Theater Talk: Alleyway to present live theater with an inside-out twist. Chris Handley explains.

May 21, 2021

Safe, socially distanced, and (mostly) "audience outdoor" live theatre returns to the Alleyway Theatre with the 30th annual short-play "Buffalo Quickies" festival to run from June 17 to July 10 in storefronts along Main Street all near Shea's. Small audience groups will watch from seats on the sidewalk, listen through headphones as the actors perform behind storefront glass, then stroll to the next window to peek in on another story, seeing all six short plays in a single evening. Theater Talk also notes the passing of stage (yes!) and screen's Olympia Dukakis and LGBTQ activists Madeleine Davis and Bruce Kogan.

Chris Handley, Artistic and Executive Director of The Alleyway Theater, talks about the innovative format of the 30th annual, 2021 version of "Buffalo Quickies" with the audience on the sidewalk of the 600 block of Main Street and the actors in storefronts.
Credit Fredonia.edu

Per the Alleyway's Press Release:
"A safe, socially distanced, and (mostly) outdoor theatre experience will mark a return to live theatre at Alleyway Theatre, fifteen months after the pandemic shutdown began. From June 17 – July 10, the festival will play Wednesdays thru Saturdays at 8:15pm on the 600 block of Main Street. Storefronts along Main Street will be transformed into distinct theatrical worlds, each containing a short play. Small audience groups will watch from seats on the sidewalk, and listen through headphones, as the actors perform behind the storefront glass. Audiences will then rotate to the next window to peek in on another story, seeing all six in a single evening. Tickets are $30-42 and must be purchased in advance.

“Last year, when the pandemic began, we brought BUFFALO QUICKIES to WNY live on YouTube. This year, we’re bringing it back live outdoors and in-person,” Executive Artistic Director Chris J Handley explains. The company is finishing its first season under Handley's new leadership following Neal Radice. “We did YouTube live this year. We did a commissioned film on location, we did a radio play, we did all the Zooms. It was time to get people back inside the theatre. Well, outside the theatre.”

According to Handley, audiences will don a set of headphones usually used for silent discos as they sit in front of Main Street windows, watching a live play through the glass. Each play happens simultaneously, as different audience members see each play on a unique schedule. By night’s end, they’ll have rotated through all six.

See SAFETY AT THE ALLEYWAY below for more background and information about the plays.

OLYMPIA DUKAKIS

Olympia Dukakis did not become a major figure in Hollywood until her 50s. For decades she was widely known for her stage career.
Credit MGM via Photofest in the NYTimes

Olympia Dukakis who recently passed at the age of 89 did not become a household name and sought-after film and television actress (121 credits) until age 56 when she gave an Oscar-winning performance as Rose Castorini, the mother of Cher's character in the 1987 romantic comedy "Moonstruck." But for decades she was a force in New England and New York Theater. Per IMDB:

"She performed in over 130 productions Off-Broadway and regionally at theaters including the Public Theatre, A.C.T., Shakespeare in the Park, Shakespeare & Co., and the Williamstown Summer Theatre Festival, where she also served as Associate Director." Waiting for that "Buffalo Connection?" Yes, Dukakis performed at the Studio Arena Theatre. You can read the New York Times obituary here.

MADELINE DAVIS

Credit Buffalostate.edu

Madeline Davis (July 7, 1940 – April 28, 2021) created the LGBTQ archive of Western New York currently housed at the E.H Butler Library on the Buffalo State Campus.  More on that here.

She was a major activist for LGBTQ rights all her life and is remembered for composing the anthem "Stonewall Nation" (listen here) with the chorus: "And the Stonewall Nation gonna have its liberation, wait and see, just wait and see."
 
BRUCE KOGAN

Bruce Kogan was a lifelong advocate for LGBTQ rightsl and is remembered for his play CALL ME WINKIE.
Credit greatentertainersarchives.blogspot.com

From Bruce Kogan's obituary:  "Born September 26, 1947 in Brooklyn, NY, Bruce Kogan passed away on April 26, 2021, from complications from the COVID-19 virus while fighting a valiant battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. ... A veteran who served his county in the US Army, Bruce had a long and distinguished career in victim advocacy working for the NYS Crime Victims Board. A lifelong advocate for LGBTQ equality, Bruce was a former president of the political advocacy organization Stonewall Democrats of WNY. Bruce was directly involved in and responsible for the tremendous legislative gains made over the years for LGBTQ civil rights, as well as remaining a constant advocate for LGBTQ crime victims in WNY. He is the author of the play CALL ME WINKIE."  You can read about Bruce in more detail here.




SAFETY AT THE ALLEYWAY
“We needed to find a way to do theatre again, live and in-person. By putting the play in a window and letting the audience watch from the sidewalk, we knew we had a safe way to make it happen,” says Handley. The theatre has a full slate of COVID protocols, including weekly testing of its artists. “It’s about bringing everything back slowly and safely – actors, audiences, designers. Once we started talking about the project, everyone just jumped in with both feet,” says Handley. “We’ve been planning this for months. It’s how we hope to mark the end of the pandemic programming and get back to butts in seats.”

