Blackfriars Theatre unveils 75th season

Print More
“Once on This Island” was performed in 2023. (Images: Blackfriars)

Blackfriars Theatre, one of the longest-running theater companies in Rochester, has unveiled its 75th anniversary season. The milestone season will showcase six main stage productions, focus on reconnecting with the theater’s history, and foster connections with community partners.

Blackfriars’ origins trace to 1950, when a small group of actors gathered around a dining room to form the Catholic Theatre of Rochester. During its first few years, the company staged traveling shows at various parish organizations across the Rochester diocese and conventions of the Catholic Theatre Conference.

The company changed its name to Blackfriars Theatre in 1962. It has since called various Rochester locations its home—the Xerox Auditorium for 25 years, then School of the Arts for three years, and eventually operating in a space on Lawn Street, starting in 1997. 

In 2009, Blackfriars Theatre, led by previous artistic and managing director Jack Haldoupis, found and renovated a bus garage on East Main Street to create the theater space the company performs in today.

The next decade for the organization included expanding its budget, leadership team and programming. For the first time in its history, the company became entirely women-run after the current leadership stepped into their roles in 2022. Brynn Tyszka became artistic director and Mary Tiballi Hoffman, the previous development director, was promoted to executive director. The duo manages the theater’s ambitious catalog of programming, along with marketing and social media manager Catherine Gregory.

Tyszka and Hoffman have since focused on making a name for the long-running theater organization and creating a fulfilling space for both artists and patrons. Their accomplishments include more than doubling audience attendance, fleshing out programming to include non-theatrical events, and securing a sought-after liquor license.

“After our shows, I collect artists’ feedback, which gives us the opportunity to adjust how we operate, making sure our artists are having the most positive, fulfilling artistic experience working here,” says Hoffman. “This continues to be my guiding focus—elevating the experience for anyone that walks through our doors—so that they not only do good work and see good work, but that they feel a sense of belonging while they’re here.”

The leaders have continued to push the envelope for Blackfriars Theatre’s 2024-25 season, which includes a lineup of plays and musicals.

Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” will kick off the season in September. This show was selected in November at the theater company’s Season Soirée fundraiser, in which attendees vote to decide which musical they would like to see Blackfriars produce the following season.

Ahead of Election Day this year, the organization will produce the White House farce “POTUS, Or Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive.” December brings Colman Domingo’s holiday play “Dot,” followed by a production of Agatha Christie’s longest-running play “The Mousetrap” in January 2025.

Rounding out the season are two shows the team originally slated for the 2020-21 season that was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first is the one-man interactive theatrical experience “Every Brilliant Thing,” and the season finale will be the new musical “The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes.”

The upcoming season will provide over 150 paid opportunities for Rochester-based artists, a number that has continued to grow each year. Artists include those on all sides of the production, including directors, music directors, choreographers, performers, and designers.

“This season, we have taken on a list of plays and musicals that require larger production elements than we would usually go for,” says Tyszka. “This was by design; we want to show our current and new patrons what we are capable of.”

Within the grand season, two goals are paramount: honoring the theater’s history and engaging with the community.

“Something we wanted to prioritize this season was reconnecting with the history of this theater,” says Tyszka. “It’s been around for 75 years and we have artists who have been performing with Blackfriar since the 1970s that are still here working with us.”

To celebrate the anniversary milestone, all living Blackfriars leadership, including Tyszka, Hoffman, and all living artistic directors, will be involved in the season’s final production.

As for community engagement, Blackfriars will continue to cultivate community partnerships that have proven to be successful within its recent history. The company plans to find a community partner for each production whose work aligns with the theme or message represented in the play or musical.

“We’ve worked with community partners before where we’ve brought people into the rehearsal room to provide context for us while we create moments on stage,” says Tyszka. “We did this with Veterans Outreach Center last season for our production of ‘John & Jen.’ It was a story about a young man who went to Vietnam, so we had a Vietnam veteran during rehearsals who shared his experience and taught our performer how to salute properly. This helped make our worlds come alive during the creative process.”

Most of all, Blackfriars Theatre’s leadership would like patrons to know that they can see high-quality theater within their own neighborhood.

“When we talk about shopping local and supporting local, you can do that at Blackfriars and walk away with the highest caliber of artistic enrichment,” says Tyszka. 

“When you invest in Blackfriars, you are investing in your Rochester neighborhood,” adds Hoffman.

Evan Coleman is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and a University of Rochester graduate. 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]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *