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Bloomsday is Coming

If, perchance, you have found yourself walking past the Irish Classical Theatre Company’s Andrews Theatre on a mid-June evening in recent years, you would have noticed a group of people gathered out front, sometimes dancing, sometimes sharing a drink and conversation. And if you were a curious or adventurous sort, you may have ventured into the theater to see what was happening. The cause of this event would surprise you, as would the form of the celebration.

For the past 11 years, Buffalo has taken its place among the cities of the world observing the uniqueness of June 16 for the literary world. In Melbourne and Trieste, Pittsburgh and Toronto, Dublin and Rome, New York and San Francisco, those who have come to love James Joyce’s Ulysses engage in reading and enacting scenes from this book, almost universally acknowledged to be the greatest novel written in the 20th century. It is also acknowledged to be difficult read—hence the motivation for some to make it a group effort.

And if you did enter the theater, you would have been surprised at the hundreds of friendly professors, members of the Irish community, students and politicians, actors, and theater-goers, all enjoying the heck out of Joyce’s work. The celebration is called Bloomsday, named after one of the three protagonists of Ulysses, Leopold Bloom. It all started in Buffalo in Dr. James and Lucy Warde’s backyard in 1998. Since then it has grown to include over 600 participants in a week-long schedule of activities that include a mock funeral for one of the characters, Patty Dignam, a film festival organized by Patrick Martin, the founder of riverrun and Cinegael Productions, a night of music, food, and drink at Ulrich’s (temporarily named Barney Kiernan’s after one of the establishments in the novel), and culminating in the five- or six-hour reading of Ulysses (5-10pm, but they haven’t quite mastered stopping). While all of this takes a bit of organizing—in the capable hands of the Irish Classical Theatre Company’s Josephine Hogan – there is an air of spontaneity about the evening that invariably nurtures beautifully inspired extemporaneous performances, something you have to experience to believe. The soul of the journey through Bloomsday is a professor from Buffalo State College, Laurence Shine, whose love of literature and all things Irish becomes more evident at each and every turn of the evening. This Virgil of Ulysses is the common person’s guide to the complexity of this masterpiece. And under his patient and kind mentorship, more and more Buffalonians are learning to enjoy and understand Joyce’s genius.

This year, Buffalo Bloomsday’s 12th, will be unique because of the addition of Joyce scholars gathering in Buffalo to study and debate his works as well as view the UB Poetry Collection’s world-renowned holdings of Joyce’s papers and personal artifacts. To accommodate this influx of scholars from around the world, Bloomsday will be situated in the intimate Smith Theatre, part of the Shea’s Performing Arts Center complex. There will be guided tours of Shea’s, musical and dancing performances in its magnificent lobby, and the traditional reading of Ulysses in the Smith Theatre.

So, if your curiosity gets the better of you, come join many prominent Buffalonians and a lot of enthusiastic readers of great literature on June 16 at the Shea’s Smith Theatre (660 Main Street). It’s all free and includes a buffet (around 7pm)—you only need pay for a drink or two. The fun is guaranteed.

alphonse kolodziejczak

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