ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Think Geva Theatre and most people will still say, “A Christmas Carol.” So many people have seen it around the holidays and yet so few people head to Rochester’s landmark theater during the rest of the year.
Despite that, Geva continues to raise the curtain on its two theaters with classics and cutting-edge performances. However, filling the house has gotten much harder than it was before the pandemic.
The woman guiding Geva says we’ve gotten out of the habit of seeing live theatre. To change that, she’s going to turn every date on the schedule into an event.
“To remember there’s an excitement to watching something with a group of people live, where anything can happen at any time,” said Artistic Director Elizabeth Williamson. “An actor can forget their lines, you know. Something could go wrong. Something could go right. And only the 500 people in this auditorium will have that exact shared experience.”
Williamson says she’s inside every show Geva does, directing it or not. And she’s seen when the familiar titles are not lighting up the Geva marquee — more empty seats than she did before COVID shut down the theater over two years.
Live theater crashed during the pandemic. Incomes at non-profits, including Geva, nosedived. So did subscriptions and single-show tickets. Corporate funding dropped 28% during that time.
The civic science study of live theater attendance shows that audiences over 55 rarely attend performances if at all. But more than half of Gen Z and 44% of millennials are attending every few months.
It’s data that moves Geva’s artistic director to only amplify the mission to ask ‘what’s going on?’ — then create made-in-Rochester art.
“So you sort of go, ‘how do we put together the big titles that’ll spring out to everyone, whether they’re regular theatergoers or not? And then the new works where they’re doing something that’s never been done in theater before?” asked Williamson.
She says that direction will shine the spotlight again on the habit of theater-going, even at a regional theater like Geva where each season new shows appear before their first audiences.
“There’s something that happens in that shared experience of the way a show captures our collective empathy, makes us collectively engage emotionally, that shifts how we feel with the people around us that you just can’t get sitting at home watching TV,” Williamson said.
One way Geva will work to bring you downtown is by launching a first-of-its-kind stand-up comedy workshop. Comics from around the country will roll through a two-week stay at Geva introducing and polishing their latest acts. Actor-comedian Baron Vaughn, one of the sons from the Netflix hit “Grace and Frankie” will lead as an artist in residence.
There are three shows left in this season, then Geva’s golden anniversary 50th season launches this summer.
Tickets and everything you need to know about their shows can be found at GevaTheatre.org.