Although many local theater venues hosted opening performances Thursday evening, Buffalo's formal celebration of a new theater season takes place Friday evening with the 36th annual Curtain Up!
The festivities begin at 5:30 and include a cocktail reception followed by a three-course meal, a standing cocktail gala and then nearly a dozen stage performances in Buffalo's theater venues. An after-party follows in the Theatre District until 1 a.m.
One of the downtown productions features an actress better known to most Americans for her work on television. Loretta Swit, who played Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan on the TV series M*A*S*H, stars in the live production Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks at Shea's 710 Main Theatre.
"Live theater is where I came from," she said. "It's where I go back to. It's my first love, if you will. This is the guy that brought me to the dance and I go home with him."
Swit told WBFO she loved her work on M*A*S*H but there is something special about the relationship between actors and audiences in a live stage setting. Michael Murphy, president of Shea's, said there is a community feeling among theater supporters and it goes beyond the stage.
"Coming to the theater is also an experience of sharing thoughts and ideas, which we do in the lobby as we're gathering to come see a play," Murphy said. "We're discussing 'what is this about?' 'What is it going to be like tonight?' Then at intermission, we come out and say 'I saw this happen but I think this is what's going to happen in the second act.' And then after the show, we laugh, argue and talk about what we just saw."
Swit was among those present Thursday morning as State Senator Chris Jacobs announced state funding to help Shea's 710 Main Theatre continue a series of capital improvement projects inside the former Studio Arena Theatre. She told those in attendance that theater is not only her career but her life.
She also said it's an important place where people can release their emotions after dealing with a world full of bad news these days.
"At the end of the day you are being numbed. I think a visit to the theater puts you back in touch with your feelings," Swit said. "You can't lose your feelings because when they're gone, you're dead. If you feel nothing, that's it. You're dead.
"I really feel live theater keeps us alive."