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Another Voice: All of Buffalo's theater companies are valuable

By Richard Lambert

In Saturday’s Buffalo News, on the front page of the Life and Arts section, writer Colin Dabkowski heralded the future of the former Studio Arena Theatre, now Shea’s 710.

How to fill a six hundred seat theater on a consistent basis?

In a collaboration that includes five of Buffalo’s top theater companies, the article implies that after a sort of "theater boom" in recent years, it is time to raise the standards and production values of these many theaters.

Agreed. Absolutely.

“There’s been all this growth, and what are we doing?” MusicalFare’s Randy Kramer said. But, “There’s way too many of us ... ”

The implication being that some of our local, smaller theaters are not as vital, important or necessary as the larger companies, and perhaps, they should not exist.

There has always been a disparity in pay between the large and small theater companies here in Buffalo. Always. It is true here as well as in every major city across the country.

Broadway versus off-Broadway, versus off-off-Broadway, etc.

In New York, an actor might enjoy the salary of a Broadway contract, and then, later in the season, if he is lucky, enjoy performing in a Chekov play, in an intimate 60-seat playhouse in the Village for a substantially smaller salary.

Both have value. Both are important.

Oddly, the new motto of the five collaborators is “All for one.”

I’m afraid that doesn’t quite ring true. It seems to intentionally or unintentionally exclude the many, many other theaters here in Buffalo.

I believe we are each, every one of Buffalo’s nearly two dozen theater companies valuable. We are each attempting to have our own voices heard, our own unique mission statements realized.

Not every actor will receive the same salary at every theater. The larger theater companies will certainly offer a higher salary, but it must always be the choice of each actor to decide what he can and cannot work for.

While I applaud the collaboration of these five companies, Buffalo must remain a place where artistic dreams can come true. Sometimes they come in 600-seat playhouses, sometimes in chilly 35 seat venues. They each have value.

In two years, we will be celebrating our 25th anniversary at the New Phoenix Theatre, a small, proud and beloved alternative theater. It was this city that made that success possible.

As an Equity actor, I am proud to have received my union card from the former Studio Arena Theatre.

I earned thousands and thousands of dollars for a single production where I had seven lines. I have not matched that salary for any production since, but have continued to celebrate the opportunity of presenting classic, alternative theater on very modest budgets.

As Buffalo continues to grow, it is important to realize that every artist has the chance to see their dream realized, no matter the number of theaters already in existence.

Richard Lambert is founder and executive director of New Phoenix Theatre.

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