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Torn Space festival draws national performance companies to Buffalo

Since its founding in 2003, Torn Space Theater has sought to bring audiences to the edge of their comfort zones.

The company's productions have sometimes required audiences to traipse through derelict industrial spaces, sometimes wearing dust masks or white handkerchiefs. Its summer series of Silo City performances have become increasingly complex and impressive, sometimes involving helicopters flying overhead on cue, sometimes dousing performers in buckets of blood.

On Aug. 18 and 19, Torn Space's latest site-specific spectacle, "The Gathering," will unfold on a stretch of gravel on the grounds of Silo City, the former industrial complex on the Buffalo River. It is the first of three productions featured in the company's Response Performance Festival, an attempt to connect Buffalo audiences and artists with creators cutting-edge contemporary theater from across the United States.

Company artistic director and co-founder Dan Shanahan said the festival is an attempt to fill in a missing piece of Buffalo's theater scene: the opportunity to see top-notch avant garde work from outside the region.

"In the Albright-Knox ... you can see the work that is being created right now and you can engage with it in an immediate way. But there's no one doing it in this area as far as theater," Shanahan said. "For instance, 'The Fever' plays in New York and you can go to the Salzburg Festival to see it, but you can't go to Pittsburgh to see this and you can't go to Cleveland to see this."

Here's a look at the three-part festival.

"The Gathering," Aug. 18 to 19, Silo City (21 Childs St.)

For the past several summers, Torn Space has transformed the post-industrial ruins of Silo City into a series of immersive theater experiences. Its site-specific productions evade easy classification, but they all deal in some way with public rituals. This year's show incorporates large pieces of construction equipment, a heavy dose of audience participation and the entire Lancaster High School marching band and color guard.

"Bastard," Aug. 19 to 20, Torn Space Theatre (612 Fillmore Ave.)

This dance-based piece by the New York City-based Palissimo Company is based on Jerzy Kosinski’s novel "The Painted Bird." It features Slovak dancer Jaro Viňarský along with 30 local performers recruited by Ujima Theatre. It will be set to a live score.

"The Fever," Sept. 15 to 16, Torn Space Theatre

A rumination on personal responsibility at a time of crisis, this piece by the buzz-worthy New York City-based troupe 600 Highwaymen incorporates audiences as essential participants in the action. "The way in which they developed this piece and how it incorporates the audience into the construction of the piece is really remarkable," Shanahan said. "What happen is, you slowly become part of this collective ritual with other audience members and it's done in such an honest and direct way, it's nothing that I've ever experienced."


Theater Preview

Torn Space Theatre's Response Performance Festival runs Aug. 18-21 at Silo City (21 Childs St.) and Torn Space Theater (612 Fillmore Ave.). Tickets are $15 to $25. Call 812-5733 or visit

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