Two Buffalo-born theater experiences debut this weekend in the heart of the city's historic East Side. One brings in some of the community's newest arrivals, the other is built around its geologic roots. Together, "Manmade Earth" and "Light/Station" combine to form the conclusion of Torn Space Theater's 2018 Response Festival.
"Manmade Earth" has been midwifed by the theater group 600 Highwaymen, which presented the poetically interactive show "The Fever" at Torn Space last year. Where "The Fever" involved continuous collaboration with the audience members, "Manmade Earth" became a collaboration in its very creation.
During a summer residency at Torn Space, 600 Highwaymen (comprised of New York City artists Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone) developed a theater program that would recognize Buffalo's past, present and future, said theater co-founder Dan Shanahan.
"The piece is about how people from different walks of life and different backgrounds come together, influence each other and have an impact on their environment," Shanahan said, a theme that was reflected in the show's development.
Shanahan said they had a good vibe from the city from producing "The Fever" and an appreciation for the venue -- the Adam Mickiewicz Library and Dramatic Circle, founded in 1895 and housed in a rambling wood-frame structure among the vacant lots on Fillmore Avenue south of Broadway. It has been the home of Torn Space for about 15 years.
The cast would be teenagers from Lafayette International High School and elsewhere including some of them refugees who had fled conflict in Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq and other countries. They would be working on sets designed by students from the School of Architecture at University at Buffalo, which helped fund the residency through a Creative Arts Initiative grant.
It was fascinating watching how it all came together, Shanahan said, especially when things didn't go as planned. When the Highwaymen first came to Buffalo this summer, they already had a script in hand.
"Then they started working with the students and realized that the text didn't work, it wasn't right," he said. "They went back to New York and rewrote the entire play."
Revised and refocused, "Manmade Earth" moved forward, with input from performers and designers, to create the show that will receive its world premiere this weekend.
Prior to those performances, Torn Space is presenting another of its signature site-specific projects, "Light/Station." Celebrating the city's prosperous and industrial roots, the company previously brought audiences to shows in the Central Terminal and Silo City, including a boat ride on the Buffalo River for one experience.
This time, Torn Space looked closer to home, celebrating its own location in the heart of Polonia with a sculptural and light installation on property adjacent to the main theater. Inspired by a light sculpture from the summer production of "Stations" at Silo City, Shanahan said they also worked with UB students to create a new outdoor space for the show.
"We had 32 tons of rock delivered from a quarry in Cheektowaga," Shanahan said, which in reality, he added, "is only about 16 large boulders when you see it."
"It's the oldest possible material you can get in Western New York, it dates back 450 million years, so (in conjunction with 'Manmade Earth') we thought that was entirely appropriate to work with," he said.
The audience will gather around the sculpture in a mix of light and sound before taking lanterns in hand for a short walk to a nearby landmark, St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, where an organist will be playing Bach fugues paired with images of light. On Nov. 16 and 17, the two shows will be linked by an Eastern European dinner on the second floor of the Mickiewicz.
The evening builds on a theme common among many Torn Space events, that of public rituals that bring people together. Only extreme weather would curtail the outdoor "Light/Stations." Shanahan said, "Actually, if it's snowing, it would be really beautiful."
"Manmade Earth" and "Light/Stations"
Presented Nov. 16, 17 and 18 at the Adam Mickiewicz Library and Dramatic Circle, 612 Fillmore Ave. Parking is available on site. "Light/Station" begins at 5:30 p.m. and "Manmade Earth" begins at 7:30 p.m. each night plus a 2 p.m. matinee on Nov. 17.
VIP tickets for both shows plus dinner on Nov. 16 and 17 are $100. Single tickets for "Manmade Earth" all showtimes and for "Light/Station" on Nov. 18 are $25. Visit tornspacetheater.com.