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Out of The Arena

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What a strange scene. Under the bright lights of the Studio Arena Theatre stage, on an elaborate set that just the day before hosted the last performance of "To Kill a Mockingbird," some incredibly disappointing news was finally announced.

After weeks of uncertainty, Studio Arena finally announced what many had feared. After season upon season of mounting debt, the theater announced Monday that it would file for bankruptcy protection, cancel the final two shows of its current season and lay off the last of its 17 or so employees -- save one, Artistic Director and CEO Kathleen Gaffney.

But the theater stopped just short of going belly-up, at least in theory. Monday's press conference offered a plan to save the theater through collaborations with Buffalo State College and Shea's Performing Arts Center. Those plans, neither of which were finalized nor offered up in detail at the time of the press conference, would radically modify, if not totally obliterate, the Studio Arena Theatre audiences have come to know over the past half century.

If this plan, which currently seems to be to yet another proposal for a proposal for a vague possibility, were to succeed, Studio Arena would become essentially a highly concentrated version of itself, sharing its legendary space with other theater and performance companies while itself producing two or three shows per season.

Shea's Performing Arts Center, which has not in fact agreed to any particular deal with Studio Arena, would under this model assume responsibility for marketing, ticketing and renting out the space. Buffalo State College's pro prosed role is somewhat more vague, but, according to Gaffney, would eventually evolve into an acting M.F.A. program similar to that of Syracuse Stage's relationship to Syracuse University.

All this seems very promising in theory. It would mean that the death knell has not actually sounded and that in the end there is some hope for this new model's success. But its execution will depend, along with a number of other factors, on the theater's ability to pay or write off its approximately $3.5 million in debt.

Given this theater's history of well intentioned proposals, do we really think that's going to happen? And is Kathleen Gaffney the person to lead the theater -- such as it is -- into the uncertain future?

Please write in to share your thoughts.

--Colin Dabkowski

(News photo /Bill Wippert)

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