Torn Space Theater is doing it again – finding the boundaries of theater and stretching them so far they disappear. For several years, the innovative performance company that has carved out a permanent home in a Polish social club on Buffalo's East Side, is heading south for its summer productions. Actually, just a few miles south, to the abandoned heart of what is now called Silo City.
For six years, Torn Space has presented multimedia events among the landscape of the vacant grain silos, projecting images on the looming concrete walls and presenting such varied performers as professional actors, student dancers, well-choreographed excavation equipment and the Lancaster High School marching band. The action usually has been in and around the vacant industrial buildings, although in 2018 some ticket holders began their experience on a boat ride on the Buffalo River. While chugging past the silent looming cylinders, they were instructed to drop their troubles (in the form of freshly picked plants and flowers) over the side of the boat, to be carried away by the current.
This year's Silo City experience, called "Feast" (Aug. 9-11 and 16-18), promises to be completely different. For one thing, according to Torn Space founder and artistic director Dan Shanahan, the silos aren't part of the performance. "Feast" will take place under the spreading branches of an aged cottonwood tree that somehow survived the industrial development of this sliver of land between river, canal and lake.
The production is described as a celebration of light and the passage of time, all building to the hope and possibility of transformation.
The performance site is behind the parking lot in Silo City, reached by trails that have been carved in the brushy overgrowth that has overtaken the area.
"There are paths and ponds – it's pretty beautiful back there," Shanahan said, adding the site is being renaturalized by Silo City owner Rick Smith, who has hired an ecologist to help reclaim it.
Although there are not any physical doors, the doors open for "Feast" at 6:30 p.m. each night. The performance begins at 7 p.m., when guests are free to walk the trails in the Silo City landscape while experiencing the sites and sounds of performers preparing for the ritual. At 7:30 p.m., everyone attending will be directed to the main performance area around the cottonwood. There are ticket tiers: $100 for premier seating, which includes a five-course tasting menu prepared by the Black Sheep restaurant, or $30 regular seating, which includes Act 4 tastings and purchases of wine, beer and other beverages.
Although the tastings are built into the performance, Shanahan said, it doesn't mean that holders of $30 tickets are watching while people who bought more expensive tickets have dinner. The dishes are less menu than program: barley cake for Act 1, potato skordalia for Act 2, sprouted lentils for Act 3, edible flowers (from the Massachusetts Avenue Project, which all attending can share) for Act 4 and fruit with honey for Act 5.
"It is completely seamless," Shanahan said. "Everyone will have nice seating. The tastings simply add to the context of this being a public ritual. We hope people take advantage of it."
The cast includes regular Torn Space performers, children, people from a local farm and others – "a diverse take on what is performance and who are performers," Shanahan said. How diverse? Well, some of them are wrestlers, and at least one of them has four legs. That's all we'll say, to avoid spoilers.
While "Feast" takes place under the boughs of a beautiful tree, weather could be a factor. Unless conditions are severe, they won't call the show earlier than 30 minutes before its start time. Should there be significant rain or the threat of lighting, the following Mondays have been reserved as rain dates.
Presented by Torn Space Theater at 7 p.m. Aug. 9-11 and Aug. 16-18, at Silo City, 87 Childs St. (entrance immediately south of the Ohio Street bridge). Tickets are $100 and $30, available at tornspacetheater.com.