the Queen City at large with appearances from members of the history museum, the botanical gardens and even BPO director JoAnn Falletta.

“During a meeting Scott asked me, ‘Do you want to do something about the history of Buffalo theater?’ And I thought, ‘Oh my God, yes!’ I think it’s a story that needs to be told because we have 10 or 12 different theater buildings and really 20 different theater companies that operate out of those buildings. There’s no way a population, our size, a blue collar population that supports sports as well as they do can also support live theater.”

Whether most of us know it or not, Buffalo’s history greatly mirrors the history of our city’s theater industry. For over 200 years the theater district has stirred economic growth while also telling the tale of beating all odds and rising still with unrequited passion.

“And I said, ‘wait a second!’ I went up to my browser to an article I had saved from Ron Ehmke, a Buffalo writer and performer, 10 years ago- a timeline of Buffalo theater. It went from 1815 to 2010 and it hit all of the big things, but there was a lot of stuff missing. So I printed it out and I started adding to it from my own memory about things and from stories that I had heard about theaters that existed and don’t exist anymore- this timeline is now 18 pages long.”

Through careful planning and weeks of extensive research, Peter has successfully compiled eight OFF ROAD episodes discussing Buffalo’s theater history including talks with people like Irish Classical Theatre founder, Vincent O’Neill, and Kavinoky founder, David Lamb.

“I did a lot of research and I came up with this plan- people who were in on this when the theater district started to blossom in the late sixties and early seventies, are still alive and I wanted to record their voices! What would it be like if when I get to different dates on the timeline that I have actually inserted someone’s voice, where they talk about how it all began! And that’s what I ended up doing. I ended up calling people and I guess it’s not surprising, but I was surprised so many of these people said, yes!”

With the help of an innumerable number of people in the Buffalo community, Peter has compiled almost 200 audio clips and an 18 page living timeline to accompany the podcast that features insight from multiple experts in Buffalo history.

Although he has no aspirations of becoming the next Conan O’Brien, Palmisano does however, have high hopes. “ I want this to be preserved forever. I don’t know how it’s going to be preserved, but I want the 18 page document, which is constantly under revision, to be finalized at a certain point and I want it to be available. I want someone like you to be able to go to that document and to be able to not just see it, but I would like you to be able to click on a quote and it’ll take you right to the audio. I would like it to be made forever available to everyone.”

Stay up to date on upcoming shows with Road Less Traveled Productions on their website and to be reminded just how much our city has to offer listen to OFF ROAD with Peter Palmisano.

Featured photos are from Peter’s Pinterest board of Buffalo’s Theatre History.

Written by Liberty Darr

Liberty Darr

I am a Buffalo State student studying journalism. I love writing, art, and meeting new people. When I’m not at school or work I enjoy reading/writing poetry and watching documentaries. My favorite dynamic duo is investigative journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. I’ve been a resident of Buffalo for quite some time and I still fall in love with something new about this city everyday.

View All Articles by Liberty Darr
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