"At Buffalo" Working with Students (Nov. 9-19, 2017)

From left: Deadria Harrington, Prof. Christian Flaugh, (unknown), Kathy Leacock, Dr. Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin, Joshua Williams, and Khalil Sullivan

It's 1901. Lynch mobs swarm the South. Blacks flee north in hopes of opportunity. Immigrants struggle to find their place. And the Pan American Exposition, in the then-shining city of Buffalo, beckons all to glimpse a brighter future for America. AT BUFFALO: A New Musical, is an immersive and evocative musical journey through conflicting performances of race in post-Civil War America, tracking historical figures through the tumult of the exposition.

Bell and dance belt from the "Darkest Africa" attraction at the 1901 Pan American Exposition. Courtesy of the Buffalo Science Museum.

The AT BUFFALO writing team, Dr. Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin, Khalil Sullivan and Joshua Williams, are committed to creating a work that is archivally true and historically plausible. Using collections from over 20 archives located across the United States and in Ghana, they are composing a libretto that tells “a babel of stories” virtually verbatim from the fragmented archive of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition.

The goal of AT BUFFALO is to bring to life an experience of the past—an experience of a pivotal period in American history in which definitions of race were written, directed, choreographed and performed—and at the same time read it against the grain, in order to discover why this material still resonates with us today.

The AT BUFFALO creative team used their Fall 2017 Creative Arts Initiative residency to gain inspiration as well as information from historic locations and archives available only in the City of Good Neighbors, Buffalo, NY.

Examining archival photographs at the Buffalo Science Museum.

UB students were involved as actors and stage crew for the open rehearsals and staged readings, giving them real, hands-on experience of a new musical theater development process. Prof. Christian Flaugh's class, Exposing Race Archives, worked with virtual archives from the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle as well as the physical archives from the 1901 Pan American Exposition available through the  Buffalo Science Museum. They uncovered issued related to portrayals of race and gender common to both world's fairs. Class presentations about these findings served to open a public conversation with the At Buffalo cast and creative team.

Other students were involved as actors and stage crew for the open rehearsals and staged readings, giving them real, hands-on experience of what the development process for a new musical theater project.

Although the creative team of AT BUFFALO were in residence for only a short time, their presence made a big impact on students  as they actively engaged with students from 6 courses across 3 departments.