‘The arts are back’ at the new JCC Canalside Stage

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The Louis S. Wolk Jewish Community Center of Greater Rochester has always had space for artistic arts and live theater, but now it also boasts a new outdoor space. Constructed on the JCC tennis courts, the venue has a total capacity of 500 seats under and outside the tented area.

The Dawn Lipson Canalside Stage officially opened on June 5 and featured a performance of “You’ve Got a Friend: The Music of Carole King & James Taylor.” 

At the opening, Ralph Meranto, artistic director of JCC Centerstage Theater, declared: “The arts are back,” referencing many in-person theaters that had to close in 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic hit Monroe County.

The venue, Meranto says, will be in use until September, when the Dawn Lipson Canalside Stage will become a site for the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival

Plans for the stage involve pop and rock musicians, including a Grateful Dead inspired band, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, dramatic and comedic theater shows, and children’s movie nights. The full schedule can be viewed here. Ticket prices typically range from $20 to $30.

The Rochester Beacon posed a few questions to Meranto. His responses are below.

ROCHESTER BEACON: How do you hope people will feel about the new space and events at the Dawn Lipson Canalside Stage?

Ralph Meranto

RALPH MERANTO: Everyone is loving the new venue! We have had multiple events already, and audiences and performers are thrilled to be back enjoying live theatre and music in a safe and vibrant environment.

ROCHESTER BEACON: Are there plans to continue using the space beyond the summer months?

MERANTO: The venue stays active until the end of September when it becomes a Fringe Fest venue. After that, we feel audiences will be ready to come back inside for a full season of live theatre.

ROCHESTER BEACON: What makes this location unique compared to other outdoor venues?

MERANTO: The setting is wonderful. We have an excellent logistical setup. The choice to use the tennis courts instead of putting it on the grass makes it handicapped accessible. Since the surface dries quickly, we never have to worry about mud. We have access to indoor bathrooms. There is plenty of free parking on site. It’s an amazing setup for coming together in such a short time. Most importantly, it’s the community feeling, with multiple arts groups working together in this one space, that really makes it a place the entire community will want to gather.

ROCHESTER BEACON: There was a land use survey on growing the Edgewood Campus by JCC in 2019, which showed a positive reaction to some potential projects. Are there any expansion plans for the stage or canalside area?

MERANTO: I would be lying if I said that an outdoor theatre was not a dream for the new land. It’s been talked about as something many of us would like to see happen. The opportunity to introduce it to the community as a temporary structure will help us determine its viability and help build excitement for future efforts. The urgency to create the venue due to COVID may turn out to be a positive side effect.

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon intern. He is pursuing a graduate degree at City University of New York.

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