When theatre alum Bill Patti, ’05, accepted the position of general manager at Shea’s Performing Arts Center in November, he was excited to have an opportunity to apply his creative leadership abilities to the renaissance happening in Buffalo’s theatre district. What he didn’t know was that, just a few short months later, that creative leadership would be crucial in keeping Shea’s relevant during this unprecedented time of social distancing.
When Bill and the staff at Shea’s first heard about the coronavirus in January, their immediate concern was for the health of their patrons, staff, and volunteers. In an effort to ensure the safety of their community members, they significantly increased the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting in all public and backstage areas, such as doorknobs, handrails, counters, arm rests, and all restrooms and lobbies before, during, and after performances. In addition, they added alcohol-based sanitizer dispensers for public use in the lobbies and throughout each of their three theatres: Shea’s Buffalo, Shea’s 710, and Shea’s Smith.
Then, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the executive order requiring a 100% reduction of the in-person workforce of all nonessential businesses in the state, and Shea’s had to take further measures. All staff began working virtually to coordinate opportunities to keep theatre alive in Buffalo.
“At Shea’s, our focus is community first,” Bill said. “We know the critical importance of this building and organization to Western New York, and we are continuing to operate with that community-first mindset.”
Working with their partners from across the state, Shea’s has been sharing virtual concerts, workshops, and masterclasses. They also launched a number of different activities, such as Buffalo’s Got Talent, a communitywide sing-along.
Bill added that Shea’s has been able to engage with the community through its social platforms, and that its education program has been offering unique ways for parents and students to stay creative and connect virtually.
One of those ways was sharing a coloring page of Shea’s Buffalo, which “received an overwhelming number of responses and shares,” he said.
“One of my favorite stories is from our partners at Children’s Hospital,” he noted. “Our team received an email from the Healing Arts Program coordinator about how they set up a grab-and-go station for their patients because they have been operating on a strict visitation policy. They printed out our coloring book pages and said that it really brightened so many days.”
Over these past weeks, the community has supported Shea’s, as well, reaching out and sending messages in the absence of the communal experience they can’t have right now, and reinforcing Bill’s belief that theatre will remain vital to Buffalo.
“Buffalo is a city that knows the power and importance of arts and culture,” Bill said. “This community is the reason for the success and revival of the theatre district. It’s only intermission and the curtain will rise again.”