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Torn Space Theater marks a decade at Silo City with 'Generation'

A vertical image of a silo building in Buffalo, NY surrounded by a green field of grass
Torn Space

As the once-crumbling grain elevators transform into a $135 million mixed-use development, it's worth recalling how many observers previously called for demolition, not restoration at the site. Developers may be spending millions to make the space believable, but it was the imagination of the arts community that inspired possibility at the site.

"We haven't used the space as a backdrop in which to design performances. We've embedded ourselves in this space," said Dan Shanahan, a founder of Torn Space Theater which presents "Generation" at Silo City from Aug. 4 to Aug. 13, marking a decade of work at the site.

"We've thought very much about the architecture, the ethos of the area, using elements of the physical space. And, hopefully, if the audience feels this way, created a very magical space in which to return to each August."

The productions no longer utilize the silos. Instead, the performances are centered around a cottonwood tree in a meadow located within the long shadows of the historic grain elevators.

"They are really special events. The whole feel of the setting sun, the gathering together, the seeing of people that you might not have seen for a year, coming back, it is a transcendental sort of experience," said Melissa Meola, another of the founders of Torn Space.

"Moving from the known of the day into the unknown of the night, and moving with a group of 100 people through that experience is really powerful."

Inquiries regarding Torn Space's work often result in more questions than answers. Meola points out how they work "to blur that boundary between audience and performer." Based on attendance through the years, the approach seems to be reaching the mark.

"The audience is an integral part. They are not just watching, they are a part of it," Meola said.

"If they weren't here, it wouldn't be the same. They have to be here. We need their energy, their vibrations, their participation."

The philosophy has earned international recognition. Torn Space was invited to present their work as part of the Prague Quadrennial.

"Because of the unusual and majestic setting here at Silo City, but also because of the complications and challenges the vastness of the space provides, it is very important to us that we create a context in which the audience can enter into the performance," Shanahan said.

"What we're not wanting to do is create theater that is trying to represent something. Often times we'll see in the theater, an actor is trying to psychologically represent another role. What we're wanting to do is work with people, amplify components of who they are into the performance, and align that within whatever context we're creating."

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Jay joined Buffalo Toronto Public Media in 2008 and has been local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" ever since. In June, 2022, he was named one of the co-hosts of WBFO's "Buffalo, What's Next."

A graduate of St. Mary's of the Lake School, St. Francis High School and Buffalo State College, Jay has worked most of his professional career in Buffalo. Outside of public media, he continues in longstanding roles as the public address announcer for the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League and as play-by-play voice of Canisius College basketball.