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Sabres give boost to prospects for a vibrant Theatre Alliance here

The Theatre Alliance of Buffalo is out to prove there is strength in numbers -- and in finding common cause.

The alliance, consisting of 17 producing companies plus Shea's Performing Arts Center, enters the current theater season -- its fifth -- with a rising profile and plans to attract new audiences with a timely assist from the Buffalo Sabres.

The theater organization aspires to be "a major ingredient -- not just the icing on the cake" of the collective success achieved by its member stages, said Constance McEwen Caldwell, the alliance's first communications and community relations director.

An actor who has worked on the staffs of Studio Arena Theatre and Irish Classical Theatre, Caldwell was hired under a three-year, $80,000 grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation to take steps to "grow, stabilize and raise public awareness" of the area's small but thriving stages.

The foundation "has followed and encouraged the cooperative work of the theaters, and we are very happy they have progressed to this point," said Robert D. Gioia, Oishei Foundation president. In what may be a ground-breaking collaboration between sports and culture, the Sabres are providing office space for the Theatre Alliance in HSBC Arena as well as software to develop a Web site. In addition, the hockey club will give the theater group access to Sabres Insider subscribers for online ticket and special events promotions.

The Sabres want to help "build an infrastructure" that will help smaller playhouses get the word out about their productions and other programs, said Rob Kopacz, marketing director.

Progressive Direct Marketing has provided another database of thousands of potential ticket buyers, Caldwell said.

The Oishei grant, a recent $10,000 award from the New York State Council on the Arts and Caldwell's appointment represent "a watershed moment" for live theater in Buffalo, said Randall Kramer, alliance president.

They will "catapult the theater community into the very core" of Western New York life, he predicted.

Once the alliance Web site is up, it will offer patrons and potential patrons "one-stop shopping" for tickets to any performance, Caldwell said. "That will eventually increase overall sales" of alliance members, she added.

The emergence of smaller stages accompanies a "paradigm shift" in local theater caused by the demise of Studio Arena, Western New York's resident theater, Caldwell pointed out.

It shows that Buffalo remains a vital theater community whose companies, collectively, are "a regional asset," she said. Because they are smaller, with varied and less-costly programming, "people can support all of them."

Though the season is just getting under way, several companies -- among them Irish Classical Theatre, MusicalFare and Road Less Traveled -- already have registered double-digit subscription increases, she said.

In addition to Shea's, other alliance members are Alleyway, American Repertory, Buffalo United Artists, Jewish Repertory, Kaleidoscope, Kavinoky, New Phoenix, O'Connell & Company, Paul Robeson, Playhouse of the American Classics, Shakespeare in Delaware Park, Theatre of Youth, Theatre Plus and Ujima.


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