Handley emphasizes that safety is the foremost concern for Alleyway. Actors will be tested weekly. A guide will lead each audience group between windows, ensuring masking and distancing. Stage management will sanitize seats in between use. The theatre installed new MERV-13 filters and air/surface sterilizers throughout its HVAC system, and a designated Covid Compliance Officer is now on staff.

“We want to do this right, and safely. While limiting time indoors (box office and restrooms) was always a priority, we also thought it would be a good way for people to test coming back to the theatre. So, we’ve got one of the ten-minute plays inside, but we’ve rearranged the seating so you’ll be far away from everyone else, and you’ll be out the door again in ten minutes. This way, our audience can get their feet wet coming back to the theatre again.”

Seating is limited. Masks and distancing will be required. Patrons should plan to walk to multiple storefront locations within a half-block radius of the Alleyway throughout the course of the evening. Sterilized headphones will be provided to each ticket holder. A credit card or license must be held on deposit until the headphones are returned at the end of the night.

THE PLAYS
The six plays run the gamut from a musical based on the hallmark short story The Yellow Wallpaper, a solo peek into Helen Mirren's day off, and a man’s dream about a note he sent up to heaven in a balloon. While some were chosen from recent submissions to the Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition, others are plays and playwrights the company has had its eye on. “We think these are some of the best playwrights working today. Their plays are delightful, funny, challenging, and timely. It’s everything Quickies has been for the last thirty years and more," Handley says. “This is Alleyway making good on our commitment to bring bold and innovative theatre to Buffalo. If you haven’t seen what we’re doing, this is the perfect time to check us out.”

Here are the six plays in more detail.
THE PEOPLE
Written by Lauren Davenport, Devon Hayakawa, Alex Lin, Rachel Lynett, Sam Norman & Eliza Randall, and Bruce Walsh. Directed by Josie DiVincenzo, Susan Drozd, Chris J Handley, Robyn Lee Horn, and Steve Vaughan. Starring Kelly Copps, Steve Copps, Trevor Dugan, Jane Hereth, Amy Jakiel, Smirna Mercedes, David C. Mitchell, Shanntina Moore, Victor Morales, and Victoria Perez. Designed by Dyan Burlingame, Lynn Koscielniak, Emily Powrie, with costumes by Todd Warfield and sound by Andy Borchick.

PAY YOUR FERRYMAN
By Lauren Davenport
World Premiere Directed by Chris J Handley
Starring Victor Morales
Charon, the ferryman of Hades, is in desperate need of a break. You just happen to be next in line for passage into the Afterlife. Your afterlife, to be exact. How you choose to compensate Charon for your passage will determine where you end up.

LILY AND TESSA’S SUPER STAR SHOW, EPISODE 37
By Devon Hayakawa
World Premiere directed by Robyn Lee Horn
Starring Jane Hereth
It's time for Lily and Tessa's Super Star Super Special Show, and they're going to revive all of their greatest hits -- Avril Lavigne dance party! Celebrity impressions! Puppet shows! The only problem is that Lily still hasn't shown up yet... and Tessa might have to do the whole show alone.

HELEN MIRREN TAKES A DAY OFF
By Alex Lin
Directed by Steve Vaughan
Starring Shanntina Moore
Helen Mirren has a day off. Helen Mirren needs to work on her monologue. Helen Mirren’s brother needs way too much attention. Helen Mirren gets a call from frenemy Judi Dench with ex-husband Kenneth Branagh on the same line. Helen Mirren’s dog is dying. Can she handle it? Of course she can. She's Helen Mirren.

IN TRANSIT
By Rachel Lynett
Directed by Josie DiVincenzo
Starring Victoria Perez and Smirna Mercedes
Becca and Ryan run into each other at an airport having not seen each other for five years. This chance encounter asks them both to reflect on their past relationship and navigate their possible future.

THE YELLOW WALLPAPER
Music by Eliza Randall
Book and Lyrics by Sam Norman
2020 Mazumdar New Play Competition Finalist
World Premiere directed by Susan Drozd
Music Direction by Phil Farugia
Starring Amy Jakiel, Kelly Copps, Steve Copps
Developed in a reading with HARP Theatricals
It’s 1890 and Charlotte is forced into isolation following a postpartum disorder diagnosis. Charlotte’s husband and sister-in-law, following doctor’s orders, keep Charlotte away from her newborn son, sending her deeper into despair. Eventually, in her seclusion, she becomes convinced another woman is living inside the wallpaper. Charlotte desperately tries to free the shadow – but at what cost?
This story is reimagined in a beautiful new musical score based on the famous short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which in 1892 was considered a hallmark of feminist literature.
 
GROWN-ASS LOUIS
By Bruce Walsh
Winner 2017 Actors Theatre of Louisville Heideman Award and Kennedy Center Gary Garrision National Ten-Minute Play Award
Directed by Chris J Handley
Starring David C. Mitchell and Trevor Dugan
When Louis was eleven years old, he wrote a note to his recently deceased father, tied it to a balloon, and released it to the heavens. But now, even though he's a grown-ass man, he can't stop wondering if his dad ever received the message.