The return of Blackfriars’ Conservatory

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Longtime Rochester theater Blackfriars is reopening its Conservatory this year with classes in acting and dancing for beginner and experienced performers alike.

“There is not a person who doesn’t benefit from an acting class,” says Blackfriars artistic director Brynn Tyszka, citing prior experiences with businesspeople wanting to improve their public speaking skills or adults who felt like it was a type of therapy for them.

Blackfriars’ 2023 spring session marks the first Conservatory since the classes were forced to close due to the pandemic. The semester will begin in mid-April with two courses. Musical Theatre Dance will be taught by Blackfriars board member Mandi Lynn Griffin, serving as an introduction to musical theater styles, and fundamental skills of acting, a course meant to tune and strengthen acting skills, will be taught by actor David Munnell. Both six-week courses, which range in price from $150 to $165, are open to performers age 14 and older.

“One of the great joys of acting is immersing oneself in the thoughts and feelings of another person. Beyond the pure fun inherent in acting, inhabiting a role develops heightened empathy and respect for different viewpoints, perspectives and cultures,” says Munnell. “As a teacher, few things are more rewarding than sharing with my students how acting celebrates all the joys and sorrows of the human condition.”

“It’s about working your muscle of imagination, which is something you do have to actually work,” says Tyszka. “What actors do is difficult because you’re having private moments in public. And that can feel like an attack on your psyche if you’re not practicing.”

The courses are suitable for total beginners, actors wanting to “retune” their skills, those looking to prepare for an audition or those who simply want a fun start to their Saturday mornings. For example, the monthly dance workshops at Blackfriars taught by Griffin sell out. Tyszka attributes the workshops’ popularity to the instructor’s infectious high energy and enthusiasm.

“She’s a riot,” Tyszka says. “So, I think it’ll be great for anyone who wants to get their sweat on, have a little fun, and learn some styles of dance too.”

While this year the Conservatory is two courses, Tyszka is excited at the potential for future offerings on subjects such as improv, musical theater performance, or advanced scene study. Rochester has plenty of talent, which she believes the theater can support even more.

In addition, Tyszka says that reaching out to communities not already involved in the theater is important to keeping the local scene strong. In particular, involving voices from BIPOC and younger performers is part of why she wants to keep the Conservatory high-quality with low cost.

“It shouldn’t be a certain class of people who can afford to pay for a course. We want to make sure that anyone who wants to take a class is able to do so and to pursue a passion if they really want to,” says Tyszka. “Honest storytelling means we can’t just tell the same story. We need all voices involved.”

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

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