WHEN WILLIAM Shakespeare wrote one of his best-known tragedies, he never thought that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth would die in a Cold War bomb shelter.
But the never-used shelter, which extends from the basement to beneath the forecourt of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, soon will be transformed into a stage for Shakespeare's "Macbeth."
Buffalo's Theater of Youth company will capitalize on the shelter's dark, dank qualities to lend atmosphere to its upcoming production of the 17th century play about ambition and death in the 11th century Scottish monarchy.
"We've got a perfect little dungeon for them down there," Library Director Donald H. Cloudsley joked about the cavernous shelter.
TOY Marketing Director Meg Quinn said the space caught the eye of the company's artistic director, and soon talks with the county were under way.
"(The shelter) fit her ideas about the show and opened up a lot of possibilities we wouldn't have at our Franklin Street theater," Ms. Quinn said.
Richard M. Tobe, county commissioner of environment and planning, said the idea of staging the play in the former bomb shelter made immediate sense to him. He said he saw a production of "Macbeth" in London a few years ago and the gray, dreary set used by the Royal Shakespeare Company is surprisingly similar to the library basement.
"It really shocked me when we got the request from TOY and I went over to take a look at the shelter. The similarities are incredible to what I saw on stage in London. It's a perfect match," Tobe said.
The large underground room was designed as a storage space when the downtown library was built in 1962, but was soon designated as a potential bomb shelter by federal Civil Defense officials as edgy relations between the United States and the Soviet Union continued through the 1960s. Tobe said containers of water and food were sitting in the storage room-turned-shelter as recently as 1988.
The company is looking to transform about 6,000 square feet of the nearly 12,000-square-foot area into production and audience space. The show is to run March 13 through April 7, with daytime performances for school groups and weekend evening performances for the general public.
"We're finalizing some details with sponsors that will make this happen, but we've received great cooperation from the county and ADF Construction Corp. to get the room ready for us," Ms. Quinn added.
The Erie County Legislature is expected to vote on Thursday to give the theater group permission to use the shelter, and to approve $2,000 in cleaning, painting and installation of smoke detectors by county public works crews to improve the dirty, musty cellar. ADF Construction has volunteered to make close to $3,000 in repairs and improvements.
Cloudsley said he was excited about playing host to the theater group.
"To my knowledge, it's never been used for anything other than to store drinking water and candy in case we needed to use the bomb shelter. It's not a pretty place, but it's perfect for 'Macbeth,' " he said.
The theater company, which will join forces with the county for the run of "Macbeth," will be involved with the City of Buffalo on a long-term basis when it moves into the soon-to-be-renovated Allendale Theater. TOY officials reached a compromise with the Buffalo Common Council and the Allentown Association last summer on a five-year contract to manage and operate the historic theater.
The troupe's current headquarters is at 282 Franklin St.