Construction and history are combining to move some of next month's "Curtain Up!" activities from the 600 block of Main Street - and the heart of downtown's Theatre District - to the adjoining 700 block of Main Street.
Chief among the events being shifted to Main Street's 700 block is the large tent that will host "Curtain Up!'s" black tie dinner and some of the late night entertainment. In recent years, the "Curtain Up!" dinner had been on Shea's Performing Arts Center's stage, serving as a hedge against rain. As many as 520 people have dined on the Shea's stage and other key points in the landmark theater during past "Curtain Up!" dinners.
But, this year with the "Cars Sharing Main Street" construction wrapping up its 600 block work, "Curtain Up!" organizers decided to move the dinner to the 700 block of Main Street and bring back the concept of eating and dancing under a large tent. This marks only the second time the tent has been set up Main Street's 700 block. That block was the first to be redeveloped under the "Cars Sharing Main Street" program.
"Every year we try to shake things up, so it is not the same old thing," said Neil Radice, Alleyway Theatre executive director along with Theatre District Association president and "Curtain Up!" chairman.
"Curtain Up!" is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 20, beginning with the dinner and then various live theater performances and a diverse menu of street entertainment running from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Radice said the 600 block construction was a concern, but he also wanted to recreate the first "Curtain Up!" dinner, held in 1982 and also on the 700 block. At the time, Main Street was largely torn up because of the Metro Rail and Buffalo Place pedestrian mall construction. "Curtain Up!" was created to bring people downtown during the construction period.
"Having it (the tent) back on the 700 block is kind of a bookend," Radice said. "We started this in '82 because of the construction and we're doing it again this year (on the 700 block) because of the construction."
Radice admits there is a split decision among many about having the dinner outside under a large tent vs. holding on the Shea's stage.
"There's a lot of people who loved it at Shea's, but there's also a lot of people who yearned to have it back under the tent," Radice said. "This year, we went with the nostalgia route."
With the first phase of the 500 block work, just in front of Fountain Plaza, slated to start just after Labor Day, Radice said there were concerns about hosting the dinner in Fountain Plaza, too.
Besides holding on the 700 block and on Shea's stage, the dinner has been held in such diverse venues as Fountain Plaza and at the corner of Tupper and Main Streets. It has never been held outside on the 600 block of Main Street because of Metro Rail, which runs down the middle of the street. The trains run their normal nightly schedule and are key for bringing people downtown for the "Curtain Up!" events.
For some, the jury is out on whether having the dinner, entertainment and tent on Main Street's 700 block is the best location. Some feel, it may take away from the focus on the Main Street's 600 block and its deep pool of theaters and restaurants.
"It's not my choice and it's not my event to run," said Tony Conte, Shea's Performing Arts Center president and CEO.
However, Conte said the diverse entertainment line-up in the Theatre District and Main Street's 600 block will be a key attraction for many. Late evening, outdoor events will be running from the area around Shea's and Bijou Grille north to the 700 block - again, mainly because of the construction.
"We all understand things had to move a little bit north this year because of the work," Conte said.
Radice said the focus of "Curtain Up!" remains the 600 block, even with the Main Street construction underway. Some 21 theaters have special events booked including Shea's which is showing the movie/musical "Chicago" and has booked mind reader Mark Salem for the Smith Theater and an "I Love Lucy" performance on the 710 Theater stage.
The Bijou Grille has booked LeeRon Zydeco and his band to perform while George Scott and His Big Band are set to play under the 700 block's big tent.
Radice said street performers and fire eaters have also been booked to entertain people for the late night events. They will be at various locations on the street.
"There's still going to be a big party out on the street," Radice said. "It's just being shifted a little bit because of the construction."