Grantee Spotlight: Geva Theatre Center

The best-attended theatre in New York State, outside of New York City, started its 45th season in the fall of 2017 with a world premiere funded by NYSCA . Exploring a rich chapter in Empire State History, the commissioned work The Agitators told the story of the 45-year friendship of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass.

“The best kind of support, and the kind we do get from NYSCA, [provides] organizational stability but also project funding,” said artistic director Mark Cuddy. “They are very forward-thinking and we found that when we get excited about a well-thought-out idea, NYSCA gets excited too and encourages us to flesh it out, apply for funding and make an impact.”

Two young women hold up a playbill in the audience at Geva Theatre Center
Students enjoying the matinee of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Over 16,000 students each year participate in Geva’s SMAT program. Photo by Renee Venisky of immaginé photography.

 He said NYSCA has helped Geva thrive, with 160,000 patrons attending and 500 performances and events each year. Its offerings range from musicals, to classics plays and original dramas, to showcases for young writers, regional writers and plays in progress. Cuddy said NYSCA was key in helping launch its Hornets’ Nest program in 2013, which features readings of hot-topic plays in the smaller of its two performance spaces followed by conversations with community leaders who are engaged with the themes. Readings have included Disgraced, a meditation on cultural identity by Ayad Akhtar and Molly’s Hammer, a dramatization of a 1980 nuclear protest by Tammy Ryan.

“Often [they are] plays we wouldn’t do in a full production for some reason. Maybe too big, or maybe not great literature, but that have things to say. “It becomes [a] vehicle to get the conversation going,” Cuddy said.  

Students smile at costume sketches
Kids go behind the scenes in the Costume Shop. Each year, Geva opens its doors to the public for ͞Magic in the Making, attracting between 400 and 600 people each year. Visitors are able to see the costume and props shops, go on stage into the rehearsal hall and talk with Geva’s artisans about how they make the magic happen on our stages. Photo by Renee Venisky of immaginé photography.

Through NYSCA’s Regional Economic Development Council initiative, Geva received a grant to support a four-day festival in 2015 honor of Mississippi Delta Blues guitarist and singer Son House, who quit music and moved to Rochester in the early 1940s. He was rediscovered there in the 1960s, and died in 1988. Artists from around the country came to celebrate House.

“NYSCA thinking has affected our thinking,” said Cuddy. “When we have an idea about something that will be important for our community — and we are very focused on serving our region — we can go to them and say, ‘Look at all the things we could do.’”

—Dade Hayes

Cover image: Kyle Hatley in Geva Theatre Center’s production of An Iliad. An Iliad was one of the plays featured in Geva’s 2015-2016 Fielding Studio Series. Photo by Goat Factory Media.