Buffalo Behind the Scenes: Shea’s Performing Arts Center

Buffalo Behind the Scenes

Shea’s Buffalo is a true gem in Western New York, and it has been since it opened as “The Wonder Theater” to show silent films in 1926.

The theater construction included chambers on either side of the stage for the massive Wurlitzer organ, which was made in North Tonawanda. House Organist Bruce Woody plays it masterfully before every Broadway performance these days.

“I’m a church organist but this is my favorite gig,” Woody laughed.

Woody is one of thousands of performers to grace the stage at Shea’s over the last nine decades.

Many of them, have had the opportunity to get ready in Shea’s unique stage house. The expanded area on the upper floors of the theater includes dressing rooms for the actors, laundry facilities for the production, a cafeteria space for the cast and crew, and more.

Shea’s stage house is one of the largest in the country. “And we always get remarks on the fact that we have windows, which I think is pretty cool,” added Sarah Heximer, Director of Marketing for Shea’s Performing Arts Center.

The stage house is one of area of the theater the public rarely gets to see.

The topside of the iconic dome is another.

As part of our Buffalo Behind the Scenes series, News 4’s Katie Alexander had the chance to check out the catwalks above the dome and other areas of the Shea’s Performing Arts Center campus. Watch the videos below to see our full coverage.

The dome, along with the rest of the theater’s interior, was designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. It is the only surviving Tiffany theater.

It has been painstakingly restored from top-to-bottom, almost entirely by unpaid volunteers.

“Students, people from the community. I also incorporate people from the city courts program to help us out,” said Doris Collins, restoration consultant.

The latest project was to restore the former ladies’ lounge in the basement. The room had fallen into really bad shape after years of being used as a coat check, then storage space.

It’s about to reopen for the public for the first time in about 20 years.

“Slowly but surely we’ve taken every square inch of wall space and ceiling space and repainted exactly the way it was done,” Collins said.

The whole theater has come a long way since the 1970s when it was at risk of being torn down.

“So many theaters in Buffalo were lost, but this one, the grand dame of all of them, was saved and lovingly restored by so many thousands of volunteers,” said Michael G. Murphy, Shea’s Performing Arts Center president.

Shea’s was recently able to save another theater from the wrecking ball, taking over the former Studio Arena theater when it went bankrupt, and reopening it as Shea’s 710. A wide range of renovations have already started there.

Between Shea’s 710, the original Shea’s Buffalo, and the black-box Shea’s Smith Theater which opens off the Shea’s Bistro, the entire Shea’s Performing Arts Center Campus offers Western New York a wide range of theater-going experiences.

“Theater is very important to people. It’s very important to our lives,” Murphy said. “We get to experience life in different ways, having it reflected upon ourselves, what we’re going through in our lives, and it gives us an opportunity to think through someone else’s brain, have those experiences.”

“It’s the art of the human,” he added.

To learn more about the Shea’s Performing Arts Center and the shows coming this season to the different theaters, go to https://www.sheas.org/theatres/

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